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.

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.


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