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Overview for Bea Arthur
Bea Arthur

Bea Arthur



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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: Cast ... actor singer comedian


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.

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