This show makes every dame over fourty-five think she's still desirable.
-Producer of December Bride
December Bride aired from October 1954 until September 1959 on CBS.
Besides their own 2 children, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, A.K.A. Desilu produced a lot of offspring: The Danny Thomas Show, Our Miss Brooks, and this venerable family program, December Bride. It was a one joke show-the old mother-in-law cliche turned inside out-and audiences loved it because it was funny and more importantly, because it directly followed I Love Lucy each week. What more could any program ask for? December Bride debuted on October 4, 1954 but that was its second incarnation. With Spring Byington at the helm, December Bride had first been a successful Radio series in the early 1950's. Comedy-Writer Parke Levy had created the show and based it on his own mother-in-law. Before that he had worked on My Friend Irma for tv. But he ran into trouble with the networks: Nobody wanted Spring Byington to repeat her original role as Lily. Its hard to believe now. Born in 1893 Byington had been acting since high school, where she set up a theater company on inheritance money from her father, and toured mining camps in Colorado, where she grew up. She appeared in several Broadway shows and made many movies including the 1935 Oscar Winner Mutiny On The Bounty, Jezebel (1938), and You Can't Take It With You ( 1938). Sweet and gentle Lily Ruskin was a role made for her. Unsinkable Levy took his idea to Desi Arnaz, who was having quite a sucess with I Love Lucy. Desi shrugged and told Levy
"I think Spring would be great in it " and that was that. As for the series itself, it was a very pleasant enough show. Lily Ruskin ( Spring Byington), was that truely rare individual, a mother-in-law who could live with and be loved by her son-in-law. An attractive widow who was very popular with the older set-hence her potential as a December Bride. Lily's social life revolved around her family as well. Her daughter Ruth ( Frances Rafferty), and son-in-law Matt ( Dean Miller), were always looking for suitable marriage prospects for Lily, as was her friend Hilda Crocker ( Verna Felton). Pete Porter ( Harry Morgan), the next-door neighbor who couldn't stand his mother-in-law ( " When my mother-in-law was in San Diego, she walked out on the pier and the fleet refused to come in") was often seen around the Henshaw household, and he even became so popular that he eventually got his own series, Pete And Gladys, after December Bride went off the air. Pete complained constantly about his wife Gladys but she was never seen on December Bride only heard. Occasionally featured was Arnold Stang as Pvt. Marvin Fisher, Pete's brother-in-law. Filmed at Desilu Studios before a live audience, most of the action in December Bride took place in the Henshaw room.
An Article From Time Magazine
The Mother-in-Law Joke
Monday, Mar. 12, 1956 Article
The most venerable cliché in U.S. humor is the mother-in-law joke. December Bride (Mon. 9:30 p.m., CBS), which translates the joke and variations to television, has astounded the industry by elbowing its way into the top ten. Nielsen and Trendex place Bride No. 5; ARB has it tied for sixth (with Disneyland and I've Got a Secret). Videodex and Pulse report it "consistently in the top ten."
No one is quite sure why. Writer-Producer Parke Levy argues that the show's success is the result of "basic sociological and psychological factors." Bride's star, fluttery Spring Byington, veteran of stage and screen, thinks "people get a lot of fun from this show, but the fun is based on good feeling. You get to know the family, and they are kept pretty much in character so they don't confuse the audience." CBS's Hubbell Robinson, vice president in charge of TV programming, notes that Bride inherits a great many viewers from the preceding I Love Lucy. "That's a big help. I figured that most of the people who like Lucy would like this show too. And its competition is a dramatic show [Robert Montgomery Presents] and a medical documentary [Medical Horizons], so the comedy lovers just stay put."
Desirable Dames. What Bride's viewers see is a mishmash of kittenish domestic humor. Spring Byington lives with her daughter and son-in-law (Frances Rafferty and Dean Miller); a next-door neighbor, Pete Porter, adds a welcome touch of acid as a wisecracking foe of mothers-in-law, and Verna Felton plays a low-comedy crony of Spring's. Verna recently had a bit part in the movie Picnic, and when the film was on location in Kansas she got more attention from the natives than all the rest of the company. Director Joshua Logan was perplexed: he had never heard of December Bride. Rosalind Russell observed: "I've got to look into this TV thing."
Any Bride plot is as comfortable and commodious as an old shoe. Spring usually embarks on some do-gooding project, e.g., saving the marriage of a wrestler and his wife. Within ten minutes, the project is a total mess, causing either financial or personal embarrassment to her son-in-law. After assorted hilarity, the straggling plot lines are swiftly tied into a lover's knot in time for the conclusion. A recurring staple is a budding romance for Spring who, so far, has been vainly courted by Lyle Talbot, Regis Toomey and Paul Cavanaugh. Says Writer-Producer Levy: "The show's message is that a woman can be attractive to men regardless of her age. It makes every dame over 45 think she's still desirable."
Actress Byington sees an even more important message. Primed by extensive off-camera reading ("Books to me are my favorite stuff of the world"), with a working knowledge in psychology that ranges from Vedanta to Karen Homey, Spring believes that her role of Lily Ruskin in Bride proves that "Lily hasn't lost her appetite for life and is now free to do ridiculous things. She can play with life much more because she is mature of heart. She isn't stopped because other people are not doing it. She drives to Mexico alone. If something appeals to the mature person, if there is no really cogent reason for not doing it, let us do it, let us not be bound by hidebound convention!"
