Eve Arden Biography

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Birth Name: Eve Arden
Born: 04/30/1908
Birth Place: Mill Valley, California, USA
Death Place: Beverly Hills, California, USA
Died: 11/12/1990

Eve Arden was born Eunice Quedens on April 30, 1908 in Mill Valley, CA. The only child of Charles and Lucille Quedens, she was raised primarily by her mother after her parents' divorce. Relocating to San Francisco, Lucille Quedens found work as a milliner, eventually opening her own hat shop. Often left alone while her mother worked, Arden developed a vivid imagination and staged plays of her own invention for friends and neighbors. Her first experience at public performance came when she was asked to recite a poem for her second grade class. When her recitation of "No Kicka My Dog," a monologue about an immigrant and his four-legged friend, moved a classmate to tears, Arden knew she had found her niche. After two years in a convent school, she returned to Mill Valley to live with an aunt while she attended Tamalpais High School. After her 1926 graduation, she joined the Henry Duffy Players, a San Francisco stock company, earning $35 as a repertory player.

Performance dates in Hollywood attracted the attention of Columbia Pictures, for whom Arden, billed as Eunice Quedens, made her feature film debut in "Song of Love" (1929). Uncredited in a bit in the Clark Gable-Joan Crawford pair-up "Dancing Lady" (1933), she enjoyed greater acclaim for her stage work at the Pasadena Playhouse. Lured to Broadway, she rechristened herself Eve Arden for roles in "Ziegfeld Follies of 1934" and "Ziegfeld Follies of 1936." Her successes on Broadway led to work in radio. After appearances on bandleader Rudy Vallee's weekly broadcast, Arden signed on for CBS' "Laugh with Ken Murray," in which she supplied sardonic comic relief as star Murray's tart-tongued sidekick. With her mother's death in 1936, Arden returned to California and to films with a bad girl role in "Oh Doctor" (1937). That same year, RKO's "Stage Door" (1937), an adaptation of the Edna Ferber-George S. Kaufman stage play about aspiring actresses sharing a second-rate Broadway boarding house, put her on the screen with no less than stars Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers, as well as up-and-coming starlets Lucille Ball and Ann Miller.

Though she had not yet refined her Hollywood persona, many of the attributes of Arden's seminal performances were already in place, among them her agility with rapid-fire dialogue and a slightly masculine aspect that set her apart from her fine-boned contemporaries. Second only to Rosalind Russell, Arden specialized in quick witted, indomitable professional women whose plucky joie de vivre was encoded in such character names as Kit Campbell, Gabby Trent, Buzz Baker, Cornelia "Stonewall" Jackson, and Peerless Pauline, the acrobat heroine of "At the Circus" (1939), which teamed Arden with the Marx Brothers. As the actress matured into her mid-thirties, she excelled as a reliable second female lead, relying on her trademark wisecracks to support Hedy Lamarr in "Comrade X" (1940), Rita Hayworth in "Cover Girl" (1944), and Ann Sheridan, Alexis Smith and Jane Wyman in "The Doughgirls" (1944), a fluffy comedy that cast Arden as a rifle-toting Soviet sergeant taking Washington, D.C. by storm. Another choice role was as Joan Crawford's acerbic gal pal in "Mildred Pierce" (1945), which netted Arden an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Throughout the Forties, Arden divided her time between features and radio, where she was a regular player on Danny Kaye's short-lived variety series. In 1948, she was chosen to star in the CBS radio comedy "Our Miss Brooks," playing the softly autocratic Connie Brooks, English teacher at the fictive Madison High School. The series remained on the air until 1957 and during its long run, was spun off for television by Desilu Productions, copiloted by Arden's "Stage Door" co-star Lucille Ball. An instant hit on the small screen, "Our Miss Brooks" (1952-56) ran to 130 episodes before its cancellation and inspired a 1956 feature film of the same name. Arden also headed "The Eve Arden Show" (CBS, 1956-57), playing a widowed writer struggling to raise her children alone, and earned an Emmy nomination. She returned to features to play attorney James Stewart's secretary in Otto Preminger's "Anatomy of a Murder" (1959). Nearing 50, Arden stood poised to enter the next phase of her long and diverse career, softening her onscreen persona to reveal the vulnerabilities and indignities of older women.

Through the next decade, Arden worked more on the small screen than in features, contributing vivid guest appearances to such popular weekly series as "Bewitched" (ABC, 1964-1972), "Laredo" (NBC, 1965-67) and "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." (NBC, 1964-68), for whom she hammed it up as a brilliant chemist who threatens to sell to enemy agents a twin formulae capable of elevating human intelligence or reducing men to brainless morons. She had another stab at a regular series of her own with Desilu's "The Mothers in Law" (1967-69), partnering with comedienne Kay Ballard as a pair of world class meddlers who make life difficult for their married children. Arden seemed to enjoy her cameo as a breakfast cereal magnate in Disney's "The Strongest Man in the World" (1974), but she enjoyed something like a full-blown comeback when she was cast as the Principal McGee of Rydell High School in the smash hit musical "Grease" (1978), starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. Arden returned in character for the film's downgraded but still successful sequel, "Grease 2" (1982).

Arden returned to Broadway for the original comedy "Moose Murders" in 1983 but her inability to remember her lines necessitated her replacement by Holland Taylor. Savaged by critics, the production closed after opening night. Following the death of her second husband, actor Brooks West, in 1984, she made only a scattering of television appearances, as the Stepmother in the 1985 Cinderella episode of Shelly Duval's "Faerie Tale Theater" (Showtime, 1982-87) and appearing in a 1987 episode of the primetime soap opera "Falcon Crest" (CBS, 1981-1990) alongside fellow Golden Age star, Jane Wyman. Plagued by colorectal cancer in her final years, Eve Arden died on Nov. 12, 1990, at the age of 83.

by Richard Harland Smith




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