Arthur after one of her stage performances in 2005.
May 13, 1922
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||April 25, 2009
|Cause of death||Cancer|
|Other names||Beatrice Arthur|
|Alma mater||Linden Hall School for Girls|
|Occupation||Marine, actress, comedian, singer|
|Robert Alan Aurthur
(m. 1947; div. 1950)
(m. 1950; div. 1978)
||United States Marine Corps|
|Unit||United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Beatrice "Bea" Arthur (born Bernice Frankel; May 13, 1922 - April 25, 2009) was an American actress, comedian, singer, Marine, and animal rights activist. Her career spanned seven decades.
Arthur achieved fame as the character Maude Findlay on the 1970s sitcoms All in the Family (1971-72) and Maude (1972-78), and as Dorothy Zbornak on the 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls (1985-92), 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).
Beatrice Arthur was born Bernice Frankel on May 13, 1922, to Rebecca (née Pressner; 1895 - 1985) and Philip Frankel (1885 - 1973) in Brooklyn, New York. Arthur was raised in a Jewish home with sisters Gertrude and Marian.
In 1933, the Frankel family relocated to Cambridge, Maryland, where her parents subsequently operated a women's clothing shop. She attended Linden Hall School for Girls, an all-girls' boarding school in Lititz, Pennsylvania, before enrolling at Blackstone College for Girls in Blackstone, Virginia, where she was active in the school's drama program.
During World War II, she worked as a truck driver and typist in the United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve, receiving an Honorable Discharge in September 1944 with the rank of Staff Sergeant.
From 1947, Arthur studied at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York, N.Y. 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 mid 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 The 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 unsuccessful 1974 film version opposite Lucille Ball. In 1981, she appeared in Woody Allen's The Floating Light Bulb.
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 role to the conservative Republican character Archie Bunker, who described her as a "New Deal fanatic". Nearly 50, Arthur's tart turn on All in the Family impressed viewers as well as 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 series addressed serious sociopolitical topics of the era that were considered taboo for a sitcom, including the Vietnam War, the Nixon Administration, Maude's bid for a Congressional seat, divorce, menopause, drug use, alcoholism, nervous breakdown, mental illness, women's lib, gay rights, abortion, and 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. Even though abortion was legal in New York State since 1970, as well as in California since its state's 1969 on-demand ruling, it was illegal in many other regions of the country and, as such, sparked controversy. As a result, dozens of affiliates refused to broadcast the episode when it was originally scheduled, substituting either a repeat from earlier in the season or a Thanksgiving TV special in its place. However, by the time of the summer rerun season six months later all the flak had died down, and the stations that refused to air the episode upon its first run reinstated it for the reruns the following summer. As a result, a reported 65 million viewers watched the two episode arc either in their first run that November or during the following summer as a rerun. The episode initially aired two months before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized the procedure nationwide in the Roe v. Wade outcome in January 1973.
By 1978, however, Arthur decided to move on from the series. Later the same year (1978), she costarred in 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 Golden Girls in 1985, in which she played Dorothy Zbornak, a divorced substitute teacher living in a Miami house owned by widow 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 was a hit, and remained a top-ten ratings fixture for six of its 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, with Cheech Marin as their new foil. Arthur made a guest appearance in a two-part episode, but the new series lasted only one season.
Arthur sporadically appeared in films, reprising her stage role as Vera Charles in the 1974 film adaption of Mame, opposite Lucille Ball. She 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 I (1981). She appeared in the 1995 American movie For Better or Worse as Beverly Makeshift.
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 as well as And Then There's Bea. She made a guest appearance on the American cartoon Futurama, in the Emmy-nominated 2001 episode "Amazon Women in the Mood", as the voice of the Femputer who ruled the giant Amazonian women. She appeared in a first-season episode of Malcolm in the Middle as Mrs. White, one of Dewey's babysitters. 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.
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.
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, Ellen DeGeneres. In 2004, she appeared in Richard Barone's "There'll Be Another Spring: A Tribute to Miss Peggy Lee" at the Hollywood Bowl, performing "Johnny Guitar" and "The Shining Sea". In 2005, she participated in the Comedy Central roast of Pamela Anderson, where she recited sexually explicit passages from Anderson's book Star Struck in a deadpan fashion.
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." Another source of influence to Arthur, was that of famed actress/director Ida Lupino whom Arthur praised as, "My dream was to become a very small blonde movie star like Ida Lupino and those other women I saw up there on the screen during the Depression. "
Arthur was married twice. Her first marriage took place during her time in the military, when she married fellow Marine Robert Alan Aurthur, a screenwriter, television, and film producer and director, whose surname she took and kept (though with a modified spelling). Shortly after they divorced in 1950, she married director Gene Saks with whom she adopted two sons, Matthew (born in 1961), an actor, and Daniel (born in 1964), a set designer; they remained married until 1978.
