Arden, Eve (1907–1990)
Arden, Eve (1907–1990)
American actress, best known as "Our Miss Brooks," who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Mildred Pierce. Born Eunice Quedens in Mill Valley, California, on April 30, 1907; died on November 12, 1990; daughter of Lucille (Frank) and Charles Peter Quedens; attended Mill Valley Grammar School and Tamalpais High School; married Edward G. Bergen (a literary agent), 1938 (divorced); married Brooks West (an actor, c. 1916–1984); children: Douglas Brooks West; (adopted) Liza Connie and Duncan Paris West.
(as Eunice Quedens) The Song of Love (1929); Oh, Doctor (1937); Stage Door (1937); Having a Wonderful Time (1938); Letter of Introduction (1938); Eternally Yours (1939); At the Circus (1939); A Child is Born (1940); Slightly Honorable (1940); No, No, Nanette (1940); Comrade X (1940); Ziegfeld Girl (1941); That Uncertain Feeling (1941); Manpower (1941); Whistling in the Dark (1941); Bedtime Story (1942); Let's Face It (1943); Cover Girl (1944); The Doughgirls (1944); Pan-Americana (1945); Mildred Pierce (1945); My Reputation (1946); The Kid from Brooklyn (1946); Night and Day (1946); Song of Scheherazade (1947); The Unfaithful (1947); The Voice of the Turtle (1947); One Touch of Venus (1948); My Dream is Yours (1949); Tea for Two (1950); Three Husbands (1950); Goodbye My Fancy (1951); We're Not Married (1952); The Lady Wants Mink (1953); Anatomy of a Murder (1959); The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960); Sergeant Deadhead (1965); The Strongest Man in the World (1975); Grease (1978); Under the Rainbow (1981); Pandemonium (1982); Grease II (1982). "Our Miss Brooks" was broadcast on radio (1948–56), and ran as a television series (1956–60).
Eve Arden was born Eunice Quedens in Mill Valley, California, in 1907. Two years later, her mother left her father because of his incessant gambling. "My mother, who was extraordinarily lovely," wrote Arden, "was evidently gifted with talent as well." During a short career as an actress, Lucille Quedens had been chosen out of a group of 20 to play second leads in a theatrical company that starred Blanche Bates . To make ends meet, Lucille then taught drama to children and ran her own millinery shop.
At seven, Arden was sent to live in a Dominican convent in San Rafael. After two years, she moved in with her father's sister, Aunt Elsie, in Mill Valley, though she and her mother remained extremely close. Eventually, her mother
bought a tract next to Elsie's and built a home for herself and her daughter. A whiz at finances, Lucille purchased four more lots on an adjacent hillside, sold her business, and oversaw the properties. By the time Arden left grade school, her maternal grandmother was also in residence.
In high school, Arden starred in the senior play and, upon graduation, joined the Henry Duffy Stock Company at the Alcazar Theater in San Francisco. When the company moved to Los Angeles, she moved with it, living in a one-room apartment on $50 a week. In 1933, she toured with the Bandbox Repertory Company, then appeared at the Pasadena Playhouse in the review Lo and Behold.
That summer Arden was offered a job in New York with The Ziegfeld Follies of 1934, but her mother was ill and Arden was fearful of leaving California. On the strength of Lucille's reassurances, Arden opened at New York's Winter Garden Theater on January 4, 1934, along with Fanny Brice, Jane Froman , and Judy Canova . For her New York debut, Arden did a take-off on "Major Bowes Amateur Hour." As recalled in her autobiography Three Phases of Eve, she stepped before the microphone dressed in a blue satin evening gown, wearing a beautifully coiffed white wig. When Major Bowes asked what her talent was, she replied:
"I am a kazooist, and I accompany myself with two cymbals." And so saying, I hummed the first strains of "Sweet Sue" on the kazoo, ending with a terrific crash on my two large cymbals fastened between my knees, hidden beneath my skirt. It was a complete surprise, and the audience howled. It was the same kind of surprise Bea [Lillie] had given them in a previous show when, having sung a charming song, leaning against the proscenium, she lifted her long satin skirt and gaily roller-skated across the stage.
Producer Lee Shubert suggested Arden's name change. Quedens, he said, was impossible to pronounce (Qwa-DENZ) and besides, combined with Eunice, it would barely fit his marquee. "Eve" came from the heroine in the book she was reading, and "Arden" came from a package of cosmetics within sight. "Only later did I learn, by seeing it emblazoned in lights on a burlesque house outside of Boston," wrote Eve Arden, "that not only was there an[other] Arden, but an Eve Arden, who appeared nightly adorned in a single white fox fur."
