‘How to Succeed in Business’ Actress Was 88 – The Hollywood Reporter
Maureen Arthur, who starred on Broadway and the big screen as the ambitious mistress and secretary Hedy La Rue in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, has died. She was 88.
Arthur died Wednesday of natural causes at her home in Beverly Hills after a long bout with Alzheimer’s disease, her brother Gerald told The Hollywood Reporter.
The vivacious Arthur also portrayed a nudie-magazine cover girl opposite Don Knotts and Edmond O’Brien in The Love God? (1969), a divorced woman who romances Bob Hope in How to Commit Marriage (1969) and an office tramp alongside John Phillip Law in The Love Machine (1971), based on a Jacqueline Susann novel.
Arthur played the bubble-headed Hedy in the national touring company of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which had opened on Broadway in October 1961 en route to a spectacular run of more than 1,400 performances, seven Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize.
After traveling the U.S. for two years, she spent a year in New York with the original Broadway production before landing in the 1967 movie version at United Artists. Robert Morse, Rudy Vallee and Michele Lee also reprised their stage roles for the big-screen adaption.
When her character arrives for her first day at work at the World Wide Wicket Co., the smitten male employees are warned to watch their distance in the entertaining musical number “A Secretary Is Not a Toy,” and her entrances throughout the film are accompanied by a “va-va-voom” drumbeat.
Maureen Arthur and Rudy Vallee in 1967’s ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’
Courtesy Everett Collection
In the late ’60s, this “light leading lady with the kewpie doll voice was the popular choice to play kooky gold diggers and dumb bimbos,” author Tom Lisanti wrote in his 2007 book, Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood.
Maureen Louise Arthur was born on April 15, 1934, in San Jose, California, and raised in St. Louis. The daughter of a movie theater operator, she got her first taste of show business when her parents put her on stage during vaudeville nights.
While studying theater at Northwestern, she won a national talent contest on CBS’ The Garry Moore Show, which earned her a weeklong gig at the Palace in New York and a chance to compete on the TV talent program Chance of a Lifetime, which she won for six straight weeks.
Arthur, who did a great impersonation of Marilyn Monroe, studied drama at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York and was a frequent guest on Steve Allen’s Tonight Show before she made her onscreen acting debut in Hot Rod Gang (1958), directed by veteran Lew Landers.
She then appeared on such TV shows as Whirlybirds, Bourbon Street Beat and Richard Diamond, Private Detective; was a regular on The Jan Murray Show, a daytime program for NBC; and starred on the 1961 CBS summer sitcom Holiday Lodge.
After making the How to Succeed movie, Arthur returned to Broadway in 1967 to star with Bob Dishy and Linda Lavin in the comedy Something Different, written and directed by Carl Reiner.
In her heyday, Arthur also stood out in Thunder Alley (1967) alongside Fabian and Annette Funicello, in The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz (1968) with Elke Sommer, in Killers Three (1968) with Robert Walker Jr. and in A Man Called Dagger (1968) with Paul Mantee and Sue Ane Langdon (she also performed the theme song, composed by Allen, for that last one).
She played the flirty Orkan schoolgirl Zelka on Mork & Mindy and through the years showed up on episodes of Perry Mason; Get Smart; Gomer Pyle, USMC; Love, American Style; Sanford and Son; Too Close for Comfort; CPO Sharkey; Murder, She Wrote; Highway to Heaven; Matlock; and Empty Nest.
Arthur was married to saxophonist George William Weidler (Doris Day’s second husband) from 1957 until their 1970 divorce and to Aaron Ruben (he produced The Andy Griffith Show and created the Gomer Pyle spinoff as well as CPO Sharkey) from 1971 until his death in 2010 at age 95.
Arthur served for years as president of the Variety Club of Southern California children’s charity. “She spent tireless hours and traveled the country for telethons to raise money for them,” her brother said. “If there was one thing she would want in her obituary, that would be it.”
In addition to Gerald, survivors include another brother, David; sisters-in-law Elaine and Marsha; and stepson Tom.