DOCUMENT: Celebrity

Bea Arthur Was A Truck-Driving Marine

Despite denial, records detail star’s military career

Bea Arthur

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Bea Arthur Marine File

DECEMBER 9--While she strangely denied serving in the armed forces, military records show that the actress Bea Arthur spent 30 months in the Marine Corps, where she was one of the first members of the Women’s Reserve and spent time as a typist and a truck driver.

The "Maude" and "The Golden Girls" star, who died last year at age 86, enlisted in early-1943 when she was 21 (and known as Bernice Frankel). In a February 1943 letter included in her Marine personnel file, Arthur gave military officials a brief account of her prior employment as a food analyst at a Maryland packing plant, a hospital lab technician, and an office worker at a New York loan company.

Arthur was due to start a new job, but she “heard last week that enlistments for women in the Marines were open, so decided the only thing to do was to join.” While she hoped for an assignment in ground aviation, Arthur noted that she was “willing to get in now and do whatever is desired of me until such time as ground schools are organized.” She added, “As far as hobbies are concerned, I’ve dabbled in music and dramatics.”

As part of the enlistment process, Arthur underwent interviews that resulted in the production of “personality appraisal” sheets. One such analysis described her conversation as “Argumentative” and her attitude and manner as “Over aggressive.” In a handwritten note, the Marine interviewer remarked, “Officious--but probably a good worker--if she has her own way!”

Arthur is pictured here in an official Marine photo taken shortly after her enlistment. A second undated portrait can be seen above.

Arthur, who was fingerprinted during enlistment, started basic training in March 1943 and was initially assigned as a typist at Marine headquarters in Washington, D.C.. Over the following two years, Arthur was stationed at Marine Corps and Navy air stations in Virginia and North Carolina. During her military career, Arthur’s rank went from private to corporal to sergeant to staff sergeant, the title she held upon her honorable discharge in September 1945, according to one document.

On a Marine qualification card that included a section titled “Talent for furnishing public entertainment,” Arthur is credited for “piano & organ 13 years” and “contralto-orchestra.” Her “active hobbies” included hunting with a .22 caliber rifle and “bow and arrow.”

A year after her enlistment, Arthur married a fellow Marine, Private Robert Aurthur, in a ceremony presided over by a city judge in Ithaca, New York. She then formally had her named changed in military records to Bernice Aurthur. It would change again, to Bea Arthur, as she started her post-military career as an actress.

The military records, released in response to a Freedom of Informaton Act request, include a single “misconduct report” filed against Arthur while she was stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina. That misconduct determination stemmed from Arthur’s contracting of a venereal disease, which left her “incapacitated for duty” for five weeks in late-1944. As a result, her pay was reduced for that period.

For some reason, Arthur did not speak about her time with the Marines. In fact, in a videotaped interview (excerpted below) conducted as part of an Academy of Television Arts & Sciences archives project, Arthur flatly denied serving in the military. When an interviewer said that she had read somewhere that Arthur had once joined the Marines, the actress answered, “Oh, no. No.” She then continued a chronological review of her life by noting that, in 1947, she enrolled in dramatic school in New York. (5 pages)

Comments (39)

