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Beatrice Arthur 1922-2009

Country : New York City, New York
Profession : Actress
Date of birth : 1922-05-13
Date of death : 2009-04-25
Cause of Death : Lung cancer

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Beatrice "Bea" Arthur (May 13, 1922 – April 25, 2009) was an American actress, comedian and singer whose career spanned seven decades. Arthur achieved fame as the title character Maude Findlay on the 1970s sitcom Maude, and as Dorothy Zbornak on the 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls, winning Emmy Awards for both roles. A stage actress both before and after her television success, she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance as Vera Charles in the original cast of Mame (1966).

Life and career

Early life

Arthur was born Bernice Frankel to Jewish parents Philip and Rebecca Frankel in New York City on May 13, 1922. In 1933 her family moved to Cambridge, Maryland, where her parents operated a women's clothing shop. She attended Linden Hall High School, an all girls school in Lititz, Pennsylvania, before enrolling in the now-defunct Blackstone College in Blackstone, Virginia, where she was active in drama productions.


From 1947, Beatrice Arthur studied at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York with German director Erwin Piscator. Arthur began her acting career as a member of an off Broadway theater 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 Threepenny Opera, 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 1974 film version opposite Lucille Ball. In 1981, she appeared in Woody Allen's The Floating Light Bulb. She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1994 portraying the Duchess of Krakenthorp, a speaking role, in Gaetano Donizetti's La fille du régiment.


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 Archie Bunker, who decried 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 her own series.'"

That show, previewed in her second All in the Family appearance, would be simply titled Maude. The show, debuting in 1972, would find her living in the affluent community of Tuckahoe, Westchester County, New York, with her 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.

It would also earn a place for her in the history of the women's liberation movement. The groundbreaking series didn't shirk from addressing serious sociopolitical topics of the era that were fairly taboo for a sitcom, from the Vietnam War, the Nixon Administration and Maude's bid for a Congressional seat to divorce, menopause, drug use, alcoholism, nervous breakdown and spousal abuse. A prime example, "Maude's Dilemma", was a two-part episode in which Maude's character grapples with a late-life pregnancy, ultimately deciding to have an abortion. The episode aired two months before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized the procedure in the Roe v. Wade decision. Though abortion was legal in New York State, it was illegal in many regions of the country and so controversial that dozens of affiliates refused to broadcast the episode. A reported 65 million viewers watched the two episodes either in their first run that November or the following summer as a re-run. By 1978, however, Arthur decided to move on from the series.

That year, she costarred in The Star Wars Holiday Special, in which she had a song and dance routine in the Mos Eisley Cantina. She hosted The Beatrice Arthur Special on CBS on January 19, 1980, which paired the star in a musical comedy revue with Rock Hudson, Melba Moore and Wayland Flowers and Madame.

After appearing in the short-lived 1983 sitcom Amanda's (an adaptation of the British series Fawlty Towers), Arthur was cast in the sitcom The Golden Girls in 1985, in which she played Dorothy Zbornak, a divorced substitute teacher living in a Miami house owned by Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan). Her other roommates included widow Rose Nylund (Betty White) and Dorothy's Sicilian mother, Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty). Getty was actually a year younger than Arthur in real life, and was heavily made up to look significantly older. The series became a hit, and remained a top-ten ratings fixture for six seasons. Her performance led to several Emmy nominations over the course of the series and an Emmy win in 1988. Arthur decided to leave the show after seven years, and in 1992 the show was moved from NBC to CBS and retooled as The Golden Palace in which the other three actresses reprised their roles. Arthur made a guest appearance in a two-part episode.


Arthur also sporadically appeared in films, reprising her stage role as Vera Charles in the 1974 film adaption of Mame, opposite Lucille Ball. Additionally, Arthur portrayed overbearing mother Bea Vecchio in Lovers and Other Strangers (1970), and had a cameo as a Roman unemployment clerk in Mel Brooks' History of the World, Part 1 (1981).

