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'I JUST CAN'T GET AWAY FROM MISS BROOKS'

That's what Eve Arden told me in 1977 when I interviewed her for The New York Times. But, wonderful as she was in the role of the super-cool teacher on TV and the 1956 film (at right), I remember her most for her impeccable performances as sassy sidekick to the likes of Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Ann Sheridan, Jane Wyman, Alexis Smith and Doris Day. I wonder if those illustrious leading ladies realized at the time that entire scenes were being swiped from them by the one of the classiest "supporting" actresses ever to hit Hollywood. --Guy Flatley

 

At long last, Our Miss Brooks has been promoted. Eve Arden, the sublimely caustic, but never cruel, English teacher on one of the more cheerfully remembered shows of a bygone television era, will portray a perplexed high school principal in “Grease,” the movie version of Broadway’s long-running musical homage to those nearly other-planetary teenagers of the 1950’s. In keeping with her elevated station in life, Miss Arden is to be assigned a private secretary, to be played by the ever-efficient Dody Goodman. Among her other strictly-adult colleagues will be Sid Caesar as a gung-ho football coach, Alice Ghostley as a gregarious auto-mechanics instructor, and Ed “Kookie” Byrnes as a hyper-humble disk-spinner who may remind some viewers of the immortally modest Dick Clark.

The younger set will be represented by John Travolta, in the starring role of the leader of a quaintly uncouth gang called The Greasers, and Dinah Manoff, in real life the daughter of actress Lee Grant. According to Allan Carr and Robert Stigwood – a producing team of legendary persistence – negotiations are under way with Olivia Newton John to play the sensitive newcomer who is thrown to the mercy of the rock-and-rolling wolves. Patricia Birch will repeat her choreographic chores on “Grease,” which is expected to slide before the cameras in Hollywood on June 27, under the direction of the 28-year-old Randal Klieser.

Moviegoers with memories are pleasantly aware that before Miss Arden was Miss Brooks, she was the wise-cracking, man-chasing, man-losing confidant of the star in such films of the 30’s and 40’s as “Stage Door,” “Having Wonderful Time,” “Ziegfeld Girl,” “Cover Girl,” "The Doughgirls," a World War II comedy in which she played a gun-toting Russian (shown above) who befriends Jane Wyman, Alexis Smith and Ann Sheridan), “Voice of the Turtle” and “Mildred Pierce,” for which she received an Oscar nomination as best supporting actress of 1945. Still, every time she hits the road in such suburban-pleasing fluff as “The Most Marvelous News” – a comedy in which she and her husband, Brooks West, will soon star in just beyond the fringe of Chicago – she is fondly greeted on the street as Miss Brooks.

“It’s amazing to me that I just can’t get away from Miss Brooks,” said Miss Arden the other day, with no trace of genuine bitterness. “I don’t mind anymore. After all, I did enjoy playing her very much – there was a lot of me in that character. I think part of the show’s appeal was that I managed to make Miss Brooks a human being. I had none of that frightened awe so many people have of teachers, and the reason for this was that my aunt used to have a lot of young teachers as friends. So when I was growing up, I knew teachers on a social basis and I was fond of them – I even combed their hair.

“At first, though, it did bother me to be so strongly pinned to one series,” Miss Arden admitted, “because the height of my ambition was always to create a role on Broadway, something that was all mine, the way Judy Holliday did in ‘Born Yesterday.’ But, gradually, I came to realize that Miss Brooks was it, so I might as well relax and enjoy it.”

 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE INTERVIEWS WITH PROMINENT MOVIE PERSONALITIES BY GUY FLATLEY AND DIANE BARONI.