Bea at her best! Dancing with other celebs for PETA's 'Laugh In' parody. Major flashback!!
I enjoy page 4 of the document, the Personality Appraisal Worksheet
there were lots of women back in the day that didn't brag about it
I love me aome Bea Arthur. Semper Fi Bea!
One hella of a woman
I found this clip of Miss Arthur's final interview with Bea discussing her career and life in her own words. I think it’s for a show called, “Lunching with a Legend.” I'd hate for a full interview with Bea or the other legendary ladies in the clip to go unseen. I'd like to see if she final discusses her service in her final interview. Cheers,
The first days of allowing women to serve.... Venereal disease..... Denying her enlistment/not willing to talk about it.... Probably raped by other Marines.
"Consider the time" means: Bea's time in the military NOT during her interview. Having a communicable disease back in the 40's was enough to sterotype an individual just as having a baby 'out of wedlock' was(understand the out of wedlock concept by chance?). That type of 'typing' would have damaged her career and shamed her family 'back then'. My father served in the Marines in the 40's. He got infected with syphillis. He was shot and received the purple heart...paid dearly emotionally and mentally all of his life TILL the effects of the syphillis took it's toll on his brain. "Back in the day" they were busy fighting and winning a WORLD WAR. Folks didn't receive the amount of training or medical care our military receives in this day and age. Often times medical treatments for non life threating issues took a back seat to the serious issues and wounds of which there were MANY. Additionally if you ever have the opportunity to talk to any WWII nurses/doctors you will soon find that the enemy purposly infected their women with strains of diseases we had no antidote for. It's the oldest known form of chemical war fare practiced (according to what the VA told me). If Bea contracted any of those forms of VD then yes it would have taken longer to be cured of it at the time even with immediate medical treatment. In conclusion my dad also stayed silent about his syphillis in WWII most of my adult life because of the social implications put on such individuals during HIS time. Definations of what's 'ok' have changed since "Bea's time" however it takes an open mind to put their mind BACK IN THAT TIME to better understand that era. Then again it seems to be great sport to bash and old dead woman isn't it!
Bea, you sure were one bad bitch! This updates her status from awesome to hella awesome
We will never know, of course, but I would have to agree with others here who surmise that her denial was probably because she didn't want anyone connecting her to a military record that she knew included information about an embarrassing venereal disease. I know if I were in her shoes I would want to distance myself from the public knowing such information about me and I would probably have done the same thing. What a shame that what should be someone's private medical information is part of public record this way. I wonder if that is still the case with military records today? I didn't agree with Bea Arthur's politics, but I thought she was a lovely woman and I liked her.
Bea was a tent mate in the Marineswith a woman that I worked with for years. Helen spoke of it often!
For those of you who don't believe that she denied it - you have to consider the time. Many denied their service because of the stereotyping they endured - even to the point of not being given jobs. Even from the Vietnam Era. If you can't imagine it now, then perhaps those of us who have felt the need to deny our service did our jobs after wards.
Consider the time? Are you kidding me? The video was clearly made within the last seven years or so. Exactly what has been going on within the last seven years that we need to "consider"? You need to consider getting a brain.
I honestly don't know which surprises me more: 1) Bea Arthur served in the Marine Corps, was honorably discharged, then denied ever having served. 2) That she was actually a remarkably attractive young woman at that stage in her life. I mean, seriously, I would have to say quite a dish when she was young. Who knew?
She may have felt she wasn't a "real" Marine and/or didn't deserve any praise for joining up and performing her assigned duties. If so, she was wrong. She didn't get her Staff Sergeant stripes out of a Cracker Jack box.
Hey, I think this is great!!! Who cares if she denied it. She had her reasons, obviously. But to think it was the Marines. I am very proud of her.
Why am I not surprised? She always was a bit mannish.
Why be surprised? If Bea Arthur didn't want to talk about being a Marine that was her right. How many people did not join? She brought happiness and laughter to many people during her acting career and it appears she did an honorable job as a Marine so Sempere-Fi MS Arthur may your rest in peace and let the little minds onder about your service.
What sex disease takes FIVE WEEKS to recover from???? What's the difference between Bea Arthur and an old shoe? If you had to, you could eat an old shoe.
If you ever have the opportunity to talk to any WWII nurses/doctors you will soon find that the enemy purposly infected their women with strains of diseases we had no antidote for at the time. It's the oldest known form of chemical war fare practiced (according to what the VA told me). If Bea contracted any of those forms of VD then yes it would have taken longer to be cured of it at the time even with immediate medical treatment.