In 1972, she moved to Los Angeles and sublet her apartment on Central Park West in New York City and her country home in Bedford, New York. In a 2003 interview, in London promoting her one-woman show, she described the British capital as her "favourite city in the world".
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. In Norfolk, Virginia, near the site of the PETA headquarters, there is a dog park named the Bea Arthur Dog Park in her honor.
Arthur was a longtime champion of equal rights for women and an active advocate of the elderly, and Jewish communities, in both her major television roles and through her charity work and personal outspokenness.
Regarding politics, Arthur herself was a liberal Democrat who confirmed her views by saying, "I've been a Democrat my whole life. That's what makes Maude and Dorothy so believable, we have the same viewpoints on how our country should be handled."
Arthur was also a mentor, surrogate mother and a friend to Adrienne Barbeau, who co-starred, opposite her on Maude. For 6 seasons, they had a wonderful chemistry together, while her younger co-star was unavailable for the last 2 seasons, due to her busy scheduling, Barbeau remained close to Arthur, and stayed in touch until Arthur's passing. Barbeau said in a 2018 interview with Dread Central.com about her on- and off-screen chemistry with her TV mother was: "I was doing an interview for this 1-woman show that I am doing and the interviewer asked that... she asked: 'What do people usually ask you,' and I said, 'They always want to know ... What It Was Like Working with Bea?' She was fantastic and you know, I realized years later, how much I took it for granted, because it was my first experience on television... I just assumed that everyone was as giving as she was, as professional a she was that everyone who was doing a TV show, showed up, knowing their lines and showed up on time and was willing to say to the writers: 'I think this line was funnier if Adie had said it, or Conrad had said it or Bill had said it,' I mean, she was just the best, she was the best, very funny, she was not 'Maude,' when she wasn't saying those lines. I don't know if I say she was quiet, she was a homebody. She had her sons, her dog and her cooking and she wasn't into the celebrity scene and she was a great lady. I loved her dearly, and we had a great cast and they were my family for 6 years that I loved each of them and all of them and it was the best experience anyone could've had, being introduced to television, like that!"
A private and introverted woman, according to her friends, Arthur died of cancer at her home in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles on April 25, 2009. She was two and a half weeks short of her 87th birthday. She was survived by her two sons and two granddaughters. Her body was cremated and the ashes were spread throughout Miami.
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. On the Today Show by phone, McClanahan said she and Arthur got along together "like cream." White said, "I knew it would hurt, I just didn't know it would hurt this much."
Longtime friends Adrienne Barbeau (with whom she had worked on Maude) and Angela Lansbury (with whom she had worked in Mame) reflected on her death. 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". 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 bequeathed $300,000 to the Ali Forney Center, a New York City organization that provides housing for homeless LGBT youths. The center was heavily damaged in October 2012 by Hurricane Sandy, but has since been restored and re-opened. The Bea Arthur Residence, which opened in 2017, is an 18-bed residence in Manhattan for homeless LGBT youth operated by the Ali Forney Center.
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.
Arthur received the second most nominations for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series with nine (9). Only Mary Tyler Moore, with ten (10) nominations, has more. She 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 Television 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 McClanahan and White.
|1959||That Kind of Woman||WAC||Uncredited|
|1970||Lovers and Other Strangers||Bea Vecchio|
|1981||History of the World, Part I||Dole office clerk||Uncredited|
|1995||For Better or Worse||Beverly Makeshift|
|2000||Enemies of Laughter||Paul's Mother|
|1951-58||Kraft Television Theatre|
|1951||Once Upon a Tune|
|1951-53, 1955-58||Studio One in Hollywood|
|1955||Max Liebman Presents: Kaleidoscope|
|1954-56||Caesar's Hour||Regular performer|
|1957||Washington Square||2 episodes|
