Listen to "Fibber McGee and Molly"

The Chicago Years (1935-1939)

Left: Marian and Jim Jordan in an early "Fibber McGee and Molly" publicity photograph.

Curator's note: Here you can listen to three Chicago-originated "Fibber McGee and Molly" broadcasts: The first broadcast (from April 16th, 1935), a broadcast from October 11th, 1937 and the last broadcast produced in Chicago (from January 24th, 1939). RealPlayer is required.

Introduction: 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.

Listen to the broadcasts

The 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.

  • Segment 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).
  • Segment 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).
  • Segment 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).
  • Segment 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).
  • Segment 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).
  • Segment 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).

Broadcast of 11 October, 1937: Features Ted 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").

  • Segment 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).
  • Segment 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).
  • Segment 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)
  • Segment 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).

Broadcast 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 salesman).

  • Segment 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).
  • Segment 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 (runs 9:52).
  • Segment 3: 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 4:50).
  • Segment 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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