Before portraying the sarcastic and level-headed Dorothy Zbornak in Golden Girls, Bea Arthur enlisted in the U.S. Marines. After serving, she actually ended up following a completely different career path. Eventually, Arthur decided that Hollywood stardom was her ultimate goal and stopped at nothing to make it happen. 

When Was Bea Arthur in the U.S. Marines?

Bea was born Bernice Frankel on May 13, 1922, in New York. On February 13, 1943, the U.S. put out a public call for women to join the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve during World War II. Arthur joined the coalition just five days after the request for public support was announced.

“I was supposed to start work yesterday but heard last week that enlistments for women in the Marines were open, so decided the only thing to do was to join,” Arthur wrote in a handwritten letter.

Arthur completed her training at the Women Reservists School at Hunter College in Manhattan. From 1944 to 1945, she worked as a driver and dispatcher at the U.S. Marine Corps air station in Cherry Point, North Carolina. In the fall of 1945, Arthur was discharged at the rank of staff sergeant.

When Did Bea Arthur Start Acting?

Shortly after her service, Arthur pursued a career as a medical technician and worked at a local hospital. In the late ‘40s, she decided to enroll herself in drama school. It was there that she spent time perfecting her acting skills alongside classmates Tony Curtis, Rod Steiger, Walter Matthau and Harry Belafonte.

“It was a hell of a group,” she once reflected on the experience. “Everyone has done quite well.”

The cast of 'Golden Girls'

Arthur fell in love with theater, winning a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in 1966’s Mame. After appearing in All in the Family as Maude Findlay in 1971, Arthur landed the titular role in the sitcom Maude the following year. 

The opportunity for Golden Girls came in 1985, with Arthur winning an Emmy Award in 1988 for her portrayal of Dorothy. In her later years, the TV star made appearances in Dave’s World, Malcolm in the Middle, Enemies of Laughter and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Arthur died on April 25, 2009, at age 86 from lung cancer. Her contributions to the world of theater, TV and film have not been forgotten.

“Someone once accused me of trying to turn a sitcom into an art form,” she once said. “I really believe that’s what I was trying to do.”