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.

December Bride “Springs Into Action”

Today we get to spend some time learning about one of the earliest sitcoms, December Bride, which aired on CBS from 1954-59. It began life as a radio show in 1952.

Cast of December Bride–Photo: tumbral.com

The show was created by Parke Levy who wrote the episodes as well and claimed to base Lily on his own mother-in-law. He owned 50% of the program; Desilu, producer, owned 25%; and CBS owned 25%. Harry Morgan said he liked Desi Arnaz very much. They cast rarely saw Lucy and saw Desi frequently but not in a negative way; he just might show up to see how things were going. (As an aside, I remember an interview with Bob Schiller, who wrote for this show along with many others, loved the name of “Parke Levy” and said it sounded like a Jewish housing development in New York.) Levy also wrote the film scripts for My Friend Irma and My Friend Irma Goes West.

Spring Byington and Frances Rafferty–Photo: vintagetvandmore.com

One fun fact is that both Fred de Cordova and William Asher were directors for this sitcom. Both would go on to long careers; de Cordova would produce The Tonight Show and Burns and Allen, direct My Three Sons, and both produce and direct for The Jack Benny Show. Asher would go on to direct I Love Lucy and Alice and both produce and direct most of the Bewitched episodes.

Spring Byington–Photo: pinterest.com

Spring Byington starred as Lily Ruskin, a lively widow who was looking for the right man.

Dean Miller and Frances Rafferty–Photo: pinterest.com

She lives with her daughter Ruth Henshaw (Frances Rafferty) and son-in-law Matt (Dean Miller) who help her in the search, as does her best friend, Hilda Crocker (Verna Felton).

Lily stays busy writing an advice column for the LA Gazette, “Tips for Housewives.”

Verna Felton–Photo: upperjacksonco

Pete Porter (Harry Morgan) is her next-door neighbor who also shows up often. (Next week we will learn about his spin-off from this show, Pete ‘n Gladys.) Pete enjoyed watching Matt and Lily’s interactions which he viewed as positive, unlike his relationship with his mother-in-law which he viewed negatively.

A lot of guest stars showed up including Jack Albertson, Morey Amsterdam, Desi Arnaz, Edgar Bergen, Madge Blake, Barbara Eden, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Nancy Kulp, Fred MacMurray, Howard McNear, Isabel Randolph, and Mickey Rooney

Harry Morgan–Photo: wikimedia.com

The scripts seemed about what you would expect for this era. In one of the funniest shows, Lily fails to deliver plans for Matt and as a result, Desi Arnaz’s family room collapses. In another one, Lily arranges for Pete to take riding lessons because his fear of horses is standing in the way of him earning a huge commission selling insurance to a wealthy ranch owner.

The gold standard for this decade seems to be Ozzie and Harriet Nelson’s show and the writing doesn’t measure up to that but seems like a fun show to watch.

Maxwell House Coffee was their sponsor for the entire run of the show.

The show was on Monday nights after I Love Lucy and had top-ten ratings for the first four years. For season five, the network moved it to Thursdays, where it was up against Zorro and The Ed Wynn Show. Ratings declined significantly, and it was cancelled. Fans have noted that the last season’s scripts were not as well written and the show had probably run its course.

Harry Morgan discussed the show for the Academy of Television interviews. He said it was a nice show to work on; he described it as “fluffy and light” and “typical for the time.” He said he enjoyed doing the show, all the cast was wonderful, especially Spring who was an amazing actress, and he became good friends with Dean Miller and Frances Rafferty. He said that it was a well-done show and he had a lot of fun during those five years.

I watched the episode about Desi’s family room caving in. Morgan’s description was pretty accurate. The show might not present deep philosophical moments, but it was well written. One of the bright spots was Desi’s butler played by Richard Deacon. I can certainly think of worse ways to spend a few hours than watching several of these classic television episodes.