Later career

After Arthur left The Golden Girls, she made several guest appearances on television shows and organized and toured in her one-woman show, alternately titled An Evening with Bea Arthur and And Then There's Bea. She made a guest appearance on the American cartoon Futurama, in the Emmy-nominated episode "Amazon Women in the Mood", as the voice of the Femputer who ruled the giant Amazonian women. She also appeared in an episode of Malcolm in the Middle as Mrs. White, Dewey's babysitter, in a first-season episode. She was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her performance. She also appeared as Larry David's mother on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

In 2002, she returned to Broadway starring in Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends, a collection of stories and songs (with musician Billy Goldenberg) based on her life and career. The show was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event. The previous year had been the category's first, and there had been only one nominee. That year, Arthur was up against solo performances by soprano Barbara Cook, comedian John Leguizamo, and Arthur's fellow student in Piscator's program at The New School, actress Elaine Stritch, who won for Elaine Stritch: At Liberty.

In addition to appearing in a number of programs looking back at her own work, Arthur performed in stage and television tributes for Jerry Herman, Bob Hope and Ellen Degeneres. In 2005, she participated in the Comedy Central roast of Pamela Anderson.


In 1999, Arthur told an interviewer of the three influences in her career: "Sid Caesar taught me the outrageous; [method acting guru] Lee Strasberg taught me what I call reality; and [the original Threepenny Opera star], Lotte Lenya, whom I adored, taught me economy."

Personal life and death

Arthur was married twice, first to Robert Alan Aurthur, a screenwriter, television, and film producer and director, whose surname she took and kept (though with a modified spelling), and second to director Gene Saks from 1950 to 1978 with whom she adopted two sons, Matthew (born in 1961), an actor, and Daniel (born in 1964), a set designer.

She primarily lived in the Greater Los Angeles Area and had sublet her apartment on Central Park West in New York City and her country home in Bedford, New York.

Arthur was a committed animal rights activist and frequently supported People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals campaigns. Arthur joined PETA in 1987 after a Golden Girls anti-fur episode. Arthur wrote letters, made personal appearances and placed ads against the use of furs, foie gras, and farm animal cruelty by KFC suppliers. She appeared on Judge Judy as a witness for an animal rights activist, and, along with Pamela Anderson insisted on a donation to PETA in exchange for appearing on Comedy Central.

Arthur's longtime championing of civil rights for women, the elderly and the LGBT community—in her two television roles and through her charity work and personal outspokenness—has led her to be cited as an LGBT icon.

Arthur died at her home in the Greater Los Angeles Area in the early morning hours of Saturday, April 25, 2009, at the age of 86. She had been ill from cancer.

On April 28, 2009, 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.

Arthur's surviving co-stars from The Golden Girls, McClanahan and White, commented on her death via telephone on an April 27 episode of Larry King Live as well as other news outlets such as ABC. Longtime friends Adrienne Barbeau (with whom she had worked on Maude) and Angela Lansbury (with whom she had worked in Mame) released amicable statements: Barbeau said, "We've lost a unique, incredible talent. No one could deliver a line or hold a take like Bea and no one was more generous or giving to her fellow performers"; and Lansbury said, "She became and has remained my Bosom Buddy I am deeply saddened by her passing, but also relieved that she is released from the pain".


Arthur won the American Theatre Wing's Tony Award in 1966 as Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance that year as Vera Charles in the original Broadway production of Jerry Herman's musical Mame.

She later received the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series twice, once in 1977 for Maude and again in 1988 for The Golden Girls. She was inducted into the Academy's Hall of Fame in 2008.

On June 8, 2008, The Golden Girls was awarded the Pop Culture award at the Sixth Annual TV Land Awards. Arthur accepted the award with co-stars Rue McClanahan and Betty White.

