When the offer came over the transom to interview singer-songwriter and author Ben Arthur in advance of his innovative intertwined novel and album project If You Look For My Heart (out this week on sonaBLAST! Records; get it here on Amazon, or iTunes), a few of the Popdose staff accidentally read the subject as “Bea Arthur,” not “Ben Arthur,” as in not the folksy artist who collaborates with Rachael Yamagata and Aesop Rock on his new album, but rather the deceased star of The Golden Girls, Maude, and The Star Wars Holiday Special. I said I would interview Ben Arthur, but on the condition that I could use questions written for Bea Arthur. Mr. Arthur, to his credit, and hilarity, was game.
May I call you Bea, or do you prefer Beatrice?
Beatrice? Oh, no. My given name was Bernice, young man. But i never liked it, so Bea is fine for me.
You’re well known for being exceptionally tall, but just how tall are you?
5 foot, 10 inches. Though I haven’t checked lately, and it seems most of my contemporaries–those that are still with us–have been shrinking, so it wouldn’t surprise me if I was as well!
Both of the seminal shows on which you starred also featured theme songs by prominent musician. Which one do you prefer, “And Then There’s Maude,” by Donny Hathaway, or “Thank You For Being a Friend,” by Andrew Gold?
They’re both fine in their own right, but honestly, when you’ve had one or the other shrilling at you every time you sit down for an interview with some young nitwit (who hasn’t a tenth the wit or charm of Dick Cavett), your gorge tends to rise at the first note. If I had to choose, I suppose “And Then There’s Maude,” which I performed in my Tony-nominated one woman show on Broadway.
Did you ever meet either of them, and did you have any input into the theme songs?
Oh, heavens no. I was never a singer’s singer, dear. I just belted them out. I did run into Andy just the other day, actually, and it was a pleasure to finally meet him. We had a very funny conversation. A funny man, very smart. Honestly I don’t ever expect much in the intellect department when I meet a musician!
We know what your Golden Girls character, Dorothy Zbornak would do, but would you rather place your feisty mother in a nursing home, or let her come live with you?
My mother lived with me for ten years. Though it’s easy for me to say, as I could afford help, nurses and such, that many people don’t have the luxury of. I would never judge anyone’s decision as far as a nursing home. It’s a very personal issue.
What’s your favorite flavor of cheesecake?
In which sense, dear? Ha! Sara Lee is just fine by me. And, let’s see…I once had a ricotta cheesecake at Marino’s that was heavenly.
What’s a lanai anyway?
You’re talking about the Golden Girls again? You know, I did do other things in my lifetime. Did you know I was once a sergeant in the marines?
You recently died. My condolences. What does it feel like to be dead?
Better than you might think. But I’m not supposed to talk about it. Very big secret, all sorts of NDA’s and paperwork for this sort of thing.
Are you in Heaven, and if so, is Rue McClanahan there also, or is she in hell because like her Golden Girls character, she was a fornicator?
You are positively obsessed! Are you one of those homosexuals that’s always quoting lines from the show? Honestly, I went to school with Marlon Brando! The abortion episode on my show, Maude, had a major impact on the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, for heaven’s sake! But all you people ever want to talk about is the Golden Girls. It’s tiresome. Just tiresome. Move on!
How do you really feel about the late-career resurgence of Betty White?
Well deserved. You people are youth obsessed. So it’s nice to see someone able to capture the public eye who’s out of puberty. If you haven’t lived, what have you got to say about life? That’s what art does, after all, it talks about life. So if you turn to a fifteen year-old boy for wisdom, well, you get what you deserve!
If you threw a party, and invited everyone you knew, who would the biggest gift be from, and why?
The parties up here, they’re legendary. You don’t know what a jam is till you’ve seen Jimi Hendrix playing the same stage as Paganini. And the drugs…well, I’m not supposed to say.
Do you have any favorite young performers today, particularly any folk-influenced, warm-voiced singer-songwriters with whom you share a similar name and possibly family line?
Who? That boy? Yes, what’s his name…? I met the young man with Danny Aiello at a MusicCares benefit ten years ago. Is that who you mean? He’s…well, he’s harmless, I guess. But honestly? Kind of desperate. I think he’d do anything for publicity. He…why, he’d probably even impersonate an old lady just for an interview with some blog! Can you imagine?