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Subject: ARCHIVE: January 19, 1989 ~It was 30 years ago, veteran character actress Norma Varden, who appeared in countless roles as dowager, matriarchal roles, in such classic Hollywood films as "Casablanca" (1942), "Strangers on a Train" (1951), and "Witness for the Prosecution" (1957), dies of natural causes in retirement, at age 90. ...

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Date Posted: Saturday, January 19, 02:52:13pm

Norma Varden
[ Norma Varden Shackleton ]
(20 January 1898 19 January 1989)

Known professionally as Norma Varden, was a British-born American actress with a long film career.

Life and career;
Early life

Born in London, the daughter of a retired sea captain, Varden was a child prodigy. She trained as a concert pianist in Paris and performed in England before deciding to take up acting. She studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and made her first appearance as Mrs Darling in Peter Pan.

Theatre career

...In England, Varden was a protege of actress Kate Rorke. She acted in repertory theatre and made her West End debut in The Wandering Jew in 1920. From Shakespeare to farce, she established herself as a regular member of the Aldwych Theatre company where she appeared in plays from 1929 to 1933. She began to appear in British films, usually in haughty upper-class roles.

Move to America and film career
Varden's English film roles led to offers from Hollywood, and she moved there at the
start of World War II, beginning a long career of playing character and supporting roles. ...

...Notable films Varden appeared in include Casablanca (1942), The Major and the Minor (1942), The White Cliffs of Dover (1944), National Velvet (1944), The Green Years (1946), Forever Amber (1947), Strangers on a Train (1951), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), Jupiter's Darling (1955), and Witness for the Prosecution (1957). She played the housekeeper Frau Schmidt in The Sound of Music (1965). Two years later, she had a minor part as Lady Petherington in Doctor Dolittle (1967).

She had a recurring role in the 1960s NBC sitcom Hazel as Harriet Johnson.

...She appeared on CBS's I Love Lucy as "Mrs. Benson", the neighbour with whom the Ricardos switch apartments after the birth of Little Ricky in 1953. She was cast as Mrs. Murdock in the 1961 episode "The Swedish Girl" on ABC's The Real McCoys. She appeared on CBS's Perry Mason as Winifred Wileen in the 1964 episode, "The Case of the Illicit Illusion." That same year, Varden, along with veteran character actress and comedienne Kathleen Freeman were featured in a third season episode of The Lucy Show entitled "Lucy Gets Her Maid". In that installment, Varden played yet another snooty socialite named Mrs. Van Vlack who hires Lucy Carmichael (Lucille Ball) as a maid. She also appeared on the 7th season episode of The Beverly Hillbillies "Problem Bear" as the snobby socialite, Mrs. Vanransenhoff, who went home with Granny to get gossip on Mrs. Drysdale. Varden played Mrs. Dumont in a 1966 (Season 3, Ep.11) episode of Bewitched entitled "Oedipus Hex", sitting on a "Ways & Means" charity committee with Samantha Stevens to raise funds for a children's playground. Varden played Mrs. Hermione Monteagle in episode 13 of the Batman series of the 1960s.

Personal life & Death
Norma Varden became a naturalised United States citizen on 28 January 1949,
spending later years active with the Screen Actors Guild, advocating better medical benefits
for older actors. After a long career, Varden, never married, died of heart failure in Santa Barbara, CA.
on the eve of her 91st birthday, and was interred at nearby Santa Barbara Cemetery, where her
cremated remains are located in a very modest niche only fashioning her name/dates. ...


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