Wednesday, 4 March 2015

What Made Fibber and Molly

“Fibber McGee and Molly” had about as perfect a formula for a situation comedy as you could come up with. Set up the situation. Have time-tested supporting character appear ostensibly to comment on the situation then leave. Repeat several times. Conclude the situation with a twist. Add catchphrases. Repeat in seven days, adding occasional running gag (Myrt, closet).

Well, there was one other thing. Fibber McGee and Molly sounded like nice people. Someone like Chester A. (“Life Of...”) Riley was a loud blowhard. McGee could be a loud blowhard, too. But he was a nice one. He never seemed over the top, probably because the situations he found himself in weren’t over the top (fixing a clock, losing a train ticket, etc.) and ones the audience could easily accept.

The decay of network radio in the ‘50s quickly dismantled the elements and the formula that made “Fibber McGee and Molly” a success. In 1953, the show abruptly lost its studio audience and was scrunched into 15 minutes. Soon, it consisted of drop-ins on “Monitor.” Eventually, it couldn’t even be described as amusing or even droll, it was just dialogue. By the end of the decade, NBC told Fibber McGee and Molly to go away.

Let’s look at more pleasant days. Here’s a North American Newspaper Association column, July 15, 1944.


Plain, common-sense folks sometimes hit the jackpot in the amusement field but very seldom do they remain that way. Most of them get glamor and importance and find trouble remembering their old friends. One outstanding exception, or two rather, in the combination traveling under the radio and screen name of Fibber McGee and Molly.
In real life, of course, they're Jim and Marian Jordan, husband and wife who manage a home life in a secluded section of Hollywood even though their Radio Crossley is one of the very highest in the business. Recently RKO studio signed them for a new series of pictures and their latest, "Heavenly Days," is just about to be released.
When yon meet Jim and Marian Jordan you realize at once why their Fibber and Molly should be so down-to-earth and understandable. Their creators are equally real and normal just home folks who have never shown the slightest inclination to bask in the Hollywood spotlight.
"Listen, Pal," said Jim Jordan, "this is the toughest interviewing assignment you've ever faced. We just aren't interesting folks in print. We don't know how to ‘give.’ It's the old story, I guess —we just haven't got the color."
They do express a pleased sort of wonderment that they've managed to entertain so many people and keep them smiling, but they still insist that their private lives are of no interest to the seeing and listening customers.
Recently when the Jordans celebrated a wedding anniversary on their movie set, wires, phone calls and letters came pouring into RKO. The two were frankly amazed. "Gosh!" was Jim's comment, "I never knew we had so many friends."
The Jordans—both natives of Peoria, Ill., where Jim was born 48 years ago, and Marian a year later—look like Fibber and Molly. You'd recognize ‘em anywhere. Jim is a sprightly, rotund gent with twinkling blue eyes and Marian, a trim, attractive person who would never be suspected of having two grown children, is exactly the sort of person to whom you turn for sound reasoning and advice.
To strangers, Jim’s shyness often seems a trifle brusque, but after you've conversed a few minutes, you realize he's telling the truth and pulling on no act when he says, "I keep quiet when I haven't got anything to say; I think a lot of the headaches in this world could be avoided if more people practiced that."
The Jordans are one of the few old-time couples in show business whose first great success came via radio. After Jim got out of the Army following the last war, he and Marian toured tank towns with their own vaudeville troupe. Things weren't so good until they hit Chicago in 1924, when Jim, on a bet, tried out for a radio show and was hired as a singer. He earned $10 for the date and opened a new field for himself and wife.
For some years thereafter they made a precarious living until they and writer Don Quinn, with whom they had been working off and on, hit on the characters of Fibber and Molly, prototypes of the wise guy who always shoots off his mouth at the wrong time, and the level-headed wife who generally manages in he around to get him out of his jams.
Psychologists have attempted to explain the success of the Jordans with long, impressive Latin words. Elaborate explanations have been written as to why and how people from every walk of life drop whatever they're doing to tune in their program or rush to the neighborhood theatre or see them on the screen.
However, nothing that's ever been written seems to sum up Fibber and Molly nearly so well as Marian Jordan, when she says: "We try to make them the kind of folks who live right next door—the people everybody laughs at without realizing that they're laughing right back, for the same reasons."

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