Beatrice Arthur, Maude

Question: What was Maude's husband's name? My husband and I have a bet going. Can you please help? Thank you.


Answer: OK, Kandi, allow me to bore regular readers with my usual admonishment that those who have bets should let me know what's at stake in their questions — I'm just snoopy like that — before moving on to the usual enlightenment.

So, here's the enlightenment. On Maude, which ran on CBS from September 1972 to April 1978, the fourth husband of Maude Findlay (Beatrice Arthur) was Walter Findlay (Bill Macy). Rounding out the family was Maude's divorced daughter, Carol (Adrienne Barbeau) and her young son, Phillip (Brian Morrison for five years, then Kraig Metzinger).

And don't feel too bad about forgetting Walter's name — it's not the first time Macy has suffered character-related indignities. Matter of fact, sometimes he didn't have to look any farther than his own costar for a nice kick to the ego. In the show's first season, Macy and Arthur, who lived near one another, drove to work together, and the grumpy conversations of those early-morning trips often played out like the scripted bickering between their respective characters. One morning Macy told a story about his near-naked pratfall in the flesh-baring stage show Oh! Calcutta! and how falling off a chair threw the audience into hysterics. "Oh, shut the hell up, Walter!" Arthur snapped. "My name's Bill," he replied.

And the public wasn't much better, even when fans did recognize the actor. In 1973 Macy told of the time he went on a hike near his house and began chatting with a young couple he encountered. All of a sudden the man got all excited, screamed "Maude!" and smacked Macy in the back. "He hit me so hard, he hurt my neck," Macy complained. "The monster used the title of the show, not my name. What's the point of being a star if they don't know you and they treat you like a schlimazel?" (Quick Yiddish lesson for you neophytes: A schlemiel is a guy who spills his soup. A schlimazel is the guy he spills it on.)

So much for enthusiastic fans, who presented complications for nearly everyone in the cast. Lucky Conrad Bain (Diff'rent Strokes), however, had a stand-in who was forced to field fan encounters for him: his twin brother, Bonar. "People on planes and in restaurants come up to him now, they'll stare and say, 'Hey, we know you from Maude,'" he told TV Guide in 1974. "And when Bonar says, 'Oh, no, that's my twin brother,' they don't believe him. Some people are even angered at what they assume is a brush-off by an actor. Bonar's an outgoing, gregarious type, but he wasn't sure how to handle it. I suggested that he just say, 'Thanks, I'm glad you like the show.' He's been doing that, and if they want an autograph, he smiles and signs my name. It seems to work out best."

Of course, complications were what Maude was all about. This was a spin-off steeped in politics — Maude first appeared as Edith Bunker's liberal, Archie-confounding cousin on All in the Family — and a show that made headlines by not being shown after a few CBS affiliates refused to air an abortion-oriented story line. Then there were the alcoholism, a nervous breakdown and the menopause episodes — heavy stuff for the days when comedies were supposed to be, well... comedic.

Still, the politics and the controversy were what got the show and its stars noticed, and even Arthur had to admit it did more for her fame quotient than her stage (Fiddler on the Roof, Mame) or film career. "It's funny," she said in 1972, "you work your fanny off all those years, perfecting your craft in god knows how many plays and revues, and then you do one television show, and suddenly everyone knows you. I went into our village hardware store the other day and the man said, 'Mrs. Saks [Arthur was married to director Gene Saks], that was you on All in the Family. We had no idea!' I said, 'But my movie, Lovers and Other Strangers, was playing right next door here for several weeks,' and he said, 'Oh, movies — who goes?'"

Not that the actress had any problem with being out of the limelight. By 1976 she was a household name, but she was already prepared for a return to relative obscurity. "The great leveler is realizing that if my show goes off the air, one year later nobody will remember anything," she said.

Not true, and I'm darned grateful for it. Otherwise I wouldn't have a column.