Patriotic Radio, How Fibber Won the War

The wave of American Patriotism during the Second World War is a phenomenon that may seem foreign to modern audiences. But this genuine feeling of involvement in the War was nearly universal.

A good example of this is the popular program, Fibber McGee And Molly. Fibber and Molly were characters created by Jim and Marian Jordan, a couple who were in Vaudeville before coming to the radio. The success of their show was due not only to their terrific comedic showmanship, but the work of their very talented writer, Don Quinn. The program revolved around Fibber, a ?professional busy-body?, his loving and long suffering wife, and Fibber’s interactions with their neighbors. Quinn was a genius at working the sponsor’s message into comedy of the program, and thus guaranteed the program a long and successful run (1935-1959).

The first broadcast after the attack on Pearl Harbor (Dec 9, 1941) opens with a letter from the sponsor (S.C. Johnson Wax) expressing solidarity with the Nation in a time of crisis, and a promise that the show would continue in the name of National Morale.

Writer Quinn was incredibly successful at incorporating messages from the Office of War Information into the program. Even before Pearl Harbor the characters took time to collect games and books for the entertainment of soldiers at the local Army camp. Scrap drives were featured, along with subtle messages about the importance of rationing. The show had enough success spreading this home-front propaganda that they were given an ?exclusive? opportunity to plug recruitment for the Merchant Marine. The day following the broadcast was the busiest recruiting day experienced by the Merchant Marine Service.

The War touched the company on a personal level, just as it had for so many in the country. Gale Gordon, who played Mayor LaTrivia, was drafted near the end of 1943. although the character was usually left befuddled after his exchanges with Fibber, on his last show before leaving for the Coast Guard (when Gordon was drafted, naturally LaTrivia was as well) he managed to get in the last word:
“Well for heaven’s sake, McGee, stop your griping. You’re lucky you’ve got a car at all. Well, excuse me, McGee, but when I get over to Africa or Australia or wherever they send me, I’ll be thinking of you, McGee, and all you’re suffering… Goodbye, Mrs. McGee. I’ll see you when this is over…. And McGee, when you drive, if you get up to thirty-five miles an hour, think of somebody who didn’t get a lifeboat. Goodbye. [Exit LaTrivia under loud applause.]

http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/Fibber-450522-0441-Fibber-Is-In-Charge-Of-War-Bond-Concert.mp3

We are very proud to include Fibber McGee and Molly in our collection of examples of Patriotic Radio Programs.

Tax Time from the Golden Age of Radio

It’s tax time again. And it doesn’t get any better. Sometimes you wonder if that other inevitability might not be easier to deal with. But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Just turn on the Radio and see how some other folks deal with Tax Time.

Bob Hope’s adventures at the Santa Anita racetrack don’t help his financial standing too much. When he does his taxes, he takes Jane Russell to the tax office with him. He doesn’t want the IRS watching HIS form too closely.  For more adventure, see also: Errol Flynn

http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/Bob-Hope-530304-Filling-Out-Income-Tax-Jane-Russell-OTRCAT.com.mp3

George Burns is like a lot of us and waits until the last moment to work on his taxes. When George is frustrated by the tax form he gives Gracie $50 to go to a tax professional, but Gracie decides she can help out by buying a one dollar tax book, saving him $49! Only Gracie could
use a $1 tax book to find out the government owes George $30million. But the really interesting question is whether or not Gracie’s help can keep George out of Alcatraz.

http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/BurnsAllen-480115-IncomeTaxTime-OTRCAT.com.mp3

The Great Gildersleeve does his taxes for 1943, while America is deeply involved in WWII. When he begins to list the interest on his savings account a “little voice” convinces him that he doesn’t really have to list every thing… So he doesn’t list it, but can Gildy live with himself? Especially  with the war on? Of course tough old Gildersleeve can, for about three minutes! And who was that little voice anyway? Hitler? Of course Gildy is going to declare the interest, all $2.15 worth!

http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/GG430314-Income-Tax-Time-OTRCAT.com.mp3

If you wonder how the government could possibly be be messed up with all the tax money you send them, consider that Fibber McGee did his own taxes in 1944. You would have thought that things would have balanced out the next year when the tax assessor came to see him the next year, especially because he thought the assessor was writing a newspaper society piece about him!

