Known for her ground-breaking roles as Maude in the series of the same name and as the wise-cracking Dorothy in the hit series The Golden Girls, the actress Beatrice Arthur was one one of the most accomplished stage and television actresses of her generation. Although she is perhaps best known for those two roles just mentioned, she nevertheless had a long and illustrious career, having been involved in some of the most iconic Broadway productions, in addition to her activism on behalf animals of the GLBT community.
Beatrice Arthur was born Bernice Frankel in New York city in 1922 and, although she originally did not intend to become an actress (she went to school to become a medical condition,) she nevertheless felt herself drawn to that profession. She first established herself in the off-Broadway production of The Threepenny Opera in the early 1950s, which led to several other important stage roles including the role of Yente the Matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof and, perhaps her most famous stage role, Vera Charles in the hit Broadway play Mame. (She would develop a strong and lasting friendship with the play’s star, Angela Lansbury.) She would earn a Tony Award for her work, and would later go on to reprise her role for the film version of the play (which would, sadly, not be nearly as successful.)
Arthur’s big break, however, came when she landed the role of Maude Findlay, the liberal cousin of Edith Bunker on All in the Family. The character proved to be so popular with audiences that Arthur would gain her own series, aptly titled Maude, which would last for six seasons and tackle some of the thorniest political issues of the day, including abortion. In fact, the series would land Arthur her first Emmy Award for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Comedy Series (in 1977). After six years, however, Beatrice Arthur decided that it was time for the show to end, and so the series left the year.
It would be several years before Arthur would land what was to become one of her most famous roles, that of Dorothy Spornak, the sassy divorcee from Brooklyn. She had already acted with Rue McClanahan in her series Maude, and there was an undeniable chemistry with the cast. Arthur would win another Emmy Award in 1988 for her role in the series. After seven years, however, Arthur decided that she had done all that she could with the series, and her departure would see the end of the series as a whole. However, she would reprise her role as Dorothy in the follow-up series The Golden Palace.
After her success with The Golden Girls, Arthur continued to periodically act in various films, although she mostly maintained a low profile. She did make some notable appearances, however, including a roast of Pamela Anderson. She once again returned to the stage with a woman show, which was quite well-received.
Bea Arthur was married for several years to Gene Saks, and she had two sons, Matthew and Daniel Saks. After a very private struggle with cancer, Arthur passed away on April 25, 2009. In her will, Arthur left a substantial sum to the Ali Forney Center, an organization devoted to providing several services to homeless GLBT youth, and the Center plans to name the building after Arthur in honor of her generous donation.
Throughout her life, Beatrice Arthur was an extraordinary actress of both stage and screen, and she managed to craft a persona and a career that was extraordinary in so many ways. Although she passed away in 2009, her memory lives on in the series in which she starred, most notably The Golden Girls, which continues to run in syndication.
Biography Channel on Bea Arthur
IMDB Entry on Bea Arthur