One of my favourite annual blogathons is back! Aurora at Once Upon A Screen, Kellee at Outspoken And Freckled and Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club are once again co-hosting this blogathon dedicated to all those wonderful character actors. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
Eve Arden was the best of the best. If you were making a film during the classic era and needed to cast a no nonsense, sassy, sardonic, witty, and capable gal pal or secretary, then Eve Arden was your go to actress. She was just perfect at playing such characters. Even if her role was a small one, Eve still managed to make her character believable and make quite the impact, something which ensured her time on screen was always memorable.
Eve Arden. Image source IMDb.
I first encountered Eve when I watched Grease(1978). I thought she was hilarious as Principal McGee, the headteacher at Sandy and Danny’s school. Incidentally this film was also my first intro to Joan Blondell who plays the secretary of Eve’s character. I thought Eve was great in this and wanted to see more of her work. Thus began my journey of discovering the talents of one of the greatest character actresses of the classic film era.
The next film of Eve’s that I saw was Anatomy Of A Murder(1959), which was the one that ensured I became a fan. She inhabits the character of Maida so well and perfectly conveys the history and bond between her, Biegler(James Stewart) and Parnell(Arthur O’Connell). You just know from how she plays her that Maida isn’t merely the secretary who books appointments, makes coffee, and takes calls, but that she is also the confidant and pal of these two men. You can feel the shared history between the three of them in every scene.
Anatomy Of A Murder has become one of my favourite performances of Eve’s. Interestingly her second husband Brooks West – to whom she would remain married until his death in 1984 – is also in this film as the District Attorney Mitchell Lodwick.
Eve Arden was born Eunice Mary Quedens in Mill Valley, California, on the 30th of April, 1908. Her parents Lucille and Charles divorced because of Charles’s gambling problems and Eve’s mum went into business for herself. After leaving school Eunice joined a stock theatre company. Her film debut came in 1929, when she was cast in the pre-code musical Song Of Love. Several other small supporting film roles followed this one.
In 1934 she was cast in the stage production of The Ziegfeld Follies Revue and advised to take a stage name. Eunice was pondering what name to choose when she discovered that the answer lay in cosmetics. She took her first name from the perfume Evening In Paris and her second from Elizabeth Arden, the founder of the world famous cosmetics company which bears her name.
Eve with some of her co-stars in Stage door. Image source IMDb.
Eve really hit the big time in the 1937 when she signed a contract with RKO studios. In that same year she was cast in the fantastic female ensemble film Stage Door. I think that her witty character in this film is the template for most of the other characters that she would go on to play during the rest of her career.Over the next few years Eve impressed in quite a few films including At The Circus,Slightly Honorable, Ziegfeld Girl, Cover Girl,One Touch Of Venus(love her scenes with Tom Conway) and Eternally Yours.
Eve with co-stars Groucho Marx in At The Circus and Rita Hayworth in Cover Girl. Image source IMDb.
In 1945 Eve was cast alongside Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce. Eve plays Ida Corwin, the kindly manager of a restaurant who takes a chance on Mildred and hires her as a waitress. Mildred soon excels at the job and the pair become friends for life. When Mildred hits the big time and opens her own restaurant,she never forgets Ida’s initial kindness to her and she hires Ida as her right hand woman.
Eve in Mildred Pierce. Image source IMDb.
I love the relationship between Ida and Mildred and I think it’s fair to say that Ida is the best and most genuine relationship that Mildred has in her life. Eve plays Ida as sharp and sarcastic and you miss her when she’s not on the screen. It’s one of my favourite performances of hers and a great example of how to make a supporting character memorable and have an impact on audiences.
During the 1940’s Eve co-starred with Danny Kaye on his radio show The Danny Kaye Show(1945-1946). Eve and Danny had first met when they starred alongside one another in the stage musical Let’s Face It! and the pair were in a relationship throughout the 1940’s.
In 1948 Eve took on the role for which she is best remembered for today by many fans. She played Miss Connie Brooks, the English teacher at Madison High School, in the comedy radio series Our Miss Brooks(1948-1957). As well as teaching, Miss Brooks regularly clashes with the headteacher(Gale Gordon) and has unrequited romantic feelings for her fellow teacher, Philip Boynton(Jeff Chandler).
Eve as Miss Brooks. Image source IMDb.
The CBS radio series was written by Al Lewis and produced by Larry Berns. Although she was perfectly suited for the role of Connie, Eve was actually the third choice for the role after Shirley Booth and Lucille Ball. From the start the series was a big hit and Eve in particular drew much acclaim for her performance. In 1952 the series made the transition to the small screen. Apart from Jeff Chandler – who had left the radio series after five years due to being unable to juggle his film and radio commitments – Eve and the rest of the cast played the same characters in the TV series as they did on the radio.
The TV series would run for 130 episodes from 1952 to 1956, and there was a big screen adaptation also made in 1956.The TV series would win an Emmy and Eve was made an Honorary Member of the National Education Association, and also received an award in 1952 from the Teacher’s College of Connecticut’s Alumni Association for “humanizing the American teacher.” In 1957 Eve got her own Radio series The Eve Arden Show, but this sadly only ran for 26 episodes and was cancelled.
For most of the 1960’s and 1970’s, Eve mainly worked in TV playing a mix of recurring and guest characters. Her role in the film Grease brought her to the attention of a new generation of film fans. She would reprise the role of Principal McGee in Grease 2 in 1982.
Eve’s last appearance on screen was a guest performance on the series Falcon Crest in 1987. Eve passed away on the 12th of November, 1990, after suffering a heart attack. She was 82 years old.
Eve Arden was a lady of many talents and she was one of the best comediennes in the business. I cherish all the wonderful screen and radio work she left behind for us all to enjoy. Whenever I see Eve’s name show up in the credits, I know full well that I’m about to be in for a real treat.
If you have never seen or heard any of Eve’s work, then I urge you to check her films and series out. You won’t regret it and you can thank me later. 😁 Thanks for everything, Eve.