04/27/2009 AT 08:55 AM EDT
Despite her booming voice and boisterous personality – "Let's face it," the 5'9" leading lady once quipped, "nobody ever asked me to play Juliet" – Beatrice Arthur was very private, sensitive, even shy, her two surviving Golden Girls
costars, Betty White and Rue McClanahan, affectionately recalled Monday morning.
Speaking over the phone on the Today
show about their late friend and professional colleague – Arthur, 86, died early Saturday morning
at her home in Los Angeles after a lengthy battle with cancer – both expressed their amazement when Arthur headlined her own, autobiographical one-woman show, 2002's Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends
"Her emotions were just under the skin," McClanahan, 75, said of Arthur. "You could look at her cross-eyed and she'd burst into tears."
was such a happy time in our lives. But I will also remember her in her one-woman show," said White, 87. "To see her get up on that stage and command it as a one-woman show was really mind-boggling."
"That's because she was in control," said McClanahan. "When she was performing she was in total control. But in her personal life … she was so sensitive."