April 30, 1908– Eve Arden is one of The Husband’s favorite stars & when we first became a couple in the late 1970s, he introduced me to her most famous role with re-runs on TV. I was just a smidgen too young to have watched the first broadcasts of Our Miss Brooks, 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 just once, in the title role in Hello, Dolly!, while I was doing summer stock on Cape Cod in the early 1970s. She was a terrific Dolly Levi.
I never met her, but I did want to be her, or rather I wanted to receive a review that would claim: “Stephen Rutledge has the charm & the crack comic timing of a male Eve Arden.” If my demented memory serves me right, I had a better chance at being compared to Irene Ryan.
Arden’s 60 year career doing supporting & leading roles on stage, in films, radio & TV included an Oscar nomination for Mildred Pierce (1945), with Joan Crawford, & just last evening, I caught her in My Reputation (1946), in a role she played all too often, the leading lady’s BFF, this time Barbara Stanwyck. I was composing this post & I looked up from my laptop & there she was on the screen! She could do it all: melodrama, comedy, musicals, but she was simply the best at tossing off the deadpan wisecrack as somebody’s sidekick.
Arden is remembered by one generation for playing the sardonic high school teacher in that TV classic that I mentioned, Our Miss Brooks, on radio, TV, even in a feature film, & to another generation as the Rydell High School principal in Grease & Grease 2. Ironically, she never finished high school, leaving at 16 years old to join a stock company.
Arden had a 30 second guest role in a 1955 I Love Lucy episode LA At Last in which she played Eve Arden. While awaiting their food at The Brown Derby, Lucy & 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’d just been talking to Arden herself. As the star is leaving she is gawked by Lucy & Ethel. This same episode also guest starred William Holden & it is one of my favorites.
Desilu Productions, was owned by Desi Arnaz & Lucille Ball & was the production company for Our Miss Brooks, which was filming during the same period as I Love Lucy. Ball & Arden were acquaintances, having worked together in the film Stage Door (1937). It was Ball who suggested Arden for the radio & TV versions of Our Miss Brooks, when first choice had Shirley Booth did not work out. Arden did make another show for Desilu, the rather brilliant The Mother-In-Laws. opposite Kaye Ballard, her perfect foil, which ran for 2 season in the late 1960s.
Arden was born Eunice M. Quedens in Mill Valley, California, & she made her Broadway in 1934 in The Ziegfeld Follies, & her last job in show biz was in Grease 2 in 1982. She worked almost constantly in all media. She chose her stage name while shopping for cosmetics & spotting the names Evening In Paris & Elizabeth Arden. She was married to fellow actor Brooks West for 32 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, was well-liked by her colleagues, & enjoyed a happy marriage. Arden makes a fine Gay Icon.
“I’ve worked with a lot of great glamorous girls in movies & 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 & the floodlights are dark.”