an interview with Michael Musto

Bea spiked hair

Bea Arthur

As her new stage show tours the country, the Golden Girl talks to Michael Musto about gays, plays, and a near-lesbian phase.

In the Dictionary, under "sardonic and lovable diva for the ages," there's a picture of Beatrice Arthur, who paved the way for saucy, witty grand dames of the stage and small screen. In the '70s she was the ever-lovin', right-on Maude, in the '80s she was the dissy Dorothy on The Golden Girls, and now she's the star of ...And Then There's Bea, her touring one-woman show in which she plays herself--very well.

Musto: Guess What, Bea? Gay people love you.

Arthur: I know. I don't understand it, but it's OK with me.

We'll love you even more if your one-woman show is extremely dishy.

Dishy? Oh God, no. It's a very relaxed evening of stories and songs. It's like being in one's living room.

That'll be a change of location for most of us. I love that you once said you've done everything except rodeo and porn. Those are the only two things I have done.

Once you say something like that, it's heard round the world. I've been around for a hell of a lot of years.

You even did the bizarre 1974 movie of Mame with Lucille Ball. They should have called it Maim.

I really hated doing the movie. I was married to the director at the time. He said, "As my wife, you owe it to me to do the part." I felt, as much as I adored Lucy, that she was so badly miscast. I was not happy.

I'm happy when the screen turns to soft focus every time they show Lucy!

The pink lighting they had over her--or gauze! The makeup man asked if I wanted lifts to make my face look like a baby's bottom, I mentioned it to Lucy. She said, "You'd better do that, because I'm being pulled so tight, I can't even close my eyes." She was a love.

So are you--but do people expect you to be as brash as Maude or Dorothy?

Oh, yeah. I was never the liberal firebrand that Maude was, but Dorothy is much like me. I don't put up with any B.S. I'm the great bubble-pricker.

That sounds dirty. Speaking of which, you Golden Girls also got to have tons of wild sex.

I thought that was so classy. There we all were, these older women who dressed like crazy and had great earrings, and everybody had sex! That was the first time that happened to anyone over 20 on TV.

Or in real life either. Do you know a lot of gay people in show business?

Isn't that a rhetorical question?

OK, I'll try harder. As an observer, what do you think is the biggest gay issue today?

With all the improvements and all the people who've become so much more knowledgable, there's still an enormous amount of vicious homophobia.

Have you ever tried a lesbian tryst?

I thought about it once, but it didn't take. I didn't even approach it.

Was it a long time ago or last week?

It was possibly after an unhappy divorce. I thought maybe I'd make life easy for myself. But I can't do that. I'm completely, irrationally heterosexual.

You're forgiven. Thank you for being a friend.

*from OUT, August 2001

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