Bea Arthur, who died Saturday at the age of 86, was best known for her deep voice and dry comic delivery in the TV series Maude and The Golden Girls, and the Broadway musicals Fiddler on the Roof and Mame. But before becoming a star, she paid her dues in adventurous off-Broadway productions of the late 1940s and early 50s. Early credits included Gertrude Stein's verse play Yes Is for a Very Young Man (which teamed her with her husband-to-be Gene Saks, who later directed her in the Broadway and film versions of Mame), Ulysses in Nighttown (Burgess Meredith's adaptation of Joyce's Ulysses, starring Zero Mostel), and Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera, in which she appeared with Weill's widow, the great Lotte Lenya. Arthur credited Lenya for teaching her the value of economy onstage. "She told me, 'Never do anything unless you can't not do it,'" Arthur told me when I interviewed her for the Reader in 2001.