Sitcom about an outspoken, middle-aged, politically liberal woman living in suburban America.
141 episodes of 30 minute duration. CBS. 1972 - 1978
Maude Findlay was everything women in American television could not be in the early 1970's. She was middle-aged, loud, boisterous and opinionated. So was her show.
The first spin-off from the groundbreaking 'All In The Family' (which was based on the British comedy 'Till Death Us Do Part'), 'Maude' was in many ways the flip side of its parent. While "Family's" Archie Bunker was a lower-middle-class blue collar worker with a supporting wife and conservative Republican--even bigoted--viewpoints, Maude Findlay was a die-hard liberal Democrat, on her fourth marriage in the upper-middle-class suburb of Tuckahoe, New York. And if Carol O'Connor was the perfect man to play Archie, then Bea Arthur--the tall, deep-voiced Broadway actress--fit into Maude's stylish tunics like a dream.
It was Arthur's long-time friend, 'All In The Family' producer Norman Lear, who talked her into appearing on the show. (Arthur was probably best-known at this time for a series of musicals, most notably "Mame", where she played best friend Vera Charles in both the Broadway version with Angela Lansbury; both won a Tony for their performance. Arthur also appeared in the much-maligned film version with Lucille Ball as Mame.)
The Maude character was as a cousin of Edith Bunker; she made her first appearance on the December 11th, 1971 episode of "Family". The plot had Maude come to 704 Hauser Street in Queens, after the entire Bunker clan comes down with the flu. Before long, sparks between Maude and Archie on everything from politics to her choice of breakfast for an ailing Archie ("Cream of Wheat with cheese. It's light, but it binds.") The episode was so well-received, CBS entertainment president Fred Silverman urged Lear to bring Maude back. Lear did--in the final "Family" episode of the 1971-72 season. Airing on March 11th, 1972, Archie and Edith go to Maude's home for her daughter Carol's wedding, with predictably disastrous results (turns out Carol's soon-to-be husband was Jewish; which angered Archie and set off a major squabble; the wedding was called off). That episode was the first time we saw Maude's fourth husband, appliance dealer Walter Findlay (Bill Macy) and daughter Carol, who was played on that episode by Marcia Rodd. When Maude premiered on September 12th, 1972, Adrienne Barbeau replaced Rodd as Carol.
The show's political tone was set virtually from the start when Maude hires an African-American maid named Florida Evans (Esther Rolle); because of her liberal guilt, Maude tries to make Florida a part of the family. Florida would have none of it; she refused to eat with the Findlays and preferred to use the back door instead of the front entrance. Florida proved to be more than a match for the boisterous Mrs. Findlay. The third episode introduced neighbor and Walter's best friend Arthur Harmon (Conrad Bain), a successful doctor whose conservative Republican viewpoints clashed with Maude's liberal Democratic beliefs. (Arthur: "Nixon's the one." Maude: "And you're the other".) Later in the season, Maude's friend Vivian Cavender (Rue McClanahan) was introduced as part of a "perfect marriage"; Walter and Maude were shocked when that storybook romance crumbled and led to a divorce; Vivian later married Arthur Harmon and became a "traditional" stay-at-home wife who deferred to her husband--something that drove Maude crazy.
Perhaps the most controversial episodes of that first season came in a two-part episode on November 14th and 21st, 1972. Entitled "Maude's Dilemma", the 47-year-old Mrs. Findlay found herself pregnant. And in a first for a US series, Maude debated, then decided--with Walter's blessing and support--that her best option was to get an abortion. (The famous US Supreme Court "Roe v. Wade" ruling that made abortion legal was just months away; at the time of the broadcast, Maude's New York was one of the few states where abortions could be performed legally.) The episodes resulted in protests from various churches and anti-abortion groups; when CBS decided to rerun the "Maude's Dilemma" episodes in August 1973, a number of affiliates refused to air them and more than a half-dozen sponsors pulled out because of vocal opposition. To its credit, CBS aired the programs anyway.
In its first season, Maude was the fourth most-popular series on television, thanks to such hot-button issues as alcoholism; spousal abuse; face-lifts; marital squabbles; Maude's desire for a career in real estate; Walter's financial woes with his appliance store; even a visit from noted conservative and Western star John Wayne.
