Bea Arthur’s title character was uncompromising, enterprising, anything but tranquilizing, just like the theme song promised.
By Marc Berman
Bea Arthur as Edith Bunker’s cousin Maude Findlay, an outspoken middle-aged liberal woman, the polar opposite of conservative Archie Bunker, was perfect for Lear’s next sitcom after All in the Family.
Originally appearing in the Season 2 All in the Family episode “Cousin Maude’s Visit” (December 11, 1971), Arthur made enough of an impact to return in a backdoor pilot in the season-ending episode on March 11, 1972, titled “Maude.”
Breaking the Typical TV Heroine Mold
From left: Adrienne Barbeau, Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and Hermione Baddeley
Photo credit: Bettmann Archive
Maude debuted on September 12, 1972. Unlike most new half-hour comedies at the time, it did not have the luxury of proven lead-in support. Yet, as the Tuesday 8 p.m. ET anchor, it managed to end third overall for the first season (behind Norman Lear’s All in the Family and Sanford and Son, and the original Hawaii Five-O—all on CBS), according to Nielsen.
Arthur’s Maude was a suburban housewife in Tuckahoe, New York, who broke the typical TV heroine mold. While Mary Tyler Moore was “making it on her own” in her beloved eponymous sitcom, Maude was on her fourth husband (Bill Macy as Walter), and she had a grown daughter, Carol (Adrienne Barbeau), and a grandson, Philip (initially Brian Morrison), living with her. Rounding off the cast was Conrad Bain (pre–Diff’rent Strokes) as Arthur Harmon, the Findlays’ stuffy, cynical Republican neighbor; Rue McClanahan as Arthur’s scatterbrained second wife, Viv; and Esther Rolle as Florida Evans, the first of the Findlays’ three different housekeepers.
Never Shy Addressing Serious Issues
Bill Macy and Arthur as Walter and Maude Findlay
Photo credit: CBS via Getty Images
Mirroring All in the Family, Maude was never shy addressing serious issues such as alcoholism, marijuana, wife swapping, depression, and suicide. In a two-part Season 1 installment, two months before the Roe v. Wade ruling would make abortion legal in the country, Maude’s decision to have an abortion resulted in 39 TV stations across the country pre-empting the show.
With ratings beginning to thin out by Season 6, a proposed seventh season had Maude Findlay moving to Washington, D.C., to pursue a career in politics. When Bea Arthur decided to call it quits, the storyline for Maude evolved into the pilot Mr. Dugan, with John Amos replacing Arthur as the lead character. But a negative backlash from a screening for African American members of Congress resulted in CBS pulling the plug and not airing any of the three episodes produced. Lear reworked the premise into Hanging In, with Bill Macy playing a former professional football player turned university president. It aired for four episodes in August 1978.
Factoids About Maude
- In addition to Maude, CBS debuted two other long-running comedies in September 1972: M*A*S*H and The Bob Newhart Show. A fourth new comedy, Bridget Loves Bernie, might also have had a long run had it not tackled the then-taboo subject of interfaith marriage.
- Martin Balsam, who played Archie Bunker’s business partner Murray Klein in the first two seasons of spinoff Archie Bunker’s Place, guest-starred as Maude’s third husband in the Season 5 episode “Maude and Chester” (September 27, 1976).
- Before playing purser Burl “Gopher” Smith on Aaron Spelling’s The Love Boat, Fred Grandy appeared in seven episodes as Carol’s boyfriend Chris.
- Arthur and Rue McClanahan of course reunited for the long-running comedy The Golden Girls. But the first choice to play Vivian on Maude was Doris Roberts. Roberts found later work with Norman Lear on episodes of All in the Family and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and in later years on CBS’s Everybody Loves Raymond.