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Eve Arden, 82; Portrayed TV's Beloved 'Our Miss Brooks'

November 13, 1990|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eve Arden, the sardonic comedian of many early films who later in her career became the beloved but still acid-tongued "Our Miss Brooks" on the immensely successful television series, died Monday.

Her manager, Glenn Rose, said she died at her Beverly Hills home of heart failure but also had been battling cancer.

Two of her four children were with her when she died.

She was 82 and had last been seen in "Grease II" in 1981 and as the duchess in "Under the Rainbow" in 1982.

"She never really quite got over the (1984) death of her husband," Rose said. "She was never the same after it." She had been married for 33 years to actor Brooks West.

Born Eunice Quedens in Mill Valley, Calif., she established an early reputation as a long-legged, caustic comic in films of the late 1920s and early '30s.

But it was as Connie Brooks, the wisecracking English teacher in mid-America's mythical Madison High where she constantly engaged in hilarious battles with her stuffy principal, that she became a Friday night favorite.

She was offered the role of the classroom humanist with the smart mouth and warm heart after being heard as radio's Miss Brooks for four years.

There she had developed a following of hundreds of teachers across America and had even been offered teaching jobs in real schools. Miss Arden (making $200,000 a year at that time) did not accept, but she did begin speaking at PTA meetings.

On TV from Oct. 3, 1952, until ratings began to slip in late 1956, Miss Brooks and her blustering principal, Osgood Conklin, portrayed by Gale Gordon, carried on a running battle of caustic comment.

Conklin was perpetually losing his temper over some triviality which Miss Brooks found amusing--smiling smugly behind his back as he raged through his office or her classroom.

When not teasing her principal she was romancing her handsome colleague, the shy biology teacher Philip Boynton.

She never landed Boynton (Robert Rockwell) but did manage to win a 1953 Emmy as best actress in a regular series.

After the TV show went off the air she appeared briefly in her own "The Eve Arden Show" and then teamed with Kaye Ballard in the series "The Mothers-in-Law," which ran from 1967 to 1969.

In a 1970 interview she recalled the beginnings of Eunice Quedens, daughter of a stage actress she described as "a great beauty." She first was lured to the theater when called on to recite in a grammar school production.

"From then on," she recalled, "you couldn't keep me out of the school plays, the song and dance skits."

Her mother had by then abandoned the stage for a millinery shop in San Francisco. Mrs. Quedens encouraged her daughter some, but also said she hoped young Eunice would eventually marry and have children "because that's where (she) would find the most happiness."

She worked in repertory theater in San Francisco, dabbled in stock productions and landed her first bit film role in 1929 in "Song of Love."

She was seen at the Pasadena Community Playhouse and the El Capitan Theatre in the revue "Lo and Behold," which also starred a young Tyrone Power.

Producer Lee Shubert saw her there and offered a role in the "Ziegfeld Follies" in New York in 1934. It was about that time she reportedly changed her name after looking over some cosmetics and spotting the names "Evening in Paris" and "Elizabeth Arden."

As Eve Arden she was seen in films as the best friend or "big sister" of the female lead, offering wisecracks in a deadpan, throwaway manner that ultimately became her public persona.

Those closest to her, however, knew her as a warm friend and devoted wife and mother.

In 1945 she was nominated for an Academy Award for supporting actress in the Joan Crawford vehicle "Mildred Pierce."

In it she uttered one of the most biting lines in film history when she offered this assessment of Miss Crawford's vitriolic and ungrateful daughter:

"Veda's convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young."

She appeared in more than other 75 films, which she normally refused to see because she said she found them disappointing. They included "Stage Door," "The Women," "Ziegfeld Girl," "Cover Girl," "Night and Day," "Voice of the Turtle," "Anatomy of a Murder" and "Dark at the Top of the Stairs."

In later years, she made appearances in Steven Spielberg's TV series, "Amazing Stories," and on "Faerie Tale Theater" for Showtime.

She never regretted, she said in the 1970 Times interview, not having been a raving beauty.

"I've worked with a lot of great, glamorous girls in movies and the theater. They would always give their last ounce to get where they wanted to be. 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 footlights are dark."

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