If you need any more proof that that government is evil, you just need to be there when McGee gets his 1949 Tax bill on Thanksgiving! Imagine the nerve of them charging $125 taxes on a house that the McGee’s won in a $2 drawing!

http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/fm440111-Fibber-Does-His-Income-Taxes-OTRCAT.com.mp3

Don’t you wish we had the Lone Ranger to protect us from the IRS.?  On Mar 21, 1941, the local strong man is trying to collect “Taxes” from the hard working settlers in the area. Of course the Strong man’s only authority to collect taxes is his men and their guns. But the wrong doers have no chance against the Masked Man. I wonder if Silver Bullets are deductible?

http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/LR-410321-0490-Tax-Collector-OTRCAT.com.mp3
These recordings and many more tax-day laughs are available on the Old Time Radio‘s Tax Time Collection.

What Good is an Atom if you can’t Laugh at It?

There is a story told around the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Eastern Washington State. Hanford was the site were much of the plutonium used in America’s Cold War Arsenal, the Fat Man bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, and the first nuclear device tested at the Trinity, New Mexico. After the end of the Second World War, when some of the information about the Manhattan Project became public, a local Benton County Farmer casually drove up to the gate of the Hanford Reservation. The confused Guard walked up to the dirty pickup truck. The farmer asked the young man if they had any extra plutonium lying around. He had cleared some oak trees, and he could use some help to blow up the stumps!

The character that Bob Hope played in the NBC documentary series The Quick and the Dead was an Everyman who was trying to understand the wonders and dangers of the dawning Atomic Age. Producer Fred Friendly had his work cut out to make such a complicated subject understandable.

For the average American, the only things that they could be sure of about Atomic Power was that it was:

  1. Very Expensive
  2. Full of Complicated Secrets
  3. Somehow it had the potential to wipe out all life on the planet, it was in the hands of our enemy as well as our own.

Archie the Bartender at Duffy’s Tavern, in the episode broadcast on Dec 21, 1951, wants to do his part. His good, if disreputable, friend comes to him with a proposition. It is well known that the Atom has been split, but here in the friend’s box are the two halves of that Atom!

Fibber McGee and Molly does their part as well. In the Friday night broadcast, Aug 13, 1954, Fibber spies a Geiger Counter in the store window. After Molly realizes that it isn’t really for counting Geigers, the clerk explains that the Counter is used to locate Uranium Ore, which the Government will pay a big bonus for if any is found, in addition to what the ore is worth. The dollar signs immediately begin to stack up in Fibber’s head, as a plot is hatched to find his fortune in the desert near Moab Utah.

Enjoy this episode from 1954 and laugh with Fibber as the antic ensue when he buys a Geiger counter:

http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/Fibber-McGee-540813-0964-Fibber-Buys-Geiger-Counter-OTRCAT.com.mp3

The Shadow of Fu Manchu

A gong sounds and Gerald Mohr ominously intones “The Shadow…of Fooo ManChoo.”

There is a long period of eerie organ music at the beginning and end of each episode; this is because the show was recorded for Syndication. The long organ music is space for the local announcer to make his plug.

During the period following the Boxer Rebellion, the West was filled with fears of “the Yellow Peril.” The Rebellion had been pushed by a Secret Society, and there was a dread of these Societies gaining influence in the Chinatowns of American and European cities.

Author Sax Rohmer became familiar with the reputation of “Mr. King” in London’s Asian districts. Supposedly, Mr. King had a piece of the action in most illegal activities in the district; at the mention of King’s name, Chinese merchants became visibly terrified. Rohmer used Mr. King as the inspiration for his master villain, Fu Manchu.

Dr. Fu Manchu had an incredible intellect, and an incredible invisible empire. Dr. Fu had “all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources… of a wealthy government, which… has denied all knowledge of his existence… Dr. Fu Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.”

Fu Manchu would become the model for many arch villains: Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon, Lo-Pan from Big Trouble in Little China, Dr. Yen-Lo in The Manchurian Candidate, and James Bond’s adversary, Dr. No.

The Fu Manchu stories would be serialized in Collier’s Magazine in 1913. The first of several radio incarnations of the stories would be on The Collier Hour over the Blue Network starting in 1927. Probably the most popular incarnation was the syndicated The Shadow of Fu Manchu, recorded in the winter of 1938-39. Lou Marcelle, the uncredited narrator of the film Casablanca, played the evil Doctor. The actor’s identity was hidden for many years, until identified by radio historian Elizabeth McLeod in 2002. Two well known character actors took the roles of Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie: Hanley Stanford of Blondie and Baby Snooks; and Gale Gordon, Mayor LaTrivia of Fibber McGee and Molly and Principal Osgood in Our Miss Brooks. Paula Winslow played the lovely and seductive Karamaneh (one of Fu’s most dangerous agents, Karamaneh was sold as a slave to the Dr. as a child. She falls in love with Dr. Petrie and saves our heroes many times.) Gerald Mohr (The Adventures of Philip Marlowe) narrated and played several small roles.

