Actress-comedienne Bea Arthur was born on May 13, 1922 in New York City to a Jewish family. She grew up in Maryland where her parents ran a dress shop. By the time, she was 12 years old, she grew to be 5'9" and was the tallest girl in her school. She earned the title "wittiest" girl in her school, but Bea's family was not in show-business and she did not think her family would support her dream. She then worked as a laboratory technician and drove a truck and worked as a typist in the Marine Corps. She also had a brief first marriage, which ended in divorce. Afterwards, she told her parents she really wanted to pursue a career in show business, and they supported her decision to join the New York's Dramatic Workshop for the New School for Social Research. She played classical and dramatic roles, and it would take years before she found her niche in comedy. Her breakthrough came on stage while appearing in the musical play "The Threepenny Opera" with Lotte Lenya. She was also a regular on television on Sid Caesar's show "Caesar's Hour" (1954) for one season in the 1950s. Then, in 1964, she truly became famous when she appeared in the original Broadway production of "Fiddler on the Roof" as Yente the Matchmaker. In this supporting role, she stole the show night after night.
In 1966, she went to work on a new Broadway musical, "Mame", directed by her second husband, Gene Saks. For the featured role of Vera Charles in "Mame" she won a Tony Award. The star of the show, Angela Lansbury, also won a Tony Award, and they became lifelong friends. In 1971, Bea appeared on the hit sitcom "All in the Family" (1971) as Maude Findlay, Edith Bunker's cousin, who was forever driving Archie Bunker crazy with her liberal politics. This guest appearance led to her own series, entitled "Maude" (1972), in 1972. The show was a hit, and ran for six years, during which time many controversial topics, including abortion, were tackled. Bea also won an Emmy Award for her work on "Maude" (1972). During the show's run, Bea repeated the role of Vera Charles in the film version of Mame (1974), again directed by Gene Saks, but the film was a dismal flop. She also appeared on none other than The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978) (TV). While doing "Maude", she also raised her two adopted sons with her husband Gene Saks. After "Maude" ended, her second marriage ended in divorce, and she never remarried. She became a lifelong animal rights activist.
In 1983, she started work on a new sitcom, "Amanda's" (1983), which was patterned after British situation comedy "Fawlty Towers" (1975), but it did not last long. However, in 1985, she got sweet compensation when her new sitcom, "The Golden Girls" (1985) hit the air. Co starring Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty, it was a show about four middle-aged women living in Miami. It was an immediate hit, and ran for seven seasons. All of the cast members, including Bea, won Emmy Awards during the show's run. It should be worth noting that both "Maude" (1972) and "The Golden Girls" (1985) had to be canceled when Bea announced she was leaving each of them. In both cases, she left when she thought each show was at its peak and, in both cases, the producers of the shows realized the shows just would not be the same without her. Since "The Golden Girls" (1985) was canceled in 1992, Bea had kept a low profile, appearing in only a couple of movies: For Better or Worse (1995) and Enemies of Laughter (2000).
In 1999, she made a very successful and welcome Comedy Central Presents: The N.Y. Friars Club Roast of Jerry Stiller (1999) (TV). She did a one-woman stage show in 2001 for which she received a Tony Award nomination. In 2003, she reunited with Betty White and Rue McClanahan for a Golden Girls reunion special on Lifetime Channel. Noticeably absent was supporting actress 'Estelle Getty' who was ill. The three lead actresses would make public appearances together for the rest of the decade to promote DVD releases of the "Golden Girls". In 2008, they appeared together for the last time at the TV Land Awards, where they received a standing ovation as they accepted the Pop Culture Award. Bea then attended with Angela Lansbury, when she was inducted to the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. On April 25, 2009, Bea Arthur died at age 86 of cancer, where she was at home with her family. She is survived by her two sons Matthew and Daniel, and her grandchildren Kyra and Violet. In her will, she left a donation of $300,000 to New York's Ali Forney Center, an organization supporting homeless Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender youths.
|Gene Saks||(28 May 1950 - 27 June 1978) (divorced) 2 children|
|Robert Alan Aurthur||(? - ?) (divorced)|
Husky resonant voice
Caustic, acid wit
Usually played the roles that reflected upon liberalism and feminism
Bea won an award of achievement from Emerson College's Musical Theater Society, in Boston, in the spring of 2000.
She was best friends with Angela Lansbury, since appearing together in "Mame". A friendship she spoke fondly of in her one-woman show.
She did not like to watch her own performances on television or film.
