Beatrice (Bea) Arthur was born Bernice Frankel on May 13, 1923 (some reports state she was born in 1926) in New York City. Arthur grew up in New York and Maryland, eventually obtaining a degree as a medical lab techician from the Franklin Institute of Science and Arts. Arthur then enrolled at the New School for Social Research under German filmmaker Erwin Piscator. While attending the New School, Arthur met second husband Gene Saks, who she married in 1950.

In 1947, Arthur began acting in a series of off Broadway plays, including Yerma, The Taming of the Shrew and The Creditors. Throughout the 1950s, Bea appeared in dozens of stage roles (on and off Broadway, as well as with traveling productions), as well as singing engagements in several New York cabarets, receiving notoriety for her turn as Lucy Brown in The Threepenny Opera. Arthur also made several numerous television appearances in the Fifties, mostly bit parts on shows hosted by the likes of Steve Allen, Perry Como and Ed Sullivan. Arthur's first break in TV came courtesy of Sid Caesar, who gave her a recurring role on his show Caesar's Hour during the 1956-57 season. Arthur made her movie debut in Paramount Pictures' Sophia Loren vehicle, "That Kind of Woman."

After a brief sabbatical from entertainment in the early 1960's, Arthur returned to star as Yente the Matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof in 1964. The next year, Arthur won a Tony for her work in the role of Vera Charles in Mame, opposite Angela Lansbury. Arthur took most of 1968-9 off, then appeared in the 1970 screen adaptation of Lovers and Other Strangers.

In 1971, Norman Lear persuaded Bea to guest star on his hit sitcom All in the Family, where she played Edith Bunker's cousin Maude Findlay. The character, an open-minded liberal, feminist foil to the ultra-conservative Archie Bunker (played by Carroll O'Connor), proved popular enough to merit its own spinoff.

Maude enjoyed six successful seasons on CBS, consistently placing in the top five shows. Like All in the Family, Maude was unafraid to take on the social issues of the day, beginning with the two-part episode "Maude's Dilemma," during which Arthur's character chose to have an abortion. Maude also brought Arthur together with future costar Rue McClanahan. Arthur won her first Emmy in 1977 for her work on the show.

Arthur followed up on the success of Maude with her career low, starring in the Star Wars Holiday Special in 1978. in 1981, Bea had a bit part in Mel Brooks' History of the World: Part I. A 1983 sitcom pilot failed, but Arthur rebounded with the 1985 debut of The Golden Girls, along with McClanahan, Betty White, and Estelle Getty. Arthur collected her second Emmy for her portrayal of the embittered Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak. The Golden Girls ran for seven seasons, until its cancelation (euthanasia?) in 1992.

Bea recently embarked on a 25-city tour in her own one woman show, "And Then There's Bea." She supports several charitable organizations, including GLAAD and PETA.

Everything2 editor's note: Bea Arthur died in Los Angeles on April 25, 2009





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Sources:
bea.arthur.in.the.lime.light - http://www.lgt2.com/bea/
IMDB: Beatrice Arthur - http://us.imdb.com/Name?Arthur,+Beatrice

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