Beatrice “Bea” Arthur (May 13, 1922 – April 25, 2009), born Bernice Frankel, was an American actress, comedian and singer whose career spanned seven decades. Arthur achieved fame as the character Maude Findlay on the 1970s sitcoms All in the Family and Maude, and as Dorothy Zbornak on the 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls, winning Emmy Awards for both roles. A stage actress both before and after her television success, she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance as Vera Charles in the original cast of Mame (1966). Arthur was born Bernice Frankel to Jewish parents Philip and Rebecca Frankel in New York City on May 13, 1922. In 1933 her family moved to Cambridge, Maryland, where her parents operated a women’s clothing shop. She attended Linden Hall High School, an all girls school in Lititz, Pennsylvania, before enrolling in the now-defunct Blackstone College for Girls in Blackstone, Virginia, where she was active in drama productions. From 1947, Bea Arthur studied at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York with German director Erwin Piscator. Arthur began her acting career as a member of an off Broadway theater group at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City in the late 1940s. On stage, her roles included Lucy Brown in the 1954 Off-Broadway premiere of Marc Blitzstein‘s English-language adaptation of Kurt Weill‘s Threepenny Opera, Yente the Matchmaker in the 1964 premiere of Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway, and a 1966 Tony Award-winning portrayal of Vera Charles to Angela Lansbury‘s Mame. She reprised the role in the 1974 film version opposite Lucille Ball. In 1981, she appeared in Woody Allen‘s The Floating Light Bulb. She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1994 portraying the Duchess of Krakenthorp, a speaking role, in Gaetano Donizetti‘s La fille du régiment.
Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur doing the classic duet from Mame
In 1971, Arthur was invited by Norman Lear to guest-star on his sitcom All in the Family, as Maude Findlay, the cousin of Edith Bunker. An outspoken liberal feminist, Maude was the antithesis to the bigoted, conservative Archie Bunker, who decried her as a “New Deal fanatic”. Then nearly 50, Arthur’s tart turn appealed to viewers and to executives at CBS, who, she would later recall, asked “‘Who is that girl? Let’s give her her own series.’”
That show, previewed in her second All in the Family appearance, would be simply titled Maude. The show, debuting in 1972, would find her living in the affluent community of Tuckahoe, Westchester County, New York, with her husband Walter (Bill Macy) and divorced daughter Carol (Adrienne Barbeau). Her performance in the role garnered Arthur several Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, including her Emmy win in 1977 for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
Bea Arthur with Madam
It would also earn a place for her in the history of the women’s liberation movement. The groundbreaking series didn’t shirk from addressing serious sociopolitical topics of the era that were fairly taboo for a sitcom, from the Vietnam War, the Nixon Administration and Maude’s bid for a Congressional seat to divorce, menopause, drug use, alcoholism, nervous breakdown and spousal abuse. A prime example, “Maude’s Dilemma”, was a two-part episode in which Maude’s character grapples with a late-life pregnancy, ultimately deciding to have an abortion. The episode aired two months before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized the procedure in the Roe v. Wade decision. Though abortion was legal in New York State, it was illegal in many regions of the country and so controversial that dozens of affiliates refused to broadcast the episode. A reported 65 million viewers watched the two episodes either in their first run that November or the following summer as a re-run. By 1978, however, Arthur decided to move on from the series.
Bea Arthur’s real life adopted son, Matthew Saks, appears as Cop #2 (the shorter one, without the mustache).
That year, she costarred in The Star Wars Holiday Special, in which she had a song and dance routine in the Mos Eisley Cantina. She hosted The Beatrice Arthur Special on CBS on January 19, 1980, which paired the star in a musical comedy revue with Rock Hudson, Melba Moore and Wayland Flowers and Madame.
After appearing in the short-lived 1983 sitcom Amanda’s (an adaptation of the British series Fawlty Towers), Arthur was cast in the sitcom The Golden Girls in 1985, in which she played Dorothy Zbornak, a divorced substitute teacher living in a Miami house owned by Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan). Her other roommates included widow Rose Nylund (Betty White) and Dorothy’s Sicilian mother, Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty). Getty was actually a year younger than Arthur in real life, and was heavily made up to look significantly older. The Arthur also sporadically appeared in films, reprising her stage role as Vera Charles in the 1974 film adaption of Mame, opposite Lucille Ball. Additionally, Arthur portrayed overbearing mother Bea Vecchio in Lovers and Other Strangers (1970), and had a cameo as a Roman unemployment clerk in Mel Brooks‘ History of the World, Part 1 (1981).
Here Bea kids with Jerry Herman and sings the song that stopped the show every night.
After Arthur left The Golden Girls, she made several guest appearances on television shows and organized and toured in her one-woman show, alternately titled An Evening with Bea Arthur and And Then There’s Bea. She made a guest appearance on the American cartoon Futurama, in the Emmy-nominated episode “Amazon Women in the Mood“, as the voice of the Femputer who ruled the giant Amazonian women. She also appeared in an episode of Malcolm in the Middle as Mrs. White, Dewey’s babysitter, in a first-season episode. She was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her performance. She also appeared as Larry David‘s mother on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Golden Girl Greatest Moments
In 2002, she returned to Broadway starring in Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends, a collection of stories and songs (with musician Billy Goldenberg) based on her life and career. The show was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event. The previous year had been the category’s first, and there had been only one nominee. That year, Arthur was up against solo performances by soprano Barbara Cook, comedian John Leguizamo, and Arthur’s fellow student in Piscator’s program at The New School, actress Elaine Stritch, who won for Elaine Stritch: At Liberty.