These and other subjects could have turned viewers away, but were made more tolerable thanks to good scripts and the strong acting of the lead characters. And Walter was no milquetoast; Maude's sarcastic putdowns ("God will get you for that....") were more than matched by Walter's marching orders when Maude went over the edge ("Maude...SIT!). One episode even had Maude talking to her (unseen) psychiatrist in a one-woman show that helped Bea Arthur win her only Emmy as Maude. At the end of Season Two, Florida resigned as the Findlay's maid to move with her husband Henry (John Amos) back to their Harlem home. (The couple actually took a detour; with a new first name for Henry (James), the pair got their own sitcom, Good Times, starting in February 1974. A rare spin-off from a spin-off, Good Times lasted six seasons.
Season Three introduced Florida's replacement, a British housekeeper named Mrs. Naugatuck (Hermione Baddeley). Like Florida, she proved to be more than a match for Maude. But Baddeley left the show in 1976, because she said her part "was getting smaller and smaller"; her final episode had Mrs. Naugatuck accept a proposal from longtime beau Bert Beasley (J. Pat O'Malley) and the two moving back to England. A third maid, Victoria Butterfield (Marlene Warfield) joined the Findlays and stayed until the show's end.
Maude led off CBS' Tuesday night schedule until the fall of 1974, when the network moved the series to Mondays at 9 PM, up against ABC's Monday Night Football. But by 1976, viewers were beginning to get tired of Maude and her controversies; after four years in television's top ten, Maude didn't even make the top-25 that year. In a last-ditch effort to save the series, the producers decided to have Maude move to Washington DC and become an aide for a Democratic congressman. In a surprise twist, the congressman dies and Maude is chosen to serve out his term. Bill Macy was the only holdover from the original cast, which included new characters who worked in Maude's congressional office. After just three episodes in the new format (and the show continuing to fall in the ratings) Bea Arthur decided to call it quits. As she noted, "One can only live with the same character for so long, and it is time for both of us to take a rest". The final episode of Maude aired on April 29th, 1978.
Even though Maude left the airwaves, the producers still thought the idea of doing a comedy about a citizen representative in Washington DC was a good idea, so the same script and supporting cast was used in a pilot called Onward and Upward, with a post-Good Times John Amos as an African-American ex-football player turned congressman. But Amos and the producers argued over the show's direction, so again the script and supporting cast was recycled for yet another pilot called Mr. Dugan with comic Cleavon Little replacing Amos. The show was set to air in March 1979, but CBS pulled the series after a group of real-life black politicians who watched the pilot claimed the show would be demeaning to them. It wasn't the end, however. The producers reworked the show yet again, leaving the nation's capitol altogether to center on a former pro football player who becomes the head of a university. In a final, ironic twist, the show--with the same supporting cast from the Maude Washington episodes and the other two pilots--became Hanging In and was a showcase for Maude's husband! Bill Macy starred in the sitcom, which lasted just four episodes on CBS in August 1979.
Bea Arthur returned to series television with Amanda's, a US copy of the British comedy classic Fawlty Towers. Arthur played Amanda Cartwright, the owner of a Pacific Coast inn called "Amanda's By The Sea". But critics were unkind and viewers were scarce; Amanda's lasted from February to May 1983 on ABC.
In 1985, producer Susan Harris (the creator of Soap and the writer of the Maude abortion episodes), came up with The Golden Girls for NBC. Arthur (who refused to appear in the show until she read the pilot script) co-starred with old Maude pal Rue McClanahan, veteran sitcom actress Betty White and relative newcomer Estelle Getty, in what turned out to be one of the most popular US comedies of the late 1980's and early 90's. In some ways, Arthur's Dorothy Zbornak was not all that much removed from Maude Findlay--a little mellower and wiser (this time with one divorce under her belt), but still a razor-sharp force to contend with. After Golden Girls, Arthur took on guest roles in movies and TV; she was nominated for an Emmy after playing a slightly loopy babysitter in a guest starring role on Malcolm In The Middle. In 2002, Arthur returned to her beloved Broadway with a one-woman show entitled "And Then There's Bea"; it was nominated for a Tony, but Arthur's show lost out to Elaine Stritch's one-woman performance.
"And Then There's Maude", the show's lively theme song ("That uncompromising/Enterprising/Anything but tranquilizing/Right on Maude!") was co-written by Dave Grusin and Andrew Bergman; it was sung by the late Donny Hathaway.
Maude is not seen as often as All In The Family in reruns these days, likely because its topical issues have dated the program. That's a shame, because at its best, Maude was like a weekly 22-minute comedy and drama, starring a woman at the top of her game. And she played the game well.
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