Bea Arthur was a star of the stage and screen. Over the course of her career, she played some of the biggest roles on television. Both Maude and Dorothy are iconic women of the sitcom world. Beyond that, she held several roles on the big screen including a supporting role in the Lucille Ball-starring Mame. Arthur also won a Tony Award for the same role in the Broadway production of Mame. She was even in the Star Wars Holiday Special.
Bea Arthur passed away in 2009 at the age of 86. Today, she would have been 99 years old. To celebrate her birthday, we’re going to look back at the highlights of her career.
Bea Arthur’s Big Break
Bea Arthur started her acting career in 1947. She starred in several off-Broadway productions. She spent almost two decades paying her dues and developing her chops. Then, in 1966, she auditioned for the lead role in the Broadway production of Mame. Angela Lansbury got the role that Arthur wanted. But, she was offered the supporting role of Vera Charles. This role brought her fame in the Broadway realm. In fact, she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for the role that year.
In 1974, she reprised that role for the film adaptation of the play. She starred alongside Lucille Ball. However, the film didn’t do as well as the stage production. Bea Arthur later said that she only took the role because her then-husband Gene Saks was directing it. He pleaded with her to reprise her award-winning role.
…And Then There’s Maude
Bea Arthur landed her first big television role in 1971. Norman Lear, the creator of All in the Family approached her to play Maude Findlay on the sitcom. Her character Edith’s cousin. She was also a great foil for Archie. Maude was a liberal feminist. So, she was the polar opposite of Archie. She was on-screen for less than fifteen minutes. However, Arthur’s performance combined with the writing for the character made a big splash.
The next year, they built an entire show around the character. Bea Arthur starred in Maude for six seasons. The show took on hot-button issues of the day including women’s rights and abortion. The show was a hit and its main character and, by extension, Bea, became role models for women around the country.
Bea Arthur won an Emmy for the role in 1977. The next year, Arthur decided that she wanted to move on from the show. Later that year, she appeared in the much-maligned Star Wars Holiday Special.
Bea Arthur Goes Gold
Bea Arthur was perfect for her Golden Girls role. She played the witty Dorothy flawlessly. However, she didn’t want the role in the beginning. Her former Maude co-star Rue McClanahan had to call her and talk her into it. The truth is Rue called and asked what was wrong with her. Rue knew that Golden Girls would be a hit. She also knew that Bea would be making a huge mistake if she passed on it. After some convincing, Bea agreed to read for Dorothy. The rest, as they say, is history.
Golden Girls is still one of the best shows to ever air. Its focus on middle-aged women, their lives, and their relationships struck a chord with audiences of all ages. The show and its cast won several Emmy Awards. Fans of all ages from around the world still love the show today. It wouldn’t have been the same without Bea Arthur.
Back to the Stage
After leaving Golden Girls after seven seasons, Bea Arthur held a variety of roles. She appeared in a handful of television shows. The highlights from Arthur’s later career, though, came on the stage. She toured around the country doing a one-woman show. The show was called An Evening with Bea Arthur or And Then There’s Bea. Then, Arthur returned to Broadway in 2002 with a show made up of stories and songs based on her life and career. The Tony Award-nominated production was called Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends.