Born in New Jersey, Arthur became an actress. She had moderate success until she met Mel Brooks. Her breakout role: the prim schoolmarm Harriet van Johnson in 1974’s Blazing Saddles. Brooks used her again — in Silent Movie (1976), Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), and Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995). On TV, she made multiple appearances on The Dom DeLuise Show (it helped that she was DeLuise’s wife), as well as guest spots on Rhoda, Alice, What’s Happening, St. Elsewhere, and Sanford and Son.
She also appeared as “Safety Sadie” in public service TV spots for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in the 1970s and ’80s. But most remember her from her breakout film. “She was so great in ‘Blazing Saddles’ as Harriett Johnson, the over-the-top, outspoken schoolmarm,” Brooks said. It was that combination of “schoolmarm” and “over-the-top” that made her stand out (video, below). After meeting DeLouise in 1963 while performing in a play, she knew she had her man. “This is who I want to spend my life with!” she said. “He was funny. Bigger than life. He was so honest and so real.” They were married in 1965; he died in 2009. Arthur retired after a 2004 appearance on 7th Heaven, and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2009. She moved into the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s Mary Pickford House in Woodland Hills, Calif., in 2015, and died there on November 1, at 85.