TV's leading ladies owe a debt of gratitude to Bea Arthur, who died Saturday of cancer at age 86. Her accomplishments on "Maude" and "The Golden Girls," as well as on stage and in film, are well documented. But I was always impressed by the toughness that she was willing to demonstrate to play the tough broad that became Arthur's trademark. It certainly took a strong set of ovaries to withstand the storms created on "Maude" with the character's political activism, unabashedly liberal positions and, most famously, her decision to have an abortion.
My very favorite Bea Arthur moments are those that found her sparring with Archie Bunker on "All in the Family" -- she and Carroll O'Connor had a certain spark when they went at it (Arthur played Edith's outspoken, liberal cousin Maude from upstate New York) that made for great television, and earned her the spinoff.
Even 35-plus years later, watching those scenes, you can feel how daring it was for that kind of political and social discourse to be aired on national network television, and not in hifalutin' academic speak but in the easy-to-understand argot of relatives bickering in the living room. Norman Lear and his team wrote the scripts, but it took thesps with the skills of Arthur and O'Connor to put it over.