“And then there’s Maude.”
In football, there’s always a lot of talk about coaching trees. You know the idea. Some great mastermind who saw his assistants go on to have success of their own and who passed that lucky charm down to others for, perhaps, generations. All In The Family would be the television equivalent to a coach with a long tree. There were an incredible number of spinoffs that led to other spinoffs. Archie’s neighbors The Jeffersons moved on up to the East Side and had their own several years of success. That show saw maid Florence have her spinoff from that show called Checking In. Meanwhile, Archie’s daughter had her Gloria series, and after Edith’s death, Archie settled into Archie Bunker’s Place. Even the Bunker home had a spinoff called 704 Houser Street when a new family moved in.
But it all started with Maude. Maude was Edith’s cousin, who visited for an episode in 1971. She was Archie’s total opposite, but just as much of a big mouth. She was the ultra-liberal who was particularly vocal about women’s liberation. In the 1970’s that was quite a hot topic, with the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution being debated. The amendment never did pass, but the movement didn’t just curl up and die. And it wouldn’t, at least not if Maude had anything to say about it. And Maude always had a lot to say. She was so popular in that appearance that Maude became the first spinoff in the All In The Family “coaching” tree.
Long before she was a Golden Girl, Bea Arthur was Maude. Maude Findlay had been widowed and divorced over the years. She had a daughter by one of those previous marriages named Carol, played by Adrienne Barbeau. Carol had a son Phillip (Morrison). Carol was also divorced, and she and Phillip lived with Maude and her current husband Walter, played by Bill Macy. Their best friends and neighbors were Dr. Arthur Harmon (Bain) and Vivian, played by future fellow Golden Girl Rue McClanahan. They owned an appliance store that Walter ran. For all of her women’s lib talk, Maude was mostly a housewife. There are episodes that find her wanting more, of course. The housework wasn’t really an issue, because they had a maid named Florida Evans. If that name sounds at all familiar, it should. This was to be her last season on Maude, because she would start keepin’ her head above water in the spinoff Good Times. Her husband would make an appearance, this time played by John Amos, who played him in Good Times; his name is Henry here but would be changed to James on the new show.
Maude was one of those shows that was willing to bring serious issues and controversial themes into the show. Of course, the season is most notable for the departure of Esther Rolle as Florida for her own series. It’s really a carry-over from All In The Family. The difference is that Maude is never quite as likable as Archie could be even with his faults. The series was at its best when Maude was confronted with her own hypocrisy. Bea Arthur handled those moments best. The housekeeper Mrs. Naugatuck is played by Hermione Baddeley. She would become a sparring partner for Maude. She didn’t mind offering her own opinions even when they did not agree with Maude’s.
Season 6 begins with one of the most memorable episodes and scenes from the show. In Vivian’s First Funeral Maude and Vivian attend a funeral only to find the deceased wearing a piece of jewelry that Maude had borrowed from Vivian, who now wants it back. The scene at the casket is the one I remembered most from the entire series. Walter’s Crises is a two-part episode that finds Walter’s store going bankrupt and Walter looking for a job in a bad economy. It’s another example of how sobering the show could often be for a comedy. Walter worries that he might be gay after he has a dream of kissing Arthur in Arthur’s Worry. The Rip-Off shares a very similar plot to an All In The Family episode earlier. Maude refuses to go out with the gang when she gets outvoted on the movie she wants to see. While alone, she becomes the victim of a robbery. It works a lot like an episode where Edith is raped while the family is next door. It’s one of Bea Arthur’s best performances on the series. Maude’s Desperate Hour takes the idea a step farther when a painter hired to work in the house tries to force Maude into a sexual situation. In Vivian’s Surprise Vivian finds out Arthur has a twin brother after a rather romantic engagement with… which one?
The series would run six years and be a pretty highly rated series throughout its run. In 1977 Bea Arthur took home the show’s only Emmy for best actress in a comedy. It stayed in the top ten for the first few years. By the sixth season it fell hard, and the showrunners attempted to retool the show by putting Maude in Congress. The idea only lasted three episodes, and Maude faded rather quickly from the television landscape while Archie was still thriving. The release is strictly for fans with no extras or restoration to boast of. Shout is doing a good job of getting these shows out that have been neglected by their original rights owners who didn’t feel there was enough cash to be mined from the effort. “God’ll get you for that.”