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 (Spring Byington), 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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