Getting To Know Pete and Gladys

In the 1950s, one of the most popular sitcoms was December Bride starring Spring Byington. For five seasons, Henry Morgan, insurance salesman, played her next-door neighbor Pete Porter.

The show was cancelled in 1959, and in 1960 Pete showed up on the air again in a spin-off show titled “Pete and Gladys. He had often referred to his wife on December Bride, but we never got to meet her in person. Cara Williams took on the role of scatterbrained, but beautiful, Gladys. Like December Bride, this show was created by Parke Levy. Harry Morgan said Parke Levy was a very kind and knowledgeable man; he was one of the pioneers of sitcoms.

Cara Williams and Verna Felton–Photo: youtube.com

Verna Felton as Hilda Crocker also moved to the new show. Frances Rafferty who had played Ruth on December Bride also shows up on Pete and Gladys, but she is Nancy on the new show. For some reason, producers think we won’t notice missing characters but on December Bride, Pete had a baby daughter named Linda. However, she does not exist in the spinoff.   We also get to know Pete’s uncle played by Gale Gordon and Gladys’s best friend Alice (Barbara Stuart). Morgan said not only was Gordon a great actor, but he was a very funny man.

Gale Gordon and Williams–Photo: youtube.com

Pete who worked for Springer, Slocum, and Klever which sounded more like a shoddy law firm than an insurance company. He and Gladys Hooper had eloped nine years earlier. Pete told Gladys he had single-handedly capture a Japanese patrol, although it later came to light that he spent his military career as a clerk in the PX. Gladys was a housewife and kept busy as entertainment chair of the Junior Matron’s League of the Children’s Hospital and a member of the Westwood Bowling League.

Harry Morgan, Williams and Felton–Photo: dailymotion.com

While December Bride was in the top ten for four of its five years, Pete and Gladys never reached those numbers. Williams was nominated for an Emmy for Leading Actress in a Comedy although she lost to Shirley Booth from Hazel. The show only lasted two years. Whether a blessing or a curse, the show took over I Love Lucy’s spot on Monday nights and viewers probably could not help comparing the two shows. Director James V. Kern moved from Lucy to this show along with writers Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf.

Morgan, Williams, and Felton–Photo: sitcomsonline.com

However, for a two-year show, the number of guest stars was pretty impressive. Watching the show you can catch Jack Albertson, Morey Amsterdam, Bea Benaderet, Whitney Blake, Frank Cady, Richard Deacon, Donna Douglas, Sterling Holloway, Ron Howard, Ted Night, Nancy Kulp, Charles Lane, Howard McNear, Cesar Romero, and Reta Shaw. Morgan said that the guest stars got an exorbitant amount of money compared to the regular cast.

Morgan said Cara Williams was very talented, but she was not easy to work with. Often, they had different ideas about how a scene should go. She had a strong personality and was sometimes described as self-centered. Morgan said he admired her even though filming wasn’t always done smoothly. He recalled one time that she was demanding something and director Jack Arnold was tired of arguing, so he laid on the floor on his back, yelled, “Roll ‘em”, and when the scene sounded done, yelled “Cut.” Then he got up and left which was his way of answering her.

Morgan and Williams–Photo: nostalgiacentral.com

Not surprisingly, Morgan said he enjoyed his time on December Bride more than on Pete and Gladys, and he thought the former was the better show. However, if you take some time to watch December Bride, you might want to check out a few episodes of Pete and Gladys just to meet the woman Pete was always complaining about.  Unfortunately, both were listed on Amazon, but neither one was currently available.  I did see a December Bride DVD on etsy for a whopping $170. I do remember Pete and Gladys in syndication when I was younger, but I have never seen December Bride on a network schedule.   YouTube does have a number of episodes for both series, but be warned, some of the December Bride episodes have been colorized.

The Alliterative Harry Morgan (Famous for saying Horse Hockey and Beaver Biscuits as Colonel Potter)

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When it comes to prolific actors in television and film, few people can equal Harry Morgan’s career. Known for his deadpan delivery, he was in more than 100 films. He also starred in 11 television series and appeared on 6 TV Guide covers.

 

Born Harry Bratsberg in 1915, he grew up in Muskegon, Michigan. His parents came from Norway and Sweden.  Harry went to the University of Chicago, planning on becoming an attorney but got interested in acting instead. In 1937, he began appearing with stock companies, followed by Broadway roles.

Harry Morgan From 'December Bride'

 

His first wife was Eileen Detchon who he was married to from 1940 until her death in 1985. Her photo appears on Colonel Potter’s desk on M*A*S*H. They had four sons: Christopher, Charley, Paul and Daniel. Morgan remarried in 1986 and was married to Barbara Bushman until his death.

