Fibber McGee and Molly – History
Fibber McGee and Molly, the characters in the series were portrayed by the real-life couple and Illinois natives James Jordan (Jim) and Marian Driscoll. Whereas Jordan was the son of a farmer, Marian was the daughter of coal miner and both belonged to large families. They met regularly at the Peoria local church choir practice. Both had a taste for music and professional singing and acting aspirations much against their parents’ wishes. Jim wanted to be a singer and Marian a music teacher. Jim soon became a professional at Chicago following his voice teacher’s recommendations. He came back to Peoria in less than a year and took up a job in the Post Office. Soon afterwards they were married.
After a brief stint in an army entertainment group, both tried their hands at a vaudeville act. It was during this time that Marian and James had two children. Marian spent time in and out of the house while James was busy with a solo act. Soon they found themselves with a family, but out of funds. During their stay with Jim’s brother in Chicago in 1924, the family used to spend time listening to the radio. As a result of a bet between Jim and his brother on whether he could be better than the current singing act on the radio, Jim and Marian earned a weekly contract (with WIBO) for which they were paid $10. The program ran for six months. Soon they were financially better off and built their own home in Chicago.
Fibber McGee and Molly Radio Series
The Fibber McGee and Molly radio series had its origin when Jim and Marian were into the third year of their life in Chicago when they were doing radio programs with WENR. Some programs written by Harry Lawrence formed the precedence for situational comedies that were aired (Luke and Mirandy; The Smith Family). Both Jim and Marian were part of the show. It was around this time (1931) that the couple hired Donald Quinn as their script writer. Later he went on to become their full-time partner. The trio created Smackout’ for WMAQ which was based on the true story of a store-owner. Jim and Marian lent their voices for the daily 15-minute program and this was later picked up and telecast by NBC from 1931 to 1933.
Henrietta Johnson Lewis, one of the owners of S.C. Johnson Co., recommended that the show be aired on a national network. Through the final agreement between S.C. Johnson and the Jordans, Fibber McGee’ and Molly’ came into existence. Jim played error-prone Fibber and Marian played his patient wife Molly. The script was developed by Quinn. It was premiered in the month of April in 1935. However, it became one of the biggest hit radio shows in about three seasons.
During the years 1937 to 1939, Marian was temporarily absent from the show when she had to deal with her own growing alcoholism. This gap was cleverly sealed by the script. ZaSu Pitts and Donald Novis made appearances in the show during this time. Though caught in a rule violation case, the radio shows resumed. By the year 1940 Fibber McGee and Molly had built the largest audience ever and went about steadily maintaining it.
Much of the radio program involved recurring gags of the various characters and punch lines. The radio programs were run on tight schedules with a two-day rest after the weekly episode was run on Tuesdays. Different companies including Pet Milk and Reynolds Aluminum sponsored the show. Though they tried to recreate the series in television in the year 1959, the charm was absent and it did not survive even for one season. As one of the longest running radio programs, Fibber McGee and Molly stood the test of time and even transcended the limitations of the broadcast medium.