‘Golden Girls’: Everything to Know About Bea Arthur’s Time with the Marines

by Keeli Parkey

Bea Arthur is most remembered for playing strong, independent women on television. The most famous example of that is her portrayal of Dorothy Zbornak on “The Golden Girls.”

But, close behind is her portrayal of Maude on the show of the same name. The character first appeared on the classic sitcom “All In the Family.”

It isn’t surprising that the legendary actress of stage and and screen would be so adept at playing strong female characters. After all, she was a strong female character in real life. Possibly the best evidence for this is her time as a United States Marine during World War II.

You read that correctly. Decades before she appeared on “The Golden Girls,” Bea Arthur was a United States Marine. How cool is that! Let’s get into the available details of those days of Arthur’s life.

According to the website of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Bea Arthur was not the actress’s given name. Her birth name was actually Bernice Frankel. The future television star reportedly decided to enlist in the armed services shortly after the United States military issued a country-wide call for women to serve.

This rallying cry took play during February 1943. “Be a Marine . . . Free a Man to Fight.” That was the campaign’s slogan, according to the website. The U.S. Marines were asking women to join its Women’s Reservists group.

And, less than a week after that call went out, Bea Arthur rose to the challenge. That has to be much more serious than facing any acting challenge she would deal with on “The Golden Girls.” It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the future actress would want to be involved in the war effort. According to the website, her father had come to the United States from Poland. Her mother came to America from Austria.

Because she hadn’t reached the age of 21, Bea Arthur’s parents had to agree to allow her to join the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reservists. She officially became Private Frankel on Feb. 20, 1943.

Details of ‘Golden Girls’ Bea Arthur’s Military Service Found in Reports

According to the National World War II Museum website, details about an individual’s military service can often be found in their Official Military Personnel Files. So, what can we learn about Bea Arthur’s miliary service based on these files?

Well, the future star of “The Golden Girls” studied at Hunter College in New York. This was a Women Reservists school at the time, according to the website. During 1944 and 1945 Arthur was stationed at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina. While there, she reportedly worked as a dispatcher and a driver.

Bea Arthur was discharged from service during September 1945. At that time, she was a staff sergeant. And, it’s clear from that paperwork that she planned to study acting at a drama school.