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He was signed by Twentieth Century Fox in 1942. His screen debut was The Shores of Tripoli under the name Henry Morgan. Later that year he appeared in Orchestra Wives and a few years later was in The Glenn Miller Story with Jimmy Stewart. In 1943, he starred with Henry Fonda in the highly acclaimed The Ox-Bow Incident.

 

In 1954, he was offered the role of Pete Porter in December Bride which ran until 1959. In the show, he complained about his wife Gladys a lot, but we never meet her. When the show ended, he starred in a spin-off Pete and Gladys from 1960-1962. Pete Porter is an insurance salesman. His scatter-brained, but beautiful, wife is played by Cara Williams.

 

The next year he was cast in The Richard Boone Show from 1963-1964. This was an anthology series which Richard Boone hosted.  A cast of 15 actors appeared in different roles each episode. Morgan appeared in all 25 episodes. The show never captured viewers, probably because it was on against Petticoat Junction.

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Almost immediately upon its ending, he was again cast in a television show with a role on Kentucky Jones during 1964 and 1965. Kentucky Jones is a veterinarian and former horse trainer.  He and his wife adopted a Chinese boy named Dwight Eisenhower “Ike” Wong. After his wife’s death, the local Asian community and handyman Seldom played by Morgan helps him raise Ike.

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Morgan had a couple of years of guest starring in shows such as The Wackiest Ship in the Army and Dr. Kildare, and then he was cast in Dragnet from 1967-1970. He and Jack Webb were friends before the show and continued to be best friends throughout Harry’s life. Webb had directed the previous Dragnet show in the 1950s and revived the show in 1967, convincing his friend to play the role of Officer Joe Gannon who helped Sergeant Joe Friday (Webb) solve crimes in Los Angeles.

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Between 1970 and 1972 he would show up in The Partridge Family in two different roles and Love American Style among other shows. 1972 would find him starring in another show, Hec Ramsey, until 1974. This show reunited Morgan with Richard Boone who starred in it and Jack Webb who produced it. Ramsey was a western detective who preferred to solve crimes with his brain rather than his gun. The show only lasted for ten episodes.

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From 1974-1983, he was cast in his most famous role, that of Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H. A military hospital staff treating soldiers during the Korean war rely on laughter to get through the gruesome work. The show combined heartache and joy to tell the story of the 4077th. When the show was cancelled, Harry continued the role in the spin-off, After M*A*S*H from 1983-1985.

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On M*A*S*H Morgan painted the portraits attributed to Colonel Potter. He won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in 1980, receiving 11 nominations overall during the run of the show.

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His description of Colonel Potter was: He was firm. He was a good officer, and he had a good sense of humor. I think it’s the best part I ever had. I loved playing Colonel Potter.”

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When asked if he was a better actor after working with the show’s talented cast, Morgan responded, “I don’t know about that, but it’s made me a better human being.

 

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Morgan also appeared in several Disney movies during the 1970s, including The Barefoot Executive, Snowball Express, Charley and the Angel, The Apple Dumpling Gang, The Cat from Outer Space, and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again.

In 1986 he was cast in Blacke’s Magic. The show featured a magician and his father, a con man, who solve crimes. Unfortunately, like many of the shows he was a part of, this one only lasted 15 episodes. When it ended in 1987, Harry was immediately given a role in You Can’t Take It with You where he appeared on three episodes during 1987 and 1988. Morgan starred as Martin; the show was based on the original play, but the television series was set in the 1980s.  Although Morgan was only in three episodes, he was in the majority of them, because the entire show consisted of four episodes.

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In the 1980s, he appeared in commercials for ERA realty and Toyota.

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During the late 1980s and early 1990s, he appeared in six different shows, with recurring roles on The Simpsons and Third Rock from the Sun. In 1996 he retired.

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In 2006, Morgan was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

 

Many of his western films were done with James Stewart. They did five films together, and Morgan says Stewart was one of the nicest men he ever met and extremely professional.

 

In addition to Jack Webb, he was good friends with Tim Conway and Don Knotts.

A very interesting man, in his spare time, he enjoyed golfing, fishing, travel, spending time with his family, reading, raising horses, horse riding, painting, and poetry.

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He died in 2011 from pneumonia.

Following Morgan’s death, Mike Farrell, who played B.J. Hunnicutt, starring with Morgan in M*A*S*H, released the following statement:

“He was a wonderful man, a fabulous actor and a dear and close friend since the first day we worked together. As Alan [Alda] said, he did not have an unadorable bone in his body . . . He was a treasure as a person, an imp at times, and always a true professional. He had worked with the greats and never saw himself as one of them. But he was . . . He was the rock everyone depended on and yet he could cut up like a kid when the situation warranted it. He was the apotheosis, the finest example of what people call a ‘character actor’. What he brought to the work made everyone better. He made those who are thought of as ‘stars’ shine even more brightly . . . The love and admiration we all felt for him were returned tenfold in many, many ways. And the greatest and most selfless tribute to the experience we enjoyed was paid by Harry at the press conference when our show ended. He remarked that someone had asked him if working on M*A*S*H had made him a better actor. He responded by saying, ‘I don’t know about that, but it made me a better human being.’ It’s hard to imagine a better one.”

