In 1933, the Frankel family relocated to Cambridge, Maryland, where her parents subsequently operated a women's clothing shop. At age 16, Bernice developed a serious condition, coagulopathy, in which her blood would not clot. Concerned for her health, her parents sent her to Linden Hall, an all-girls' boarding school in Lititz, Pennsylvania, for her final two years of high school. Afterwards, she studied for a year at Blackstone College for Girls in Blackstone, Virginia.
During World War II, Frankel enlisted as one of the first members of the United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve in 1943. After basic training, she served as a typist at Marine headquarters in Washington, D.C. In June 1943, the Marine Corps accepted her transfer request to the Motor Transport School at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Frankel then worked as a truck driver and dispatcher in Cherry Point, North Carolina, between 1944 and 1945. She was honorably discharged at the rank of staff sergeant in September 1945.
After serving in the Marines, Frankel studied for a year at the Franklin School of Science and Arts in Philadelphia, where she became a licensed medical technician. After interning at a local hospital for the summer, she decided against working as a lab technician, departing for New York City in 1947 to enroll in the School of Drama at The New School.
From 1947, Beatrice Arthur studied at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York City with German director Erwin Piscator. Arthur began her acting career as a member of an off-Broadway theater group at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City in the late 1940s. Onstage, her roles included Lucy Brown in the 1954 Off-Broadway premiere of Marc Blitzstein's English-language adaptation of Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera, Nadine Fesser in the 1957 premiere of Herman Wouk's Nature's Way at the Coronet Theatre, Yente the Matchmaker in the 1964 premiere of Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway.
In 1966, Arthur auditioned for the title role in the musical Mame, which her husband Gene Saks was set to direct, but Angela Lansbury won the role instead. Arthur accepted the supporting role of Vera Charles, for which she won great acclaim, winning a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical the same year. Her role in Mame propelled her to the stardom that she deserved, and she never looked back...