Fibber And Molly’s Lasting Appeal

Twenty four years is a long time to do anything, especially to have America come visit you at home every Tuesday night. That is just what Jim and Marian Jordan did from April 1935 until Sept 6, 1959, playing the beloved Fibber McGee and Molly.

In the TV world, a show that lasts more than four seasons is considered a classic. The characters on such a classic will have evolved dramatically in that time, but the Fibber who was still getting laughs at the twilight of his career on NBC’s Monitor had not changed all that much from the Fibber who drove his jalopy to the seashore on April 16, 1935.

As much as any situation comedy, Fibber McGee and Molly found a workable formula and pretty much stuck with it. Some of those elements changed in the later years of the run, which reflected the real lives of the players. The successful formula took a while to be fully developed, but when it did come together, it was one of the most successful in radio.

For the audience, the foundation of that success was Fibber and Molly themselves, played by real life couple Jim and Marian Jordan. A marriage bond as strong as the one enjoyed by the Jordans, especially in the pressure cooker world of show business, will strike us as exceptional today. Jim and Marian’s success, both in marriage and show business, are reflections of their mid-western values.

As important as the characters and the actors who play them are to the success of a comedy program, they would not last without great scripts to work from. This was important enough that from the beginning the fees paid for Fibber McGee and Molly were split three ways- a share apiece for Jim and Marion, and the third full share for their writer, Don Quinn. Quinn was not the most disciplined of writers; often he would wait until the last minute before actually writing the script, and in the final hours would lock himself in his office with a typewriter, a big plate of sandwiches, a big pot of coffee and two cartons of cigarettes. What emerged was usually comic genius, rarely in need of revision.

For most of the years Fibber and Molly were on the radio, the program stuck to a regular framework in its half hour format. The show never forgot that Johnson’s Wax was paying the bills. To that end, Quinn became a genius at working the sponsor’s plug into the storyline. Announcer Harlow Wilcox became more than the guy who introduced the show and read the commercials, he was an important character who always had a comment for Fibber’s foible of the week. For Fibber’s part, he was always amazed at Wilcox’s ability to sneak a plug for the Wax Company into any conversation, and commiserated with the audience who knew the commercial was coming.

Fibber McGee and Molly followed a format that lent itself to running gags. Some of these were the supporting characters themselves, most of whom could get a laugh just by walking up to the microphone. These included Mr. Old Timer, whose amazing powers never quite matched his aged persona, Wallace Wimple who lived in constant fear of his wife, Mayor LaTrivia who Fibber would reduce from civility to a near nervous breakdown on a regular basis, and pompous neighbor Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve who proved popular enough to get his own show. Another spinoff from Fibber and Molly was Beulah, who started as the McGee’s maid; Beulah always got a laugh in the studio, not just for her character, but because she was played by a white male actor.

Fibber McGee and Molly are more than a reflection of a simpler time. They were part of a world which never existed but which we all know as well as we know our own home town. How else could Fibber have gone 24 years with no job other than town busy-body? The time we spend in Wistful Vista is more than a visit home, it is a time to laugh and forget about the trouble of the real world.

 

Christmas in Wistful Vista: Part 4

Skipping down Christmas Nostaliga Lane we return to our favorite old time radio comedy, Fibber McGee and Molly:

On Christmas Eve 1946 becomes special; it is one of the few times the show is broadcast on Christmas Eve.  Teeny, the young girl that Marian plays in addition to Molly has convinced Fibberto fix some broken toys for less fortunate children. Of course toys that are broken become toys that are destroyed when Fibber tries to fix them! To be sure the kids have a good Christmas Fibber spends all of the McGee’s Christmas money on new toys. Teeny, with the help of the King’s Men finishes the show with a lovely rendition of Clement C. Moore’s The Night Before Christmas.  Enjoy the following Christmas Radio Show:

http://www.fibbermcgeeandmolly.com/mp3/fm461224 Fixing Broken Toys For Needy Children.mp3

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

Christmas in Wistful Vista: Part 3

In our continuing journey down Christmas Nostaliga Lane from last year with our favorite old time radio comedy, Fibber McGee and Molly:

In Christmas Radio Show episode from 1941, Fibber is determined not to spend money on a Christmas tree, so on Dec 16 he goes into the woods to cut his own. Of course it turns out that he avoids spending a couple dollars on a tree by losing his watch and hatchet in the snow, plus having to fix the tire on the family car! At this time America has been fighting WWII for less than two weeks, and the changes the war brings is on everyone’s mind.

http://www.fibbermcgeeandmolly.com/mp3/fm411216-0305-Fibber-Cuts-His-Own-Christmas-Tree-OTRCAT.com.mp3

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

Fibber McGee and Molly’s Beulah: A Female African American Role on Radio played by a White Man

Beulah first appears at 79 Wistful Vista on Jan 25, 1944. At her first utterances there are peals of laughter from the studio audience, almost before she has said anything funny. Fibber McGee and Molly hire Beulah for one day a week. On Tuesdays Beulah will cook, clean, wash, and respond to Fibber’s wise cracks. The McGee’s are so pleased with Beulah’s services that they intend to do more entertaining on Tuesdays. Tuesday is of course the night that they are on the air.

The new domestic help is in her 30s, perhaps a little over fond of her own cooking, a little bit man crazy, and tends towards short skirts and high heels. When she speaks for the first time during an episode, she gets more than her share of laughs. When she is called she replies with “Somebody bawl fo’ Beulah?” and answers McGee’s witticisms with “Love that Man!”

Beulah deserves most of the laughter for her comic lines and delivery. Many of the laughs are the studio audience’s surprise at seeing Beulah in the flesh for the first time. This black lady is played by a white male actor, Marlin Hurt.

Beulah became popular enough to be spun off to her own program, The Marlin Hurt and Beulah Show in 1945. Hattie McDaniel was the first black actress to play the part on the renamed Beulah Show beginning Nov 24, 1947. The NAACP praised the selection of McDaniel. When McDaniel became ill in 1952 she was replaced by Lillian Randolph, who would in turn be replaced the next season by her sister, Amanda Randolph.

Beulah was adapted for TV in 1950 for three seasons. Along with the TV version of Amos ‘n’ Andy, the program was criticized for perpetuating stereotypical black characters. Actress Lillian Randolph, who along with Beulah played Birdie Lee Coggins, the cook for The Great Gildersleeve, replied to the criticism in the pages of Ebony magazine. It was Randolph’s contention that the roles were not harmful to the image or opportunities of African Americans; the roles themselves would not go away, but the ethnicity of those in them would eventually change.

Enjoy this episode of the first appearance of Beulah on Fibber McGee and Molly:

http://www.fibbermcgeeandmolly.com/mp3/Fibber-Mcgee-Molly-440125-0388-Dining-Out-OTRCAT.com.mp3

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.

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

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.