“Reality TV” Marriage Celebrates 60 Years

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Dave Rasdal

CEDAR RAPIDS — In the days when all television was "Reality TV," Mary Lou Massingham of Walker married Don Ellis of Toddville on the nationally broadcast show, "Bride and Groom."

That was 60 years ago today — Aug. 6, 1952.

"I’m sure we were nervous," admits Don, sitting in his Cedar Rapids living room with his wife. "You hate to admit it. You wanted to do the right thing at the right time."

The 16 mm black and white film of the ceremony, since converted to DVD, shows that Mary Lou wasn’t too worried. After they were pronounced husband and wife, Don lifted Mary Lou’s veil and she grabbed him for a kiss as wedding bells chimed. (See the video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zKExlk0PWc )

"I didn’t want to let him get away," she laughs.

After six decades Don feels the same. He’s never removed his wedding ring.

In the 1940s, when they were kids, "Bride and Groom" was a radio show. From 1951 to 1953, CBS put it on TV. (NBC resurrected it for 1954.) Mary Lou’s mother, Gladys, became a fan of the 15-minute show that aired between soap operas. After Don asked for her daughter’s hand, she got an idea.

"We hadn’t set a date," Mary Lou says. "My mother wrote in and told our story. They set Aug. 6."

About 70,000 couples applied each year. Producers liked the idea Mary Lou had played high school basketball. "Back in those days," she says, "there weren’t that many girl basketball players in the country."

Mary Lou was born March 19, 1934, in the family home in Walker because hospitals were too expensive. She grew up to play basketball.

Don was born Feb. 26, 1934, at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids. He grew up on a farm south near Toddville and liked to watch basketball.

In January, 1951, Don spotted Mary Lou on the court at a game in Center Point. He liked the way she played, the way she looked. Their courtship began when he asked if he could drive her home.

"No," she famously said. "I came with my sister and I’m going home with my sister."

But Don, according to the pre-wedding interview filmed on "Bride and Groom," remained persistent. She finally agreed to go out with him, they became a couple and that July 4 Don proposed. "I just said, Mary Lou, I love you. I’d like to spend our lives together."

But, she insisted that a ring wait a year, until they graduated. Then life became a whirlwind until the public wedding.

Mary Lou and Don rode to New York City with his parents, Clair and Frances Ellis. Mary Lou’s sisters, Janet and Linda, rode with their parents, Floyd and Gladys Massingham.

Before the show, Mary Lou had her choice of dozens of wedding gowns.

"Some of them were supposed to be from movie stars," says her sister, Janet Hlas.

"I wanted to wear Ann Blyth’s," Mary Lou says, "but it was too small."

"Bride and Groom" host John Nelson interviewed them, Phil Hanna sang and people at home did their best to watch.

"It was snowy reception," Janet says friends told her. "And a lot of people didn’t have TVs."

One friend watched at the hardware store in Rowley.

The show gave them everything from rings to a new gas range, from General Mills food products to a weeklong honeymoon at Hidden Valley Dude Ranch at Lake Luzerne, NY. On the first night, as Mary Lou and Don snuggled in bed, they heard a key slide into their lock.

"It scared the living bejeebers out of us," Don says. It was just the manager checking up on them.

After 60 years of marriage, three children (Don, Gary, and Judy Worley) and his successful career at People’s Bank and Trust, they can laugh at that honeymoon scare. And, whenever they feel nostalgic, Mary Lou and Don can flip on a flat screen to relive their episode of reality TV.


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