Following a tour with the Follies, Arden was featured in the play Parade with Jimmy Savo (1935), as well as a second Follies, which opened at the Winter Garden in January 1936; she and Bob Hope sang the duet, "I Can't Get Started with You." During those two years in New York, Arden lost her entire family. First both her grandmother and her Aunt Elsie died, and her mother was hospitalized with cancer. Before Arden could reach her bedside, Lucille Quedens slipped into a coma and never regained consciousness.
In spring 1937, Arden was offered her first film, Universal's Oh, Doctor. Shortly thereafter, she was interviewed for the film adaptation of Edna Ferber 's Stage Door, which was to star Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Gail Patrick, Andrea Leeds, Lucille Ball , and Ann Miller . Director Gregory La Cava, who liked to improvise scenes on the set, warned Arden that, though he liked her and wanted to use her, he had no specific part in mind. They mutually agreed that she'd sign on for a couple of weeks, and if they didn't develop a satisfactory character, she could depart with no hard feelings. Arden described the reading on the first day:
All … were assembled, and sheets containing lines were handed around. Lines one, two, three, et cetera, were tossed to us like bones to puppies. I had immediately spotted two lines I was drooling over, but alas, they were not to be mine. When the reading started, however, the first of the juicy lines was greeted by complete silence. Finally, I could stand it no longer, "If no one wants this, I'll take it," I said bravely, read it, and was rewarded with a laugh. Katharine Hepburn hooted from her perch on a ladder looking over us. "She's the one to watch out for, girls."
The next day Arden arrived with her cat Henry as a prop. At one point in the scene she was supposed to be shelling peanuts. Running out of hands, she draped Henry around her neck and her character was born.
Known for her timing and deadpan delivery, Arden began to average three films per year, playing secretaries and friends of secretaries. But theater remained her first love. She appeared in the Kern-Hammerstein musical Very Warm Day on Broadway, followed by Two for the Show, and Dorothy Field 's 1941 musical hit Let's Face It (with Danny Kaye). Arden also starred in the movie of the same name opposite Bob Hope.
Movie followed movie: A Day at the Circus (with the Marx Brothers), Comrade X (with Hedy Lamarr and Clark Gable), Ziegfeld Girl, One Touch of Venus, Cover Girl, and Mildred Pierce for which Arden was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. (The award went to Anne Revere for her performance in National Velvet.)
In 1948, Arden's "Our Miss Brooks" went on CBS radio as a summer replacement; by August, it was the number one show on the air. As schoolteacher Connie Brooks, Arden was surrounded by the whackos of mythical Madison High: Gale Gordon as the persnickety Mr. Conklin, Richard Crenna as the teenaged, squeakyvoiced Walter Denton, and Jane Morgan as ditzy Mrs. Davis, her landlady. Wrote Arden:
I'll never forget my landlady, Mrs. Davis, of the deep gravelly voice, who could always make me laugh. One night we did a scene where the two of us were locked up together in the "pokey" and she picked up a tin cup and ran it across the cell bars, then, in her inimitable voice, called for the guard. She bellowed, "Screw" as I fell apart and couldn't finish the scene the next five times.
When the show was transferred to television in 1956, Robert Rockwell replaced Jeff Chandler as the bashful biology teacher, Mr. Boynton, and Arden won an Emmy. In the fourth televised year, a new executive producer came in, effectively jettisoned the cast, and transformed the show out of all recognition. Arden wagered that they would have the entire cast back in three months; they were, but it was too late. The audience had moved on. "Our Miss Brooks" had run eight years on radio, and four on television. The following year, it went into syndication, and reruns brought it renewed fame. She was then handed "The Eve Arden Show" but, without the benefit of good writers, it lasted only one year. Her other series, "The Mothers-in-Law" with Kaye Ballard , had a respectable run.
Following her 1938 marriage to literary agent Edward Bergen, Arden had longed for children but was unable to conceive, so she adopted a daughter Liza. By the time she adopted her second daughter Connie three years later, Arden was a single mother. Some years later, while starring in Ruth Gordon 's play Over Twenty-One in summer stock, Arden met actor Brooks West. After they married and adopted a boy Duncan, Eve learned she was pregnant, and Douglas Brooks West was born. She now had four children, a large assortment of animals (lambs, goats, a pinto horse, and a donkey named Molly Bee), and a contented life on a 38-acre farm in Hidden Valley, just outside Los Angeles. Despite West's struggles with drinking, the marriage endured, and the couple did one film together, Anatomy of a Murder. Arden was outof-town doing a show when her husband lapsed into a coma from which he never recovered; he died on February 7, 1984. Eve Arden died six years later, on November 12, 1990.
Arden, Eve. Three Phases of Eve. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1985.
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