Women and Adversity: Memorial Day Tribute
Bea Arthur, Actress and Marine Corps Veteran
Few people know that actress Bea Arthur of “All in the Family,” “Maude” and “The Golden Girls” enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1943 when she was 21. She was stationed in Washington, D.C. and later at bases in North Carolina and Virginia. She was a typist and drove a truck while in the service. She reached the rank of staff sergeant, and was one of the first members of the Women’s Reserve. In interviews she denied being in the military, yet records show she spent 30 months in the Marine Corps.
Born in New York City as Bernice Frankel, she grew up in Maryland where her parents ran a dress shop. She dreamed of being an actress but feared her parents would disapprove.
She changed her name to Bernice Arthur when she married fellow marine, Robert Arthur. They divorced and she entered the Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research in New York in 1947, with her parents’ approval, and changed her name to Bea Arthur.
She started out in dramatic roles although her true talent was comedy and sarcasm. She became a hit in 1964 when she played Yente the Matchmaker in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Success followed when she played Vera Charles in “Mame” in 1966 under the direction of her second husband, Gene Saks. They adopted two sons but divorced in 1978.
Bea Arthur died of lung cancer in 2009.
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