Television credits

  • Kraft Television Theatre (1951–1958)
  • Studio One (1951–1953)
  • Max Liebman Presents: Kaleidoscope (1955)
  • Caesar's Hour (regular performer 1954–1956)
  • The Seven Lively Arts (1958)
  • Omnibus (1958)
  • Hallmark Hall of Fame (1958)
  • The George Gobel Show (1959)
  • The Perry Como Show (1961)
  • All in the Family (1971 & 1972)
  • Maude (1972–1978)
  • The 45th Annual Academy Awards (1973)
  • The Mike Douglas Show (1974 & 1980)
  • The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1985, 1986, 1990)
  • Dinah (1975 & 1976)
  • Saturday Night Live (1976 & 1979)
  • Cos (1976)
  • Laugh-In (1977)
  • CBS: On the Air (1978)
  • The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Hour (1979)
  • The Beatrice Arthur Special (1980)
  • Soap (1980)
  • History of the World Part I (1981)
  • Omnibus (1981)
  • Nights of 100 Stars (1982)
  • Broadway Plays Washington on Kennedy Center Tonight (1982)
  • Amanda's (1983) (series; lasted 4 months)
  • a.k.a. Pablo (1984)
  • P.O.P. (1984)
  • The Golden Girls (1985–1992)
  • Circus of the Stars #10 (1985)
  • NBC 60th Anniversary Celebration (1986)
  • Walt Disney World's 15th Birthday Celebration (1986)
  • Late Night with David Letterman (1986)
  • The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts (1986)
  • The 13th Annual People's Choice Awards (1987)
  • This is Your Life" (1987)
  • The 41st Annual Tony Awards (1987)
  • Comic Relief '87 (1987)
  • Family Comedy Hour (1987)
  • Irving Berlin's 100th Birthday Celebration (1988)
  • Circus of the Stars #13 (1988)
  • Empty Nest (1989)
  • Aspel & Company (1990)
  • Night of 100 Stars III (1990)
  • The 42nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards (1990)
  • Dame Edna's Hollywood (1991)
  • The Howard Stern Show (1992)
  • Guest Night (1992)
  • 6th Annual Americam Comedy Awards (1992)
  • The Golden Palace (1992)
  • This Joint Is Jumpin' (1993)
  • The 47th Annual Tony Awards (1993)
  • Boulevard Bio (1993)
  • Sean's Show (1993)
  • Jerry Herman's Broadway at the Hollywood Bowl (1994)
  • Bob Hope: Happy 91st Birthday, Bob (1994)
  • 50 Years of Funny Females (1995)
  • The 50th Annual Tony Awards (1996)
  • Dave's World (cast member 1996 & 1997)
  • The Rosie O'Donnell Show (1997)
  • The RuPaul Show (1998)
  • Ellen: A Hollywood Tribute, Part 1" (1998)
  • The 53rd Annual Tony Awards (1999)
  • Beggars and Choosers (1999)
  • The Martin Short Show (1999)
  • So Graham Norton (2000)
  • Intimate Portrait: Rue McClanahan (2000)
  • Malcolm in the Middle, as Dewey's babysitter on the Season 1 finale (2000)
  • E! True Hollywood Story: All in the Family (2000)
  • Intimate Portrait: Estelle Getty (2001)
  • Futurama as "Femputer" in the episode "Amazon Women in the Mood" (2001)
  • Today (2001)
  • The View (2002)
  • CBS News Sunday Morning (2002)
  • The Rosie O'Donnell Show (2002)
  • Good Morning America (2002)
  • The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (2002)
  • The Big O! True West Hollywood Story (2002)
  • TV Most Censored Moments (2002)
  • TV Tales: The Golden Girls (2002)
  • Open Mike with Mike Bullard (2002)
  • Because I Said So (2002)
  • Inside TV Land: Taboo TV (2002)
  • Intimate Portrait: Bea Arthur (2003)
  • TV Land Awards: A Celebration of Classic TV (2003)
  • Rove Live (2003)
  • Through The Keyhole (2003)
  • Broadway: The Golden Age by the Legends Who Were There (2003)
  • The Golden Girls: Their Greatest Moments (2003)
  • Today with Des and Mel (2003)
  • Richard and Judy (2003)
  • The Terry and Gaby Show (2003)
  • The Second Annual TV Land Awards: A Celebration of Classic TV (2004)
  • The Best of So Graham Norton (2004)
  • Inside TV Land: Primetime Politics (2004)
  • TV's Greatest Sidekicks (2004)
  • Comedy Central Roast of Pamela Anderson (2005)
  • TV Land Confidential (2005)
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm as Larry David's deceased mother on the Season 5 finale (2005)
  • Entertainment Tonight (2006)
  • Biography: Bea Arthur (2006)
  • The View (2007)
  • TV Land Confidential (2007)
  • Entertainment Tonight (2007)
  • Back to the Grind (2007)
  • Entertainment Weekly & TV Land Present: The 50 Greatest TV Icons (2007)
  • Entertainment Tonight (2008)
  • The 6th Annual TV Land Awards (2008)
  • Entertainment Tonight (2008)

