R.I.P. Bea Arthur

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mental_floss mourns the loss of Beatrice Arthur, who died of cancer Saturday at the age of 86 (and joins cast mate Estelle Getty in that big Shady Pines in the sky). Arthur's complete biography will certainly be the subject of many news posts in the next few days, so we don't really need to tell you that she was born Bernice Frankel. Or that, even though she'd been starring on Broadway for many years, she didn't receive mainstream recognition until she landed the role of outspoken Maude at the age of 50. We'll leave those details to the Other Guys and pay our own respects to Bea in terms of her most enduring role, that of Dorothy Zbornak on The Golden Girls.

Thank You for Being a Friend

Brandon Tartikoff got the idea for The Golden Girls while visiting his elderly aunt. His aunt's neighbor was also her best friend, and he was amused at how they remained pals even though they constantly bickered with one another. When casting the show, Lee Grant was first offered the role of Dorothy, but she refused to play a woman old enough to have grandchildren. Oddly enough, the original production notes describing Dorothy Zbornak listed her as "a Bea Arthur type." Producers didn't think she'd be interested, however, and it took some time before they got the bright idea to offer her the part.

The Golden Girls was notorious for its subtle sexual references and double-entendres. Viewers always knew what Dorothy was referring to whenever she uttered her trademark "Whoa!"

Shady Pines

Poor Dorothy. Among the Girls, she was voted Least Likely to Attract a Man. And that included her mother, 80-something Sophia Petrillo, in the mix. It's a tribute to Bea Arthur's talent as an actress that she could run the gamut from "60-plus woman giggling like a love-struck ingénue" to "stern but concerned roommate" to "outraged by the insinuation but will ultimately play along as a faux lesbian on a local TV show" all within one scene. And of course, as always, when Dorothy feels cornered by her mother, she unleashes her ultimate weapon: The Home.

It's Me, Stan.

Very picky Golden Girls viewers might note that Dorothy and Stan endured a "shotgun wedding" once recent high school graduate Dorothy discovered that she was with child. From the beginning of the series, Dorothy often mentioned having been married to Stan for 38 years before they divorced. Yet whenever the couple's children, Kate and Michael, appeared on the show, neither looked to be even 30. How did the writing staff explain this discrepancy? According to more than one show runner, the writers never thought the show would live on in syndication, and didn't feel that viewers would keep tabs on such "minor" details.

"Not Now, Ma!"

Dorothy's intelligence and keen intellect took center stage in the final scene of "The Case of the Libertine Belle," an episode centered around a murder mystery weekend.

Speaking of Dorothy's smarts, who could forget her hilarious Jeopardy! audition? That's a favorite of the mental_floss staff, natch.

What are your favorite Dorothy moments? What about her best conversational come-backs? As a tribute to Bea, please post your favorite Golden Girls moments so that the rest of us can nod in recognition and chuckle along. Thanks!

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April 25, 2009 - 8:27pm
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