When rummaging through the archive of this journal, a correspondent wrote me cheerfully enough to say: “Too much Fibber McGee & Molly.” Which struck me as being along the line of a blues lover’s collection bearing “too much” Muddy Waters or B.B. King; or, a jazz lover’s collection bearing “too much” Duke Ellington or Miles Davis.
Everybody‘s a critic.
On the anniversary of Marian Jordan’s death (she died on today’s date in 1961, after a long enough run with cancer following a lifelong battle with the bottle, and as she and her long-patient, long-loving husband Jim were about to sign a fresh contract to continue their five-minute vignettes aboard NBC’s Monitor weekend block), there is enough to enjoy that only a philistine could charge you with “too much.”
The marvel is that, no matter the changes—in cast, in format (the Jordans in fall 1953 switched to a kind of semi-serial daily offering they could tape two days a week, the better to allow Marian the rest she needed, by which time they could probably perform the show effectively in their sleep), in atmosphere (gone are the music interludes, irrepressible announcer Harlow Wilcox’s sneak-in commercials, and the live studio audience)—there’s so little true triteness. The survival of practically everything they did, which testifies to the foresight of their sponsors, is a blessing for classic network radio fans and those who simply love good, straight-no-chaser wit.
How strange, yet how telling a testament to their work, that what was once one of the most immediate references to old-time radio nostalgists has long since transcended them. Perhaps more than any such show, with the possible exception of Jack Benny’s and Fred Allen’s surviving exercises, Fibber McGee & Molly is evidence for the defense when this journal brandishes its unapologetic slogan: Standing athwart nostalgia, yelling “Art!”
And anyone who says any such journal upholds “too much” McGee should be dismissed as a sourpuss.
TUNE IN TONIGHT
This broadcast might be seen as merely another wartime offering if not for the fact that it’s the first of a host of full episodes devoted in one or another way to supporting the World War II effort:
On Mrs. Uppington’s (Isabel Randolph) beckon as chairwoman of the “Wistful Vista Reclamation Committee”—that’s “scrap drive,” for you ladies and gentlemen who would do away with the fancy and disingenuous titles—the McGees (Jim and Marian Jordan; Marian also plays Teeny) undertake a mission only slightly more dangerous than the Battle of Midway: cleaning out The Closet to contribute to the drive.
They’ll even live to tell about it!
La Trivia: Gale Gordon. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men. Director: Frank Pittman. Writer: Don Quinn.
McGee (Jim Jordan) looks forward to a singing spot during the clubs’s annual bash for out-of-town visitors, while Doc (Arthur Q. Bryan) looks forward equally to trying to convince him to take over directing the whole shebang—but good luck when that produces an unexpected side effect.
Kramer: Richard LeGrand. Wimpole/The Old-Timer: Bill Thompson. Additional cast: John McIntire, Jan Arban, Bob Sweeney, Jerry Hausner. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra. Director: Max Hutto. Writers: Phil Leslie, Keith Fowler.
It’s even money which is worse—McGee (Jim Jordan) having a sleepwalking problem in the first place, or Molly (Marian Jordan) having to listen to just about anyone’s suggestions for remedies. Flip a coin on it and you wouldn’t be surprised to find heads and tails AWOL.
Wimpole: Bill Thompson. Doc: Arthur Q. Bryan. Mr. Nelson: Robert Eaton. Mrs. Nelson: Mary Lee Hansen. Announcer: John Wald. Director: Max Hutto. Writers: Phil Leslie, Ralph Goodman. (Advisory: Muffled sound quality.)
Further Channel Surfing . . .
The Halls of Ivy: Toddy Plays Hookey (NBC, 1950)—Ronald and Benita Hume Colman, Gil Stratton, Jr., Frank Martin. All Hall wants is one day’s loafing; all he and Victoria seem to get is several reasons why they can’t sneak out of their front or rear doors. And all you’ll get is a few well-placed laughs.
Bob & Ray Present the CBS Radio Network: Candy, Debate, and Hacksaw (Don’t Tell Me, Let Me Guess, 1960)—Wally Ballou reports from the Lucy Luscious Candy Factory in Woonsocket, Rhode Island; LawrenceFechtenberger, Interstellar Officer Candidate debates his rival at the Interstellar Space Academy; and, Webley Webster and his players act a segment from The Hacksaw Manual. Writers (actual or alleged): Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding.
Lux Radio Theater: Stand-In (CBS, 1941)—Walter Baxter (in Leslie Howard’s film role), Joan Bennett (in Joan Blondell’s film role), Hans Conreid (in Humphrey Bogart’s film role). Adapted from the 1937 film farce based on the Clarence Budington Kelland novel: An efficiency expert discovers filmmaking isn’t exactly easy to compress into rigid mathematics. Enjoy.
Escape: The Ambassador of Poker (CBS, 1950)—Elliott Reed, Benson Fong, Lucille Meredith, Ben Wright, John Dehner, Ramsay Hill, William Conrad, Rick Valens. A poker player tossed off ship in Hong Kong finds a game along the waterfront and a Chinese businessman who hires him to recover the seal of the Yin Dynasty—even if it means a poker hustle to recover it. Hold on.
Suspense: Noose of Coincidence (CBS, 1949)—Ronald Colman, possibly Bea Benaderet, possibly Cathy Lewis, Hans Conreid, Raymond Lawrence. Colman has a tour de farce as a London bookseller for whom one prediction comes true: his marriage to a redhead who turns out an insufferable shrew—and drives him into the arms of another redhead, all of which might realise another prediction he’d rather not face. Sometimes this series was good for a few laughs, and this is one such time.