July 17, 2014
Fibber McGee and Molly is an Old Time Radio show, meaning that no one under the age of 50 has heard of it. Well, that’s not entirely true. OTR has a thriving sub-culture of radio show collectors, each hoarding old and rare copies of shows that originally aired from about 1935 to 1963. You and I don’t get to listen to these. Old records (called “transcription discs”) are treated like gold, only rarer, and are only played once every epoch when wizened old men pay homage to The Great and Terrible Victrola and play these discs while taking their communal liver pills.
Aside from that, there is a ton of old radio shows available out there for free and they aren’t hard to find. Are they in the public domain? Trust me; you are better off not asking. Move along.
I’ve got some favorites and even though they date back decades, you are very familiar with at least one of them, a guy you may have heard of called Superman. And another favorite isn’t quite as big but he is currently being published and can be found pretty close to ol’ Supes, The Shadow. I also enjoy The Jack Benny Show and Abbott and Costello, just to name a few.
There are also some shows I really don’t care for, and I recently came into possession of a free collection of one of those shows, Fibber McGee and Molly. Now, I do tend to be a discriminating snob, but on the other hand, free is free, and who am I to look a $40 value in the mouth? I decided to give it a listen because my favorite comedy, The Great Gildersleeve, was a spin-off of this show and I was eager to hear his early appearances.
Gildersleeve does not appear in these shows.
I am nothing if not a fair man and I have to admit that, in all honestly, while I have not come to love Fibber McGee and Molly, I have come to hate them.
Fibber McGee is- wait for it- a fibber. He lies. He exaggerates, He makes himself out to be a big man and he is not. (But if he has no influence, why does the Mayor always drop by his house? I have no idea, the Mayor hates him.) Molly is his wife who affectionately calls her husband “McGee.” She’ll also lovingly refer to him as “Fibber” or “Himself,” as in “Himself has been thinking of flying an airplane.” She has a habit of laughing hysterically whenever an actor flubs a line, which seems to happen quite a lot on this show.
Most of the humor of the show comes from the broad characterizations of the supporting characters and Fibber’s (Jim Jordan) less-than-subtle wordplay. While the audience laughs at even the least funny pun, very often some of the jokes come and go without a whisper of a laugh, a point even Fibber will sometimes remark on. Marian Jordan, who played Molly, battled alcoholism most of her life. And while that isn’t a laughing matter, it is amusing to try to guess how far in the bag she is during any given performance. Sometimes she laughs so hard at some of the jokes (especially the flubs) that you wonder what show she’s listening to that only she can hear.
One of the conceits of this show is that everyone in town stops by their house, for no reason, at any time. This includes The Mayor, Mrs. Carstairs, who is the local rich woman and sounds like Margaret Dumont from the old Marx Brothers movies, Doctor Gamble who is not and is never funny, and other assorted neighbors with funny voices. There’s the wimpy guy who sounds like Droopy Dog, the old guy who sounds old, and the little girl who messes up the English language and is obviously voiced by a middle-aged man. (Actually, Molly provides her voice, and what does that tell you about Molly?)
And don’t get me started on Harlow Wilcox, the Johnson Wax salesman who is so annoying even Fibber seems to dislike him- and that’s the sponsor’s product!
Everyone takes a shot at insulting Fibber and out of all of them, the doctor is the least funny. He’ll walk in and say “Hello, trombone,” or “Hello Molly, hello tennis shoe.” Is that funny? No, it is not. There is no context for any of that. Why is he calling him “trombone?” There is no set up for it, no rhyme or reason. If Fibber was playing in a band, ok, maybe.
Although the show is generally not funny, and gets less funny the more Molly opens her mouth, the more I listen the more annoying it gets. Like I said, people just drop by all the time and that’s how Fibber gets to interact with them. Fred Allen used to walk down Allen’s Alley and knock on doors. This is the same thing except Fibber stays home and everyone comes to him. But there is almost never any reason for them to drop by. There will be a knock on the door, Mrs. Carstairs will walk in and immediately get caught up in the McGee shenanigans, then say she has to get going and leave. Why did she stop by to begin with? We never find out. Then The Old Timer will stop over, Fibber will badger him about something and he’ll leave, and we’ll never know why he came by. Then Wallace Wimple would come and go, and why we’ll never know. (BTW, he calls his wife “Sweetie Face,” which just sounds ridiculous.) OK, maybe I’m being picky. After all, this is a silly sitcom and all the coming and going is just to set up McGee for jokes anyway. But on at least one occasion it was glaringly stupid.
In one particular episode, it was ten degrees below freezing and Fibber, with his usual false bravado, was threatening to go out for a brisk walk by the lake. Of course, he had no intention of going. Did I mention it was also snowing and hailing outside, with a wind strong enough to knock over tress? Then there is a knock on the door and Doctor Gamble comes in. After a few “jokes” Fibber tells him he’s going for a walk, and the doctor tells him that it isn’t fit for man nor beast outside, that he saw a snow drift as big as a house, that Fibber would freeze before he got three feet. The doctor then said goodbye and left. So what was he doing out? What did he want at the McGee’s? Where was he going? No clue. Seemed like he just went out to tell Fibber not to go out. I would have just used the phone. Then Mrs. Carstairs stopped by, said it was so cold her butler froze and left, as mysteriously as she arrived. Then everyone else did the same thing. If it was so nasty out, what were any of them doing outside? We’ll never know.
You know, if the jokes were funny, if the show made me laugh, none of this would have bothered me.
Overall, and seriously, Fibber McGee and Molly really isn’t bad. I have gotten one or two chuckles out of it, but in the long run, I’ve gotten more laughs from watching some baby ducks on the side of the road.