Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Today in Television History: And then there's Maude


Listen to me on TV CONFIDENTIAL:

As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.

September 12, 1972

Maude premiered.


Maude stars Bea Arthur as Maude Findlay, an outspoken, middle-aged, politically liberal woman living in suburban Tuckahoe, Westchester County, New York with her fourth husband, household appliance store owner Walter Findlay (Bill Macy). Maude embraced the tenets of women's liberation, always voted for Democratic Party candidates, strongly supported legal abortion, and advocated for civil rights and racial and gender equality. However, her overbearing and sometimes domineering personality often got her into trouble when speaking out on these issues.


The program was a spin-off of All in the Family, on which Beatrice Arthur had first played the character of Maude, Edith Bunker's cousin; like All in the Family, Maude was a sitcom with topical storylines created by producer Norman Lear.


Unusual for a U.S. sitcom, several episodes (such as "Maude's Night Out" and "The Convention") featured only the characters of Maude and Walter, in what amounted to half-hour "two-hander" teleplays. Season 4's "The Analyst" was a solo episode for Bea Arthur, who delivered a soul-searching, episode-length monologue to an unseen psychiatrist.


Maude, introduced as Edith Bunker's cousin, had been married three times before marrying her fourth and current husband. Her first husband, Barney, had died shortly after their marriage; she had divorced the next two, Albert and Chester. Albert was never portrayed on screen, but the episode "Poor Albert" revolved around his death, while Chester would appear on the show (played by Martin Balsam). Her current husband, Walter Findlay (played by Bill Macy), owned an appliance store called Findlay's Friendly Appliances; he was said to be a Maytag dealer in the first episode. Maude and Walter met just before the 1968 presidential election. Maude sometimes got in the last word during their many arguments with her hallmark catchphrase, "God'll getcha for that, Walter."


Maude's divorced daughter, Carol Traynor (from her second marriage, played by Adrienne Barbeau; in the Maude pilot, an episode of All in the Family, Carol was played by Marcia Rodd), and Carol's son, Phillip (played by Brian Morrison and later by Kraig Metzinger), also lived with the Findlays. Though single, Carol maintained her reputation of dating many men, as evidenced by her weekend "business trips" with various boyfriends. She dated various men throughout early seasons, eventually forming a serious (but brief) relationship with a man named Chris (played by Fred Grandy) in the later seasons. Like her mother, Carol was an outspoken liberal feminist who was not afraid to speak her mind, though they often clashed. After the fourth season, and with ratings dropped, Barbeau's appearances were reduced.


The Findlays' next-door neighbors were Dr. Arthur Harmon (a stuffy, sardonic Republican whose views clashed with those of Maude; in lieu of Archie Bunker, Arthur was Maude's foil), played by Conrad Bain and his sweet but scatterbrained second wife Vivian, played by Rue McClanahan, who confirmed in an interview with the Archive of American Television that she was approached by Norman Lear during the taping of the All in the Family episode "The Bunkers and the Swingers" (1972), to take on the role as a late replacement for Doris Roberts, who was originally intended for the part. Arthur had been Walter's best friend since the two men served together in World War II; he was the one who brought Walter and Maude together in 1968 and "affectionately" called Maude "Maudie." Vivian had been Maude's best friend since they both attended college together. When the series began, Arthur was a widower and Vivian was a soon-to-be divorcée (her previous last name was Cavender); in a late first-season episode, Vivian and her husband Chuck were getting a divorce after 21 years of marriage. Arthur and Vivian began dating at the beginning of the second season and were married during the middle of it.


For the entire run of the show, Maude also had a housekeeper. Shortly after the series began, the Findlays' hired Florida Evans, a no-nonsense black woman who often had the last laugh at Maude's expense. Maude would often make a point of conspicuously and awkwardly demonstrating how open-minded and liberal she was (Florida almost quit working for Maude because of this). Despite Florida's status as a maid, Maude emphasized to Florida she felt that they were "equals," and insisted she enter and exit the Findlay house via the front door (even though the back door was more convenient).

