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I was 9 years old when this show premiered and, if my memory serves me,
it followed "I Love Lucy," providing an hour of solid comedy. But even
if my gray cells are faulty, I remember "December Bride" as being one
of the best sitcoms of the 1950s.
Spring Byington played Lily Ruskin, who lived him her daughter and son-in-law. The comedy was based largely on Lily's adventures with her close friend Hilda Crocker (Verna Felton), which often left son-in-law Matt Henshaw (Dean Miller) exasperated.
The icing on the cake was provided by Harry Morgan ("M*A*S*H") as next-door neighbor Peter Porter, whose sardonic remarks about wife Gladys (who is never seen on camera) rarely failed to trigger guffaws.
This was a show that the whole family could watch, and I'm saddened that it is not available for home viewing. It's a treasure that is likely to languish in studio vaults for a long, long time.
Hilarious comedy where Spring Byington played a doting parent (Lili
Ruskin) living with her married daughter and son-in-law. Along the way,
she makes friends with Hilda Crocker, memorably portrayed by Verna
Felton. Miss Felton was so adept at comedy; yet, I remember her for her
magnificent performance as the neighbor in the 1955 film classic
"Picnic," based on the William Inge play.
Both Hilda and Lili cook up ideal schemes in the way of Ethel Mertz and Lucy Ricardo.
Remember the fabulous opening music? It just told you what you'd be in for the next half hour.
Harry Morgan was truly great as a wacky next door neighbor who chronically complained about Gladys, his long suffering wife. When December Bride went off the air, "Pete and Gladys" went on with Morgan and Cara Williams in the lead roles. Those were certainly the days of spin-offs at their best.
December Bride was a series out to prove that senior citizens despite
age and experience can be as wacky as the rest of the population. I'm
not sure how Dean Miller put up with his mother-in-law Spring Byington
all those years.
Dean was married to the lovely Frances Rafferty and apparently taking in mom was part of the package. Spring was a lovely charming lady as she always was. She didn't seek out problems quite in the way Lucy Ricardo did, but trouble always kept finding her along with her best friend Verna Felton.
If these two seemed always to be getting into trouble the way Lucy and Ethel did, no one should be surprised since Desilu produced the show. One of the other gags was next door neighbor Harry Morgan constantly complaining about his wife Gladys. Somewhat along the lines of the way Phyllis Diller used to refer to her husband Fang in her monologues.
I do remember one episode did involve a costume party and Morgan called into the next room telling Gladys to get out here, they were leaving. There was a pregnant pause that at last we would finally see the legendary Gladys. She came out, in a gorilla suit.
Morgan got a spin off series of his own with Cara Williams as Gladys. But it only lasted a season. Never understood why, it was pretty funny.
If the TVLand channel can run I Love Lucy to death, maybe they can find these December Bride episodes for the old folks of which I'm now one.
Next to I Love Lucy, December Bride was Desilu's most successful series in the 1950s. Running on Monday nights, following Lucy, it couldn't miss in the ratings. Spring Byington brought a sweet, lovable quality to Lily Ruskin, an older woman from Philadelphia who came to live with her daughter Ruth and son-in-law Matt. Far from being the stereotypical mother-in-law, Lily was an attractive older woman who would be a logical marriage choice for some handsome widower. Hence the title. After the first few shows, Lily was given a side-kick in the person of Hilda Crocker, memorably played by Verna Felton. The next-door neighbor was played by Harry Morgan as Pete Porter. The character of Pete was so popular that he was spun off with his heretofore unseen wife Gladys in Pete And Gladys after December Bride ended. I was surprised to learn that Pete And Gladys was not filmed at Desilu, but at Paramount (before Desilu merged with them). December Bride is not shown these days, but it was a quality sitcom with all the ingredients of a hit. The films languish in a vault, but perhaps someday it and Pete And Gladys will resurface for a new generation of viewers to discover.
I have written a biography of December BRIDE actress Verna Felton for Bear Manor Media, which should be available for purchase in 2010. It contains a comprehensive episode guide for December BRIDE, complete with filming dates, episode synopses, and complete guest casts. Information it took years to compile and is available nowhere else! This show is largely forgotten today, but it boasted the fine talents of an ensemble cast, with formats similar to I LOVE LUCY. Spring Byington and Verna Felton could be considered senior citizen versions of Lucy and Ethel, in fact. Season Two is perhaps the best, with Season Three running a close second. The show ran out of steam by the fifth season, however, episodes near the end of this final season are superior to the first half. Fredrick Tucker email@example.com
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
FILLING HE AIRWAVES with programming that would be both artistically
acceptable and yet, at the same time, commercially (box office) a
success, was a constant problem for the new networks in the 1950's. The
time that the stations were on with programming was ever expanding. The
time occupied by the image of Chief Video and his test pattern,
including the ever present h-u-m-m-m-m-m-m!!
LONG HAS BEEN the custom in showbiz ever since time in memoriam, "nothing succeeds like success"; which roughly translates in Hollywood to "Copy, copy, copy!!" Hence, we have the proliferation of varied yet similar examples of network offerings.
IN THE CASE of this series. December BRIDE, we have what essentially is I LOVE LUCY, MY LITTLE MARGIE or I MARRIED JOAN, only adapted to the centering of the action on what we today call "the Gray Panthers" or more commonly, Senior Citizens. Most any of the scripts used could easily been tweaked ever so slightly and used in one of those other sitcoms. (And the reverse would also apply, Schultz!)
WHEN THE CONCEPT of the adventures of an elderly widow* and her friends in meddling in the affairs of her daughter and son-in-law was first brought to the "Suits" at CBS and Desilu Productions, there were some basic questions; is it (the concept) feasible as far as $$$$), will the public watch and do so faithfully and (finally) who could we cast in the starring role in order to insure the series success?
WELL IN ANSWER to the above, the part of Lilly Ruskin went to veteran film actress, Sprung Byington. Her vulnerably aged "Ethel Mertz" character, Hilda Crocker, went to Verna Felton. Lilly's daughter and son-in-law were portrayed by Frances Rafferty and Dean Miller respectively.
THE UNEXPECTED SURPRISE character of the show was Harry Morgan's deadpan rendering of neighbor Pete Porter; who would always offer his caustic tirades on his wife, Gladys. Although 'Gladys' was never seen, the routine was popular enough to produce a spin-off situation comedy PETE AND GLADYS (CBS, 1960-62) which starred Morgan and Cara Williams.
AS FAR AS the stories on DECEMBDER BRIDE, they were, as we said before, nothing different from other sitcoms, only with the bent of a Social Security recipient. Even the theme song was rendered by the Desi Arnaz Orchetra conducted by Wilbur Hatch.
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