In addition to appearing in a number of programs looking back at her own work, Arthur performed in stage and television tributes for Jerry Herman, Bob Hope, Peggy Lee, and Ellen DeGeneres. In 2005, she participated in the Comedy Central roast of Pamela Anderson, where she recited explicit passages from Anderson’s book Starstruck. In 1999, Arthur told an interviewer of the three influences in her career: “Sid Caesar taught me the outrageous; [method acting guru] Lee Strasberg taught me what I call reality; and [original Threepenny Opera star] Lotte Lenya, whom I adored, taught me economy.”
Arthur was married twice, first to Robert Alan Aurthur, a screenwriter, television, and film producer and director, whose surname she took and kept (though with a modified spelling), and second to director Gene Saks from 1950 to 1978 with whom she had two sons, Matthew (born in 1961), an actor, and Daniel (born in 1964), a set designer.
Bea Arthur’s Last Performance
Arthur was a committed animal rights activist and frequently supported People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals campaigns. Arthur joined PETA in 1987 after a Golden Girls anti-fur episode. Arthur wrote letters, made personal appearances and placed ads against the use of furs, foie gras, and farm animal cruelty by KFC suppliers. She appeared on Judge Judy as a witness for an animal rights activist, and, along with Pamela Anderson insisted on a donation to PETA in exchange for appearing on Comedy Central. 
Arthur’s longtime championing of civil rights for women, the elderly, and the Jewish & LGBT communities—in her two television roles and through her charity work and personal outspokenness—has led her to be cited as an LGBT icon.
I loved her! I miss her! Enjoy…..
Arthur died at her home in the Greater Los Angeles Area in the early morning hours of Saturday, April 25, 2009. She had been ill from cancer, and her body was cremated after her death.
Arthur’s co-stars from The Golden Girls, Rue McClanahan and Betty White, commented on her death via telephone on an April 27 episode of Larry King Live as well as other news outlets such as ABC. Longtime friends Adrienne Barbeau (with whom she had worked on Maude) and Angela Lansbury (with whom she had worked in Mame) released amicable statements: Barbeau said, “We’ve lost a unique, incredible talent. No one could deliver a line or hold a take like Bea and no one was more generous or giving to her fellow performers”; and Lansbury said, “She became and has remained my Bosom Buddy [...] I am deeply saddened by her passing, but also relieved that she is released from the pain”.
Arthur won the American Theatre Wing‘s Tony Award in 1966 as Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance that year as Vera Charles in the original Broadway production of Jerry Herman‘s musical Mame.
Bea’s Final Interview
Arthur has received the most Emmy nominations for Leading Actress in a Comedy Series with 9. She later received the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences‘ Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series twice, once in 1977 for Maude and again in 1988 for The Golden Girls. She was inducted into the Academy’s Hall of Fame in 2008.
On June 8, 2008, The Golden Girls was awarded the Pop Culture award at the Sixth Annual TV Land Awards. Arthur (in one of her final public appearances) accepted the award with co-stars Rue McClanahan and Betty White.
Quick Bio Facts:
AKA Bernice Frankel
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Maude and The Golden Girls
Bea Arthur first studied to become a medical lab technician, but found hospital work tedious. After a brief marriage to Robert Alan Aurthur (who later wrote Grand Prix for James Garner), she enrolled in a drama workshop, where her classmates included Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, and Gene Saks. Arthur and Saks were soon married, and he went on to a lengthy career as a Broadway director, and also directed several films. The husky-voiced Arthur appeared in amateur plays and got good notices, eventually working her way into paid performances and making her Broadway debut at 28, in a 1954 production of The Threepenny Opera with Charlotte Rae and John Astin. In the 1960s, she appeared in the original Broadway productions of Fiddler on the Roof with Zero Mostel and Mame with Angela Lansbury, for which Arthur won a Tony.
Her first TV appearance was a 1951 episode of Kraft Television Theatre, and her first regular work was on Caesar’s Hour, Sid Caesar‘s mid-1950s sketch comedy show. In the 1970s, she starred as the title character in Maude, a once-widowed, twice-divorced, remarried and very outspoken woman with a quick wit. Unlike most sitcoms then and now, Maude dealt with real-world issues from abortion to hysterectomies. Arthur was Emmy-nominated five years, but won just once.
In the 1980s, she roared back with the sitcom The Golden Girls, with Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty. Much to Arthur’s surprise, the show was a hit. “I cannot believe what has happened with this show,” she said when the first ratings came in. “They’re telling us it’s a hit! And for the first time we’re seeing three older women who look good, dress well, live well and are bright. They’re not pushing wheelchairs. And they’re not playing crazed matriarchs of horrible families”. The program also won Arthur a second Emmy.
Father: Philip Frankel (owned a department store)
Mother: Rebecca Frankel (b. 1902, d. 1986)
Husband: Robert Alan Aurthur (b. 1922, div., d. 1978, author)
Husband: Gene Saks (Broadway director, b. 1921, m. 28-May-1950, div. 1978, two sons)
Son: Matthew Saks (adopted, actor, b. 14-Jul-1961)
Son: Daniel Saks (adopted, set designer, b. 8-May-1964)
High School: Linden Hall High School, Lititz, PA
University: Blackstone College, Blackstone, VA
University: Franklin Institute of Science and Arts
Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, NNBD.com, IMDB.com, beaarthur.com