April 30, 1908– Eve Arden
“I like Mexico; it’s so… Mexican.“
Eve Arden was born Eunice Mary Quedens. I would have changed my name too. When she was cast in the 1934 edition of the Ziegfeld Follies, she was told to change her name. Arden later wrote that she looked at her cosmetics and: …”stole my first name from Evening In Paris perfume and the second from Elizabeth Arden“.
She is one of The Husband’s favorite stars and when we first became a couple in the late 1970s, he introduced me to her most famous role by watching re-runs on afternoon television. I was a fan of her film work, but just a smidgen too young to have watched the first broadcasts of her series Our Miss Brooks (1952-56), but watching with my boyfriend (eventual spouse) gave me even more appreciation for her considerable talents.
I did have the pleasure of seeing Arden live once. This was in the early 1970s, and she had the title role in Hello, Dolly! while I was doing summer stock on Cape Cod and she was playing in another summer theatre nearby. Our company was invited to her company’s final dress rehearsal. She was a terrific Dolly Levi, one of the best. After the bows, she came down and sat in the house and told our group some showbiz anecdotes.
I wanted to be her. Or rather, I wanted to receive a review that would claim: “Stephen Rutledge has the charm and the crack comic timing of a male Eve Arden”.
Arden had a 60-year career doing supporting and leading roles on stage, in films, radio and television. She received a much-deserved Academy Award nomination for Mildred Pierce (1945), with Joan Crawford.
Last month, quite by accident, I caught her in My Reputation (1946), playing the sort of role she played all too often, the leading lady’s best friend forever, this time it was Barbara Stanwyck.
Yet, she really could do it all: Melodrama, Comedy, Musicals, Dramas, but she was simply the best when tossing off the deadpan wisecrack as somebody’s sidekick.
Arden is remembered by one generation for playing the sardonic high school teacher in that classic television series that I mentioned, Our Miss Brooks. She played the character first on radio from 1948 to 1957, and after the television series ended, she portrayed Connie Brooks in a 1956 feature film.
It was a gentle, but sly comedy with Brooks clashing with the school’s principal, Osgood Conklin (the great Gale Gordon), and with unrequited love for awkward biology teacher Philip Boynton, played Jeff Chandler on radio, where you couldn’t see how hot he was, staying for five years, even after becoming a big movie star. On television Boynton was played by Robert Rockwell. Except for Chandler, the cast from the radio show, including Richard Crenna as nerdy Walter Denton and Jane Morgan as landlady Margaret Davis, played the same roles on television.
“I originally loved the theater. And I had always wanted to have a hit on Broadway that was created by me. You know, kind of like Judy Holliday and Born Yesterday. I griped about it a little, and someone said to me: ‘Do you realize that if you had a hit on Broadway, probably 100 or 200,000 people might have seen you in it, if you’d stayed in it long enough. And this way, you’ve been in Miss Brooks, everybody loves you, and you’ve been seen by millions’. So, I figured I’d better shut up while I was ahead.“
She went back to high school for another generation as the principal of Rydell High in Grease (1978) and Grease 2 (1982). Ironically, Arden never finished high school, leaving when she was just 16 years old to join a stock company.
She had a 30-second guest role in a 1955 I Love Lucy episode, Hollywood At Last, where she convincingly plays Eve Arden. While awaiting their food at The Brown Derby, Lucy and Ethel argue over whether a certain portrait on the wall is of Shelley Winters or Judy Holliday. Ethel decides to ask a lady sitting in the booth next to them, who replies: “Neither. That’s Eve Arden“. Ethel suddenly realizes she has just been talking to Arden herself. As the star is leaving she is gawked by Lucy and Ethel. This same episode also guest starred William Holden. It is one of my favorites.
Desilu Productions, producers of I Love Lucy, was owned by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. They produced Our Miss Brooks, which was filming on the same lot and during the same period as I Love Lucy. Ball and Arden knew each other from having worked together in the film Stage Door (1937).
It was Ball who suggested Arden for the radio and television versions of Our Miss Brooks, when their first choice, Shirley Booth, passed on the project. Arden did make another show for Desilu, the rather brilliant The Mother-In-Laws where she played opposite Kaye Ballard, her perfect foil. It was terrific fun, but only ran for two seasons in the late 1960s.
Just a few days ago, I caught her in the gripping courtroom drama Anatomy Of A Murder (1959) directed by Otto Preminger, and stars James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, George C. Scott, Arthur O’Connell, the late, great Orson Bean, and Murray Hamilton. The judge is played by Joseph N. Welch, a real-life lawyer famous for berating Joseph McCarthy during The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings. This was one of the first mainstream Hollywood films to address rape in graphic terms. It has one of Saul Bass‘s best title sequences, plus there is a musical score by Duke Ellington. It is one finest trial films I have seen, and even better, Arden’s character, Stewart’s sardonic secretary (of course), is named Maida Rutledge. Also in Anatomy Of A Murder is Brooks West who was married to Arden for 33 years, until his death in 1984.
Arden left this world in 1990 at 82 years old. That damn cancer got her. My research shows that she lived a full life, well-liked by her colleagues, and she enjoyed a happy marriage. Arden makes a fine, if rather well-adjusted, Gay Icon.
She began her career in 1934 and her last job was in 1982. She was a real working actor, constantly taking all sorts of roles on stage, films, radio and television. Arden:
“I’ve worked with a lot of great glamorous girls in movies and the theater. I’ll admit, I’ve often thought it would be wonderful to be a femme fatale. But then I’d always come back to thinking that if they only had what I’ve had, a family, real love, an anchor… they would have been so much happier during all the hours when the marquees and the floodlights are dark.“