Thursday, October 17, 2013

Spring Byington: The Original Golden Girl

Spring Byington
Happy birthday to Spring Byington, born October 17, 1886 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Although she had a long and successful career as a movie character actress, she's best known to TV buffs for her starring role in Desilu's popular sitcom December Bride.

The show, which aired from 1954 to 1959 on CBS-TV, after first being heard on radio, cast Miss Byington as Lily Ruskin, a sixtyish widow living with her daughter and son-in-law. The antithesis of a typical mother-in-law joke, Lily was a charming, fun-loving woman who showed audiences there were plenty of good times still to be had later in life, and even the chance for romance (hence the title). Originally seen on Monday nights after I Love Lucy, December Bride quickly became a hit with viewers, and even led to a spinoff show for featured player Harry Morgan, Pete and Gladys.

After Bride concluded its network run, Miss Byington spent two years playing a co-starring role in the Western series Laramie, and did TV guest appearances in everything from I Dream of Jeannie to Batman (remember J. Pauline Spaghetti?) before her death in 1971. Of her late-in-life fame as a sitcom star, she told syndicated columnist Margaret McManus, "We television people are the most privileged people in the world. We're doing work we love, for very rewarding pay. And wherever we go, we have instant recognition ... I enjoy this so much, such a wonderful expression of cordiality and interest, from everybody, wherever I am."

To learn more about Spring Byington, and her classic series, check out my book The Women Who Made Television Funny, as well as my friend (no relation) Fredrick Tucker's book Verna Felton, an excellent biography of the actress who played Lily's pal Hilda.

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