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Before Stage and Screen, Bea Arthur Shined as a Marine

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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 woman poses as the Statue of Liberty.
A publicity photo shows Bea Arthur, who starred in the TV sitcom "Maude," which ran 1972-1978. This photo was taken about 1973.
Photo By: Courtesy of CBS
VIRIN: 730315-O-D0439-002M
A woman is shown in a photo.
A publicity photo shows Bea Arthur during the time she starred in the TV sitcom "Maude," which ran 1972-1978.
Photo By: Courtesy of CBS
VIRIN: 730315-O-D0439-001M

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, North Carolina. 

A woman looks at the camera.
Bea Arthur
Actress Bea Arthur is shown in her Marine Corps photo, April 15, 1943.
Photo By: Marine Corps
VIRIN: 430415-O-D0439-001

Arthur then worked as a truck driver and dispatcher at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, 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.

A Marine Corps recruiting poster features a woman.
Women's Reserve
The Marine Corps began recruiting women to the Marine Corps Women's Reserve in 1943.
Photo By: Marine Corps
VIRIN: 430315-O-D0439-001

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

Two women are photographed at an event.
Emmy Awards
Bea Arthur, left, and friend Angela Lansbury at the Emmy Awards on Sept. 17, 1989.
Photo By: Alan Light
VIRIN: 890917-O-D0439-002M

​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.
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.
Arthur died of lung cancer at her home in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles on April 25, 2009. She was 86.

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