The actress Bea Arthur was born Bernice Frankel in New York City on May 13, 1922. Her family was Jewish and moved to Cambridge, Maryland in 1933. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 which prompted the US to join WWII, Frankel decided to help the war effort. In 1943, after turning 21, she joined the Marines – and in doing so became one of the first female Marines to ever serve for the United States. While she hoped to be assigned to ground aviation, she declared she was willing to serve in any capacity.
She began basic training in March and started her military career as a typist at the Marine Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C. Over the next two years, she served at Marine Corps and Navy air stations in North Carolina and Virginia. As a member of the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, she also worked as a truck driver. She earned several promotions and went from private to corporal to sergeant to staff sergeant. S
he was granted an honorable discharge in 1945. After the war, Frankel studied Dramatic Workshop of the New School in New York and began her acting career with an off-Broadway theater group at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City. Around the same time, she married Robert Alan Aurthur, another Marine who eventually became a screenwriter, director and producer. She kept a modified version of his surname as part of her stage name even after they divorced in 1950.
Sometime later, she married Gene Saks, and they eventually adopted two sons. Their marriage lasted 1980 when they divorced. Arthur’s first major television role was the character Maude Findlay on “All in the Family” in 1971. Maude was Edith Bunker’s liberal cousin, and she clashed entertainingly with Archie Bunker. People enjoyed the character so much that she quickly became the star of her own series. That series, “Maude,” was considered groundbreaking in its feminist sensibilities and its handling of such topics as abortion, the Vietnam War, divorce, and mental illness.
Arthur won an Emmy in 1977. In 1985, Arthur played Dorothy Zbornak in “The Golden Girls.” The show ran for seven years, and Arthur won an Emmy for her character in 1988. In 2008, Arthur was inducted into the Academy’s Television Hall of Fame. She died from cancer in 2009 at the age of 86.