Before stage and screen, Bea Arthur shined as a Marine

Bea Arthur was best known for her acting roles in the 1966 Broadway musical “Mame;” the 1970s sitcoms “All In The Family” and “Maude;” the 1985-1992 sitcom “The Golden Girls;” and many other notable parts in film, TV and theater.

A publicity photo shows Bea Arthur during the time she starred in the TV sitcom “Maude,” which ran 1972-1978. (Photograph courtesy of CBS)

Less known is that Arthur enlisted in the Marine Corps during World War II. On Feb. 18, 1943 — just five days after the Marine Corps began recruiting women — she enlisted in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve.

After basic training, Arthur served as a typist at Marine Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C.

In June 1943, the Marine Corps accepted her transfer request to the Motor Transport School at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Arthur then worked as a truck driver and dispatcher at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., between 1944 and 1945. She was honorably discharged at the rank of staff sergeant in September 1945.

In 1944, she married fellow Marine Robert Alan Aurthur. They divorced three years later, but she kept his surname, but changed the spelling to “Arthur.”

More than 20,000 women reservists had earned the title “Marine” by the end of World War II. Though relegated to noncombat jobs, they played vital roles in the Marine Corps during the war.

In 1947 after returning to civilian life, Arthur studied at the Dramatic Workshop at The New School for Social Research in New York City with German director Erwin Piscator. She then began her acting career as a member of an off-Broadway theater group at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City.

Her big break came in 1964 when she took the part of Yente the Matchmaker in Broadway’s “Fiddler on the Roof,” and her career took off after that.

More About Arthur

  1. Arthur was born Bernice Frankel and was raised in a Jewish home in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. She was a longtime champion of equal rights for women and an active advocate for the elderly and Jewish communities in her major television roles, charity work and personal outspokenness.
  2. She embraced the gay community, which had supported her professionally since the 1970s. Late in life, Arthur took up the cause of homelessness among LGBTQ+ youths.
  3. Arthur died of lung cancer at her home in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles on April 25, 2009. She was 86.
Actress Bea Arthur is shown in her Marine Corps photo, April 15, 1943. (Marine Corps photograph)
The Marine Corps began recruiting women to the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve in 1943. (Marine Corps photograph)

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