Forty-two seconds: Losing your heart to “Fred’s Maid”

Posted on December 28, 2011

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Forty-two seconds.

That’s how long it takes her to capture a man’s heart. Forty-two seconds. And over the past 60 years, she’s captured thousands of men’s hearts — each in less than a minute.

“She,” of course, is the little maid who answers the door to Ebenezer Scrooge when he visits his nephew, Fred, on Christmas morning.

She was played by Debbie Chazen in the 1999 film, starring Jim Carrey. And she was played by Renee Shearing in the 1938 film, starring Reginald Owen — the same film that saw “Topper” (Leo G. Carroll) as Jacob Marley’s ghost. But none of these are the maids whose memory lives in our hearts. No, it was the 1951 film, starring Alastair Sim, that not only gave us the definitive Scrooge, but also the definitive maid.

And nobody has a clue who she is.

She first made an impression on me sometime in my pre-teens, but the horrors and wonders of the movie itself were still too overwhelming for this impression to be anything but fleeting. As a young adult, however, I found myself looking forward to her brief scene with some anticipation, and she has been an integral part of every Christmas since.

Back in 2004 I tried tracking her down through the Internet, where I discovered I was merely one of thousands of her suitors: all of whom knew her only as, “Fred’s Maid.”

One of my most successful (in a limited meaning of the word) enquiries was to the Britmovie.com forum, where I posted under the name BillyMoon. There I was given the names of several people who had been involved with the movie and were still alive. Unfortunately, since contacting them meant writing actual letters, with paper and envelopes and stamps and everything, I never got around to it.

Recently, however, I returned to my search, discovering that in 2006, a poster at IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base) had responded to a similar question with the following information:

My Uncle worked for casting director Maude Spector, and while he wasn’t directly involved in this film, he did keep extensive notes on all the projects she worked on. The only thing I could find in the production information was this: Maid (Nephew’s House): Frances Arden.

 [chipster_22001, Nov. 27, 2006]

So, is this, finally, an answer? Was that charming young woman, whose encouraging nod has smitten generation after generation, really Frances Arden? There’s no other information under that name, but then maybe she never appeared in anything else.

It’s possible that her only acting experience consisted of a 42-second, non-speaking role 60 years ago.

Forty-two seconds — and yet her fans are legion.

If it’s true, then Frances Arden must be considered one of the best actresses of all time.

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To join her fan base, watch her scene here.

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