Best known for playing caustic, worldly wise career women, Eve Arden was a popular actress of stage, film, radio, and television for nearly 50 years. She was born Eunice Quendens in Mill Valley, California, on April 30 in either 1908 or 1912 (sources vary on her birth year). Her mother, Lucille, who divorced her husband when Eunice was two, made her living as a milliner, the source of Arden’s later taste for extravagant hats.
A grammar school recital made Eunice desperate for a career in show business. With the support of her mother, she started working in local theatrical companies at age 16. After being discovered by producer Lee Schubert, she was invited to join the Ziegfeld Follies as a chorus girl in 1934. While at the Follies, Quendens was asked to adopt a shorter, simpler stage name. She later claimed she took the name “Eve Arden” as a tribute to her favorite perfume (Evening in Paris) and favorite cosmetics brand (Elizabeth Arden). By the mid-1930s, Arden was appearing regularly in small film roles, while periodically returning to her first love, the theater. She was a standout as a wisecracking starlet in Stage Door (1937), but her greatest movie role came in 1945’s Mildred Pierce, in which she played the quick-witted best friend of the long-suffering title character. For her work, Arden earned an Academy Award nomination. The part also helped establish her most enduring screen persona. Throughout the late 1940s, wise and witty female characters were regarded as “Eve Arden roles.”
Arden also began working in radio in 1947. The following year, she enjoyed tremendous success with Our Miss Brooks, a radio comedy about a high school English teacher. A favorite with audiences, the show was brought to television in 1951, where it ran for three years. In 1953 Arden won an Emmy for performance. She later returned to television in two short-lived series, The Eve Arden Show (1957–58) and The Mothers-in-Law (1967–69).
Arden continued to make occasional appearances in film and on stage until 1983, when her husband, actor Brooks West, fell ill and died. After a brief marriage to an insurance agent in the late 1940s, Arden had wed West in 1951 and together they had raised four children, three of whom were adopted. She greatly valued family life and her long, successful marriage. To a reporter she once confessed that she sometimes envied more glamorous actresses, but added that she knew “if they only had what I’ve had—a family, real love, and an anchor—they would have been happier.” After West’s death in 1983, Arden retired from public life. She herself died of cancer on November 12, 1990, in Beverly Hills.
Arden, Eve. Three Phases of Eve: An Autobiography. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985.
Van Dyck Card, James. “Arden, Eve.” In American National Biography, edited by John Arthur Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, vol. 1, pp. 580–581. New York:Oxford University Press, 1999.
Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
Mildred Pierce (1945). Warner Home Video, VHS, 2000.
Our Miss Brooks (1956). Warner Home Video, VHS, 1995.