Biography in: "Who's Who in Comedy" by Ronald L. Smith. pg. 29-30. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0816023387
In 1966, she won a Tony Award as Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for playing Vera Charles in "Mame" a part she recreated in the film version of the same name, Mame (1974).
Was a qualified medical technician.
Once appeared on "Judge Judy" (1996) as a witness for a defendant who was involved in the animal rights organization PETA. The defendant won.
In 2002, she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event for her one-woman show "Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends".
According to a television interview, Arthur claimed that her start in comedy came when she was only a lounge singer. Apparently, when she got up on stage to sing torch songs, the audience would laugh at her because of her deep voice and her height. The nightclub manager then approached her and told her she was in the wrong business. She should be doing comedy instead.
Considered "Amanda's" (1983) and an episode of "Saturday Night Live" (1975) as her worst career experiences. She also regretted the film version of Mame (1974), directed by her then-husband Gene Saks.
Her first real name, Bernice, is pronounced like Bur-ness.
Her mother, Rebecca Frankel, died in 1986.
Before she was a successful actress and comedienne, Bea Arthur was one of the first women to become an active-duty United States Marine. She volunteered and served during World War II as a truck driver and a typist in the Marine Corps. She was stationed at Marine Corps and Navy air stations in Virginia and North Carolina. During her military career, Arthur's rank went from private to corporal to sergeant to staff sergeant, the title she held upon her honorable discharge in September 1945.
She is survived by two granddaughters, Kyra and Violet.
Was 5'9-1/2" by the time she was 12 years old.
Her idol when she was young was June Allyson.
Friends with: Carroll O'Connor, Rob Reiner, Jean Stapleton, Norman Lear, , Bill Macy, Shirley Jones, Angela Lansbury, Esther Rolle, Conrad Bain, Charlotte Rae, Marla Gibbs, Estelle Getty, Richard Mulligan, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, John Amos, Jason Alexander, Rue McClanahan, Susan Harris, Herb Edelman, Beverly Garland and Bill Dana.
After her death, The Ali Forney Center, a New York not-for-profit agency devoted to providing emergency shelter, medical services, and help getting off the streets to young lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender homeless people, learned that she had left them $300,000.00 in her will. The center plans to use the bequest to buy a building that will become permanent housing for some of these youths. The center plans to name the building The Bea Arthur Residence for LGBT Homeless Youth.
As a young girl, Bea attended Linden Hall High School, an all girls school in Lititz, Pennsylvania. Later, she attended Blackstone College for Girls in Blackstone, Virginia, where she was active in drama productions.
Though her ex-"Maude" (1972) co-star, Adrienne Barbeau had missed the majority of the episodes for the final two seasons of the series, due to her busy scheduling, they were still the best of friends until Bea's death.
The comic book character Deadpool is infatuated with Bea and considers to her as the sexiest woman on earth.
Words of remembrance for "Time" magazine's milestones tribute by TV critic Jim Poniewozik (Issue: May 11, 2009).
Got a phone call from Norman Lear, about guest-starring on a few episodes of "All in the Family" (1971), only because Lear strongly insisted her on doing it, despite Arthur, who hated flying. She agreed at the very last minute to take the role for a few episodes, hence, this led her into her starring role on "Maude" (1972).
Claimed that co-star Esther Rolle didn't display any comedic talent on "Maude" (1972), until she was given her own show "Good Times" (1974). She would quote Maude writer Arthur Julian statement about Rolle: "My name is Esther Rolle. I don't do windows, and I don't do comedy.".
Like Bea, her first husband Robert Alan Aurthur also died of lung cancer in 1978.
She was a lifelong liberal Democrat and over the years was in support of Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. She also was a donor to the Democratic National Committee and like her trademark characters of Maude Findlay and Dorothy Zbornak her Democratic concepts constantly coincided with her views on education, womens rights, gay liberation, and economics.
She was frequently referenced in dialogue as being the favorite actress and an icon to the Marvel Comics' character Deadpool.
Was the popular national spokesperson for Canadian drug store chain Shoppers Drug Mart in television and radio commercials throughout the 1980s.
She was posthumously inducted as a Disney Legend in 2009. Her Golden Girls co-stars Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty (also posthumous) were inducted the same year.
She was stationed at Marine Corps and Navy air stations in Virginia and North Carolina. During her military career, Arthur's rank went from private to corporal to sergeant to staff sergeant, the title she held upon her honorable discharge in September 1945.
Met first husband Robert Alan Aurthur in the Marines, the year after her enlistment.
According to ex-"The Golden Girls" (1985) co-star, Betty White, after Arthur's death, she said in an interview, Arthur wasn't too fond of White. Arthur had found her a pain in the neck sometimes and White would set her off.
