The death of of our beloved Bea Arthur has gotten me thinking. Bea was not a conventionally attractive woman; her broad shoulders, plain face, and deep voice made her the butt of not a few jokes. But even with this occasional ridicule, she was still the star of her own network tv show (Maude), won an Emmy, and became adored by millions as one of the Golden Girls. Although she never made the 50 Most Beautiful People list, it had no effect on her ability to carry a television show. This seems reasonable to me, but I've come the the realization that Bea was one of the very few women in Hollywood to "make it" because of her talent alone. She wasn't much to look at, but she was funny, and that's what mattered. And when she got *shudder* old, people still seemed to want to see her face on their screens.
Could a Bea Arthur gain popularity in our current culture?
Here's an example why I'm not sure. The media uproar over Susan Boyle is blowing my mind. If you don't know, Susan was a homely contestant on Britain's Got Talent who knocked everyone's socks off with her incredible singing voice, and became an internet sensation. But seriously. Is it really that noteworthy that an unattractive woman can sing, and has the confidence and desire to share her voice? People are behaving as if a dog performed open-heart surgery, and I find that pretty alarming. And what's weirder is that Boyle is now attempting to take steps to become more beautiful, getting her hair cut and dyed, and waxing her bushy brows. The public's response to her is multi-faceted; they're moved by her voice, shocked that it could come from her mouth, and confused about how to feel beyond that. We'll have to wait and see what their final judgement is.
Another fun fact: Tina Fey never got any screen time at all until she lost 20 pounds, and she was just as hilarious during her "fat" years as head writer of SNL as she is as the skinny star of 30 Rock. Early test audiences couldn't even handle quirky-looking Rachel Dratch as Fey's on-screen sidekick (she was replaced by big-eyed blonde Jane Krakowski (who is funny in her own right, but still.)) And that was for a character role, which is usually the only place non-pretties are accepted on tv (see Gladys Kravitz from Bewitched, or any next-door-neighbor or maiden aunt.)
So, to you I pose this question: will there ever be another Bea? Can you think of any other female stars whose looks had no bearing on their media popularity? I want to know what you think.