Out of the Bedroom. Unfortunately, not all of Spring's fans get the point. The hundred letters a day the show receives are heavily sprinkled with criticisms whenever viewers think things are getting too close to life. Levy says that the audience resents the use of alcohol on the show, and so drinking is rarely shown. They are even more strait-laced about sex: "Once we played a scene that showed Frances Rafferty and Dean Miller in twin beds. Dean got out of his bed and went over to Frances. He never touched her, but we got all sorts of audience squawks asking us to keep the show out of the bedroom."
Levy wholeheartedly agrees with his critics. He defines successful situation comedy as "a small hunk of life exaggerated for comic purposes. If you play it realistically, it comes out drama because very little in life itself is funny. People want a mirror held up to life but at an angle so that it's humorous. People are tired of problems."
Dean Miller, born Dean C. Stuhlmueller (November 1, 1924—January 13, 2004), was an American actor and broadcaster, perhaps best known for his role as the son-in-law in the CBS sitcom December Bride (1954–1959). Thereafter, Miller was a co-host of the NBC celebrity interview program Here's Hollywood.
Miller was born in Hamilton, Ohio, and graduated from Ohio State University in Columbus. He worked first at a radio station in Albany, New York. He left for Hollywood and made his screen debut in 1952 as Archie O'Conovan in the film Skirts Ahoy! and followed up that same year with appearances as Ben Jones in Because You're Mine and as Monty Dunstan in Everything I Have Is Yours. In 1953, he played Mac in Small Town Girl and George in Dream Wife with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.
In 1954, Miller was cast as 30-year-old Matt Henshaw, an architect, in December Bride, opposite Spring Byington (1886–1971) as his widowed mother-in-law, Lily Ruskin, and Frances Rafferty (1922–2004) as his television wife, Ruth Ruskin Henshaw. Verna Felton (1890–1966) and Harry Morgan (born 1915) also had recurring supporting roles in the series as Hilda Crocker, Lily's best friend, and Pete Porter, the wisecracking nextdoor neighbor who was an insurance agent. December Bride was a somewhat unusual program in that all five stars appeared in all 111 episodes. Most of the scenes were in the Henshaw's living room. The series was sufficiently successful that it spawned a spin-off, Pete and Gladys (1960–1962) starring Harry Morgan and Cara Williams as Pete and Gladys Porter.
After December Bride, Miller acted only twice in a television series, as "Millionaire Harry Brown" in a 1959 episode of CBS's The Millionaire fantasy drama, and as George Manville in the 1960 segment "Happily Unmarried" of NBC's short-lived sitcom The Tab Hunter Show. He then joined Here's Hollywood, where he often interviewed stars and singers in their own homes, including Cary Grant, Paul Newman, and Elizabeth Taylor. In 1963, Miller appeared as a guest on the NBC daytime quiz show Your First Impression, with Bill Leyden and Dennis James.
In 1965, Miller purchased radio station WMVR-FM (105.5), then an AM outlet in Sidney, Ohio. Miller later served as a news anchorman for WDIV-TV in Detroit. He died of cancer at the age of seventy-nine in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, near Detroit. Survivors included his wife, the former Ida Wagner, who still operates the radio station, and three children. Miller is interred at Graceland Cemetery in Sidney, Ohio.
Here is Frances Rafferty's Obituary from the Los Angeles Times
Frances Rafferty, 81; Acted in B Movies and TV's 'December Bride'
April 25, 2004|From a Times Staff Writer
Frances Rafferty, a pouty glamour girl in B movies of the 1940s and television shows of the 1950s who is best remembered as Spring Byington's daughter in the long-running sitcom "December Bride," has died. She was 81.
Rafferty died of natural causes in her sleep April 18 at the Paso Robles home she shared with her husband of 56 years, Thomas R. Baker.
The actress largely retired from both the large and small screens in 1961 after the brief run of a "December Bride" spinoff, "Pete and Gladys," starring Harry Morgan. She continued to play occasional roles on such series as "The Streets of San Francisco" into the 1970s, but devoted much of her later years to raising quarter horses with Baker, once general manager of the Los Alamitos Race Course.
Among Rafferty's best-known films was the 1943 "Girl Crazy," in which Mickey Rooney escorted her to a college dance to the consternation of Judy Garland. Rafferty's best acting performance probably was in the 1944 film version of author Pearl Buck's "Dragon Seed," in which she played a hapless girl who is raped and murdered.
Born in Sioux City, Iowa, Rafferty moved to Los Angeles with her family in 1931. She studied dance and won her first Hollywood job as understudy to a ballerina.
But her career veered to acting after she fell on the concrete stage of the Hollywood Bowl during a rehearsal for "The Firebird," breaking a kneecap. Her friend, the late actress Alexis Smith, urged her to take drama lessons.
By 1942 Rafferty was before the cameras -- and then on the lockers of soldiers as a favorite pinup of World War II. She churned out wartime B movies such as "Hitler's Madman," "Thousands Cheer" and "Swing Shift Maisie."
As television emerged, Rafferty found work on "Alcoa Theater" and other dramatic anthology series, then landed the plum supporting role on "December Bride," which ran from 1954 to 1961.
After a three-year marriage to John Harlan, Rafferty married Baker in 1948. She is survived by her husband and their two children, Bridget and Kevin.
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