Eve Arden (1908-1990). Image: Vintage Everyday

This is classic Hollywood character actor Eve Arden.

She’s a nice-looking dame, but notice the smirk tugging at her lips, and her gaze – beneath those oh-so-arched eyebrows – suggests she’s observing more than she’s letting on.

Arden never was an A-list Hollywood Leading Lady, if you can believe it, but she did have a lengthy career in film, as well as radio, television, and on stage, which was probably far more interesting.

She had four children, and was married twice: She and her first husband divorced after eight years of marriage, and her second marriage lasted 32 years, until her husband’s death in 1984.

On the face of it, her life appears to be a relatively decent one, but it doesn’t tell us anything special.

And Eve Arden was special. Nay, she was extraordinary.

Arden (seated) in Stage Door (1937), with Katharine Hepburn (l) and Ginger Rogers. Image: The Sill of the World

Arden specialized in playing the leading lady’s Best Friend, and the characteristics she brought to her roles are traits we see in this type of movie character today.

She didn’t portray naive waifs; indeed, these were women who had Been Around the Block. They were cynical – especially when it came to men – but also hopeful. Although she was often the first to see pitfalls in potential relationships, she ultimately believed there was Someone for Everyone, her sarcastic self included.

To women in the audience, there could be no better person in your corner than Eve Arden, and Hollywood filmmakers, to their credit, understood this.

You see, when Arden’s characters had an inherent belief in something, it somehow became our belief, too. If you look at her performance in Mildred Pierce (1945), she serves a dual purpose as Joan Crawford’s moral conscience, and as a voice for us in the audience. We want to tell Joan she’s acting like an idiot; Arden says it for us.

This role, incidentally, won Arden an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Although she could Steal the Scene (and sometimes did, tsk!), Arden’s job was to support the lead actors, which made it all the more fun when she veered outside her lane.

It’s these qualities that make us cheer when we see Arden’s name in movie credits, and it’s why we stick with a subpar film until the end.

Because she would stick with it, too.

With Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce (1945). Image: TCM-Twitter

What we haven’t told you is how funny Arden is. Listen to an episode of her long-running radio program Our Miss Brooks (1948-1957). This is a sitcom about a high school English teacher, Miss Brooks, who is Hopelessly in love with the science teacher, Mr. Boynton. (What Miss Brooks sees in this oaf is beyond us; however, that’s a discussion for another day.)

Our Miss Brooks isn’t the most jocular show from the Golden Age of Radio – it’s certainly not The Jack Benny Show – but listen to the way Arden delivers her lines. She makes the material funny, with her droll, Seen-It-All delivery.

It’s worth noting that the main character in Our Miss Brooks is the Eve Arden we know from the movies: a salt-of-the-earth woman who isn’t blinded to foibles in herself or others, yet remains steadfastly loyal, even to her own peril.

Arden as Connie Brooks in the 1950s television series, Our Miss Brooks.

Arden was a native Californian. She was born Eunice Mary Quedens* in a small town near San Francisco, and attended a Dominican convent school. At the age of 16, she joined a San Francisco theatre company, then landed a spot on Broadway in Ziegfeld Follies (1934).

There was no way she wasn’t going to end up in Hollywood. Although she did some early film work at Columbia, she signed a contract with RKO in 1937, and her film career Took Off. In the end, she had over 100 movie credits, her final film role being Principal McGee in Grease (1978) and Grease 2 (1982).

Of course, this doesn’t take into account her prolific television appearances, including the television version of Our Miss Brooks (1952-56), which garnered her three Emmy nominations. She had guest-starring television appearances until 1987.

According to Wikipedia, Arden was “made an honorary member of the National Education Association and received a 1952 award from the Teachers College of Connecticut’s Alumni Association ‘for humanizing the American teacher.'”¹

She died of cardiac arrest in 1990, and it was a true Loss. She was a memorable figure from classic Hollywood, who seemed grounded in her off-screen life.

“I’ve worked with a lot of great glamorous girls in movies and the theater,” she said. “And 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.”²

Notes

*According to IMDb, Arden created her stage name from the cosmetics “Evening in Paris” and “Elizabeth Arden”. Clever, right?
¹Wikipedia. (Retrieved January 6, 2023.) Our Miss Brooks.
²IMDb. (Retrieved January 6, 2023.) Eve Arden Biography.

This is part of the WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon hosted by Paula’s Cinema Club, Once Upon A Screen, and Outspoken & Freckled.

Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

36 Comment on “Why We Love Eve Arden

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