Dead, Beatrice “Bea” Arthur on April 25, 2009 at the age of 86, she was an American actress, comedian, and singer whose career spanned seven decades. Born Bernice Frankel on May 13, 1922, to Philip and Rebecca (née Pressner) Frankel in New York City, Arthur was raised in a Jewish home with sisters Gertrude and Marian Kay.
In 1933, the Frankel family relocated to Cambridge, Maryland, where her parents subsequently operated a women’s clothing shop. Arthur began her acting career as a member of an off Broadway theatre 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 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 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 Republican Archie Bunker, who described 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 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.
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. In 1985 however, 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 cancelled 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 cancelled in 1992, Bea kept a low profile, appearing in only a couple of movies: For Better or Worse (1995) and Enemies of Laughter (2000).
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.