In Honor of Verna Felton (and Hilda Crocker)

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! Today’s post is in tribute to character actress Verna Felton, best known today for her unforgettable voice work in several classic Disney films, whose 125th birthday anniversary (on the 20th) we’re belatedly celebrating. Sitcom fans may remember Felton for her five-year stint on the Desilu sitcom, December Bride (1954-1959, CBS), which was based on a 1952 radio comedy and aired on Monday nights after Ball and Arnaz’s iconic sitcom. Felton played Hilda Crocker, the best friend of jovial Lily Ruskin, who lived with her daughter (Frances Rafferty) and son-in-law (Dean Miller). Harry Morgan played next-door neighbor Pete Porter, who eventually joined Cara Williams (whose character remained unseen on December Bride) in a fondly recalled two-season spin-off, Pete And Gladys (1960-1962, CBS).

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157 episodes were produced over five years (the first four of which were filmed in front of a live audience), and I have approximately 124 episodes in my personal collection. Although the show is mediocre, I am fascinated by the strong cast, the Desilu format, and its relative obscurity. My intention is to one day cover the series and its strongest installments, but I’m currently missing too many episodes to make that a possibility at the moment. In the meantime, here are a few FULL LENGTH offerings from December Bride, chosen here for Felton’s unique contributions. (I am reserving most of my commentary for that later date.)

 

01) Episode 11: “The Gigolo” (Aired: 12/06/54 | Filmed: 10/23/54)

Hilda’s been footing the bill for her dates with a mambo teacher.

Written by Parke Levy, Lou Derman, and Herb Finn | Directed by Jerry Thorpe

Felton was not originally a regular on the TV series, but it was to the show’s benefit that she was added. This is one of the first shows centered around her character, and it’s among the funniest.

 

02) Episode 54: “Sunken Den” (Aired: 02/20/56 | Filmed: 01/14/56)

Lily doesn’t deliver some plans for Matt, so the rumpus room in Desi Arnaz’s house collapses.

Written by Parke Levy, Lou Derman, and Bill Davenport | Directed by Jerry Thorpe

This is probably the most memorable episode of the entire series, for Desi Arnaz guest stars as himself (as he did for an episode of Our Miss Brooks in that same TV season). Some worthy laughs in this one!

 

03) Episode 95: “Lily-Hilda Fight” (Aired: 05/06/57 | Filmed: 03/19/57)

Everyone’s happy about Lily’s new dress-designing job, except Hilda.

Written by Lou Derman and Ben Starr | Directed by Jerry Thorpe

From the hit-and-miss middle season of the series (like all of the seasons, frankly) this episode features a premise that likens Lily and Hilda to Desilu’s most famous gal pal duo, Lucy and Ethel.

 

04) Episode 151: “Stan Loses His Nerve” (Aired: 03/19/59 | Filmed: 02/17/59)

Hilda’s boyfriend Stanley, an exterminator, fears he’s washed up.

Written by Lou Derman, Arthur Julian, and Bill Davenport | Directed by Frederick DeCordova

One of the last episodes of the series, this episode is thrown to Hilda and her recurring beau. It is the only installment from today’s post not shot in front of a live audience.

 

For more information on Felton or December Bride, I highly recommend checking out Fredrick Tucker’s brilliant biography, which you can purchase here.

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Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in tomorrow for more Hercules! 

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12 thoughts on “In Honor of Verna Felton (and Hilda Crocker)

  1. I remember reading an article about Verna Felton in a 1957 TV Guide, when she was 67 years old. I was most surprised that she did a lot of her own stunts, including leaping out a window & falling backward into a fishpond. I recall seeing Ms. Felton on a Pete & Gladys rerun once, so I think she carried over to the spinoff as well. The oddest thing to me about Pete & Gladys to me was that it premiered in 1960, a year after its parent series, December Bride, was cancelled.

    • Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, you’re correct; Felton appeared in over half of the episodes produced for the first year of PETE & GLADYS. If you haven’t, I highly recommend seeking out Tucker’s excellent biography — it’s meticulously researched and filled with invaluable information.

    • Hi, bobster427! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I hadn’t thought of doing a post on Ms. Audley, but she’s another one of my favorite character actresses. It’s always a joy when she pops up. Thanks for the great suggestion!

  2. Thanks, Jackson, for recommending my bio of dear Verna. I’d love to see you feature DECEMBER BRIDE, even though the plot structure for each episode is pretty much the same. Personally, I think Verna (Hilda) was the best part of the show. Her delivery gets me every time, but you can tell that just by reading my synopses of the episodes. What a gal!

    • Hi, Fredrick! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Your book may be the best biography I’ve ever read. I hope to one day feature DECEMBER BRIDE in full, but I’m still missing a significant number of episodes (approximately 33)!

  3. Do you happen to have access to a December Bride episode titled “Laundromat Show”? I’ve been looking and can’t seem to locate it.

    • Hi, Emily! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Unfortunately, that episode is not in my collection, but Fredrick Tucker, who wrote an excellent biography of Verna Felton, indicates in the book that he has indeed seen this installment. He may be able to help you track it down!

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