Our Miss Brooks
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Eve Arden as Connie Brooks
|Air dates||July 19, 1948 to July 7, 1957|
Our Miss Brooks is an American situation comedy starring Eve Arden as a sardonic high school English teacher. It began as a radio show broadcast on CBS from 1948 to 1957. When the show was adapted to television (1952–56), it became one of the medium's earliest hits. In 1956, the sitcom was adapted for big screen in the film of the same name.
- Connie (Constance) Brooks (Eve Arden), an English teacher at fictional Madison High School.
- Osgood Conklin (Gale Gordon), blustery, gruff, crooked and unsympathetic Madison High principal, a near-constant pain to his faculty and students. (Conklin was played by Joseph Forte in the show's first episode; Gordon succeeded him for the rest of the series' run.) Occasionally Conklin would rig competitions at the school–such as that for prom queen–so that his daughter Harriet would win.
- Walter Denton (Richard Crenna, billed at the time as Dick Crenna), a Madison High student, well-intentioned and clumsy, with a nasally high, cracking voice, often driving Miss Brooks (his self-professed favorite teacher) to school in a broken-down jalopy. Miss Brooks' references to her own usually-in-the-shop car became one of the show's running gags.
- Philip Boynton (Jeff Chandler on radio, billed sometimes under his birth name Ira Grossel); Robert Rockwell on both radio and television), Madison High biology teacher, the shy and often clueless object of Miss Brooks' affections.
- Margaret Davis (Jane Morgan), Miss Brooks' absentminded landlady, whose two trademarks are a cat named Minerva, and a penchant for whipping up exotic and often inedible breakfasts.
- Harriet Conklin (Gloria McMillan), Madison High student and daughter of principal Conklin. A sometime love interest for Walter Denton, Harriet was honest and guileless with none of her father's malevolence and dishonesty.
- Stretch (Fabian) Snodgrass (Leonard Smith), dull-witted Madison High athletic star and Walter's best friend.
- Daisy Enright (Mary Jane Croft), Madison High English teacher, and a scheming professional and romantic rival to Miss Brooks.
- Jacques Monet (Gerald Mohr), a French teacher.
Our Miss Brooks was a hit on radio from the outset; within eight months of its launch as a regular series, the show landed several honors, including four for Eve Arden, who won polls in four individual publications of the time. Arden had actually been the third choice to play the title role. Harry Ackerman, at the time CBS's West Coast director of programming, wanted Shirley Booth for the part, but as he told historian Gerald Nachman many years later, he realized Booth was too focused on the underpaid downside of public school teaching at the time to have fun with the role.
Lucille Ball was believed to have been the next choice, but she was already committed to My Favorite Husband and didn't audition. Then CBS chairman Bill Paley, who was friendly with Arden, persuaded her to audition for the part. With a slightly rewritten audition script—Osgood Conklin, for example, was originally written as a school board president but was now written as the incoming new Madison principal—Arden agreed to give the newly revamped show a try.
Produced by Larry Berns and written by director Al Lewis, Our Miss Brooks premiered on CBS July 19, 1948. According to radio critic John Crosby, her lines were very "feline" in dialogue scenes with principal Conklin and would-be boyfriend Boynton, with sharp, witty comebacks. The interplay between the cast—blustery Conklin, nebbishy Denton, accommodating Harriet, absentminded Mrs. Davis, clueless Boynton, scheming Miss Enright—also received positive reviews.
Arden won a radio listeners' poll by Radio Mirror magazine as the top-ranking comedienne of 1948-49, receiving her award at the end of an Our Miss Brooks broadcast that March. "I'm certainly going to try in the coming months to merit the honor you've bestowed upon me, because I understand that if I win this two years in a row, I get to keep Mr. Boynton," she joked. But she was also a hit with the critics; a winter 1949 poll of newspaper and magazine radio editors taken by Motion Picture Daily named her the year's best radio comedienne.
For its entire radio life, the show was sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive-Peet, promoting Palmolive soap, Lustre Creme shampoo, and Toni hair care products. The radio series continued until 1957, a year after its television life ended.
This content is now available under public domain for download at http://www.archive.org at http://www.archive.org/details/Our_Miss_Brooks_190_Episodes.
