Some of the biggest names in 1960s-80s showbiz were at the Majestic Theater today for the geriatric alternative to Fashion Week: a memorial to Bea Arthur, who passed away this April from cancer at the age of 86. Hundreds of theater and TV bigwigs shuffled their walkers into the rows for an “afternoon with friends and family,” while lines of uninvited gay youngsters waited hungrily for a spot at the Bea-in.
Though not the first tribute to the deep-voiced stage and screen legend, this was certainly the biggest. Angelic Angela Lansbury — Bea’s bosom buddy — had hosting duties and, in a white suit, was the most wholesome thing about the show. Guests, family and friends mostly shared stories about working with Bea, having lunch with Bea, being told what to do by Bea, being f-bombed by Bea, and getting sauced with Bea. In the grand scheme of things, what else is there to do in life, really?…
Highlights of the sappier sort included hearing from the fam: sister Kay Gray was grateful that Bea persuaded their mother to let her shave under her arms. Sons Daniel and Matthew Saks shared personal home videos, and one offered, ala Paris Jackson, “To me she was my mother, and now she’s gone and I miss her very much.” Angela Lansbury choked up introducing Bea’s segment on Malcolm in the Middle, as did Adrienne Barbeau (looking amazing!) recalling Maude set memories.
Rue McClanahan also shared a touching memory about Bea comforting Rue after the death of her mother. Of course, she followed up with tale about a very drunk Bea referring to fellow Golden Girl Betty White as a cunt. That, beautifully, was just the tip of the vulgarity iceberg.
The event came alongside an announcement that the Ali Forney Center, which provides housing to homeless LGBT youth, will name a residential center after Bea Arthur.
Others on the guest list included Rosie O’Donnell, Norman Lear, Sheldon Harnick, Chita Rivera (also looking amazing), her sister Kay, Miss Coco Peru (“I know, a drag queen, right?”), and Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. Their eulogies were broken up with video clips, including one in which Bea-as-Maude KILLED “My Way.” More than once, they referred to her as “delicious” and with a vodka in hand. That’s how we’d like to think of her always.