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.[4]

Norma Varden
Varden in Casablanca, 1942
Norma Varden Shackleton

(1898-01-20)20 January 1898
London, England
Died19 January 1989(1989-01-19) (aged 90)
Resting placeSanta Barbara Cemetery
Other namesNorma Varden Shackleton[1][2][3]
Years active1920–69

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.[5]

Theatre career

In England, Varden was a protege of actress Kate Rorke.[6] 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.[5]

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).[7]

Television career

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.[8] 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

She became a naturalised United States citizen on 28 January 1949.[9]

Varden died of heart failure in Santa Barbara, California, on the day before her 91st birthday. She never married.[10]

Complete filmography


  1. "Ancestry Library Edition". Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  2. "Ancestry Library Edition". Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  3. "Ancestry Library Edition". Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  4. "Norma Varden". BFI.
  5. Hal Erickson. "Norma Varden – Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos – AllMovie". AllMovie.
  6. "Mask and Wig on Broadway". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. New York, Brooklyn: 26 April 1929. p. 42. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
  7. "Profile: Norma Vardene".
  8. "The Beverly Hillbillies: Problem Bear (1969) – – Cast and Crew". AllMovie.
  9. Naturalization paperwork for Norma Varden, Retrieved 13 October 2015.
  10. "Noted actress Norma Varden dead at 90". Reading Eagle. 22 January 1989.
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