Question: What ever happened to Eve Arden after Our Miss Brooks? Why did she just disappear? Lisa S., San Francisco
Televisionary: She didn't, Lisa. But I'll assume you weren't much of a fan of The Mothers-in-Law, the NBC comedy co-starring Arden and Kaye Ballard, which ran for two years beginning in September 1967.
A pity, too, since Arden worked her tail off to get work after Our Miss Brooks left the air in 1956, and it took her more than a decade to get back on a show that had any legs (not long ones, granted, but it lasted more than a season). A year after OMB stopped production, Arden returned to the small screen playing a novelist on The Eve Arden Show, but that went dark and she spent the next 10 years doing some stage, movie and Las Vegas work as well as shooting two pilots that never went anywhere.
To hear her tell it, all the best roles were handed to others before she ever even got a chance to audition. "By the time I got there to convince them I was not just Connie Brooks, the part went to somebody else," she told TV Guide in 1967. "Sometimes I wondered whether there was a place for me."
Luckily for her, not everyone in the industry saw it that way. Producer Desi Arnaz said getting her on board The Mothers-in-Law went a long way toward selling the series to the network. The only question was how well she could play Lucy-like slapstick. Mothers (and former I Love Lucy) writer Bob Carroll Jr. decided to put her to the test and wrote a scene where the actress wore a hatful of meatballs. "She not only put it on, she kept it on longer than expected," he said of the trial.
The other big question: How well would Arden hit it off with costar Ballard? "At first, they eyed each other like a couple of stray dogs," one source said at the time. "There might even have been a few hackles up. But they seem to complement each other and are good friends now."
In fact, the two were very different off camera. Arden was shy and didn't like publicity her manager said it was "excruciating" for her to do talk shows while Ballard was every bit the extrovert she played on the show. But that didn't stop Arden from being second only to Arnaz in the Mothers power structure. "There's an air about her," said Deborah Walley, who played Arden's daughter on the show. "If she suggests something, you'll do your damndest to do it. She's a little like a queen, and I'm afraid of her and the same goes for everybody."
The interesting thing there is that Arden intimidated Walley so, even though they should've been able to relate on the typecasting issue. Walley first made a name for herself on stage in her teens, but broke into Hollywood by stepping into Sandra Dee's shoes as girl surfer Gidget for Columbia Pictures. That turned into a problem after the franchise cooled, and she was only able to land roles in beach movies and Disney films (with one notable appearance in the Elvis offering Spinout). It seemed that, like Arden, who was weighed down by her OMB work, Walley was pigeonholed as soon as she walked in to a casting office, dismissed with, "We're not casting any bikinis today."
The ironic thing, however, was the first question from Arnaz, who was unaware of her past when she showed up to audition. "He wanted to know if I looked good in a bikini," Walley said.