In candid new interview, Rue McClanahan remembers Bea Arthur and the late star’s dislike of Betty White
William Keck’s new TV Guide article answers a lingering question for me regarding the off-screen relationship between the late Bea Arthur, who died last week, and her Golden Girls co-star Betty White. At the Museum and Television and Film event 4-5 years ago, I noticed a frostiness between the two women – coming more from Bea. Betty tried to engage her a few times during a panel discussion but no dice. Then after the event ended, I was standing near the stage as Bea hugged Rue McClanahan goodbye but left without anything to Betty who followed her backstage and called after her. (the bottom photo is from that evening in Beverly Hills. The top photo is from last year’s TV Land Awards). Anyway, that night at the panel, I wondered if they had perhaps the two women had had a disagreement but never knew that Bea just did not like Betty, something Keck’s terrifically candid new interview with McClanahan makes perfectly clear.
A few excerpts:
Keck: Last year, Golden Girls creator Susan Harris saluted Betty White at an event celebrating Betty’s sixty years in show business and the two women openly discussed Bea’s intense dislike for Betty. What was that all about?
Rue: They approached life very differently. Bea came from a New York stage point of view. She always had what we call the fourth wall. And Betty came from a television point of view. She would flirt with the audience, and pull her skirt up and say, ‘Hi sailor.’ But Bea never acknowledged the audience. I always thought that was maybe part of it. But Bea never confided in me why she felt the way she did about Betty. It could be something Bea never confided in me. Betty always asked me, ‘Why?’ And I’d always say, ‘You know how Bea is, Betty. Bea gets a bee in her bonnet, and just doesn’t like certain things…and I don’t know why.’ Bea, for instance, didn’t like people who wore their baseball caps backwards. That really got to her. We were interviewing directors one time and if someone came in with a baseball cap worn backwards, he didn’t stand a chance.
Keck: And I know Betty attended Bea’s (one woman) show three times, which was nice considering their personal relationship.
Rue: Betty was a big fan of Bea. Bea’s feelings about Betty were not mutual. She really did love Bea.
Keck: What is your favorite memory of Bea?
Rue: She took care of me the Thanksgiving my mother died the first year of Maude. It was unexpected. My mother was young, and I was young. I went back to Oklahoma for the funeral and I was devastated. When I came back to California, I was grieving so. I heard from Bea and she said, ‘I’m having Thanksgiving dinner and you come over here immediately.’ I went over to her home in Santa Monica and she put me to bed, and tucked me in and brought me dinner. She calmed me down and I felt safe for the first time. You don’t forget things like that.