The Great Gildersleeve premiered on August 31, 1941 on the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) radio network. Sponsored by Kraft Foods, the show was actually a spin-off of another popular series, Fibber McGee and Molly. Throckmorton Philharmonic Gildersleeve, or Gildy as he was called, first appeared on the Fibber McGee and Molly show on October 3, 1939. Gildy was the pretentious, pompous and humorous next-door neighbor of Fibber McGee and Molly . Actor Harold Peary’s interpretation of the character was so successful and popular that by 1941, NBC created a show based on Gildersleeve.
During the character’s run on the Fibber McGee and Molly show, he sometimes made remarks about his wife; however, the new character was transformed into a bachelor on The Great Gildersleeve. Nevertheless, the bachelor uncle comedy became a hit. In an unusual move for the times, The Great Gildersleeve series centered on Gildy’s life as a bachelor with two young wards. The show took a lighthearted, comedic look at the life of a single man suddenly thrust into the role of parent. Along the way, the characters continued to mature and grow up without losing sight of the humor.
Harold Peary continued to play Gildersleeve until 1950, when a network change prevented him from taking the character to the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) network. On September 6, 1950, Willard Waterman took over the role of Gildersleeve; however, by this time the show’s popularity was steadily declining. The networks of the 1950’s began to compete for headliner talent, while television began to overtake and replace the popular radio shows. In 1954, the series dropped from a thirty minute broadcast to fifteen minutes, where it remained until its final broadcast in 1957. The series featured many great guest appearances from stars including Kay Starr and Mercedes McCambridge.
The Great Gildersleeve did enjoy popularity as a short television series, airing thirty-nine episodes during the 1955-56 season. The writers of the popular radio series also left a legacy that would continue on television. Co-writer of the series was John Whedon. His son, Tom Whedon would go on to write for the Electric Company and the Golden Girls series. Later, his grandson Zach Whedon would pick up the pen to become the scriptwriter of Deadwood, while his brother Joss became the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Please feel free to enjoy The Great Gildersleeve episode Christmas Caroling at Home: