“With the need to ‘write funny’ no longer present because the episodes were pre-recorded in a studio,” Clair Schulz will write in Fibber McGee & Molly On the Air (1935-1959), “too many of the fifteen-minute Fibber McGee & Molly shows seem intent on developing a story that would continue the next day instead of making each episode amusing and rewarding.”
That would be true now and then but not in the larger picture. The shift to the fifteen-minute dailies probably seemed jarring at first to listeners who couldn’t accept the unfamiliarity of new announcer John Wald, the departure of several supporting characters other than Teeny, Dr. Gamble, Wallace Wimpole, and the Old-Timer, or the absence of the long familiar music interludes.
At their best, the fifteen-minute semi-serialised Fibber McGee & Molly maintain the show’s core appeal and even enhance it. There seems a more intimate kind of homey feeling around 79 Wistful Vista without the acoustics of the large studio and the often lingering laugh racket of the live studio audience. (One notes that not every one of the fifteen-minute McGees involved a multi-installment storyline, but never mind.)
There was nothing quite like doing a live Fibber McGee & Molly, of course. By the more McGee the merrier philosophy the long-running half-hours remain the essence of radio humour. And pre-recording did enable producers to clean any mistakes that might have been turned to laughter by Jim and Marian Jordan’s often underrated ad-libbing ability.
But in certain ways the comparative quiet of the semi-serial McGees (storylines normally lasted only five days, something Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar‘s masterminds may note as they come to convert that show to its too-brief but best-respected semi-serial format in 1955) has its own warmth as well as wit. As if you were joining Fibber and Molly in their quiet dotage allowing them to remind you the best things in life are absurd enough without having to be terribly noisy.
That’s where the Sage of 79 Wistful Vista Jim Jordan) spends most of the day—after going to the drugstore to buy scotch tape but buying the sun lamp instead—hoping to provide himself a more than healthy tan.
Molly/Teeny: Marian Jordan. Wimpole: Bill Thompson. LaTrivia: Gale Gordon. Doc: Arthur Q. Bryan. Mrs. Carstairs: Bea Benaderet. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men. Writers: Don Quinn, Phil Leslie.
Molly (Marian Jordan) needs to turn ninety cents into thirty dollars for the club’s Christmas fund, but she’s nervous—and surprised—when she learns how bustling McGee turns it into larger amounts every half hour.
Doc: Arthur Q. Bryan. Director: Max Hutto. Writers: Phil Leslie, Ralph Goodman.
Further Channel Surfing . . .
Vic & Sade: A Bijou Lifetime Pass (comedy; NBC, 1940)
The Great Gildersleeve: Dodging a Process Server (comedy; NBC, 1944)
The Whistler: Lucky Night (crime drama; CBS; AFRS rebroadcast, 1945)
Boston Blackie: Police Impersonator (crime drama; ABC, 1946)
The Life of Riley: A Car, Not a Wife (comedy; NBC, 1948)
The Big Show: Satchmo and Friends (variety; NBC, 1950)