Today Verna Felton is most remembered for the voice characterizations she created for six Walt Disney features, but this biography reveals a varied career spanning sixty-five years. Twice nominated for an Emmy, Verna endeared herself to TV audiences of the 1950s as Hilda Crocker on Desilu's December Bride. Before that, she was in constant demand as a radio voice artist, supporting the likes of Jack Benny, Judy Canova, and Red Skelton. Fredrick Tucker chronicles her rise to fame, from phenomenal child actress to her final quarter century as one of Hollywood's most beloved character actresses. The book also features an abundance of rare photographs and several appendices, including a never-before-published episode guide for December Bride.
"How often do we pick up an item, check its sell-by date and base our purchase decision on a time stamp? Fredrick Tucker's extraordinary tribute to Verna Felton titled simply Verna Felton has no sell-by date. Sometimes we just feel the need for laughter or the simple desire to lose ourselves in a make-believe place. The author has obviously felt that urge; clearly Verna has served as Tucker's guide.
If you asked the average passerby on the street to identify the name Verna Felton, it would be a safe bet you would receive a puzzled stare and an incorrect answer. The average person on the street inhabits the here and now universe of the likes of Lady Gaga not the more nostalgic realm of Verna Felton.
Verna Felton is a substantial book in more ways than one; it runs to 760 pages. The author candidly admits in a note at the beginning that his decision to write a book on the life of Felton was constantly challenged by friends and associates. Why write an entire book on a secondary player? Why devote such time and effort chronicling the life of a second banana? And the author's response: Why not write a biography of Verna Felton? In the pages that follow, Fredrick Tucker admirably justifies that decision. Here we have a detailed account of the life and career of someone who was comfortable in the limelight but not someone who craved or hogged center stage. That is a distinction worth noting.
Clearly, the author, a history teacher by profession, set out on an extensive expedition in order to produce this volume. Verna Felton is well-packed with illustrations: publicity stills, and personal photos. The biography assumes a traditional chronological path as Verna's life and career is revealed to the reader.
Verna Felton left us forty-four years ago. When she departed, she took several memorable characters with her. Characters who entertained audiences and made them laugh during some particularly unfunny and stressful moments in our country's past. They are all chronicled in these pages, the characters into which Verna breathed life and spirit and her personal sense of identity. Verna Felton offers readers a chance to reacquaint themselves with some of her stellar inventions or, in many cases, meet these notables for the first time. Verna and her many incarnations parade unceasingly through the pages of Tucker's homage. We meet the formidable Mrs. Day, Jack Benny's nemesis and Dennis Day's on-air mother. Once again the Mean Widdle Kid's Na-maw takes a bow. The feisty Hilda Crocker takes one more curtain call. The Queen of Hearts, Mrs. Potts, Pearl Slaphoople, Blossom Blimp and a legion of Verna's alter egos from stage, screen, radio and television are documented between the covers. As a special bonus, the reader is treated to a richly annotated guide to the December Bride television series in which Verna Felton's inestimable Hilda Crocker convulsed an entire generation of television viewers.
Filled with a wealth of detail and a sense of respect and admiration, Verna Felton defines not only a remarkable character actress but also showcases the industry of which she was a part during its days of splendor.
A successful biography offers the reader an intimate glimpse of the author's obsession. This volume clearly accomplishes that goal. We meet 'Little Verna Felton,' age ten, making her debut on the stage of Fischer's Concert House, San Francisco in 1900. The reader figuratively stands in the wings observing the vast body of Verna's radio work, the reason for Radio Life presenting Verna with its Distinguished Achievement Award as the 'outstanding feminine supporting player' during 1945-1946. And the reader comes to understand why Verna was selected honorary Mayor of North Hollywood for six terms.
Verna Felton the biography is fully as robust, as entertaining and as multi-layered as Verna Felton the actress. The doubters who questioned the wisdom of an entire volume devoted to Felton were wrong. In an era where audiences applaud the likes of Lady Gaga there are still some of us who would rather warm up the Philco and sit back and laugh as Mrs. Day assails Jack Benny, one more time, for only paying Dennis a miserly $35 a week."
- SPERDVAC's Radiogram