Fans of Bea Arthur should not miss tonight's episode of "Maude" on Channel 9 at 9 o'clock.

This talented lady, who has yet to win an Emmy, puts on a dazzling performance as she laments her 51st birthday at attends the 30the reunion of her college class.

It would ruin the pleasure of this evening's episode to reveal what happens when Maude sees her closest college friend, played with great gusto and humor by Annette Fabray. This encounter, as it develops, has one alternating between laughter and tears.

There are some choice one-liners early in the show as Maude complains to Walter that she is now 51 years old. Walter! "I'm 54 and I'm happy." Maude: "That's because you're dumb." Or Maude saying: "I would kill for the chance to take Midol again."

For the five years "Maude" has been on the air it has stood, in a sense, in the shadow of Norman Lear's other hit series, "All in the Family." Yet the themes it has dealt with - alcoholism, abortion, male homosexuality, death - have been just as controversial as those Lear has probed on "All in the Family."

My guess is that "Maude" is now coming into its own as one of the best-written and best-acted comedy series on television. A great part of the credit for this is due Bea Arthur. At a time when Hollywood producers, in an effort to duplicate the success of "Charlie's Angels," are scurrying around looking for pretty young actresses whose emotions run the gamut from A to B, it is refreshing to see an actress like Bead Arthur getting better and better with age.