Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Anonymous Fibber McGee

On the face of it, it makes no sense that “Fibber McGee and Molly” never made it on television. It was incredibly popular on radio for years. It may be the only radio show that spawned two spin-offs that went on to some success on TV while it lagged behind.

But it boiled down to a few things. Jim and Marian Jordan didn’t want to compete in what they called “a killing rat race.” They certainly didn’t need the money. Marian’s health was never very good. And when the show finally did move to TV, it was 1959, seemingly generations removed from its heyday, and featured two different actors in a format not the same as what radio listeners heard for years.

Here’s an Associated Press column from 1953. Radio is already been treated as something passé. Jim Jordan talks about television and that fine byproduct of radio—anonymity in public.

Radio's Still Good Enough for Fibber and Molly, But Maybe--

HOLLYWOOD, Nov. 21.—(AP)— Fibber McGee and Molly vow radio is still good enough for them, even though the pay is less than half what it used to be in the pre-television days.
It's well known in the trade that many a sponsor would love to convert the saga of Wistful Vista from radio to television. If ever a format were ready made for TV, the story of the bungling Fibber and his practical Molly is it.
"We'll probably do TV one of these days," promises Fibber, "but we found out on our last trip to Peoria that a lot of people still listen to radio."
Mild Humor Is Goal
When that time comes, Fibber hints that he will not try for any sock belly laughs. "It makes you too hard to watch, unless you're Red Skelton or Abbott and Costello. I hate situation comedies that keep pushing too hard for the belly laughs.
His favorite television show is "Mr. Peepers."
"That show will last because it's easy to watch," says McGee.
Although McGee doesn't admit it, television might deprive Molly and him of one of-the joys of life for celebrities. The two, despite their success, are seldom recognized.
Privacy Uninvaded
As Jim and Marian Jordan, they love to take trailer trips and fish. Fibber tells of the-time they went fishing up in northern California. They spent five days with other campers and never once were associated with their famed radio characters.
On the last day a fisherman in the camp landed a big one and asked all the others to sign a certificate so he could carry his proof back home.
"I looked at Marian and she looked at me and said, 'Why not?' since we were leaving camp anyhow. I signed it 'Fibber McGee.'
"The guy got sore at me and said, 'Why did you have to sign that liar's name? Now no one will believe me'."
Another time a friend took them to visit an Indian woman and her family near Santa Fe, N.M.
"The whole family sang and played guitars. Our friend said to the woman, Do you know Fibber McGee and Molly?' She answered 'How does it go?' "

The Jordans held on to radio as long as they could, after just about everyone else had deserted it. In 1953, “Fibber McGee and Molly” switched from a nightly half-hour once a week to a daytime 15-minuter five days a week. Then the show moved to NBC’s all-weekend-long hodgepodge called “Monitor,” a show which still has fiercely loyal fans and attracted top announcers and other talent. But Fibber and Molly found themselves like countless people in the radio business—unceremoniously dumped. Indispensable talent one day is unwanted airwave clutter the next. Such is the nature of the radio business, as anyone who has worked in it for any length of time can honestly attest. Here’s a story from United Press International from February 4, 1960 about the end of Fibber McGee and Molly.

Wistful Vista Pair Out After 33 Years

By Rick Du Brow

HOLLYWOOD (UPI) — Jim and Marian Jordan, radio's original Fibber McGee and Molly, are out of a broadcasting job for the first time in 33 years — and they're looking for another one.
Jim, 63, and Marian, 61, two of radio’s pioneers, are not at all happy about being let out to pasture by NBC. And they don’t pull any punches about how they were let go.
“It was just the turn of a word in August,” said Jim. “We asked them if they wanted us back the next week, and they said no. We were on a four-week notice basis anyway.
“BESIDES OUR weekly bits on the ‘Monitor’ show, we had done some things for a program called ‘Stardust,’ and apparently that ‘Stardust’ thing wasn't making money.”
Interviewed in his white, two-story home, Jim, who is stout and gray-haired, said he heard that new “Fibber McGee and Molly” series on television was a contributing factor to his and Marian’s release.
The TV series stars Bob Sweeney and Kathy Lewis.
“We heard NBC wanted to avoid confusion that might be caused by two sets of voices.
“But other shows — like ‘Gunsmoke’ — have different casts for radio and TV.”
* * * *
THE JORDANS, who met 45 years ago in their home town of Peoria, Ill., are looking for the leisurely kind of radio job they had for the last few years on “Monitor.”
“We’d like to be doing something,” said Jim. “On ‘Monitor,’ we did 10 three-minute bits a week. We did it ourselves on tape. There wasn’t much glamor and excitement, but we enjoyed it.
“We can’t do anything much more strenuous because doctors have told Mrs. Jordan to take it easy. We’ve been knocking ourselves out for years.”
Doctors’ orders are one of the main reasons the Jordans didn’t attempt the frantic pace of TV production — and originate the video version of “Fibber McGee and Molly” themselves.
At first, said Jordan, NBC wanted him and Marian to do the TV version.
“NBC bought the Fibber and Molly names in 1949,” he said. “The idea when we made the sale was that we were to continue pretty much as we had. Then the pressure started on us to do TV right away.
“But all our people and our common sense told us not to do it. After all, we were on top of the radio heap and had fine contracts — and we felt we shouldn’t do TV until it was necessary. And our doctor told us not to.
“If the business had been developed and refined in 1953 the way it is now, we might have started on TV. But there was too much emotional stress then. We didn’t know how to do it, and nobody else did either.
“THEY ALL had to learn, and a lot of them keeled over on the way. So NBC started trying to find other people to play our parts. We helped. After all, we still have a financial interest in the series.”
Jordan made it plain he misses the days when Fibber’s clogged closet, Molly’s exasperated “Heavenly days” and the shenanigans at Wistful Vista were a part of Americana.
“But we’re not retired,” he said. “We just disposed of a ranch, we’re fixing up our house and we’re planning a trip. And we’re lookin’ for work.”

You don’t retire from radio. Radio retires you. And that’s what happened to Jim and Marian Jordan. Marian died in April 1961 from her continued poor health. They never made it back on the air after “Monitor” except in reruns on old-time radio broadcasts evoking nostalgia. Truly was it appropriate that Fibber and Molly lived on Wistful Vista.


  1. Marian Jordan actualy died in 1961..While Jim did very little TV, he did do a Public Service Announcement for I think AARP in the 1970's, as well as appear in a 1976 Chico and The Man Episode as a retired mechanic..Seeing it once, he did come out to warm applause..

  2. The hall closet was a gimmick that could only be envisioned on radio..that was a factor.SteveC.