Beatrice Arthur, originally Bernice Frankel was born on May 13, 1922, in Brooklyn, New York. In 1933, the Frankel family relocated to Cambridge, Maryland, where her parents operated a clothing shop. She attended Linden Hall School for Girls, the oldest girls’ boarding school in the United States. She then enrolled at Blackstone College for Girls in Blackstone, Virginia, where she was active in the drama program.
Her employment after attending Blackstone College for Girls, included working as a food analyst at a Maryland packing plant; a hospital lab technician, and an office worker at a New York loan company. She was due to start another job when she heard that the Marine Corps had opened enlistments to women. She decided to join, with hopes of going into ground aviation. She went to basic training in March 1943, at the age of 21.
During her service she worked as a typist and a truck driver and had assignments at Marine headquarters in Washington, D.C., a Navy air station in Virginia and Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina. A year into her enlistment, she married a fellow Marine, Private Robert Aurthur, in a ceremony presided over by a city judge in Ithaca, New York. She then formally had her named changed to Bernice Aurthur. She completed her two years of service, achieving the rank of staff sergeant before being honorably discharged in September 1945.
After her discharge she changed her name to Bea Arthur, as she started her career in acting. In 1947 she studied at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York with German director Erwin Piscator. Bea began her acting career as a member at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City.
She continued with acting roles on and off Broadway throughout the 1950s and 1960s. She was then invited by Norman Lear to guest-star on his sitcom All in the Family, as Maude Findlay, an outspoken liberal feminist. Her performance eventually led to her own series as the character and earned her several Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, including an Emmy win in 1977, for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
Her acting career included other less known television shows and movies until she landed a role in 1985 for The Golden Girls, the series remained on the top-ten with ratings, for six out of the seven seasons. Baa’s performance led to several Emmy nominations over the course of the series and an Emmy win in 1988.
In 1992, she decided to leave The Golden Girls. She made several guest appearances on shows and toured in her one-woman show, titled An Evening with Bea Arthur, as well as And Then There’s Bea.
Bea died from cancer, at her home in the Sullivan Canyon section of Brentwood, California on April 25, 2009. She is survived by her two sons and two granddaughters.