The aftermath of Pearl Harbour continues apace, and aboard old-time radio in particular. And one of the earliest counter-volleys to America now being yanked into the war comes from one of NBC’s biggest successes.
Fibber McGee & Molly is now long established as the network’s Tuesday night mainstay and powerhouse. The network announces it will deliver the latest war news before every network program, while McGee sponsor S.C. Johnson & Son throws a gauntlet straight down toward all radio advertisers, by way of a message from the wax maker’s president offered in lieu of its usual show-opening commercial:
In these serious days, there can be no division of opinion. The United States is at war, and we are all ready and eager to do our part. The makers of Johnson’s Wax and Glo-Coat believe it is in the public interest to continue programs as entertaining as Fibber McGee & Molly. They have a place in national morale. So you can continue to hear Fibber McGee & Molly and still be in touch with latest developments. We have asked the National Broadcasting Company to feel free at any time to cut into our programs with important news flashes and announcements.
From tonight through the official celebration of V-J Day in 1945, Fibber McGee & Molly will deliver 139 shows with at least 28 offering explicitly war-related storylines or special material, to say nothing of perhaps countless remarks by stars Jim and Marian Jordan—as themselves or in characters—discussing what listeners might do on behalf of the war effort.
And, in some ways uniquely, S.C. Johnson’s commercials during the show in the war years wouldn’t brag about what their products were doing on behalf of the war effort. Rather, McGee writers Don Quinn and Phil Leslie—who have refined making the sponsor products part of each show’s doings, rather than a separate break-in—develop interludes (feature the ever-agreeable announcer Harlow Wilcox) in which the product was described in terms of what users at home contributed to the war effort by using them.
The news tonight includes a sultan “of one of the little melee states” ceding his homeland to Britain on behalf of the war effort; the United States banning new American citizenships from German, Austrian, and Italian nationals until the war is over; and, the British raiding the German stronghold in Calais. Not to mention new fire stations opening in Manila with civilians evacuated from areas close to American military outposts.
Forty percent off is what a post card offers at the Wistful Vista Wholesale Outlet, a natural lure for a sucker like our man McGee (Jim Jordan). But tonight’s show is notable for two other reasons: 1) The script had already been written and in rehearsal when Pearl Harbour was attacked, compelling the show to go on with one alteration. 2) The announcer will speak of buying defense bonds and stamps at the show’s conclusion; they’ll be changed to war bonds and stamps by the time Fibber McGee & Molly delivers its first war-specific storyline.
Molly: Marian Jordan. Mrs. Uppington: Isabel Randolph. LaTrivia: Gale Gordon. Wimpole: Bill Thompson. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, Martha Tilton, the King’s Men. Writer: Don Quinn.
PEARL HARBOUR: THE CONTINUING AFTERMATH
World News Today: Situation Update (CBS, 1941)—John Daly anchors this report which covers further actual or feared further Japanese attacks, a possible Nazi German declaration of war against the United States when Hitler addresses the Reichstag, and other developments in the immediate wake of Pearl Harbour and the official U.S. entry into World War II.
Fireside Chat: The Climax of a Decade of International Immorality (All Networks, 1941)—So says President Roosevelt, about Pearl Harbour, in his first Fireside Chat since the Japanese attacks, as a nation and its old-time radio continues girding for war . . . and a chat in which he warns against the networks and the newspapers “deal[ing] out unconfirmed reports” while awaiting “all the facts, as revealed by official sources.”
Further Channel Surfing . . .
The Great Gildersleeve: Opera Committee Chairman (comedy; NBC, 1945)
My Favourite Husband: French Lessons (comedy; CBS, 1949)
The Henry Morgan Show: Murder in the Club Copacabanish (comedy; NBC, 1949)
The CBS Radio Workshop: I Was the Duke (dramatic anthology; CBS, 1956)