Kay Ballard and Eve Arden are “The Mothers-in-Law”

Today is the birthday of Kay Ballard (born Catherine Balotta in 1925). Ballard got her start singing with Spike Jones in the 1940s, was in several Broadway shows, and has had sundry parts in film and on television. But if you’re like me, you know her chiefly from her co-starring role on this short-lived tv series from 1967-69.

The Mothers-In Law was a genius concept, if not a genius show (and it’s not one, I just went and rewatched some episodes for the first time in four decades). The premise is that Ballard and Eve Arden are the oil-and-water mothers-in-law of a couple of young newlyweds. Arden is old fashioned and uptight. Ballard is permissive and liberal (and very, very “Italian”). And both women are interfering, sort of waging a war for influence by proxy, made all the more easy by the fact that they live next door to each other. I was too young to watch it when it first ran, but I do recall watching it very soon thereafter in reruns. It’s definitely one of the first tv shows I ever watched. Herbert Rudley (whom you might be forgiven for mixing up with The Beverly Hillbillies’ Raymond “Mr. Drysdale” Bailey) played Arden’s husband. Ballard’s husband was played by Roger C. Carmel (Harry Mudd from Star Trek) in the first season, and Richard Deacon (Mel from The Dick Van Dyke Show) in the second season.

The show was produced (and some episodes directed) by Desi Arnaz. It’s interesting to observe how this show, which Desi helmed several years after his divorce from Lucy, shares the “two couple” structure of I Love Lucy, as well as Ballard’s “Italian” ethic humor replacing Desi’s “Cuban” business, combined with the colorful visual aesthetic and family friendliness of Here’s Lucy and The Lucy Show. And lots and lots of Female Slapstick. Both women are masters. You could do worse than watch this show for performance tips, even when the writing isn’t precisely Oscar Wilde.

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