Bernice Frankel (May 13, 1922 - April 25, 2009) was an American actress, comedian, singer, and animal rights activist. Her career was spread over seven decades.
Bernice was raised in a Jewish home with sisters Gertrude and Marian Kay. In 1933, the Frankel family moved to Cambridge, Maryland, where her parents operated a women’s clothing store.
At the outbreak of World War II, she joined the United States Corps Women’s Reserve where she was a truck driver. Serving throughout the war, she was honorably discharged in September 1945.
Being active in the drama program while in college, she studied at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School in New York. With this limited training in theater, she began her acting career as a member of an off-Broadway theater group at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City. She appeared in many plays in New York, and this acting experience developed her skills as an actor.
The “big break” for Frankel happened in 1971 when she was invited by Norman Lear to guest-star on his sitcom "All in the Family," as Maude Findlay. The cousin of Edith Bunker, her character was as an outspoken liberal feminist. By the time she appeared on "All in the Family" she was nearly 50. She was an instant success, and this would lead to other roles including her own show, "Maude." On her own show, she received several Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, including her Emmy win in 1977 for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
Her personal life resulted in her marrying twice. Her first marriage took place during her time in the military, when she married fellow Marine Robert Alan Arthur. Shortly after her divorce from Arthur, she married a movie director by the name of Gene Saks. However, due to her many loyal fans, she kept her last name as Arthur.
In her later career and now with the stage name of Bea Arthur, she starred in the television show "The Golden Girls." Also, during this time period, she would tour the country in her one-woman show. The show’s name would be titled either "An Evening with Bea Arthur" or "And Then There’s Bea."
During an interview in 1999, Arthur told an interviewer of the two influences in her career. “Sid Caesar taught me the outrageous and Lee Strasberg taught me what I call reality.”