Your chronicler has the honour of sharing a birthday with one of old-time radio’s comedy titans. And, since it’s far more significant that he was born on this date than it is that I was born on this date, we can enjoy four episodes of his signature co-creation that just so happened to air on his day.
(I mean absolutely no disrespect to his second great creation, The Halls of Ivy. Unfortunately, no episode of that jewel aired on his birthday.)
Many radio programs have tremendous audiences, week after week. But they are audiences who would feel no slightest pang of regret, experience no sense of personal loss, if said program were never broadcast again. Conversely, the shows which live and build over the years are those for which the listener feels an abiding love and friendship. If you’re a star on one of these happy productions, you are, by acclamation, a paid-up life member in good standing of millions of American families. They will stay home from bridge parties and movies to tune you in. They will agonise over your misfortunes and gloat over your triumphs . . . You’d better mind your p’s and q’s, too, because you’re in their homes on sufferance, though you may stay for years and years if you remain nice.
So said Don Quinn, whose signature co-creation stayed in American homes for a quarter of a century. To him we say happy 112th birthday today, saluting Mr. Quinn as maybe one of the ten best comedy writers, thinkers, and teachers (his protege, Phil Leslie, took over so seamlessly in 1950 that it was almost—underline that—as though Mr. Quinn had never really left the show) of the network radio era.
Fibber McGee & Molly: La Trivia Won’t Leave (NBC, 1941)—Mayor La Trivia (Gale Gordon) can’t convince Fibber (Jim Jordan) to take a job as a city dog catcher, Fibber and Molly (Marian Jordan, who also plays Teeny) can’t convince Hizzoner it’s time to go home after a pleasant dinner, and neither he nor they can convince various visitors and callers to 79 Wistful Vista hello, he must be going. The Old-Timer/Wimpole: Bill Thompson. Mrs. Uppington: Isabel Randolph. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men, Martha Tilton. Writer: Don Quinn.
Fibber McGee & Molly: The Phone Call (NBC, 1947)—The Squire of 79 Wistful Vista (Jim Jordan) has no patience for a ringing telephone while he’s trying to finish his eight-waffle breakfast, preferring to let it ring until the other party surrenders and hangs up before he can answer . . . at least until his loving wife (Marian Jordan, who also plays Teeny) needles him that he might be missing something genuinely important. The Old-Timer/Horatio Boomer: Bill Thompson. Foggy the Weatherman: Gale Gordon. Doc Gamble: Arthur Q. Bryan. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men. Director: Max Hutto. Writers: Don Quinn, Phil Leslie.
Fibber McGee & Molly: The Missing Umbrella (NBC, 1952)—That would be McGee’s (Jim Jordan), and the Slider of 79 Wistful Vista tries to remember where he might have left it—even if he had it on one of the few recent sunny days around town. Molly/Teeny: Marian Jordan. Wimpole: Bill Thompson. Doc Gamble: Arthur Q. Bryan. Miss Ogilvie: Mary Jane Croft. Ollie: Richard LeGrande. Additional cast: Gil Stratton, Jr., Cliff Arquette. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men. Director: Max Hutto. Writers: Phil Leslie, Keith Fowler.
Fibber McGee & Molly: The Happy Hunter Returns Home (NBC, 1953)—After schmoozing with her cronies (Mary Jane Croft, Paula Winslowe) at the Bon-Ton to kill a little time (and maybe wanting to help them kill the gossiping biddies who won’t yield a table), Molly (Marian Jordan) can’t wait for her man (Jim Jordan) to get home from his duck hunt, and the Old-Timer (Bill Thompson) can’t wait to take his ducks—all one of them—off his hands for special recipes. Doc Gamble: Arthur Q. Bryan. Announcer: John Wald. Director: Max Hutto. Writers: Phil Leslie, Ralph Goodman.
FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .
The Fred Allen Show: Renting a Room (NBC, 1945)—The Alley roomers discuss a pending clothing shortage; Mr. Allen needs a new apartment but ends up renting a temporary room—from Boris Karloff, of all people. With Portland Hoffa. Sen. Claghorn: Kenny Delmar. Titus: Parker Fennelly. Mrs. Nussbaum/The Head Down the Hall: Minerva Pious. Falstaff: Alan Reed. Announcer: Kenny Delmar. Music: Al Goodman Orchestra, the Five DeMarco Sisters. Writers: Fred Allen, Bob Weiskopf, possibly Nat Hiken.
Maxwell House Coffee Time with Burns & Allen: Who’s the Boss (NBC, 1948)—Emily (Marylee Robb) and Harold (Richard Crenna) are arguing, Emily wants to marry Harold, Emily asks Gracie (Allen) for help, Harold asks George (Burns) for help, and you’re going to find two schools of thought on who’s the boss in a marriage—with both Emily and Harold graduating from both, after they have to help George and Gracie patch things up. Additional cast: Ernie Whitman, Bill Goodwin. Announcer: Tobe Reed. Music: Harry Lubin Orchestra. Writers: George Burns, Paul Henning, Keith Fowler.
The Hallmark Playhouse: My Financial Career (CBS, 1948)—Radio’s favourite skinflint gets to turn an interesting twist on his air persona: Unassuming clothier Rodney Beamis (Jack Benny) tries to overcome a lifelong terror of banks, a terror he’s had since a romantic rival—whose father managed a bank—beat the living daylights out of him during their college days. Additional cast: Unidentified. Host: James Hilton. Announcer: Frank Goss. Music: Lyn Murray. Director: Dee Engelbach. Writer: Hugh Wedlock, Howard Snyder, based on the story by Stephen Cox.
Cathy and Elliott Lewis On Stage: Circle of Wheels (CBS; AFRTS rebroadcast, 1953)—There are those who think this is the best radio anthology ever, regardless of genre, even if (and possibly because, considering the major sponsorship money gravitating to television) the classic network radio era is really over—the so-called (and it isn’t exactly hype) First Couple of Radio (until their 1958 divorce) offers a deft blend of classic and original stories, tonight the latter: A couple (the Lewises) whose life together has been robotically routine enough to bury their love discover its unhappy price when they’re diagnosed as turning into robots physiologically. A gift for absurdism is only one talent the Lewises share. Doctor: Whitfield Connor. Additional cast: Unidentified. Announcer: George Walsh. Music: Lud Gluskin. Director: Elliott Lewis. Writer: Arthur Ross.