Back then...could it have been an unwanted or failed pregnancy? Just sayin. I cannot think of any other disease that would keep a Marine down that long. =)
A disease we had no antidote for at the time WOULD take apx 6 weeks to cure or clear from an individuals system providing it didn't kill them first.
I wonder how this revelation may possibly fit in with the statement once made by a fellow comedian at a roast : "I wouldn't F*** Sandra Bernheardt with Bea Arthur's dick" ( esp. if it had VD)
Oh my god, you people are such asshats, namely Smarg and ItchyZ. Just how exactly does being a typist in the military reflect negatively on her character? And as to the comment about her appearance in the video, who gives a shiat? She was in her 80s when that was shot! We all have the right to privacy, even famous people. Lay off. She was a fantastic, caring, talented person. That's all anyone needs to remember about her.
Notice that after she responds to the question and says, "Oh no," that she looks to the right (0:34). This is a common indication that someone is lying.
I think it might be a much simpler explanation. It looks like she is straining to hear, with her head cocked to one side. Maybe she just misunderstood the question, which is why she answered with information about enrolling in drama school. Obviously, if the interviewer had read it somewhere, her military service was not a closely guarded secret.
Why are people being so nasty because Bea Arthur chose not to acknowledge her service in the military? I find it far more offensive when politicians and pundits falsely claim or embellish service for their own personal gain. Thanks for your service, Bea, and for years of stellar entertainment.
It's OK folks....Senator John Kerry (D-Mass) has taken full credit for Ms. Arthur's proud service.
Whatever her record, and whatever reason she chose to deny it (probably because of the VD thing) she has long been recognized by her peers as one of the funniest comedians and comedy writers on the freaking planet. It's one thing to entertain mere mortals, but she had the respect of folks such as Sid Caesar and Johnny Carson. Her send up of Sex in the City is as funny as hell, and she was an old broad by then! Let's respect her wishes and forget about her being a Marine if that's what she wanted, but we can remember her comedy legacy for what it was.
It seems likely she denied enlisting in the Marines so as to hide her having contracted a venereal disease while enlisted. There isn't any other clear reason. Regardless, she will always be a patriot for her service.
What has happened in this country you do you people realize you are bad mouthing hte dead? She served her country honorably, rose up to staff sargeant, whatever reason she had to deny her service was hers.
Well who knew? Imagine that, a liberal that misrepresented themselves - a lying, blood thirsty baby killer AND bambi killer. Cleverly disguised as an ARTIST!
What a piece of work. She was a shytscamming, diseased dreg. Her face in the video looks horrid with all the cosmetic reassembling. A true female asshat. RIP.
Wow, what a gentlemen you are. I am no liberal, but she was loved and respected by many. She also served her country. She did the very best with what God gave her. I seriously doubt that can be said of you.
She denied she was a marine for fear she would lose acting jobs. Women weren't supposed to be marine's in the 1940's. She was already thought of as too manly for most roles. Actresses don't want to be typecast. She got the VD after she was married. The marraige survived, so she probally got it from her husband.
For fear she would lose acting jobs? Where do you people get this stuff? This video was made at the end of her career - that's why these videos are made - because someone IS OLD. She was pretty well-established in her acting jobs by the time she denied her service in the Marines in this video. Do you people have no ability to reason and understand? And the funny part here is how you state it so solidly as fact: "She denied she was a marine for fear she would lose acting jobs. Women weren't supposed to be marine's in the 1940's. She was already thought of as too manly for most roles. Actresses don't want to be typecast." Like you have a clue what you're talking about. That might carry some weight IF THIS VIDEO HAD BEEN MADE IN THE 1940s, my friend. Yet, you are explaining it as if you were there. What a joke.
Can you wrap your mind about the fact this woman grew up in a different era with different values and ethics that stayed with her for life, just as your values are the central core of your existance ? Back in her day what was proper or not proper was clearly defined socially..If you fell short you were undesirable socially. If you can wrap your mind around that you'll realize when the video was made has no value in your statement or bearing on her denial of military service. What has value is how she proceeded to protect her privacy and what was left of her reputation the best she could---which was a smoke screen via denial of her military service...
Well, I would guess that the venereal disease may have something to do with it. It might be the only record that she had one. In that case she might well try to avoid people looking into it.
As a disabled combat MARINE, this is the FIRST time I have ever heard of ANYONE who was HONORABLY discharged, denying that they where a MARINE. I truely wonder why. I thank her for her service.