Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bea Nice

Friends of mine have heard my Bea Arthur impression. It’s me saying “Good Morning, Everybody” in an exhausted tone, my lowest register. That’s what she would say first thing as she arrived on the set of The Golden Girls during my short stay of one episode.

I played her daughter (Kate Zbornak) who was about to be married off. She never said another thing the rest of any day unless it was to give a directorial note. I got one as she opened the set’s front door to greet me/my character and moved in for a hug; “Don’t put your arms around my neck.” I made sure not to get another.

People always ask the same question about any celebrity I work with; “Is she/he nice?” I’ve asked it myself. In this case I would have to say no. We have no real right to want the people we admire to be approachable but it certainly makes working with them a lot easier. I’ve known perfectly despicable people who could be worked with. In those cases, people aren’t usually doing their best work-especially if it’s supposed to be comedy. I always hated those “trust exercises” in acting class but the point didn’t go unappreciated.

In Bea Arthur’s defense, I was just one more actress in a long line of guest cast members who drifted through the many pioneering shows she starred in. Situation comedy never being my strong suit, I probably wasn’t even a very good guest-cast member. But it wasn't just me. As far as I could tell, everyone got short shrift and a few got shorter. At the very least she had a lack of patience or compassion for anyone on the set. I spent time wondering what it would take to find her good side. I spent time making sure I didn’t cover it up with a downstage hugging arm. I made sure my deodorant was working, my breath was sweet.

Maybe she was going through menopause. Maybe her dog (if she had one) had died that week. Maybe it was a one-off. Maybe she was cheerful and gay the rest of the time. She may have felt my reticence toward her. In a later episode, Dorothy’s daughter was played by another actress. That actress and I have never compared notes. Maybe I was just unavailable for that episode.

I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking of her or my Golden Girls experience. Her coldness made it hard to be my best. It created dis-ease, was the beginning of my inability to feel good about myself in the business of acting. I admired her brilliant and hilarious work in spite of her manners, my experience. I’ve just always been a sensitive plant.

1 comment:

Marvin said...


My wife and I love the Golden Girls and especially the episode where get married - was that in 1985? What film did you enjoy doing the most? Did you really cut Quaid's hair in Great Balls of Fire? Then there was the Big Easy.

Hope your family is doing well. I remember visiting your mother in Atlanta around 1990 when I was living in Georgia (we went to Stone Mountain). Before that, I barely remember the Greenwich Village trip in 1972 when Uncle Pete (Walter's brother) was in NYC.

Your 2nd cous from the east,
Marvin Pickard Wilson III

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