|The Steve Allen Show|
|1958||The Seven Lively Arts|
|Tonight Starring Jack Paar|
|The Gift of the Magi|
|1959||The George Gobel Show|
|1960||The Best of Anything||Television film|
|1961||The Perry Como Show|
|1962||The Garry Moore Show|
|1963||The Sid Caesar Show|
|1971-72||All in the Family||Maude Findlay||2 episodes|
|1973||The 45th Annual Academy Awards|
|1974||The 28th Annual Tony Awards|
|1974-80||The Mike Douglas Show||6 episodes|
|1974-85||The Merv Griffin Show||3 episodes|
|1974-90||The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson||8 episodes|
|1976-79||Saturday Night Live||2 episodes|
|1977||The 31st Annual Tony Awards|
|The 29th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards|
|1978||CBS: On the Air|
|The 30th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards|
|Star Wars Holiday Special||Ackmena||Television film|
|1979||The Mary Tyler Moore Hour||Herself||Episode #1.2|
|1980||The Beatrice Arthur Special||Herself (Host / Performer)||Television special|
|30 Years of TV Comedy's Greatest Hits: To Laughter with Love|
|Soap||Angel||Episode: "Jessica's Wonderful Life"|
|Bob Hope Special: Bob Hope-Hope, Women and Song|
|The 35th Annual Tony Awards|
|The 33rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards|
|1982||Bob Hope's Women I Love: Beautiful But Funny|
|Nights of 100 Stars|
|Broadway Plays Washington on Kennedy Center Tonight|
|1983||Amanda's||Amanda Cartwright||13 episodes|
|The 9th Annual People's Choice Awards|
|1984||The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast: Joan Collins|
|The 1st Academy TV Hall of Fame|
|a.k.a. Pablo||Press Agent||Episode: "My Son, the Gringo"|
|P.O.P.||Rosalyn Gordon||Television film|
|1985-92||The Golden Girls||Dorothy Zbornak||180 episodes|
|1985||The NBC All Star Hour|
|The 37th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards|
|The 10th Circus of the Stars|
|The 40th Annual Tony Awards|
|1985-2008||Entertainment Tonight||Herself||7 episodes|
|1986||All Star Party for Clint Eastwood|
|The 38th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards|
|NBC 60th Anniversary Celebration|
|The 43rd Annual Golden Globe Awards|
|Walt Disney World's 15th Birthday Celebration|
|Late Night with David Letterman|
|The 46th Annual Golden Apple Awards|
|The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts|
|1987||The 39th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards|
|All Star Party for Joan Collins|
|Comic Relief '87|
|All Star Gala at Ford's Theater||Host|
|The 1st Annual American Comedy Awards|
|The 44th Annual Golden Globe Awards|
|The 13th Annual People's Choice Awards|
|This Is Your Life|
|Happy 100th Birthday Hollywood|
|Sally Jessy Raphael Show|
|The 41st Annual Tony Awards|
|Family Comedy Hour|
|1988||The 9th Annual American Black Achievement Awards|
|The 45th Annual Golden Globe Awards|
|In Performance at the White House; A Salute to Broadway: Showstoppers|
|Irving Berlin's 100th Birthday Celebration|
|The 40th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards|
|Mickey's 60th Birthday||Dorothy Zbornak|
|The 13th Circus of the Stars|
|My First Love||Jean Miller||Television movie|
|1989||The 46th Annual Golden Globe Awards|
|Empty Nest||Dorothy Zbornak||Episode: "Dumped"|
|The 3rd Annual American Comedy Awards|
|Bob Hope's Birthday Spectacular in Paris|
|The Society of Singers Presents a Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald|
|The 41st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards|
|Later with Bob Costas|
|The Arsenio Hall Show|
|The 49th Annual Golden Apple Awards|
|Live with Regis and Kathie Lee|
|1990||The TV Academy Tribute to Angela Lansbury|
|The 21st BAFTA Awards|
|The 4th Annual American Comedy Awards|
|The Earth Day Special|
|Aspel & Company|
|Night of 100 Stars III|
|The 42nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards|
|Des O'Connor Tonight|
|A Conversation with Dinah|
|Live from the London Palladium: Happy Birthday, Happy New Year!|
|1991||The 17th Annual People Choice Awards|
|The 48th Annual Golden Globe Awards|
|The 5th Annual American Comedy Awards|
|The 43rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards|
|Funny Women of Television|
|Dame Edna's Hollywood|
|1992||Evening at Pops|
|The Howard Stern Show|
|The 6th Annual American Comedy Awards|
|The Golden Palace||Dorothy Hollingsworth||Episodes: "Seems Like Old Times" (Parts 1 & 2)|
|Verstehen Sie Spaß?|
|The 1992 Pacific Center HIV-AIDS Benefit|
|1993||The 7th Annual American Comedy Awards|
|This Joint is Jumpin|
|The 47th Annual Tony Awards|
|1994||Jerry Herman's Broadway at the Hollywood Bowl||Herself (Performer)||Television special|
