Life in Wistful Vista
The much loved Fibber McGee and Molly Show was developed in Chicago in 1935. It combined the Vaudevillian talents of its lead actors, married couple Jim and Marion Jordan, with the writing of former cartoonist Don Quinn.
According to one account, the magazines that Quinn submitted his cartoons to would scrap his drawings but would use his captions. So he turned to radio, and began working with the Jordan's, at first on Smackout and later making the move to Fibber McGee and Molly. It has been reported that Quinn's work habits were frustrating to keep up with. He would delay writing until the last minute, then just before show time he would "get a big pot of coffee and two cartons of cigarettes and he'd sit up all night." But no one can argue with the results! Unlike most comedies for radio and television that have their gags written by a staff of writers, Quinn was the sole writer for much of the shows run.
Life at 79 Wistful Vista (the McGee's address from August 1935 on) was never dull with Fibber's harebrained schemes and penchant for antagonism, and the reactions of his long suffering but ever patient wife Molly. Quinn and the Jordan's endlessly tinkered with the show during its early years to find perfect formula. How many musical numbers were needed? How many recurring characters? Should the singers be ensemble or soloists? The program was more of a variety show in the beginning, with comic sketches interspersed between musical numbers. Gradually it developed into a prototype for Family Situation Comedy.
Part of the charm of Fibber McGee and Molly was its loyalty to middleclass American sensibilities. Early in the development of the show, while network executives were trying to drive the show toward more fanciful directions, Marian put her foot down. If it couldn't happen in Peoria, there was no room for it on their show. Once this "policy" was implemented the show blossomed.
Marian was forced to leave the show for 18 months beginning in 1937. During this time the show became Fibber McGee And Company and moved from Chicago to Hollywood. Out west and once Marian returned to the company, the show took off, claiming the number one spot in the ratings by 1943. They would swap the number one spot with Bob Hope's show for several years.
In 1953 Fibber McGee and Molly left their half hour studio format and became a nightly 15 minute show. This was due largely to Marian's periodic health problems. The 15 minute shows were taped in a home studio without the studio audience to better allow Marian to rest as she needed. Many consider the shows final cancellation in 1959 to be the end of the Golden Age of Radio.
There was an attempt to capture the magic of Fibber McGee and Molly on the small screen in September of 1959 on NBC. The TV show had little participation from the radio veterans (Harold Peary appeared in the role of Mayor LaTrivia Rather than as the beloved Gildersleeve) and did not survive for a second season.