Theater performances

  • Lysistrata (1947)
  • The Dog Beneath the Skin (1947)
  • Yerma (1947)
  • No Exit (1948)
  • The Taming of the Shrew (1948)
  • Six Characters in Search of an Author (1948)
  • The Owl and the Pussycat (1948)
  • Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1949)
  • Yes is for a Very Young Man (1949)
  • The Creditors (1949)
  • Heartbreak House (1949)
  • Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1951)
  • Personal Appearance (1951)
  • Candle Light (1951)
  • Love or Money (1951)
  • The Voice of the Turtle (1951)
  • The New Moon (1953)
  • The Threepenny Opera (1954)
  • What's the Rush? (1955)
  • Shoestring Revue (1955)
  • Plain and Fancy (1955)
  • Seventh Heaven (1955)
  • Mistress of the Inn (1956)
  • The Ziegfeld Follies (1956)
  • Nature's Way (1957)
  • Ulysses in Nighttown (1958)
  • The Gay Divorcee at the Cherry Lane (1960)
  • A Matter of Position (1962)
  • Fiddler on the Roof (1964)
  • Mame (1966)
  • The Floating Lightbulb (1981)
  • La Fille du Regiment (1994)
  • Bermuda Avenue Triangle (1995–1996)
  • Angela Lansbury - A Celebration (November 17, 1996) (benefit concert)
  • After Play (1997–1998)
  • Strike Up The Band (2000)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in Westport, Connecticut (July 28–30, 2000)
  • And Then There's Bea United States Tour (April 24, 2001 – January 13, 2002)
  • Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends in New York, New York (January 29, 2002 – April 14, 2002)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in Santa Fe, New Mexico (September 24, 2002)
  • And Then There's Bea in Melbourne, Australia (October 15–27, 2002)
  • And Then There's Bea in Sydney, Australia (October 29 – November 10, 2002)
  • Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends in Toronto, Canada (November 20 – December 8, 2002)
  • And Then There's Bea in Johannesburg, South Africa (August 12–24, 2003)
  • And Then There's Bea in Cape Town, South Africa (August 26 – September 7, 2003)
  • Bea Arthur at The Savoy in London, England (September 15 – October 18, 2003)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in Los Angeles, California (January 31 – February 1, 2004)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in Saugatuck, Michigan (May 22–23, 2004)
  • A Celebration of Life in Washington, D.C. (May 26, 2004)
  • Bea Arthur at the El Portal in North Hollywood, California (August 5–8, 2004)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in Provincetown, Massachusetts (August 21, 2004)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in Columbus, Georgia (October 30, 2004)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in Nyack, New York (March 4–6, 2005)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in Fort Wayne, Indiana (April 17, 2005)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in Mount Pleasant, Michigan (April 19, 2005)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in Atlantic City, New Jersey (June 3–4, 2005)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in Holmdel, New Jersey (June 7, 2005)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in Las Vegas, Nevada (August 27, 2005)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in Hampton, Virginia (September 16–17, 2005)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in Alexandria, Virginia (September 22, 2005)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in Geneva, New York (September 24, 2005)
  • Bea Arthur Back on Broadway (at 95th Street) in New York, New York (November 21, 2005)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in San Francisco, California (January 7, 2006)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in Salem, Oregon (January 21, 2006)
  • Bea Arthur Back at the El Portal in North Hollywood, California (February 16–19, 2006)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in Scottsdale, Arizona (February 24–25, 2006)
  • An Evening with Bea Arthur in University Park, Illinois (March 19, 2006)


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