Arthur made her Broadway debut as Lucy Brown in the 1954 production of The Threepenny Opera. Her subsequent appearances included Plain and Fancy, Seventh Heaven, and Fiddler on the Roof, in which she originated the role of Yente the Matchmaker. In 1966, she took on the role of Vera Charles in the Jerry Herman musical Mame, for which she won the Tony. Her last appearance was in the 2002 solo show Bea Arthur on Broadway.
Arthur also began working in television in the 1950s, but didn't gain small-screen fame until she portrayed Maude Findlay on CBS' All in the Family, which led to the popular sitcom Maude, which ran from 1972-1978. Her greatest fame, however, came from playing the role of Dorothy on NBC's The Golden Girls for eight years. She received a total of 10 Emmy Award nominations for her TV work, of which she won two.
She adopted two sons, Matthew and Daniel, with her second husband, director Gene Saks.