When my fellow cinephiles Aurora of Once Upon a Screen and Paula of Paula's Cinema Club and I decided to create a blogathon event based on the unsung heroes of cinema, What A Character! was formed. The inherent challenge in such a blogathon is narrowing down to just one character actor in which to write upon. Despite the numerous scene-stealing talents over the decades, one in particular stood out for me... Eve Arden.
Like me, Eve Arden grew up as a catholic school girl whose parents divorced when she was young. She was born as Eunice Quedens in Mill Valley, California in 1908 and by the time she turned 16, she left high school to pursue stage acting in a stock troupe (Okay, so we don't have everything in common.) After a couple of small parts in film, she was advised to change her name. As she looked upon a her vanity of cosmetics and perfume, she gazed upon "Evening in Paris" and "Elizabeth Arden" and voila! Eve Arden was born. Through her stage work like in the "Ziegfeld Follies" on Broadway and multiple minor roles in films in the 1930's, she gained a reputation as the sharp-witted comedic character and so acquired attention for a constant stream of films.
She played the sardonic side-kick in supporting roles with razor-sharp delivery in dozens of films throughout the 30's and 40's like: OH, DOCTOR (1937), STAGE DOOR (1937), AT THE CIRCUS (1939) as acrobatic Peerless Pauline with Groucho Marx, THAT UNCERTAIN FEELING (1941), THE DOUGHGIRLS (1944), and her Academy award nominated role Ida in MILDRED PIERCE (1945). As a matter of fact, she made twenty films in a period of just three years in the late 30's. To close out this decade, Arden took a break from her mastery of the sarcastic and quick-witted female friend stereotype to go back to Broadway. She starred in the musical comedy "Very Warm For May" (1939), musical revue "Two For The Show" (1940) and the musical comedy starring Danny Kaye, "Let's Face It" (1941).
With her signature voice and well-known character type, Eve Arden was a natural for radio. Her comedic timing was a great match with Danny Kaye's fast-paced zany and quick-witted style. So, she worked with Kaye again as a regular on his radio show, which lasted 58 episodes. Then in 1947 came the landmark role of her career. As Connie Brooks in "Our Miss Brooks", Eve Arden landed the role that perfectly suited her persona and in 1952 CBS took the radio show to television. The popular TV show continued through 1956 and even led to a film based on the series: OUR MISS BROOKS (1956). She briefly tried a show in her namesake, "The Eve Arden Show" (1957) but it was canceled soon after.
It was in the 60's that she focused on raising a family with her second husband, Brooks West. Both West and Arden co-starred in supporting roles in Otto Preminger's ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959). West played the local prosecutor opposite James Stewart as the defense attorney. Her first marriage to Ned Bergen lasted from 1939 to 1947 yet ended in divorce with no children. It was in her second marriage, she discovered her true anchor in life. She had four children (one biological son and 3 adopted- 2 daughters and one son) with Brooks West in a happy marriage that lasted from 1952 until his death in 1984. Here's another similarity I share with Eve Arden, as I too happily share four children with my second husband...my true love and anchor in life.
Her commitment to balance work with her prioritized family life remained; including a few guest spots and even squeezed in a sit-com, "The Mothers-In-Law"(1967) along side Kaye Ballard which lasted two seasons. She continued to work through the 80's with occasional cameos including her well known role as Principal McGee in GREASE (1978) and GREASE 2 (1982) and Warden June in PANDEMONIUM (1982). These roles reflected her sarcastic, sharp zingers that made her famous like her Miss Connie Brooks.
Eve Arden is an actress that effectively worked in the industry a majority of her life, which ended in 1990 at the age of 82. Her career spans sixty years in radio, on stage and in film. No easy or common feat, to be certain. But what's even more impressive is that she managed her time in a way that focused on her family as a priority, in the midst of this ongoing active career. What a success story! Personally, I've worked in various jobs since I was twelve years old. As a busy and similarly-sassy middle-aged Mom of four who has spent periods of time to raise my kids then returned to work again, I respect Arden's choices tremendously. To me, Eve Arden was a tremendous success as a career character in both her work and in life. What a character, indeed!