Beatrice "Bea" Arthur (May 13, 1922 – April 25, 2009) was an American actress, comedienne 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 NBC-TV 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 Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance as Vera Charles in the original cast of Mame (1966).
Bea was born Bernice Frankel on May 13, 1922 to Philip and Rebecca Frankel (1902–1986) in New York City. In 1933 her family moved to Cambridge, Maryland, where her parents operated a women's clothing shop. She attended Linden Hall School for Girls, an all-girls' boarding school in Lititz, Pennsylvania, before enrolling in the now-defunct Blackstone College for Girls in Blackstone, Virginia, where she was active in drama productions.
Bea joined the United States Marine Corps in 1943. She worked at such jobs as typist and truck driver, and was honorably discharged with the rank of staff sergeant in 1945. During her time in the Marines, she married another Marine, Robert Aurthur, and changed her last name. She later denied having served in the military.
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, Nadine Fesser in the 1957 premiere of Herman Wouk's Nature's Way at the Coronet Theatre, 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 fellow TV sitcom legend Lucille Ball. In 1981, she appeared in Woody Allen's The Floating Light Bulb. She made her debut at the Metropolitan in 1994 portraying the Duchess of Krakenthorp, a speaking role, in Gaetano Donzinetti's La fille du régiment.
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 series, previewed in her second All in the Family appearance, would be simply titled Maude. The show, debuting in 1972, found her living in the affluent community of Tuckahoe, Westchester County, New York, with her fourth 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.
Maude would also earn a place for Arthur 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 U.S. Congressional seat, divorce, menopause, drug use, alcoholism, nervous breakdown, to spousal abuse. A prime example is "Maude's Dilemma", a two-part episode airing near Thanksgiving of 1972 in which Maude's character grapples with a late-life pregnancy, ultimately deciding to have an abortion.
As the episode aired two months before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized the procedure nationwide in the Roe v. Wade outcome in early 1973, it was said to have had influence on the Supreme Court Justices' decision. By 1978, however, Arthur decided to move on from the series.
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-TV on January 19, 1980, which paired the star in a musical comedy revue with Rock Hudson, Melba Moore, and ventriloquist Wayland Flowers and Madame.
After appearing in the short-lived 1983 sitcom Amanda's (an adaptation of the British series Fawlty Towers), Bea was cast in the sitcom The Golden Girls in 1985, in which she played Dorothy Zbornak, a divorced substitute schoolteacher 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 series became a hit, and remained a top-ten ratings fixture for seven seasons. Her performance led to several Emmy nominations over the course of the series and an Emmy win in 1988. Arthur decided to leave the show after seven years, and in 1992 the show was moved from NBC to CBS and retooled as The Golden Palace in which the other three actresses reprised their roles. Arthur made a guest appearance in a two-part episode.
Bea 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's History of the World, Part 1 (1981).
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 Award-nominated 2001 episode "Amazon Women in the Mood", as the voice of the Femputer who ruled the giant Amazonian women. She also appeared in a first-season episode of Malcolm in the Middle as Mrs. White, Dewey's babysitter, who is taken away in an ambulance for reasons unknown. 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.
- ↑ Rebecca Frankel at Find a Grave. Retrieved on January 20, 2012.
- ↑ 'Golden Girls' star Bea Arthur dies aged 86 – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News
- ↑ Bureau of Vital Records (May 13, 1922). Certificate and Record of Birth #21106 (.JPG). City of New York, Department of Health. Retrieved on July 12, 2008. . .
- ↑ Bea Arthur was a truck-driving Marine. Retrieved on May 19, 2012.
- ↑ "Celebrity Buzz: Who's Who – Bea Arthur", Playbill. Retrieved on July 12, 2008.
- ↑ "Obituaries: Actors Dom DeLuise and Beatrice Arthur; mezzo Margreta Elkins; soprano Anne Brown, Gershwin’s original Bess; composer Lukas Foss dies at eighty-six.", Opera News, July 2009, vol 74, no. 1. Retrieved on December 28, 2010.
- ↑ "Golden Girls Star Be Arthur Dies At 86", NPR, April 25, 2009. Retrieved on April 27, 2009.
- ↑ Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Feminist Timeline: United States. Feminist Timeline: United States. Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved on April 27, 2009. “"Maude Premiers (sic) Sep 12, 1972 – Apr 29 1978 05:00:00 GMT The television show Maude, a spin-off of All in the Family, premiers, starring Beatrice Arthur as Maude Findlay, a leftist feminist who supports abortion and civil rights."”
- ↑ Dan Whitcomb. "Golden Girls star Bea Arthur dies at 86", Reuters, April 26, 2009. Retrieved on April 27, 2009.
- ↑ Phil Hall. "The Bootleg Files: The Beatrice Arthur Special", Film Threat, March 26, 2004. Retrieved on April 26, 2009.
- Beatrice Arthur at the Internet Movie Database
- Beatrice Arthur at the Internet Broadway Database
- Bea Arthur Interview at Archive of American Television
- Beatrice Arthur at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Bea Arthur at The Comedy Hall of Fame
- Beatrice Arthur at the University of Wisconsin's Actors Studio audio collection