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Married . . . with Children

The title is the only reference I’ll be making to that 1980s show.  In honor of our 29th anniversary today, I thought I would look at sitcoms dealing primarily with marriage.  Surprisingly, there have not been as many as one would think.  It’s amazing how many sitcoms are about single parents, families, friends, or co-workers.  If there are any similarities between our married life and Al and Peg Bundy’s life, I really don’t want to know about them.  So, let’s look at a few sitcoms that did focus on blessed unions.

The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show – George Burns and Gracie Allen filmed 120 episodes for their television series.  They were married in real life, and the set design for the show was based on their real-life home. Gracie was zany, but her literal perspective of the way life worked made uncanny sense.  George loved Gracie and knew that she was the center of his marriage and career. George was very generous and made numerous gifts to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center which is at the intersection of George Burns Road and Gracie Allen Drive. I love looking at marriage that way – it’s an intersection found at the center of a very diverse couple.

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I Love Lucy – In 1953, I Love Lucy joined the Monday night line-up with The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. Lucy and Ricky (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) are probably the most famous married couple. For six years, they took ordinary situations and exaggerated them. Lucy’s hare-brained schemes created an endless source of comedy. However, the problems with couple faced were believable, and they were the same problems other young couples were facing the first couple years of marriage like how to pay the rent, buying a new dress, and dealing with in-laws.

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Pete and Gladys – Starring Harry Morgan and Cara Williams, this was one of, if not the first, spinoff.  Pete Porter was a neighbor featured on December Bride for six years.  When the show went off the air, we finally met Gladys, his wife.  He was an affectionate and caring husband and she was a very nice homemaker.  Unfortunately, the show only lasted two seasons, although Harry Morgan went on to star in many television shows.

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The Dick Van Dyke Show – Dick and Laura Petrie (Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore) showed us an intimate side of married life for five years.  They were funny and had an interesting life.  Sometimes they even watched a bit of television at night.  They were a couple who admitted they were a bit insecure about parenting.  They worked through their problems with humor and logic. Although Dick was a writer and Laura a stay-at-home mom, they were equal intellectuals and that was the basis of their relationship.

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The Bob Newhart Show – Bob and Emily Hartley (Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette) were another couple who were intellectual equals.  They were funny, understanding, and warm.  They argued about real issues, and they made up.  Both the characters had very definite identities, and they did not always see eye to eye, but they respected each other and loved each other deeply.

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Mork and MindyMork and Mindy was a sitcom about an alien and the girl next door (Robin Williams and Pam Dawber). If most American couples think they have some impossible issues to work through, they should watch a few episodes of Mork and Mindy. The show lived on for four years, primarily because of Robin Williams’ wild improvisations and Pam Dawber’s believable love for Mork. Mork and Mindy was not only a spinoff from Happy Days, but it was actually inspired by a Dick Van Dyke Show episode “It May Look Like a Walnut.” Director Jerry Paris created the idea when Garry Marshall mentioned that his son would like to see a spaceman on television. Paris, who played Jerry Helper on the Dick Van Dyke Show, remembered that episode and invented Mork.  In season four, Mork laid an egg, in more ways than one, and the show was cancelled.

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Dharma and Greg – When free spirit Dharma and lawyer Greg (Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson) get married on their first date, the show was born.  They have conflicting views on everything except how much they love each other.  These views lead to comical situations – imagine a Republican and Democrat married in today’s political climate! Dharma overshares all her views and feelings, while Greg was raised to not talk about such things.  I think a lot of us can relate to that.

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Mad About You – Paul and Jamie Buchman (Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt) are newlyweds who cope with life as a recently married couple.  They point out the gentle humor of everyday life situations. One description of the show said that this show starts after a party when the husband and wife are alone in the car discussing the evening. For seven seasons, they tackled the issues so when the series was over, there was no “seven-year itch” to worry about.

A fun fact, Carl Reiner reprised his Alan Brady role from the Dick Van Dyke Show on Mad About You.  The episode made several references to the classic sitcom, including Jamie saying “Oh Paul,” an aside to Laura Petrie’s famous “Oh Rob.”

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These were several of the couples we watched during our life who indirectly influenced the way we viewed marriage. Each of the couples has something to teach us about successful marriages. One review of Burns and Allen concluded that “the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show exuded excellence, with a unique format, interesting plots, a great cast, and virtually non-stop comedy featuring the unparalleled zany wit of Gracie.”  I would consider it a compliment if that was a review for our marriage as well.