Radio Espionage is deadly serious business, no matter how much fun popular culture and the media had fictionalizing the exploits of spies. The ancient Chinese text, Sun Tzu’s Art of War, which is required reading at West Point and Annapolis, dedicates its thirteenth chapter to the importance of spies. Victories in all wars, but especially the Second World War, often depended upon having certain information,particularly information that one side didn’t know the other possessed.
As deadly serious as the espionage game is, it never stopped Radio from having fun with it. Few programs had as much fun with the notion of spies as Fibber McGee and Molly. For a show with such a relatively simple concept, Fibber McGee and Molly attracted a very loyal audience. Listeners could certainly identify with the Molly’s good natured suffering through Fibber’s many schemes. Fibber’s good natured but loose grasp on reality may have gotten him shunned in real life; however, it was great fun on the air.
As beloved as Jim and Marian Jordan’s characters were the real genius of the show was writer Don Quinn. Not only was Quinn a marvelous talent at writing the dialogue and situations that made the show as funny as it was, he became the darling of the Office of War Information. As the World War II went on, hardly a show went by without Fibber learning an important lesson about the importance of rationing, or doing something to ease the burden of our fighting men. Of course, nearly every episode had an appeal for War Bonds.
Just like real life, thoughts of the War completely took over Fibber McGee and Molly. While Home-Front warrior Fibber did all he could fighting the Battle if Wistful Vista, not all of his efforts were especially effective, particularly in the area of counterespionage. In the early months of the War, on May 12, 1944, Fibber is convinced that there is a Foreign Agent following him around town. The Agent is obviously watching Fibber while trying to make it appear as though he isn’t. Most damning of all is the camera that the Agent keeps half hidden, always taking pictures of what ever Fibber looks at, “Click, click, click!” Fibber’s observations do raise some alarm in Wistful Vista, especially with Mrs. Uppington, who is afraid to wind up in a concentration camp (“I have such a hard time concentrating.”)
Later in the war, on April 18, 1944, Fibber is very worried about the neighbor across the street, Frank Schmaltz. As far as Fibber is concerned, all the signs that Schmaltz is a Nazi spy are obvious, the German haircut, the accent, the mysterious letters (which Fibber found while nosing through the mail man’s bag). Most damning of all is the fact that Schmaltz won’t loan Fibber his lawn mower! Somehow this fails to convince the rest of the Wistful Vista crew, until the cops show up and actually arrest Schmaltz for spying!