“She was not your average, beautiful heroine,” says Bea Arthur, the actress who played the title character in “Maude,” the ground-breaking television sitcom. “But I felt like Cinderella … It was one of the first times on television that a woman was seen as the head of the family instead of the usual fumbling male.”
Maude Findlay first appeared as a character on Norman Lear’s “All in the Family” as Archie Bunker’s sister-in-law and true foil — a liberal, outspoken woman. In the spin-off series that ran on CBS from 1972 to 1978, Lear centered the story around her, not shying away from her feminism.
Writing for the Museum of Broadcast Communications, Kathyrn Fry explains, “Strong-willed, intelligent and articulate, the liberal progressive Maude spoke out on issues raised less openly on Lear’s highly successful All in the Family. While questions of race, class and gender politics reverberated throughout both, certain specific issues, like menopause, birth control and abortion were more openly confronted on Maude.”
In fact, in November of the show’s second season, Maude finds out she is pregnant at age 47 and decides to have an abortion. This is in New York state, where abortion had already been legalized. To understand the significance of that moment to this day, check out this terrific “Timeline of Abortion Stories in U.S. Popular Media,” or read what I wrote about taboo TV topics back at Ms.
So, I’m thinking you should get to know Maude, if you don’t already. And it’s soon going to be very easy. The first season DVD will be released March 20.
“Nearly 35 years after its debut in fall 1972, viewers may find Maude: The Complete First Season (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, $29.95) tame,” writes Gary Strauss in USA Today, adding that Maude’s story lines were incredibly controversial at the time.
Which pleased Bea Arthur, who went on to be one of “The Golden Girls.”
“I liked the fact that we touched on just about everything untouchable,” said Arthur. “It was so very different and not what people expected.”