to "Fibber McGee and Molly"
The Chicago Years (1935-1939)
Marian and Jim Jordan in an early "Fibber McGee and Molly" publicity
If you're familiar
with the classic (and generally more readily available) "Fibber McGee and
Molly" shows of the 1940's, you will immediately note how "different"
these early efforts sound, especially the first broadcast in the series.
Most notable is the Irish brogue that Marian Jordan affects in her initial "Mollie"
characterization. She greatly attenuated this attribute, but only over the course
of many broadcasts.
Jim Jordan likewise softened his "Fibber" role as well (perhaps with
greater speed than his partner). "Fibber" began as a high-decibel version
the "Uncle Luke" of "Smackout".
But he had shed much of his goofiness by the time the show moved to Hollywood
at the end of January, 1939.
The Jordans, writer Don Quinn and the Johnson's Wax folks tinkered endlessly with
the show during the early years. At what tempo should the theme music be played?
How should it be arranged? Who should conduct the orchestra? How many musical
numbers should be incorporated with the broadcast and where should they be placed?
Should they feature vocal soloists or ensembles? What is the optimal number of
supporting cast members and who should they be?
The Chicago broadcasts you can listen to hear show a gradual transformation from
a musical variety show with interspersed comedic sketches to something more akin
to a situation comedy (though Elizabeth
McLeod argues that newspaper comic strips were the template for "Fibber
McGee and Molly". Along the way the show acquired some great supporting players
from Chicago's remarkably talented pool of radio actors, most notably Bill Thompson,
Harold Peary and Hugh Studebaker.
The presence of announcer Harlow Wilcox and his commercials integrated into the
plot remained a constant, despite the radical retooling of "Fibber McGee
and Molly" in so many other regards. Wilcox's particular brand of salesmanship
clicked from day one.
first broadcast of the series (16 April, 1935): Features Rico (Ulderico)
Marcelli and his orchestra, the vocal duo of "Ronnie and Van" (as "Dustoff
and Brightski") and vocalist Kathleen Wells.
1: Rico Marcelli and his orchestra play the opening theme ("Save Yor
Sorrow for Tomorrow). Harlow Wilcox introduces "Fibber" and "Mollie"
who briefly appear to set up the sketch that follows in segment 2. Marcelli and
the orchestra play "Smooth Sailing" with "Dustoff and Brightski"
singing the second chorus (runs 3:30).
2: Fibber and Molly, motoring down a rural highway in their antiquated jalopy,
are stopped by a cop who claims Fibber has run a red light. Mollie, believing
the officer to be Irish, attempts to charm him with a smile. The officer summons
Fibber before a judge. Molly learns that the officer's name is actually "Schwartz".
The judge, noting that the stop light is broken, dismisses McGee (runs 4:33).
3: Fibber and Molly sing "Snake in the Grass". Harlow Wilcox begins
the first commercial of the broadcast. But Fibber takes over, claiming he can
do it better (runs 4:38).
4: Marcelli and the orchestra play "Rhythm in the Rain") with "Dustoff
and Brightski" singing the second chorus. Harlow Wilcox reads the show's
second commercial, then introduces vocalist Kathleen Wells. Before she can sing,
Fibber appears and briefly flirst with her (runs 4:55).
5: Kathleen Wells sings "When the Moon Turns Green", after which
the Marcelli and the orchestra immediately segue into an extended arrangement
of "Love is Just Around the Corner". Kathleen Wells and "Dustoff
and Brightski" join in a vocal chorus (runs 5:05).
6: Fibber and Mollie, back on the road, pull into a service station. Fibber
tells the attendant (Harlow Wilcox) a tall tale reminiscent of the sort "Uncle
Luke" of "Smackout"
used to tell. Wilcox delivers the final commercial and the show closes (runs 6:10).
of 11 October, 1937:
Weems and his orchestra (with vocals by Perry Como and whistling by Elmo Tanner),
Hugh Studebaker (as "Silly Watson"), Harold Peary (as a car salesman)
and Bill Thompson (as "Nick Depopoulous" and "Horatio K. Boomer").
1: Harlow Wilcox introduces the show. Ted Weems and the orchestra play "Overnight",
with Wilcox reading a perfectly backtimed commercial leading up to musical payoff.
Mollie the McGee's need a new car. After Fibber is unable to start the family
jalopy, the couple heads off to the Wistful Vista auto show (runs 6:24).
2: A brief up-tempo musical interlude byTed Weems and his orchestra. Now at
the automobile show, Fibber has an encounter with a blustery car salesman played
by Harold Peary (whose characterization of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve lay in
the future. Fibber and Mollie run into "Silly Watson" played by Bill
Thompson (runs 5:52).
3: Perry Como sings "Cabin of Dreams" accompanied by the Ted Weems
orchestra (which is now augmented by strings). Still at the autoshow, Fibber and
Mollie meet Nick Depopoulous (another Bill Thompson character). Harlow Wilcox
interrupts the pitch of another car salesman to deliver his own. Fibber is drenched
when a convertible with a top that's supposed to automatically raise at the first
sign of moisture fails to function (runs 8:15)
4: Ted Weems and his orchestra play "Josephine" with Elmo Tanner
whistling a chorus. Harlow Wilcox delivers a brief commercial. "Teeny"
(played by Marian Jordan) pays a brief call at the McGee home. "Horatio K.
Boomer" (a W.C. Fields sound-alike played by Bill Thompson) arrives as a
possible purchaser of Fibber's jalopy. The car blows up as Boomer attempts to
start it. Harlow Wilcox reads the final commercial and the show closes (runs 8:25).
of January 24th, 1939: Called "Fibber McGee and Company"
(due to a prolonged illness that kept Marian Jordan off the air for a number of
weeks), this was the last broadcast before "Fibber McGee and Molly"
moved to NBC's Hollywood studios. Features Billy Mills and his orchestra, the
"Four Notes" quartette, tenor Donald Novis, Isabel Randolph (as "Mrs.
Uppington"), Bill Tompson (as the "Old Timer" and "Nick Depopoulous"),
Hugh Studebaker (as "Silly Watson") and Harold Peary (as a clothing
1: Harlow Wilcox delivers the first commercial as Billy Mills and the Orchestra
play "There's a New Sun in the Sky". Fibber is in a tizzy. He's been
invited to dinner at the Uppington mansion, but he lost his collar button. The
remainder of the show chronicles unsuccessful search for a needle and thread or
a substitute shirt (runs 7:33).
2: The "Four Notes" sing "Ferdinant the Bull". Encounters
with the "Old Timer", "Mrs. Uppington" a Chinese laundry operator
and "Silly Watson", plus another commercial delivered by Harlow Wilcox
Fibber attempts to buy a shirt in a clothing store but finds the prices too high
and the clerk obnoxious. The clerk is played by Harold Peary, who makes ample
use of the laugh that will later become one of the signatures of "Throckmorton
P. Gildersleeve". Donald Novis sings "Thanks for Everything" (runs
4: The "Old Timer" returns and "Nick Depopoulous" pays
a visit. Unable to find a collar button, Fibber announces he's moving the show
to Hollywood where people can work with open collars. Show closes with a public
service announcement for the "March of Dimes" (runs 6:58).
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