Monday, April 30, 2018

Our Miss Brooks

Today is the 110th anniversary of Eve Arden's birth. Although she appeared in a number of movies and appeared on several other television shows, chances are good that she will always be remembered as Connie Brooks, the sardonic high school English teacher and titular character on the classic sitcom Our Miss Brooks. For most of its run on television it ranked in the top twenty shows on the air each year. Following its network run, Our Miss Brook had a highly successful run as a syndicated rerun.

Our Miss Brooks originated from a pitch from freelance writer Don Ettlinger, who had previously written the scripts for such films as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938) and My Lucky Star (1938). Mr. Ettlinger submitted an idea for a show about a wisecracking English teacher titled Our Miss Booth, picturing Shirley Booth (later known as the titular maid on Hazel) in the lead role to CBS. CBS turned down Don Ettinger's pitch, but then proceed to develop the show as Our Miss Brooks. An audition with Shirley Booth in the lead role was recorded. Ultimately, Miss Both did not get the role because producer Harry Ackerman worried that she might be too serious for the part. Both Joan Blondell and Lucille Ball were also considered for the role, although at the time Lucille Ball was starring on the radio show My Favourite Husband.

It was CBS's chief executive William S. Paley himself who suggested Eve Arden for the role of Connie Brooks. For Miss Arden's audition, former vaudevillian Al Lewis reworked the dialogue to be more in keeping with her sardonic delivery. The audition proved a success and Our Miss Brooks debuted on radio on CBS on July 19 1948. As to the show's creator Don Ettlinger, he would sue CBS and the network settled with him for $50,000.

Our Miss Brooks proved to be a huge hit for CBS Radio. Critics also loved the show and it received overwhelmingly positive notices.  With such success it was inevitable that Our Miss Brooks would make the transition to television. What is more, it made the transition with most of its original radio cast in tact. Among the actors playing Connie Brooks's students was a future star. Richard Crenna, who had played student Walter Denton since the show's debut on radio in 1948. He went onto star in such shows as The Real McCoys and Slattery's People,  as well as appear in several feature films.

On television Our Miss Brooks repeated the success that it had on radio. It ranked in the top twenty shows for the year for most of its run. In 1954 it won the Emmy for Best Female Star of Regular Series for Eve Arden and was nominated for the award for Best Situation Comedy. It would go onto receive nominations for Best Supporting Actor in a Regular Series for Gale Gordon and received further nominations for Best Lead Actress of a Regulars Series and Best Situation Comedy.

In the show's final season Our Miss Brooks underwent a slight change in format with Miss Brooks working in an elementary school and her love interest Philip Boynton (played by Robert Rockwell) gone from the cast. The changes apparently proved unpopular, as the show fell in the ratings badly enough that it was cancelled in 1956. That having been said, this was the end for Our Miss Brooks. It became one of the earliest television shows to be adapted as a feature film with much of its cast from television in tact. The movie Our Miss Brooks (1956) would see Mr. Boynton finally propose to Miss Brooks.

While Eve Arden appeared in a number of feature films before and after Our Miss Brooks, as well as other television shows, she remains most identified with Our Miss Brooks. There should be little wonder why. Miss Arden seems to have been born to play Miss Brooks, the wisecracking, independent high school teacher. While others were initially considered for the role, it is difficult to picture anyone else playing Connie Brooks.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

How interesting that Eve (1908) and Al Lewis (1923) share the April 30th birthdate. Simpatico performers.