|The 8th Annual American Comedy Awards|
|Bob Hope's Birthday Memories|
|1995||The 9th Annual Genesis Awards|
|50 Years of Funny Females|
|1996||The 10th American Comedy Awards|
|The 50th Annual Tony Awards|
|1997||Dave's World||Mel Bloom||3 episodes|
|The Rosie O'Donnell Show|
|1998||The RuPaul Show|
|Ellen||Herself||Episode: "Ellen: A Hollywood Tribute: Part 1"|
|CBS: The First 50 Years|
|NY TV: By the People Who Made It-Part I & II|
|1999||The 53rd Annual Tony Awards|
|Beggars and Choosers||Herself||5 episodes|
|Emily of New Moon||The Voice||Episode: "A Fall from Grace"|
|The Martin Short Show|
|2000||So Graham Norton|
|Malcolm in the Middle||Mrs. White||Episode: "Water Park"|
|Intimate Portrait: Rue McClanahan|
|E! True Hollywood Story: The Golden Girls|
|E! True Hollywood Story: Good Times|
|E! True Hollywood Story: All in the Family|
|The 70s: The Decade That Changed Television|
|2001||Intimate Portrait: Estelle Getty|
|Futurama||Femputer||Episode: "Amazon Women in the Mood"|
|2002-07||The View||Herself / Guest||2 episodes|
|2002||CBS News Sunday Morning|
|The Rosie O'Donnell Show|
|Good Morning America|
|The Daily Show|
|The Big O! True West Hollywood Story|
|TV Most Censored Moments|
|TV Tales: The Golden Girls|
|Open Mike with Mike Bullard|
|Because I Said So|
|Inside TV Land: Taboo TV|
|2003||Great Women on Television Comedy|
|Intimate Portrait: Bea Arthur|
|TV Land Awards: A Celebration of Classic TV|
|Broadway: The Golden Age by the Legends Who Were There|
|Through the Keyhole|
|The Golden Girls: Their Greatest Moments||Herself (Host)||Television special|
|Today with Des and Mel|
|Richard & Judy|
|The Terry and Gaby Show|
|2004||The 2nd Annual TV Land Awards: A Celebration of Classic TV|
|The Best of So Graham Norton|
|Inside TV Land: Primetime Politics|
|TV's Greatest Sidekicks|
|2005||Inside TV Land: Tickled Pink|
|Comedy Central Roast of Pamela Anderson|
|TV Land Confidential|
|Curb Your Enthusiasm||Larry's mother||Episode: "The End"|
|2006||Biography: Bea Arthur|
|The 100 Greatest TV Quotes & Catchphrases||Herself||5 episodes|
|2007||TV Land Confidential||Herself / Interviewee||Documentary (4 episodes)|
|Back to the Grind||Herself||Bea Arthur and Ed Begley Jr.|
|Entertainment Weekly & TV Land Present: The 50 Greatest TV Icons|
|2008||The 6th Annual TV Land Awards||Herself||Winner|
|2014||Broadway: Beyond The Golden Age|
|1947||The Dog Beneath the Skin|
|1948||The Taming of the Shrew||Katherina|
|1948||Six Characters in Search of an Author|
|1948||The Owl and the Pussycat|
|1949||Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme|
|1949||Yes is for a Very Young Man|
|1951||Gentlemen Prefer Blondes|
|1951||Love or Money|
|1951||The Voice of the Turtle|
|1951||Gentlemen Prefer Blondes|
|1953||The New Moon|
|1954-55||The Threepenny Opera||Lucy Brown|
|1955||What's the Rush?|
|1955||Plain and Fancy|
|1956||Mistress of the Inn|
|1958||Ulysses in Nighttown|
|1960||The Gay Divorcee at the Cherry Lane|
|1962||A Matter of Position|
|1964||Fiddler on the Roof||Yenta the Matchmaker|
|1966||Mame||Vera Charles||Won Tony Award-Featured Actress in a Musical|
|1968||A Mother's Kisses||Closed on the road|
|1981||The Floating Lightbulb|
|1981||Hey, Look Me Over!|
|1994||Easter Bonnet Competition: A Salute to 100 Years of Broadway|
|1994||La Fille du Regiment|
|1995-96||Bermuda Avenue Triangle|
|November 17, 1996||Angela Lansbury - A Celebration||Benefit concert|
|1999||Thoroughly Modern Millie|
|2000||Strike Up the Band|
|2000||The Threepenny Opera Reunion Concert|
|2000-2006||An Evening with Bea Arthur||Westport, Connecticut (July 28-30, 2000)
Santa Fe, New Mexico (September 24, 2002)
|2001-2003||And Then There's Bea||United States Tour (April 24, 2001 - January 13, 2002)
Melbourne, Australia (October 15-27, 2002)
|2002||Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends||New York, New York (January 29, 2002 - April 14, 2002)
Toronto, Canada (November 20 - December 8, 2002)
|2003||Bea Arthur at The Savoy in London, England (September 15 - October 18, 2003)|
|2004||A Celebration of Life in Washington, D.C. (May 26, 2004)|
|2004||There'll Be Another Spring: A Tribute to Miss Peggy Lee at the Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood, California (July 14, 2004)|
|2004||Bea Arthur at the El Portal in North Hollywood, California (August 5-8, 2004)|
|2005||Bea Arthur Back on Broadway (at 95th Street) in New York, New York (November 21, 2005)|
|2006||Bea Arthur Back at the El Portal in North Hollywood, California (February 16-19, 2006)|
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.