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Bea Arthur

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By Esther Lynn

For those who only know Bea Arthur from her TV roles as Maude Findlay on both All In The Family and its spin-off, Maude, and portraying Dorothy Zbornak on The Golden Girls, surprise! There is much more to this girl than her Emmy-winning performances during the 14 years she spent playing those roles.

Born Bernice Frankel 82 years ago, this native New Yorker was one of the first female recruits, volunteering for the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. She attended drama school with the likes of Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau and Rod Steiger before striking out on her own. Billed as Beatrice Arthur, her first major role was as Lucy Brown, costarring with Lotte Lenya in the U.S. premiere of Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera. She went on to play Yente the Matchmaker in Fiddler On The Roof, followed by her Tony-winning performance as Vera Charles in Mame. Bea and Angela Lansbury, who starred as Mame in the Jerry Herman musical, are still "Bosom Buddies" almost 40 years later. In 1974, Bea Arthur reprised her Vera Charles character in the film that cast Lucille Ball in the part of the eccentric aunt. Other movie roles included the Oscar-nominated Lovers and Other Strangers and Mel Brooks' History of the World - Part 1.

It was in 1971 that Bea made her first appearance as the liberal-thinking, outspoken Maude on Norman Lear's groundbreaking All In The Family. The following year, Edith Bunker's (played by Jean Stapleton) cousin and Archie Bunker's (portrayed by Carroll O'Connor) nemesis was starring in her own TV series. Maude ran for six years, winning Bea an Emmy Award. When she decided to leave the show, Maude ended. From 1985 to 1992, Bea played the sharp-tongued Dorothy Zbornak, costarring with Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty, in The Golden Girls. She won her second Emmy for that role. After seven seasons, Bea was ready for new adventures and left the series.

The mother of two grown sons from her 28-year marriage to director Gene Saks, Bea is very involved in fundraising for AIDS research and is an advocate for animal rights. She was one of the stars of the 1994 Emmy-nominated Jerry Herman's Broadway at the Hollywood Bowl, in which her tour de force performance of Man In The Moon (from Mame) was a showstopper. She recently won the Comedy Ace Award for her appearance in the FOX TV series, Malcolm In The Middle. Three years ago, Bea and writer, arranger, composer, musician Billy Goldenberg, created Bea Arthur On Broadway: Just Between Friends. Following a 23-city tour, in 2002 the show opened at the Booth Theatre in New York where it ran in a limited engagement from February 17 to April 14 and was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Special Theatrical Event.

Goldenberg, no slouch himself, is also an Emmy-winner. His Broadway credits include shows such as An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May, 110 In The Shade, An Evening With Diana Ross and Ballroom.

On August 27, 2005 accompanied by her longtime friend, An Evening With Bea Arthur and Billy Goldenberg will be presented in the Tiffany Theatre at the Tropicana Resort & Casino. In a special one-performance only show, the popular actress/comedian will share observations, stories and music in a 90-minute, sometimes bawdy, autobiographical act, reminiscing about friends and milestones from her more than 50-year show business career.

Audience members probably won't experience a more casual, comfortable evening of theater. Not only does the TV legend let her hair down, she does the entire show barefoot, inviting the audience to join her in kicking off their shoes.

"It's like spending an evening with an old friend;" one critic wrote, "an old friend who has led a wildly entertaining life and who tells wonderfully poignant and funny stories and occasionally breaks out in song." As the critic noted, "Bea is smart enough to keep things light and breezy. There's not an ounce of angst on the stage, just enough personal history to keep things interesting and moving along and all those signature zingers which have identified her characters for the last four decades. Like any good hostess, she doesn't want to surprise you. She wants to make you laugh and let you have a good time."
Bea Arthur Died: April 25, 2009 in Los Angeles, CA

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