Bea Arthur Biography

(Actress and Comedian Known for Her Popular Sitcoms: ‘All in the Family’, ‘Maude’ and ‘The Golden Girls’)

Birthday: May 13, 1922 (Taurus)

Born In: New York City, United States

Bea Arthur was an American actress, comedian, singer, and animal rights activist. She was 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. She then earned her own show titled 'Maude.' Her character ‘Maude’ was a strong female who tackled a number of sociopolitical issues prevalent at that 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. Arthur continued to expose a number of social taboos in her next hit show 'The Golden Girls' where she portrayed ‘Dorothy Zbornak.’ Thanks to her portrayal of characters like ‘Dorothy’ and ‘Maude,’ Arthur became a perfect example for an independent woman and a spokesperson of LGBT rights. She also worked with PETA in order to eradicate animal cruelty.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Bernice Frankel, Beatrice Arthur

Died At Age: 86


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

father: Philip Frankel

mother: Rebecca, Rebecca Pressner

children: Daniel Saks, Matthew Saks

Born Country: United States

Actresses American Women

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

Died on: April 25, 2009

place of death: Brentwood, Los Angeles, California, United States

Ancestry: Polish American, Austrian American, Indian American

Cause of Death: Lung Cancer

U.S. State: New Yorkers

Childhood & Early Life

Bea Arthur was born Bernice Frankel on May 13, 1922, in Brooklyn, New York City, USA, to Jewish parents Philip and Rebecca Frankel. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, the family, which included Arthur’s 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 as a truck driver and typist in the ‘Marine Corps’ during ‘World War II,’ became one of the first active-duty women in ‘US Marine.’ She received an Honorable Discharge in September 1944.

She performed in theatre in high school, and dreamt 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

During her initial stint as a lounge singer, Bea Arthur was laughed at for her tall stature and husky voice. However, her tall stature and husky voice landed her lead roles at Piscator's workshop. She made her theatre debut 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 skills.

'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 most prominent stage role came in 1966 when she portrayed ‘Vera Charles’ in the critically successful musical 'Mame.'

Television & Film Career

Bea Arthur, who previously did minor 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 to play a guest role in the television show 'All in the Family,' in which she appeared from 1971 to 1972.

Her portrayal of an outspoken liberal feminist named ‘Maude Findlay’ in 'All in the Family' became so popular that CBS created her own show based on the same character. Titled 'Maude,' the series became a hit and ran for six seasons from 1972 to 1978.

In 1974, she reprised her role in the film version of 'Mame,' which was 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.' In 1983, she appeared in the sitcom 'Amanda's.'

In 1985, she was cast as ‘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 more than 40 characters in its main cast.

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Major Works

‘Maude Findlay’ is Bea Arthur's most famous character on television. She portrayed the character on two different series. At almost fifty years of age, she surprised the audience as well as the critics by turning 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 controversial topics of the time. The series went on to become one of the top shows.

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 'Maude' and 'The Golden Girls.' With nine ‘Emmy’ nominations for 'Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series,' she is the third-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 and Daniel. While Matthew went on to become an actor, Daniel became a set designer. Saks and Bea Arthur 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 that supports 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 ‘Linden Hall School for Girls,’ 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.

Bea Arthur 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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