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Also Known As: Beatrice Arthur, Bernice Frankel Died: April 25, 2009
Born: May 13, 1922 Cause of Death: cancer
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: actor, comedian, singer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

As much a cultural institution as a famed actress of stage and screen, Beatrice Arthur was immediately recognizable for her towering physique, caustic wit and sonorous baritone voice. She first came to prominence on Broadway, originating the role of Yente the Matchmaker in "Fiddler on the Roof" opposite Zero Mostel and winning a Tony for playing Vera Charles in "Mame," but television would be where she made her greatest impact. As Maude Findlay, the acerbic title character of the groundbreaking 1970s sitcom "Maude" (CBS, 1972-78), Arthur embodied a feminist intellectual who never shrank from tackling controversial issues, including abortion. Arthur won an Emmy for her iconic portrayal, and won another - as well as the opportunity to create an equally beloved character - in the next decade as Dorothy Zbornak on the massively popular comedy series "The Golden Girls" (NBC, 1985-1992). Lovingly entrenched in the popular imagination for her wit, sarcasm, and peerless reaction shots, Arthur spent her post-"Golden" years working in television when she felt like it and doing musical theater acts. When she shockingly died of cancer in 2009, she was universally mourned as one of the all-time great comedic...

As much a cultural institution as a famed actress of stage and screen, Beatrice Arthur was immediately recognizable for her towering physique, caustic wit and sonorous baritone voice. She first came to prominence on Broadway, originating the role of Yente the Matchmaker in "Fiddler on the Roof" opposite Zero Mostel and winning a Tony for playing Vera Charles in "Mame," but television would be where she made her greatest impact. As Maude Findlay, the acerbic title character of the groundbreaking 1970s sitcom "Maude" (CBS, 1972-78), Arthur embodied a feminist intellectual who never shrank from tackling controversial issues, including abortion. Arthur won an Emmy for her iconic portrayal, and won another - as well as the opportunity to create an equally beloved character - in the next decade as Dorothy Zbornak on the massively popular comedy series "The Golden Girls" (NBC, 1985-1992). Lovingly entrenched in the popular imagination for her wit, sarcasm, and peerless reaction shots, Arthur spent her post-"Golden" years working in television when she felt like it and doing musical theater acts. When she shockingly died of cancer in 2009, she was universally mourned as one of the all-time great comedic talents.

Born Beatrice Frankel on May 13, 1922, in New York City, she grew up in Maryland. During World War II, Arthur was one of the first women to enlist in the United States Marine Corps., where she served as a medical technician. In the early 1950s, Arthur discovered acting and became a noted stage actress. Over the next two decades, she won rave reviews for her performances in such productions as Kurt Weill's "Three Penny Opera" and "Fiddler on the Roof." In the latter, Arthur originated the role of Yente the Matchmaker opposite the great Zero Mostel. In 1966, the actress won a coveted Tony award for her portrayal of Vera Charles in the Broadway production of "Mame" - a role she would later reprise in the 1974 film version.

Despite her early stage success, Arthur's most celebrated roles, would ultimately be on television. In 1971, Arthur was tapped by producer Norman Lear for a guest starring role on his hit sitcom, "All in the Family" (CBS, 1971-79). Cast as Edith Bunker's cousin, Maude Findlay, whose ultra-liberal politics and feisty '70s "I am woman" independence made her a natural foil for Archie Bunker, the character proved so popular that a year later, she was subsequently spun off into her own series, "Maude" (CBS, 1972-78). An immediate hit, "Maude" ran for six seasons and won Arthur her first Emmy in 1977 for- Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. Much like the show that spawned it, "Maude" took on a number of controversial topics of the day, such as abortion, menopause, depression and domestic violence. However, the politics were always secondary to the comedy. Though ratings for "Maude" remained strong until the very end, the show ended in 1978 because Arthur wanted to move on. Arthur's next television project, "Amanda's" (ABC, 1983-84), was a short-lived sitcom based on the classic British comedy series, "Fawlty Towers" (BBC, 1975-79). Though Arthur was well-suited for her role as crabby hotelier, Amanda Cartwright, the show's anemic scripts doomed it to an early checkout.

Fortunately, Arthur had far better luck with her next project, "The Golden Girls" (NBC, 1985-1992). This comedy about four older women sharing a house in Miami starred Arthur as Dorothy Zbornak, a middle-aged divorcee, along with comedy veterans Rue McClanahan, Betty White, and Estelle Getty. An immediate ratings hit, "The Golden Girls" ran for seven seasons and won Arthur her second Emmy. At the end of the 1992 season, Arthur decided she had had enough twilight time with the girls and announced she would leave the show. Rather than go on without its central, most grounded character, "The Golden Girls" was canceled and retooled. A year later, the show returned to the airwaves without Arthur; this time, on a different network and with a new title, "The Golden Palace" (CBS, 1992-93). White, McClanahan, and Getty came back to reprise their characters, but the show tanked after one season.