Much of Fu Manchu seems less than politically correct, especially as China is becoming an important trading partner, and given the great contributions of Chinese-Americans. But the Fu Manchu stories are a product of their times.

In the end, The Shadow of Dr. Fu Manchu is diabolical fun in a grand criminal manner.

Fibber McGee and Molly: Broadcast 63 years ago today…

Some people would argue that Fibber McGee and Molly were the Golden Age of Radio because of the show’s very long successful run (1935-1959). But more than just staying power, the show at 79 Wisful Way showcased terrific comic and musical talent. Throughout its run, the show was a reflection of its time in the American scene.

(Source: http://FibberMcGeeAndMolly.com/)

This Fibber McGee and Molly website is dedicated to the comedic folks at 79 Wistful Way including new episodes every week.

Enjoy this episode of “Waiting for a Bus” from Jan 28, 1947:

http://fibbermcgeeandmolly.com/mp3/fm470128%20Waiting%20For%20A%20Bus.mp3

Paying for a Total War: The War Bond Drives

WWII Patriotic Poster

One striking aspect of the Second World War, when viewed from a distance of three or four generations, is the universality of the conflict. The public at large seems more in touch with “American Idol” than the progress of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But during WWII it seems there was hardly a block that didn’t have at least one or two blue stars in the window (a family that had a son, or husband in the service would hand a small banner with a blue star for each service member, the blue being a prayer for a safe return, a gold star signifies the loss of a serviceman.) Everyone, it seemed, did their part for the war effort.

One aspect of this community effort to win the war was the War Bond Drives. The government needed money for the fight, and so it borrowed it from the American people.  Advertisements for the bonds ranged from subtle mentions on printed material to old time radio advertisements to large scale rallies featuring the top Hollywood film stars. In many communities there were kiosks, in areas that had significant foot traffic, staffed with pretty girls selling War Bonds.

Not only were there whole variety programs on the radio dedicated to soliciting War Bonds, but there were small dramas dedicated to the effort, such as These are Our Men. The terrific response Kate Smith’s marathon War Bond drives demonstrated not only fans loyalty to the star, but also allowed them to feel they were part of the War Effort.

Popular programming was part of the effort as well. Hardly an episode of Fibber McGee and Molly or The Great Gildersleeve passed without a War Bond appeal from the stars or the announcer, often both. Many episodes of Fibber McGee and Molly were dedicated to war bond drives or other Home Front war efforts.

Enjoy this bond selling episode from Guest Star Radio Theater starring Bob Hope & Bing Crosby from April 10, 1947:

Christmas in Wistful Vista: Part 2

Today we continue our trip down Christmas Radio Shows Nostaliga Lane with our favorite old time radio comedy, Fibber McGee and Molly: On Dec 24, 1940 there is confusion in the McGee household when they receive a package addressed to Gildy, an expensive radio/phonograph combo. Of course Fibber breaks the expensive gadget, and the McGee’s desperately try to replace it before Gildy finds out, only to discover that it is Gildersleeve’s present to them.

http://www.fibbermcgeeandmolly.com/mp3/fm401224-0267-Radiophonograph-OTRCAT.com.mp3

This episode is from Old Time Radio’s Fibber McGee’s Christmas Collection.

Christmas in Wistful Vista: Part 1

Any radio sitcom that lasts more than one season is likely going to do a Christmas Radio Shows. I think it may be an FCC rule. It is fun to think about, especially for pre-recorded TV Sitcoms that are probably shot the previous summer.

The Grand daddy of all radio sitcoms, Fibber McGee and Molly had many wonderful Christmas Radio Shows over their 24 year run. Many shows seem to be OK with just one nod to the holidays every season, but Fibber McGee and Molly had many years where they had a Christmas themed radio show most weeks in December. Whether this is because stars Jim and Marian Jordan were an actual couple raising kids who would have wanted more Christmas cheer, or if writer Don Quinn was just a big kid at heart is purely up for guess. Maybe Harlow Wilcox and the Johnson Wax company had a Santa Complex.

In the coming days we hope to feature some of our favorite Fibber McGee and Molly Christmas Radio Shows.

On Dec 10, 1940, Fibber McGee and Molly try to mail their Christmas packages, not only do they have to deal with long lines at the post office, but Fibber is talked into mailing Gildersleeve’s packages as well. Then they find out Fibber has stood them in the wrong line at the post office!

http://www.fibbermcgeeandmolly.com/mp3/fm401210-0265-Mailing-Christmas-Packages-OTRCAT.com.mp3

This episode is from Old Time Radio’s Fibber McGee’s Christmas Collection.