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Maude

Maude

Norman Lear's sitcom, Maude (1972-1978), featured one of the most outspoken woman characters in television history. The character Maude Findley (played by Beatrice Arthur, who also went on to star in the hit series The Golden Girls) first appeared on All in the Family as Edith Bunker's cousin. She was upper-middle-class, educated, liberated, witty, and domineering, the perfect counterpoint for All in the Family's strong-willed and opinionated Archie Bunker. Frances Lear, Norman's late ex-wife and Maude's inspiration, told People in 1975, that "a great deal of Maude comes from my consciousness being raised by the [women's] movement—and from Norman's being raised by me." Maude's gutsy approach to life gave her the strength to deal with some of life's most difficult experiences, and Lear's skill enabled her to do so while maintaining a comedic air to the show.

Maude lived in Tuckahoe, New York, with her fourth husband, Walter Findley (Bill Macy) of Findley's Friendly Appliances, her 27-year-old divorced daughter Carol Traynor (Adrienne Barbeau), and Carol's 9-year-old son Phillip (Brian Morrison, Kraig Metzinger). The Findley's next door neighbor and Walter's best friend was Dr. Arthur Harmon (Conrad Bain), a widower, who soon started dating Maude's best friend, recent divorcee Vivian Cavender (fellow future Golden Girl Rue McClanahan); they married in the 1974 season.

Maude may have been a model for independent women, but she still had a female servant in the house; in fact, she ran through three of them. Her first maid was Florida Evans (Esther Rolle), who was a straight-shooting black woman who soon got a spin-off of her own in 1974, Good Times (which lasted until 1979). On both Maude and Good Times, John Amos played Florida's husband, though he was called Henry on Maude and James on Good Times. Maude's next maid was Mrs. Nell Naugatuck (Hermione Baddeley), a hard-drinking English woman. Even though she won a Golden Globe award for her role as a supporting actress in 1976, her character was soon married off and sent back to the British Isles. Victoria Butterfield (Marlene Warfield) joined the show in 1977.

Maude was controversial from the very beginning; during its second month on the air, it seized headlines as the first sitcom to deal with the subject of abortion. On November 14, 1972, 47-year-old Maude announced she was pregnant. During the next episode, on the suggestion of Carol and with the support of Walter, she decided to have an abortion, which was legal in New York at the time, but not yet nationally; it was three months before the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision.

After those two episodes, Maude shot up from thirteenth to fifth place in the Nielsen ratings, and CBS received hundreds of calls and 7,000 letters protesting the episodes; the tumult started up again nine months later when "Maude's Dilemma" was rerun. Twenty-five CBS affiliates refused to air the shows, the network received 17,000 letters, and, as a result of pressure on advertisers by anti-abortion groups, only one 30-second commercial was sold.

Nevertheless, Maude continued to explore controversial issues. Maude had a face lift and went through menopause. Walter dealt with a serious bout of alcoholism, saw his store go bankrupt, and had a nervous breakdown. The show remained popular despite these sometimes depressing themes until the last season, when the audience started declining. There had been major changes planned for the 1978-79 season; the Harmons and Carol were to leave town, a new supporting cast was to be added, Walter was to retire, and Maude would begin a career in politics. Nevertheless, Bea Arthur announced early in 1978 that she'd be leaving the series. Replacing her was not an option; the producers admitted that no one could play the role as Arthur could, and decided to end the show. The political career that Maude was supposed to have was the basis for a brief, odd, and failed Bill Macy vehicle called Hanging In.

—Karen Lurie

Further Reading:

Brooks, Tim, and Marsh, Earle. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-present. New York, Ballantine Books, 1995.

Davidson, Casey. "Maude's Choice." Entertainment Weekly, November 12, 1993, 76.

Lipton, Michael A. "Queen Lear: After Torment and Tumult, the Impetuous Model for 'Maude' Leaves Life with Unaccustomed Serenity." People Weekly, October 14, 1996, 101.

McNeil, Alex. Total Television. New York, Penguin, 1996.

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