Bea Arthur’s secret past as a truck driver in the marines

This story came out a whole month ago but this is the first I’ve heard of it, and I found it so interesting I wanted to repeat it. Golden Girls gem Bea Arthur had a secret past as a Marine in the early 1940s during World War II, where she worked as a truck driver and a typist. The Smoking Gun found plenty of official evidence that Arthur served in the armed forces for about two and a half years starting when she was just 21. She received an honorable discharge and left the Marines in September 1945. Arthur passed away in April, 2009, at the age of 86 after battling cancer. She publicly denied up until her death that she had served in the armed forces. The Smoking Gun may have found the reason why – Arthur contracted a venereal disease in late 1944 that earned her a misconduct report for being unable to work for five weeks. She seems to have recovered fine and to have served out her time. In Bea’s “personality appraisal sheet,” where she was first interviewed for the Marines, the boxes for “argumentative” and “over aggressive” were checked off!

beaarthurmarinesWhile 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…

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.

[From The Smoking Gun]

I just loved Bea Arthur, and I understand why she denied that part of her past. It was so stigmatizing to have had VD back then and she probably didn’t want anyone to find out. Blame her cheating boyfriend, not Bea! What an interesting story about an incredible woman.

In her will, Bea left $300,000 to the Ali Forney center for homeless LGBT youth. They’re going to build a new residence for teens in transition thanks to Bea’s donation and are naming it after her.

Here’s Bea denying that she was in the Marines:

Marines photo via The Smoking Gun, where there are more. Photos are from 1992, 2004, 2005 and 2008. Credit:




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25 Responses to “Bea Arthur’s secret past as a truck driver in the marines”

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  1. brin says:

    Wow….who knew? Semper Fi, Bea….and RIP.

  2. Westcoaster says:

    Bea Arthur was a classy lady. As for her being a truck driver I bet she taught the male drivers how to treat a lady with some respect!

  3. Po says:

    I love, love, love Bea Arthur. I don’t like it when people lie about things but the difference I see here is she wasn’t trying to be a paparazzi magnet, she was just an actor living a low key life and maybe her close family members and friends didn’t know about that part of her life and she didn’t want to discuss it on tv first.

  4. Rita says:

    @brin-Semper Fi, absolutely right!

    It’s a shame she felt she couldn’t talk about her service. I bet she had some great stories. The marines were a hand-in-glove fit for her and as far as the VD goes, I have to say that too seems exactly right lol.

  5. Johnny Depp's Girl says:

    What a really cool article to read. I am proud of her! I loved her so much during the years.. She always cracked me up!

    See ya later Bea.

  6. WTF? says:

    Wow, watching that interview is so weird. She lied so convincingly. I’m a golden girls fan til I die though, so I don’t care. She will always be Dorothy to me and she will always be awesome.

  7. fanny says:

    Funny how she avoided talking about her military involvement and embarrassing illness in later years when society was “somewhat” more open about such things. I guess she didn’t want to deal with it, even though she must have known is was in the public record. I can see how her personality might have seemed “aggressive” in those days, especially when women were expected to be mild mannered and submissive. Her forceful personality and “tough” attitude paid off in the end. The fantastic roles she got matched her disposition and voice perfectly. What an awesome lady!

  8. normades says:

    She hated Betty White…just saying

  9. Javagirl1 says:

    Aww she didn’t have to lie, we would have still loved her. RIP

  10. fabgrrl says:

    Wow, Bea Arthur just gets more and more awesome, even in death. And I think she looks very pretty in that picture, who knew?

  11. anti says:

    i love bea! happy to see her donation too!

  12. Lori says:

    What STD would incapacitate you for 5 weeks?!?! Dang.

  13. rkintn says:

    I have to wonder if there is more to the VD story than meets the eye. Sexual abuse against women is rampant in the military and I doubt it was any better when Bea served.

    Whatever the reason, I’m sorry she felt ashamed of her service to our country.

  14. Diane says:

    Bet she had some great stories. Can you imagine being down for 5 WEEKS for VD, surely that was traumatizing.

  15. Roxanne75 says:

    Thank you for this story…she was a great woman, funny! I loved her.

  16. Heather says:

    Still dont’ understand why she denied it.

  17. WTF? says:


    that really makes me think. it is odd that an std could incapacitate someone for 5 weeks. an assault on the other hand certainly could. and it is strange that she would lie about an std, but not wanting to talk about an assault even years later would make sense. She was an advocate for gay rights before it was popular so i think she would speak openly about being sexually free back in the forties.

  18. LittleDeadGirl says:

    It is an interesting story but in my mind if she didn’t want to talk about it than I don’t really care about it. I loved her on Golden Girls and it is still one of my favorite shows and always will be and I always felt closest to her character than any of the others. Rip Bea Arthur!

  19. The Bobster says:

    I always thought she was the first transsexual. Just look at her height, hands, voice….

  20. lucy2 says:

    Love her. It’s a shame she felt she had to lie, especially all those years later, but whatever happened clearly made her decide she didn’t want to speak about it, and that was her right.

  21. MNGIRL76 says:

    Why did she hate Betty white?

  22. Dingles says:

    Not suprising at all, she always had that look about her like she could end you with her pinky finger. But it’s too bad she felt she had to lie about it, what an awesome thing to have done. Ooo-rah!

  23. red says:

    I don’t get this.

    My mother was in the military but she was a WAC (Women’s Army Corps). I didn’t think they allowed women to enlist in the military except the WACs.

    Anyone have info about this?

  24. wonderful says:

    She’s one of those women that actually looked more attractive as she got older, lucky lady.

  25. michelle says:

    I looooove Bea! I wonder why she would lie about that though.