As portrayed by Esther Rolle, the character of Florida proved so popular that, in 1974, she became the star of her own spin-off series, entitled Good Times. In the storyline of Maude, Florida's husband, Henry (later James), received a raise at his job, and she quit to be a full-time housewife and mother. Good Times is based on the childhood of its creator, Mike Evans, who starred as Lionel Jefferson on All in the Family and The Jeffersons. Whereas Maude took place in New York, the setting for Good Times was Chicago.


After Florida's departure in 1974, Mrs. Nell Naugatuck (played by Hermione Baddeley), an elderly (and vulgar) British woman who drank excessively and lied compulsively, took over. Unlike Florida, who commuted, Mrs. Naugatuck was a live-in maid. She met and began dating Bert Beasley (an elderly security guard at a cemetery, played by J. Pat O'Malley) in 1975. They married in 1977 and moved to Ireland to care for Bert's mother. Mrs. Naugatuck's frequent sparring with Maude was, it can be argued, just as comedically popular as Florida's sparring. The difference in the two relationships was that Mrs. Naugatuck often came off as if she despised Maude Findlay, whereas Florida seemed only periodically frustrated by her boss.

Lear said the last name 'Naugatuck' was directly taken from the town of Naugatuck, Connecticut, which he found amusing. Due to the popularity of the program, Baddeley even visited the town in the late 1970s and was given a warm, official ceremony at the town green.


Maude then hired Victoria Butterfield (played by Marlene Warfield), a native of Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands, whom Maude initially accused of stealing her wallet. Victoria remained until the end of the series in 1978. However, Warfield's character was never as popular as her two predecessors, and she was never given a credit as a series regular.

The show's theme song, "And Then There's Maude", was written by Marilyn and Alan Bergman and Dave Grusin, and performed by Donny Hathaway.

The character of Maude Findlay was said to be loosely based on creator Norman Lear's then-wife Frances. She first appeared on two episodes of All in the Family as Edith Bunker's cousin. Maude represented everything Archie Bunker did not: She was a liberal, a feminist, and upper-middle class, whereas Archie was conservative, sexist, and in the working class.

Maude's political beliefs were closer to those of the series creators than Archie Bunker's, but the series often lampooned Maude as a naive "limousine liberal" and did not show her beliefs and attitudes in an entirely complimentary light. Just before the show's premiere in September 1972, TV Guide described the character of Maude as "a caricature of the knee-jerk liberal."


While the show was conceived as a comedy, scripts also incorporated much darker humor and drama. Maude took Miltown, a mild tranquilizer, and also Valium; she and her husband Walter began drinking in the evening. Maude had an abortion in November 1972, two months before the Roe v. Wade decision made abortion legal nationwide, and the episodes that dealt with the situation are probably the series' most famous and most controversial. Maude, at age 47, was dismayed to find herself unexpectedly pregnant. Her daughter Carol brought to her attention that abortion was now legal in New York State. After some soul-searching (and discussions with Walter, who agreed that raising a baby at their stage of life was not what they wanted to do), Maude tearfully decided at the end of the two-parter that abortion was probably the best choice for their lives and their marriage. Noticing the controversy around the storyline, CBS decided to rerun the episodes in August 1973, and members of the country's clergy reacted strongly to the decision. At least 30 stations pre-empted the episode. Future Golden Girls creator Susan Harris was a writer on the episode.


The producers and the writers of the show tackled other controversies. In a story arc that opened the 1973-74 season, Walter came to grips with his alcoholism and subsequently had a nervous breakdown. The beginning of the story arc had Maude, Walter, and Arthur enjoying a night of revelry. However, Maude panicked when she woke up the following morning to find Arthur in her bed. This alarmed her to the point that both of them swore off alcohol entirely. Walter could not do it ("Dean Martin gets a million dollars for his buzz") and became so aggravated during his attempts to stop that he struck Maude. Afterward, he suffered a breakdown as a result of his alcoholism and guilt over the domestic violence incident. The arc, which played out in two parts, was typically controversial for the show but gained praise for highlighting how social drinking can lead to alcoholism.

To quote Maude, "God'll get you for that, Walter".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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