Tart-Tongued Eve Arden, Who Stole Scenes in Movies and on TV for Nearly 60 Years, Steals Away for Good

updated 11/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

She was every leading lady's best pal—the wisecracking second banana who never got the guy but always got the laughs. Eve Arden, who died of heart failure Nov. 12, routinely stole the show with her astringently ironic tone, arched brows and bull's-eye timing. No matter the vehicle—the priceless, early sitcom Our Miss Brooks (1952-56) or a dud like The Mothers-in-Law (1967-69); a sugary romance like 1948's One Touch of Venus or a bracing drama like 1945's Mildred Pierce—she could be counted on throughout her 57-year career to, as one critic put it, "brighten even the most banal lines."

Arden was born Eunice Quedens, 83 years ago in Mill Valley, Calif. The tall (5'7"), green-eyed blond began her professional career at 16, quickly finding her niche as a comic stage actress. She also found a new name, taking inspiration from Evening in Paris perfume and Elizabeth Arden cosmetics. In 1937, Arden wowed 'em when she wore a live cat, boalike, around her neck in the movie Stage Door, unfurling a career that rolled on through more than 70 films. Her last was 1982's Grease 2, in which she reprised her role as the principal from the original movie.

Despite her success in films, Arden truly became a national institution on CBS's Our Miss Brooks, a comedy series that began on radio in 1948 and then moved to TV. As crisp-witted Connie Brooks, America's most popular English teacher, Arden was a rare workingwoman among such TV homemakers as Lucy, Ethel and Gracie. Each morning, worshipful young Walter Denton (Richard Crenna) would say, "Greetings, fairest of all possible English teachers," and Miss Brooks would reply agreeably, "Well, good morning, most observant of all possible pupils."

Her private life included an eight-year marriage to literary agent Edward "Ned" Bergen. Together they adopted two daughters, Liza, now 45, and Connie, 42. In 1947, she divorced Bergen and in 1951 wed actor Brooks West. They had two sons, Duncan, 37, and Douglas, 36. In 1984, West died of a stroke. Although West was an alcoholic, friends say the marriage was a very happy one.

Glenn Rose, Arden's publicist and manager for 35 years, remembers her fondly. "She kept being cast as this sarcastic, acid-tongued lady with the quick retort and put-down," he says. "In real life, Eve would have never put anyone down. She wasn't that kind of person."

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