Bea Arthur May Be Famous For ‘The Golden Girls,’ But She Was Quite the Stage Actor…and She Sang

Bea Arthur is widely known for her roles in sitcoms All in the Family, Maude, and The Golden Girls. Who can compete with Arthur’s deadpan delivery and witty comedic style? Though the actor’s small-screen accomplishments tend to receive the most attention today, she has several theater credits to her name and got her start in showbiz on the stage. 

The Golden Girls star Bea Arthur
Bea Arthur during Bea Arthur Performs at the Tropicana Showroom in Atlantic City | Nick Valinote/FilmMagic

Bea Arthur’s early work Off-Broadway

In 1947, Arthur began studying at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School in New York. She learned at the hand of an epic theatre frontrunner, director Erwin Piscator. Arthur began flexing her performance muscles for smaller-sized audiences as a member of the Off-Broadway theatre group at the Cherry Lane Theatre.

Arthur’s early Off-Broadway credits include The Threepenny Opera and Nature’s Way. Yet, she soon appeared on Broadway in 1964 as Yentl in the premiere of Fiddler on the Roof. 

Bea Arthur took home a Tony Award in 1966 

In 1966, Arthur auditioned for the title role in the Broadway musical Mame. Mame Dennis — whose life credence was “Life is a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death” — was a perfect match for Arthur, but she didn’t land the role. 

Arthur lost out to Angela Lansbury. However, Arthur appeared in the show as the supporting character (and best friend to the lead) Vera Charles. And, it may have been for the best, as her performance was critically praised. She won the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Arthur even reprised her role as Vera in Woody Allen’s film version opposite Lucille Ball; however, the movie did not premiere to the same acclaim as the Broadway hit. 

RELATED: ‘The Golden Girls’ Producers Wanted a Bette Midler Tune for the Theme Song, But It Was Too Expensive

Following her Broadway success, Arthur transitioned to the small-screen. Beyond other reasons, such a decision likely offered a better income and more steady work. She starred in Maude from 1971 to 1978 and in The Golden Girls from 1985 to 1992. 

Arthur returned to the stage in the 1990s 

Though Arthur won Emmy Awards and gained quite the fanfare for her television work, she couldn’t leave the theater behind. Arthur made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1994 as the Duchess of Krakenthorp in Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment. She also starred opposite Renée Taylor and Joseph Bologna in 1995’s Bermuda Avenue Triangle in LA. 

In 2002, Arthur returned to Broadway to star in a one-woman show — Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends. She told stories and sang songs to reflect her life and career, finally getting the chance to sing some of her favorite Broadway tunes for a live audience. She was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event.