May 14 2010 12:55pm

Beyond Bea Arthur: Bea and SF

Betty White’s been getting a whole lot of attention around the internets lately, but I’d like to take a minute to pay tribute to my favorite Golden Girl, Bea Arthur, who would have been 87 years old yesterday. Betty’s image recently appeared on the cover of The Portland Mercury clad in a golden, Princess Leia-style bikini and brandishing a flaming chainsaw, and while that is, undeniably, awesome, I think it’s time to set the record straight, here. Let’s give credit where credit’s due and recognize once and for all that that Bea was, in fact, the most SFnal of the Golden Girls. Now, I know that this is a highly controversial issue, and my claim may seem at first to be merely the lunatical ramblings of an unhinged mind, but hear me out...

First of all: the Star Wars connection. Bea gives an absolutely riveting performance as Ackmena, the world-weary barmaid in the immortal (or at least infamous) Star Wars Holiday Special. Yes, I know that for many people, watching the SWHS is an experience akin to chewing hot, dirt-flavored glass, but if you’ve never seen Bea’s turn as Ackmena, closing up the Mos Eisley Cantina and getting hit on by Harvey Korman in alien drag—well, you haven’t truly lived, nerf herder. In the video below, Bea sings the native Tatooinian ballad “Good Night, But Not Goodbye,” backed up by the Cantina’s resident jam band, Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes. When’s the last time Betty White rocked out with some aliens? …Never? Hm. Interesting.

Star Wars Holiday Special - Cantina Song - watch more funny videos

Now, if that eight minute slice of heaven weren’t enough to cement her status as one of the leading ladies of SF comedy, Bea signed on for another space odyssey in 2001 (get it?), making a guest appearance in the Emmy-nominated Futurama episode “Amazon Women in the Mood.” Starring as the ENIAC-like Femputer, the massive, man-hating ruler of the planet Amazonia, Arthur imperiously sentences Fry, Kiff, and Zapp Brannigan to “death by snoo snoo,” and…rather than explain, let’s just watch the clip below:

Brilliant. I think that Bea brought a tenderness and vulnerability to the role of Femputer that underscores the humor—in many ways, Femputer is really just a murderous, metallic Maude for the thirty-first century.

Or not.

In any case, I think we can all agree that Bea Arthur was consistently fantastic, whether she was playing a sarcastic divorcee living in Miami, an acerbic barmaid on a planet far, far away, or an enraged militant fembot fighting against the chauvinism of Manputers everywhere. In closing, I just want to point out that Betty White isn’t the only one inspiring epic works of art: Brandon Bird’s “Killing Machine” (also 2001) features Bea Arthur taking down a pack of raptors…and she doesn’t need a flaming chainsaw to do it. In short: Betty White is awesome, but Beatrice Arthur is quite possibly the most SF senior since Wilford Brimley and Brian Dennehy mixed it up in Cocoon, and I’m prepared to fight anyone who says differently (chainsaws optional). Who’s with me?

¡Viva La Bea!

Bridget McGovern is a lit nerd, a film geek, and a complete pop culture junkie. She owns a deluxe bootleg of The Star Wars Holiday Special and grew up watching The Golden Girls back when Joss Whedon’s dad used to write it.

Andrew Belmont
1. rosetintdworld
Who was Joss Whedon's dad?
Bridget McGovern
2. BMcGovern
Thanks! I *LOVE* Bea Arthur-Mountains-Pizza! It's both hilarious and delicious :)

Joss Whedon's father and grandfather were both screenwriters; his dad, Tom Whedon, helped create Captain Kangaroo, was head writer for The Electric Company, and also wrote for adult shows, like The Golden Girls in the Eighties. Too bad we never got a Golden Girls/Buffy crossover...
Greg Manchess
3. Greg Manchess
HILARIOUS, B! I didn't know any of that.

Way down, in a small part of my mind, down a back street and below ground, tucked in a smoky dark alien cantina of my ego.....I wish I had been asked to paint that cover for The Mercury. (Hey, it's in MY TOWN.)

'Cause, y'know...Betty was always kinda hot. : )
Marc Houle
4. MightyMarc
Now I'm sad I never got to see that Star Wars Christmas Special.
Greg Manchess
5. tom nackid
Hi Bridget. Nice to see someone fondly remembering the "Star Wars Holiday special", though I suspect you are far too young to have experienced it the first (and only) time around on good ol' analog, broadcast TV. Harvey Corman's performance as an alien Julia Child will be forever burned into my cerebral cortex. Still, it was more entertaining than "Revenge of the Sith" and it did introduce the world to Boba Fett.

Greg, as for Ms. White's hotness, I always remember her as the libidinous "Happy Homemaker" (a sly reference to the famous Xavier Hollander book) from Mary Tyler Moore. She played a wholesome on the surface, horny underneath home-show hostess (sort of a prototypical Martha Stewart!) who was always trying to get into Lou Grant's pants. I'll take that character over a golden girl any day!
Ron Garrison
6. Man-0-Manetheran
I love Bea Arthur. She was always my first casting choice for the role of Cadsuane. Favorite Golden Girls episode? Bea as Cher and Estelle as Sonny. I got you babe! Rest in peace, dear soul.
Greg Manchess
7. Teka Lynn
I don't believe these words have ever been uttered about The Star Wars Holiday Special before, in the history of any galaxy near or far...but that scene was actually BETTER than I'd remembered.

Bea Arthur rocks.

(And yes, I saw it on broadcast TV, one time only.)
8. rogerothornhill
You know, your entire existence and the existence of this site may just have been justified. Awesomeness abides.

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