8 May: V-E Day in Wistful Vista

Harlow Wilcox (left), Marian Jordan (center), and Jim Jordan (right). (Photo: NBC.)

Harlow Wilcox (left), Marian Jordan (center), and Jim Jordan (right). (Photo: NBC.)

It was only too appropriate that the timing should hold Fibber McGee & Molly due for their regular Tuesday night radio comedy on the same day the end of World War II in Europe—“the first act of the greatest drama the world has ever seen,” as announcer Harlow Wilcox will describe it—is announced officially.

The show’s company knows only too well that there’s still a second act to be continued in the Pacific, something stars Jim and Marian Jordan address soberly at tonight’s conclusion. Yet they have spent the better part of five years playing for laughs to both servicemen abroad (theirs and many other shows were recorded for rebroadcast to U.S. forces as a morale booster) and the families they left behind to fight the war. And they’ve spent the better part of five years weaving frequent wartime themes into their witty weeklies in a show of support to the war effort and those families.

With the full cooperation and encouragement of their sponsor, the Johnson Wax Company.

Johnson avoided the blatant use of . . . “brag” commercials in which the sponsor boasted of the significant contribution of a single product to victory by America. There were references to the uses of waxes in various ways by the military. More often the listeners were reminded of ways in which their use of this product was consistent with the war effort.

Mickey Smith, in How Fibber McGee & Molly Won World War II. (Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media, 2010.)

From pre-war price controls to Pearl Harbour’s aftermath; from the one-time Consumer Pledge regarding wartime rationing to war bonds; from scrap drives to conservation; from fears of spying to fuel and travel limits; from women entering the wartime work forces to the wartime black market, Fibber McGee & Molly managed at once to make a country and its fighting forces laugh in the middle of a grand and terrible era and undertaking, even as they also inspired.

The ability to convey vital wartime information, to convince the public to share willingly (even enthusiastically) in some of the privations occasioned by rationing and shortages, to be a major part of a bond drive unequalled in the history of this or any country, and to do so in such an entertaining way that the public rated the show in the top five on radio throughout the war was nothing short of genius.


Indeed. For those who care about such details, let it be said that Fibber McGee & Molly actually never finished lower than in third place in the Hooper ratings—either on Tuesday night or on the season overall—for the entire span of World War II.


Fibber McGee & Molly: Housing Survey (NBC, 1945)

The Surveyor of 79 Wistful Vista (Jim Jordan) plans to complete a survey of those needing housing, but Molly (Marian Jordan) can’t help wondering just how he’s going to do it merely by working out crossword puzzles in the living room. Neither can anyone else in the McGee’s circle. Figures, right? And delightfully so. Note: This episode is commercial free in light of V-E Day.

Doc: Arthur Q. Bryan. Alice: Shirley Mitchell. Beulah: Marlin Hurt. Mrs. Carstairs: Bea Benaderet. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men. Writers: Don Quinn, Phil Leslie.

Gabriel Heatter: “Peace in Europe” (Mutual, 1945)

As would become Walter Cronkite’s image for a time two decades later is probably Heatter’s tonight: millions probably won’t believe the war in Europe is over at last until they hear it from him.

Here, Heatter ruminates on the moment the Nazi surrender becomes final and official, in fifteen becalming minutes. He puts it not into the formal terminology of news or battle but, rather, into and through the eyes, minds, and hearts of those with whom he identfies most.

Peace in Europe” will become one of only five or six of Heatter’s broadcasts to survive. It does become much anthologised, much reviewed, and much admired. (Irving Fang will include it with a pair of soft vinyl records accompanying his book Those Radio Commentators!) But it will seem sad enough that more of Heatter’s work doesn’t survive for learning by the generations to come.


This is a Solemn but Glorious Hour” (NBC)So says President Truman, while cautioning against the complete celebration until the Pacific war is won, in an otherwise joyous if sober announcement delivered to Congress and carried live.

Today, We Give Thanks”(BBC/NBC)So begins King George VI’s address to the United Kingdom, also carried live.

Remember” (BBC)—Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, commander of the British Eighth Army, whose triumph at El Alamein was a key turning point against the Axis, invokes those who died in action.

An Atmosphere of Calm Thanksgiving” (NBC)So says NBC News, Washington, opening a special broadcast that will include comments from, among others, Fleet Admiral William E. Leahy; Gen. of the Army George C. Marshall, the Army’s chief of staff; Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Fleet; Gen. of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander-in-chief of the Allied Expeditionary Force; Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean areas; Gen. of the Army H.H. (Hap) Arnold, commander-in-chief, Army Air Force; and, Gen. of the Army Douglas MacArthur, commander-in-chief, U.S. Army Pacific forces.


Further Channel Surfing . . .

The Hinds Honey & Almond Cream Program with Burns & Allen: Aunt Clara’s Kangaroo (CBS, 1940)
Suspense: Dead Ernest (CBS, 1947)
mr. ace and JANE: Baby Food (CBS, 1948)
The Martin & Lewis Show: Mystery Show (NBC, 1949)
The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show: Mother’s Day Present (NBC, 1949)

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