Pop Culture Corner
With Assistant Curator, Morgan Stutler
Hi everyone, welcome to the first installment of a new postcard topic, Pop Culture Corner. My name is Morgan Stutler, and I am the Assistant Curator at the Peabody Historical Society. I hope I can bring you some interesting topics in the world of pop culture and entertainment, and we can travel down memory lane, or learn something new together.
This postcard in particular is in conjunction with First Lady Friday, since our lady for this postcard is quite the showstopper.
Let’s get into it.
The other night I found myself watching Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (1951). The film came to a close and the credits began to roll, and I spotted a name on the screen.
I thought to myself, “What are the chances? There is no way, right?”
Just like Alice, I fell down a rabbit hole and found that my suspicions were correct.
So, I ask you all at home—what does the Queen of Hearts, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, and Flora the Good Fairy have in common?
They were all played by the one and only Verna Felton.
Verna Arline Felton was born in Salinas, California on July 20th, 1890. She was the daughter of Horace Felton and Clara Felton (nee Winder).
Horace was a 7th generation descendant of the American branch of the Felton family, who first settled in Peabody, Massachusetts in 1636. You can read more about the Felton Family Legacy here.
Verna was introduced to the stage at a young age and performed small singing and dancing routines. Her father, Horace died in 1900, and Clara moved with Verna to San Francisco, where she could be classically trained in song and dance.
Verna was performing at a fundraiser for the victims of the Galveston Hurricane when she was noticed by the road show manager of the Jessie Shirley Stock Company. He offered Verna and her mother jobs, and Verna’s stage career was officially born.
She would join with different stock companies, essentially traveling bands of actors, for over 20 years and traveled through California, Washington, Oregon, and Canada. During these ventures, she would meet her husband, Lee Millar, and they would marry in 1923. By 1924, Verna would give birth to their only son, Lee Millar Jr.
With theater entertainment on the decline and the depression at its height, Lee and Verna made the decision to move to Hollywood, California to pursue work. Radio theater and entertainment was on the rise, and the couple were able to secure jobs in 1929. Verna would perform in various radio shows, and I’ve included just a small glimpse of her radio career:
1939-1946– Lux Radio Theater
1939-1940- Little Old Hollywood
1952-1955- My Little Margie
1945-1949– The Red Skelton Show as “Namaw”
1939-1962- The Jack Benny Program as “Dennis Day’s Mother”
1942-1945- Sealtest Village Store as “Blossom Blimp”
However, Verna’s most iconic roles appeared in a more…animated form. Her debut with Disney began with recording for Dumbo, in 1940. She would make such an impression with Walt Disney himself, that he would bring her back for the roles of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, The Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, Flora the Good Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, Aunt Sarah in Lady and the Tramp, and Winifred Hathi in The Jungle Book.
While Verna was doing her work for Disney, she was also guest starring in shows like I Love Lucy, The Dennis Day Show, and The Flintstones; and movies such as The Gunfighter and Picnic.
Her longest role was her role as Hilda Crocker in December Bride starting in 1954 and ending in 1959.
After December Bride ended in 1959, Verna, now at 69 years old, entered a quiet spell in her world of acting. Instead, she was Honorary Mayor of North Hollywood, and would hold that role for 6 years. She was active in community outreach. Many regarded Verna as extremely down-to-earth and personable, especially all of the neighborhood kids who would swim in her pool. Verna eased into her retirement lifestyle, taking few jobs as she began to slow both physically and mentally. On December 14th, 1966, Verna would pass away after suffering from a stroke.
Verna’s career is nothing less than extraordinary. From child wonder to one of the most recognizable voices on television and radio, she also proved to countless individuals that age is but a number.
This has been The Pop Culture Corner with Morgan, and I hope to see you all next time.
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. “Verna Felton in the stage production Polly with a Past.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1840 – 2020. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/9d7023af-7990-a130-e040-e00a18067bb1
Tucker, Fredrick. Verna Felton. Albany, Georgia: BearManor Media, 2010.