Before becoming one of our country’s beloved comedic actresses, Bea Arthur enlisted with the U.S. Marines at age 21. She served as a typist, truck driver and dispatcher and was honorably discharged at the rank of Staff Sergeant. After the Marines, Ms. Arthur became a licensed medical technician and worked for a summer in a hospital lab. Thankfully for all of us, her life took a turn when she enrolled in the School of Drama at The New School in New York City. She worked steadily in an off-Broadway theater group and appeared on Broadway a number of times before being invited by Norman Lear to appear as Maude Findlay on ‘All in the Family.’ This, of course, led to the show ‘Maude’ and history being made.
In both ‘Maude’ and ‘The Golden Girls,’ Bea Arthur played strong, intelligent women with sharp wit. She changed the perception of feminism, practically a curse word at the time. Episodes of each show tackled difficult social topics such as sexuality, abortion, feminism, racism, and discrimination with grace and logic. Oddly enough, Ms. Arthur didn’t see herself as a role model for the women’s liberation movement.
One of Bea’s last performances was for the benefit of the GSM community. A performance of her one woman Broadway show, ‘Just Between Friends,’ raised $40,000 for the Ali Forney Center. The organization provides housing for homeless GSM youths. Beyond her death, Bea continued to save lives by bequeathing $300,000 dollars to the Ali Forney Center and $25,000 to the AIDS Services Foundation of Orange County. She is quoted as saying that she would do anything in her power to protect children who were discarded by their parents for being LGBT. And she did.
She spent her life advocating in such a way she would not be ignored, teaching us to never be silent as we continue the conversations that must take place. “I believe that you are here on Earth for a short time, and while you’re here, you shouldn’t forget it.” Ms. Bea, you lived in such a way that we will never forget you.
By A.j. Campbell