Bea Arthur Biography

Bea Arthur was an American actress, comedian, singer, and animal rights activist. Check out this biography to know about her childhood, family life, achievements and other facts related to her life.

Quick Facts

Birthday: May 13, 1922

Nationality: American

Famous: Jewish Actresses Animal Rights Activists

Died At Age: 86

Sun Sign: Taurus

Born in: New York City, New York, United States

Famous as: Actress

Height: 5'10" (178 cm), 5'10" Females


Spouse/Ex-: Gene Saks (m. 1950–1980), Robert Alan Aurthur (m. 1947–1950)

father: Philip Frankel

mother: Rebecca

children: Daniel Saks, Matthew Saks

Died on: April 25, 2009

Cause of Death: Cancer

City: New York City

U.S. State: New Yorkers

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Bea Arthur was an American actress, comedian, singer, and animal rights activist, famous for her 'Emmy Award' winning television roles. She served in the US Marine during the Second World War and then trained to be a professional stage actor. She earned a 'Tony Award' for her portrayal of Vera Charles, her most remembered stage character, in the play 'Mame'. She went on to feature on the television series 'All in the Family', portraying Maude Findlay as a guest artist, and earned her own separate show 'Maude'. With her portrayal of the strong female character, Maude, she tackled a number of sociopolitical issues of the time. It was one of the first television characters that didn't shy away from talking about a vast range of sensitive topics like Vietnam War, domestic abuse, gay rights and abortion. She continued to provide exposure to a number of social taboos in her next hit show 'The Golden Girls', through the portrayal of Dorothy Zbornak. She soon became a symbol for the independent woman and a spokesperson of LGBT rights. She also worked with PETA in order to eradicate animal cruelty.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • Beatrice Arthur, also known as Bea Arthur, was born as Bernice Frankel on May 13, 1922, in Brooklyn, New York, to Jewish parents Philip and Rebecca Frankel. During the Great Depression in 1930s, the family, along with her two sisters, moved to Cambridge, Maryland, where her parents opened a clothing store.
  • She attended Linden Hall School for Girls, in Lititz, Pennsylvania, and graduated from there in 1941. For two years, she studied at Blackstone College for Girls. She then joined Franklin Institute of Science and Arts, from where she earned a degree as a medical laboratory technician.
  • Bea Arthur, who volunteered and served during World War II as a truck driver and a typist in the Marine Corps, became one of the first active-duty women in US Marine. She received an Honorable Discharge in September 1945.
  • She performed in theatre in high school, and dreamed of having a career in show business. In 1947, she convinced her parents to let her study acting at Erwin Piscator's Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York City.
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Stage Career
  • Bea Arthur, who was laughed at for her tall stature and husky voice, during her initial stint as a lounge singer, was cast in lead roles at Piscator's workshop for the same reasons. She debuted on theatre on July 21, 1947, as a member of the speaking chorus in 'The Dog Beneath the Skin' at the Cherry Lane Theatre.
  • She received critical acclaim for her performance as Lucy Brown in the 1954 off-Broadway production of 'The Threepenny Opera', the English adaptation of Kurt Weill's classic. The play ran for a long time and earned her praise for both her singing and acting.
  • 'Nature’s Way', her first Broadway comedy, opened on October 16, 1957, at the Coronet Theatre. She was cast in a minor role, but was able to impress critics with her performance. She was equally impressive in her next role as a dominating brothel madam in the stage adaptation of James Joyce’s famous novel, 'Ulysses', which premiered on June 5, 1958, at the off-Broadway Rooftop Theatre.
  • Soon after, she took a break from stage plays, returning to theatre on September 22, 1964, to play Yente, the Matchmaker, in the musical 'Fiddler on the Roof'. Her biggest stage role came in 1966 when she portrayed Vera Charles in the critically successful musical 'Mame'.
Television & Film Career
  • Bea Arthur, who previously did short roles in various television shows and was a regular performer in 'Caesar's Hour', debuted on the big screen in 1959 in 'That Kind of Woman', which starred Sophia Loren. Norman Lear, who was fan of Bea Arthur since her early theatrical shows, invited her for a guest role on the television show 'All in the Family', in which she appeared in 1971-72.
  • Her portrayal of an outspoken liberal feminist, Maude Findlay, in 'All in the Family', became so popular that CBS producers created her own show based on the same character, simply titled 'Maude'. The series was a hit and ran for six seasons from 1972 to 1978.
  • In 1974, she reprised her role in the film version of 'Mame', directed by her husband. She went on to appear in a number of movies including 'Lovers and Other Strangers' (1970) and 'For Better or Worse' (1995).
  • In 1978, she appeared in 'Star Wars Holiday Special' in which she performed song and dance routines. In 1980, she hosted 'The Beatrice Arthur Special' and in 1983, she appeared on the sitcom 'Amanda's'.
  • In 1985, she was cast as the divorced teacher, Dorothy Zbornak, in the TV series, 'The Golden Girls', which focused on four older women who share a home in Miami, Florida. It was one of the first TV shows to feature a host of over-40 characters as its main cast.
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Major Works
  • Maude Findlay is Bea Arthur's most famous character on television, which she portrayed on two different series. At almost fifty years of age, she surprised the audience, as well as the critics, and turned a guest role into a long running successful television show.
  • In the show 'The Golden Girls', she once again portrayed a strong female character who tackled many serious controversial topics of the time. The series beat all competition to become the top show on its time slot.
Awards & Achievements
  • The musical 'Mame' was an instant hit and earned Bea Arthur critical acclaim. She received the 'Tony Award' in 1966 for 'Best Featured Actress in a Musical' for her performance.
  • She earned 'Primetime Emmy Awards' for both 'Maude' and 'The Golden Girls'. With nine Emmy nominations for 'Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series', she became the second most nominated artist in the category. She also received nine 'Golden Globe' nominations for the two television series.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • In 1947, Bea Arthur married Robert Alan Aurthur, whom she met during her time in the military. The marriage was short lived and ended in divorce in 1950, but she kept his surname.
  • In 1949, she met Gene Saks, who was a fellow student at the Dramatic Workshop, and got married to him on May 28, 1950. They adopted and raised two sons, Matthew, an actor, and Daniel, a set designer. However, the couple finally divorced in 1978.
  • She died of cancer on April 25, 2009, in her home in Brentwood. She left $300,000 to New York's 'Ali Forney Center', an organization supporting homeless LGBT youths. As an animal activist, she had a long association with PETA, which honored her by naming 'Bea Arthur Dog Park' in her memory.
  • Bea Arthur first attended Cambridge High School, where she was voted 'The Wittiest Girl in High School'. When she was only 12, she was the tallest girl in her school, at 5 feet 9 inches.
  • She and co-star Angela Lansbury sung 'Bosom Buddies' together in the play 'Mame'. They later became best friends, and remained friends till her death.


Primetime Emmy Awards
1988 Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series The Golden Girls (1985)
1977 Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Maude (1972)
Grammy Awards
1967 Best Score From an Original Cast Show Album Winner

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Last Updated
- February 21, 2017
Bea Arthur

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