Bea Arthur, star of Broadway and screen, is most belovedly remembered for her role as Dorothy Zbornak in The Golden Girls television series.
Among the numerous trivia regarding the four Golden Girls, there is one intriguing fact that presented Bea in another role, this time in real life.
Before she reached Broadway stardom and captured the hearts of audiences across the generations, Bea was one of the first female U.S. Marines who participated in WWII.
According to the historical records presented by the National WWII Museum of New Orleans, obtained from the National Archives through the National Personnel Records Center at St. Louis, young Bea Arthur enlisted on February 18, 1943, several days after the Marine Corps launched a call for women recruitment in America.
The idea of recruiting a female group of reservists was introduced due to the number of casualties. Consequently, male Marines were able to join combat units and continue their mission.
Though these women were allocated non-combat positions such as drivers, cooks, medical assistants or messengers, by the end of WWII there were more than 20,000 women who were honored as Marines. Among these heroines was 21-year-old Bea Arthur.
The media tried to present the female Marines as “cute, brave dolls,” but faced serious rejection of their attempt by Major General Commandant Thomas Holcomb who, in 1944 for Life magazine, firmly declared:
“They are Marines. They don’t have a nickname and they don’t need one. . . They inherit the traditions of Marines. They are Marines.”
She was born Bernice Frankel on May 13, 1922 in New York City. Her family later moved to Cambridge, Maryland where Bea completed her secondary education.
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After spending one year at Blackstone College in Virginia, where she studied science and eventually became a clinical laboratory technician, Bea returned to her hometown and, for a while, worked as a food analyst at the Phillips Packing Company.
She wasn’t especially keen on her profession so she decided to move back to the Big Apple and try her luck in other jobs, according to Rare. This is when she encountered the call of the US Marine Corps for their new Women’s Reservists, that said: “Be a Marine… Free a Man to Fight”.
After she had been accepted, Marine Arthur first served as a typist at the Marine headquarters in Washington, D.C., but was also assigned to the Navy air stations in Virginia and North Carolina. It was at the US Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina where she worked as a truck driver and dispatcher.
Her contribution to the service was clearly marked by her received honor as Staff Sergeant. Undoubtedly, Bea’s role as a US Marine filled her life with a myriad of unforgettable events that affected her life.
In 1947, she returned to NYC and decided to take part in the Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research. Her rapid career success saw her star in 40 theatre plays, six films, and numerous TV shows and series. In 1966 she received the American Theatre Wing’s Tony Award for the Best Featured Actress in the Broadway Musical Mame.
Bea Arthur will be also remembered as a two-time Emmy award winner as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, for the series Maude in 1977 and The Golden Girls in 1988.
Bea refrained from giving comments referring to her Marine past, and this subject was rarely mentioned by the media. She passed away on April 25, 2009 due to cancer.