The second Golden Girls star to die.
Bea Arthur lost her life on April 25, 2009, she was cremated upon her death. Just a few days after her death, the Broadway community paid tribute to Arthur by dimming the marquees of New York City's Broadway theater district in her memory for one minute at 8:00 p.m.
She was a fan of the TV show "South Park" (1997).
Acting mentor and friend of Adrienne Barbeau.
Appeared on the front cover of TV Guide six times.
Classmate of Marlon Brando.
Met Charlotte Rae in a revival of the play, "Bertolt Brecht," where they began a lifelong friendship until Bea's death in 2009.
Won an award of achievement from Emerson College's Musical Theater Society, in Boston, Massachusetts. .
Studied acting at Erwin Piscator's Dramatic Workshop of the New School in New York City, New York.
All this time I've just wanted to be blonde, beautiful and 5 feet 2 inches tall.
I really feel all my adult life has been spent in that little black box. If a wonderful part on TV came along I would do it. But I don't want to do a recurring role. It would just be my luck that the thing would be successful. I'm old enough now and also secure enough financially that I really only want to do what I want to do.
At least I'm not playing other people for a change. It's a very odd place to be... I feel I'm an actress who sings a bit.
After being in the business for such a long time, I've done everything but rodeo and porno.
And I hate autobiographies, I don't know why.
[on playing "Vera Charles" in Mame (1974)] You know, the real name of this show is "Vera". The only reason they changed the name was because Jerry [lyricist Jerry Herman] couldn't think of a rhyme for it. Stephen Sondheim could have.
[on the death of Estelle Getty in 2008]: Our mother-daughter relationship was one of the greatest comic duos ever, and I will miss her.
Look -- I'm 5-feet-9, I have a deep voice and I have a way with a line. What can I do about it? I can't stay home waiting for something different. I think it's a total waste of energy worrying about typecasting.
Let's face it, nobody ever asked me to play Juliet.
[In 1973]: There comes a morning when you wake up and realize you're not Barbra Streisand. If a woman my age is still fighting for roles, it can only mean there's something missing from her personal life.
In sitcoms, the women are so beautiful, understanding and well-bred. They have humor, but sort of display it with a twinkle of the eye and not a guffaw. But there's no juice in that for me.
[When a knock on the front door produced the lady in tennis shoes]: I hope you won't be afraid of George and Julie, they're really very friendly.
[In 1972]: No, no, don't call me Ms. I don't go along with this liberation thing. Liberation from what?
I don't think they realized how completely vulnerable I am. Matter of fact, I may start crying right now; if you let me.
[on the cancelation of "The Golden Girls" (1985)]: I stayed with it for 7 years. I think, definitely, I made the right decision, cause we had highs that we couldn't top.
[on the cancelation of "Maude" (1972)]: I have had six full years. It's been glorious, I've loved every minute of it. But it has been six years and I think it's time to leave.
[In 1978]: Norman has had an idea some time ago in which Maude becomes a congresswoman and moves to Washington. Norman said if you go on for another year, we'll do it in Washington with a new cast. And if you don't, it's a hell of a way to end the show.
[In 1975]: If I could only repeal the law of gravity.
As an artist. As an important artist.
I really feel that I'm an exposed nerve... I don't know how else to say it, but I am. I'm moved by everything.
I've seen so many excellent actors - excellent actors - who the minute they're told they're in a comedy turn into god knows what - creatures from another planet! I mean they just.. the voice changes, they don't look the same, it's like - it has no similarity to any living human being, do you know what I mean? Or don't you? And I'm not talking about Sylvester Stallone... but there's a good example. You know what I mean? It comes down to what I said at the beginning of this: belief, truth... It's truth.
[In 1976]: Other than that it was a fun show to do. But I'll tell you one thing. That's the first and last time you'll see me on a horse - white or any color. The first person to suggest I do a Matt Dillon impression is not going to walk without pain for a week!
[When she gained popularity as the fifty-something Maude Findlay on Maude]: This show was every bit as tough as the analysis' show, but at least I wasn't out there all alone so that made it almost bearable. Of course the fact that we all had the flu and none of us had had time for Christmas shopping didn't make it easier.
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.
(October 2002) Makes her Australian debut in Melbourne and Sydney in "And Then There's Bea" from mid October to early November.
(September 2003) At the Savoy Theatre in London, England, UK; performs in her show "Bea Arthur at the Savoy" created by herself and Billy Goldenberg in collaboration with Charles Randolph-Wright with production consultants Mark Waldrep and Richard Maltby Jr..
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