Sunday, December 11, 2016

We Are Family

If you're old enough to remember TV from the '80s — or simply if you watch syndicated programs today — you may recognize Bea Arthur as one of the stars of The Golden Girls.

But Arthur first became known to American TV audiences 45 years ago today with an appearance as Edith Bunker's (Jean Stapleton) Cousin Maude on All in the Family. After establishing her character in two appearances on All in the Family, Arthur was cast as the star of her own series, aptly titled Maude, and a star was born. It was on this night in 1971 that she made the first of those appearances.

In the story, Edith (Jean Stapleton) had been running herself ragged trying to care for the rest of the family. Archie (Carroll O'Connor), Gloria (Sally Struthers) and Mike (Rob Reiner) were suffering from some kind of flu, and Edith called on her cousin Maude to come help her. As Maude frequently said of her cousin, "That sweet Edith, I'd die for her," and Maude didn't hesitate to answer Edith's call.

Edith and Maude were more than cousins. They were close, apparently had been close since at least their teen years. They both recalled when Archie and Edith met at a neighborhood ice cream parlor — but they remembered that event differently. For Edith, it was a sentimental journey. For Maude, it was a painful memory. She believed Edith had married beneath her.

Archie and Maude didn't get along. Well, that's putting it mildly.

Maude was everything Archie was not. She was progressive, a Democrat, a supporter of things like women's liberation, abortion, civil rights, racial equality and gender equality. She idolized Franklin D. Roosevelt; Archie's favorite president was Richard Nixon (he took his lumps for that a few years later when Watergate was constantly in the news and then Nixon resigned; a few years after that, he foreshadowed the future by insisting that he would vote for Ronald Reagan for president the next time around). It was a classic confrontation between liberal and conservative, the immovable object vs. the irresistible force.

No doubt there were many households that had similar divisions in their families in the just–concluded election season.