After the cancellation of "The Golden Girls," Arthur maintained a relatively low profile on television, but continued acting. In 2002, Arthur made a triumphant return to Broadway with her one-woman show, the Tony-nominated "Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends," a collection of stories and songs based on her life and career. After portraying Larry David's mother on a season five episode of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," as well as proving she could still deliver a perfectly executed off-color zinger while appearing on Comedy Central Roasts, she made few appearances. A year after the death of the first "Golden Girl," Estelle Getty, Arthur surprised many when she died on April 25, 2009. Because it had not been widely publicized, her losing battle with cancer shocked fans who had no idea she was ill. Tributes from TV veterans began pouring in, showering Arthur with accolades for creating two of the medium's most indelible characters.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Broadway: The Golden Age (2004) Herself
2.
 Enemies of Laughter (2000) Paul'S Mother
4.
5.
 My First Love (1988) Jean Miller
6.
 History of the World Part I (1981) Unemployment Clerk
7.
 Mame (1974) Vera
8.
 Lovers and Other Strangers (1970) Bea Vecchio
9.
 That Kind of Woman (1959) WAC
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in the Eastern Shore town of Camebridge, Maryland
1947:
First stage role as "Lysistrata" at the Dramatic Workshop of the School of Social Research
1947:
Professional stage debut in the Off-Broadway production of "Dog Beneath the Skin"
1951:
First TV appearance was an episode of NBC's "Kraft Television Theatre"
1953:
Received widespread acclaim as Lucy Brown in the Off-Broadway revival of "The Threepenny Opera"
1955:
Broadway debut as Madame Suze in "Seventh Heaven"
1956:
TV regular on the NBC variety program "Caesar's Hour"
1958:
Opened Off-Broadway in "Ulysses in Nighttown"
1959:
Feature acting debut, "That Kind of Woman"
1964:
Portrayed Yente in Harnick and Bock's Broadway production of "Fiddler on the Roof"
1966:
Won a Tony Award starring opposite Angela Lansbury in Broadway's "Mame"; directed by then husband Gene Saks
1970:
Featured in a comedy film based on the play by Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna, "Lovers and Other Strangers"
1971:
Introduced the character of Maude, an outspoken liberal and Edith Bunker's cousin on CBS' "All in the Family"
1972:
Played Maude Findlay, an outspoken liberal in the CBS series "Maude"
1974:
Reprised her "Mame" role opposite Lucille Ball in the poorly received film adaptation; again directed by husband Saks
1980:
Hosted own TV special, "The Beatrice Arthur Special" (CBS)
1981:
Acted in Mel Brooks' "History of the World, Part I"
1983:
Played the title character in the short-lived ABC sitcom, "Amanda's"
1985:
Appeared on Broadway in Woody Allen's "The Floating Light Bulb"
1985:
Played the sarcastic, Dorothy Zbornak in the NBC sitcom, "The Golden Girls"
1995:
Acted in Jason Alexander's feature directorial debut, "For Better or Worse"
1995:
Starred in the Los Angeles production of "Bermuda Avenue Triangle"; penned by Taylor and Bologna
1998:
Appeared in the Los Angeles production of Anne Meara's "After-Play"
2000:
Earned an Emmy nomination for her guest-starring role on FOX's "Malcolm in the Middle"
2002:
Made a return to Broadway starring in the one-woman show "Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends"; the show was nominated for a Tony award for Best Special Theatrical Event
2005:
Played Larry David's mother on the season five finale of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Blackstone College: Blackstone , Virginia -
Franklin Institute of Sciences and Art: Philadelphia , Pennsylvania -
Dramatic Workshop of the School of Social Research: New York , New York -

Notes

"I really feel all my adult life has been spent in that little black box. If a wonderful part on television 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." --Beatrice Arthur in Los Angeles Times, October 8, 1995

"I've worked with people who, once they're told a show is comedy, it's like giving whiskey to the Indians. They just go berserk, they use a different voice. I'm not sure what I do; I just think of it as good acting." --Beatrice Arthur in InTheater, April 10, 1998

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Gene Saks. Actor, director. Married on May 28, 1950; divorced.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Philip Frankel.
mother:
Rebecca Frankel.
son:
Matthew Saks. Father, Gene Saks.
son:
Daniel Saks. Set designer. Father, Gene Saks; designed set for "Bermuda Triangle Avenue" (1995).
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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