The show's full cast, minus Jeff Chandler, played the same characters in the television version (with most of the scripts adapted from radio), which continued to revolve largely around Connie Brooks' daily relationships with Madison High students, colleagues and principal. Philip Boynton was played by Robert Rockwell, who also succeeded Jeff Chandler on the radio series. The television show, sponsored by General Foods, shifted focus later in its run, moving Connie Brooks and Osgood Conklin from a public high school to an exclusive private school in the fall of 1955. It also changed the title character's romantic focus: Gene Barry was cast as physical education teacher Gene Talbot, and Connie was now the pursued instead of the pursuer, although Mr. Boynton reappeared in several episodes before the season ended.
Our Miss Brooks ran for 130 episodes on television and won an Emmy award before it was cancelled in 1956. In the 1954-55 season, it overpowered its NBC competition, Dear Phoebe, starring Peter Lawford and Charles Lane, which failed to be renewed for a second season. For the 1955-56 season, with the format change and Rockwell (as Boynton) replaced by Gene Barry, the ratings fell. To rectify their mistake, the producers brought back Rockwell as Boynton in mid-season, but it didn't help. The show was canceled in the spring of 1956. However, in the theatrical film Our Miss Brooks released by Warner Brothers in the same year, Connie and Mr. Boynton finally got married. The television series was seen for several years thereafter in rebroadcasts.
Both the radio and television shows drew as much attention from professional educators as from radio and television fans, viewers and critics. In addition to the 1948-49 poll of Radio Mirror listeners and the 1949 poll of Motion Picture Daily critics, Arden's notices soon expanded beyond her media. According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, she was made an honorary member of the National Education Association and received a 1952 award from the Teachers College of Connecticut's Alumni Association "for humanizing the American teacher."
Our Miss Brooks was considered groundbreaking for showing a woman who was neither a scatterbrained klutz nor a homebody but rather a working woman who transcended the actual or assumed limits to women's working lives of the time. Connie Brooks was considered a realistic character in an unglamorized profession (she often joked, for example, about being underpaid, as many teachers were at the time) who showed women could be competent and self-sufficient outside their home lives without losing their femininity or their humanity.
Our Miss Brooks remained Eve Arden's most identifiable and popular role, with numerous surviving recordings of both the radio and television versions continuing to entertain listeners and viewers. (The surviving radio recordings include both its audition shows.) A quarter century after the show ended, Arden told radio historian John Dunning in an on-air interview just what the show and the role came to mean to her:
- I originally loved the theater. I still do. And I had always wanted to have a hit on Broadway that was created by me. You know, kind of like Judy Holliday and Born Yesterday. I griped about it a little, and someone said to me, "Do you realize that if you had a hit on Broadway, probably 100 or 200,000 people might have seen you in it, if you'd stayed in it long enough. And this way, you've been in Miss Brooks, everybody loves you, and you've been seen by millions." So, I figured I'd better shut up while I was ahead.
- Eve Arden as Connie Brooks
- Gale Gordon as Osgood Conklin
- Don Porter as Lawrence Nolan
- Robert Rockwell as Phillip Boynton
- Jane Morgan as Margaret Davis
- Richard Crenna as Walter Denton
- Nick Adams as Gary Nolan
- Leonard Smith as Stretch Snodgrass
- Gloria McMillan as Harriet Conklin
- Joseph Kearns as Superintendent Stone (eight episodes)
- William Newell as Dr. Henley
- Philip Van Zandt as Mr. Webster
- Marjorie Bennett as Mrs. J. Boynton
- Joseph Forte as Nolan's butler
- Orangey as Minerva the cat
- Arden, Eve. The Three Phases of Eve (1985)
- Buxton, Frank and Bill Owen, The Big Broadcast 1920-1950 (1971) (New York: Avon Books.)
- Nachman, Gerald. Raised on Radio (1998) (New York: Pantheon Books.)
- Ohmart, Ben, It's That Time Again (2002) (Albany: BearManor Media.) ISBN 0-9714570-2-6
- Wertheim, Arthur Frank, Radio Comedy (1979) Oxford University Press, USA, ISBN 0-19-502481-8
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