Radio: Fibber McGee and Molly
A comedic radio series
that ran on NBC
from 1935 to 1959 in one form or another. The stars of the program were the real life husband-and-wife team
of Jim and Marian Jordan, who took characters honed in earlier vaudeville and radio work and combined them with a Midwestern small town setting to create an iconic radio program.
Fibber and Molly McGee lived at 79 Wistful Vista in a town also named Wistful Vista. Fibber had no actual job, and spent much of his time on get-rich-quick schemes which never panned out. And yet somehow the McGees never seemed to actually run out of money and lived quite comfortably, even being able to afford a housekeeper for a while. Each week Fibber would try out a new Zany Scheme
or try to do some simple task, interrupted by people dropping in
at the house or stopping him and Molly on the street. And to break up the gags, there would be one or more musical interludes.
The show was massively popular in its time, starting its peak years in 1940, but running through The Great Depression
, World War II
, The Forties
, and The Fifties
. Its running gags and characters inspired many imitators. There were two spin-offs: The Great Gildersleeve
, featuring blowhard neighbor Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, and Beulah
, which starred the McGees' housekeeper. There were four movies featuring the characters (none of which are legally available on DVD as of 2009)
and a short-lived television series with younger actors
in the lead roles.
Tropes featured in Fibber McGee and Molly include:
- Accidental Misnaming: For some odd reason, Mr. Old-Timer always addresses Fibber as "Johnny" and Molly as "Daughter".
- Acting for Two: Marian Jordan voiced Molly as well as the little girl, Teeny; Gale Gordon voiced Mayor LaTrivia as well as neighbor/weatherman Foggy Williams; and Bill Thompson voiced several characters including Mr. Old-Timer, Wallace Wimple, Horatio K. Boomer, and Nick Depopoulous.
- Added Alliterative Appeal: A popular gag by McGee. Building off a fake anecdote, he would launch into an impressive alliterative routine that usually segued into a commercial break or the next line of dialogue.
- Alleged Car: "Gotta get those brakes checked, one of these days..."
- Alliterative Name: Wallace Wimple. Molly McGee technically qualifies as well, although her full name is rarely if ever used in this manner.
- Brother Chuck: Though most characters who leave the show are given a reason (fighting in the war, gone to jail, etc.), a couple simply disappear without explanation. Some of them are occasionally referenced in name only later on.
- Catch Phrase: Molly's "Heavenly days!" and "'Tain't funny, McGee." Fibber's "How's every little thing, Myrt?" The Old-Timer's "That's pretty good, Johnny, but that ain't the way I heared it!" Gildersleeve's "You're a haaaaaaard man, McGee." Teeny's "I betcha" (which borders on Verbal Tic territory). Beulah's "Somebody bawl fo' Beulah?" and "Love that man!". Wallace Wimple's "Hello, folks." Horatio K. Boomer's "And a check for a short beer- well, well, imagine that, no [object]!"
- Chain of Corrections: Mayor LaTrivia was subjected to these practically every episode. They'd usually involve him innocently using some figure of speech, which Fibber or Molly (or both) would either take too literally or otherwise misinterpret, sometimes on purpose. LaTrivia's subsequent attempts to clear things up would only create more confusion, making him increasingly flustered and confused and generally reducing him to sputtering, incoherent rage by the time his visit was over.
- Constantly Curious: Teeny
- Cross-Dressing Voices: Beulah, a black woman, was played by Marlin Hurt, a Caucasian male actor. "Her" entrances often got a huge reaction from studio audiences, who were generally unaware of this before they saw it in person.
- Cutesy Name Town: Wistful Vista
- Don't Explain the Joke: Fibber often does this with his more obscure puns, invariably leading Molly to say, "T'ain't funny, McGee."
- Doom It Yourself: Numerous episodes involve Fibber conducting various home-repair projects, with predictable results.
- During the War: Episodes during World War II often dealt with the effects of the war on the civilian population. (In a positive, "we can get through this" manner.)
- The episode broadcast just after D-Day was an all-patriotic music show.
- In fact, this trope was so prevalent on the show that a book called How Fibber McGee and Molly Won World War II was published.
- Enforced Plug: In the person of Harlow Wilcox, local salesman for Johnson Wax (the show's primary sponsor.) Fibber and Molly often tease him about his obsession with the product and this is also frequently lampshaded, subverted, inverted, and generally played with.
- Everybody Calls Him Barkeep: The Old-Timer. Or, as Molly usually addresses him, "Mr. Old-Timer".
- Exploding Closet: The Trope Maker. Sometimes subverted.
- Funny Foreigner: Nick DePopoulous, a character from the early years of the show. A Greek restaurant owner, he was known for his malapropisms and Intentional Engrish for Funny.
- Also, in the later years of the show, the Swedish character Ole Swenson.
- The Ghost: Several characters were talked about but never heard, including Myrt the telephone operator; Molly's former beau, Otis Cadwallader; Fibber's old vaudeville partner, Fred Nitney; and Wallace Wimple's wife, "Sweetie-Face". Molly's Uncle Dennis was mostly this as well, although he did make a couple of on-air appearances.
- The last episode of the 1942-43 season had the various characters dropping by to wish Fibber and Molly a good summer. One of these is a woman who neither of the McGees can quite recognize...until, just as she's leaving, she tells them she's Myrt.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Fibber's Unusual Euphemisms were colorful, fast, and family-friendly. Most of the other characters on the show, especially Molly, would express surprise and shock at his clever and catchy "vulgarities".
- Grande Dame: Mrs. Abigail Uppington, Mrs. Millicent Carstairs
- Happily Married: Despite Fibber's foibles, which Molly had no illusions about, they were deeply in love.
- Henpecked Husband: Wallace Wimple
- Hey, It's That Voice!: Bill Thompson would use a variation of his Wallace Wimple voice for Tex Avery's Droopy cartoons, as well as the White Rabbit in Disney's Alice in Wonderland.
- Doc Gamble was voiced by Arthur Q. Bryan, otherwise known as Elmer Fudd.
- McGee himself, Jim Jordan, was Orville in The Rescuers.
- Long Runner
- Mean Character, Nice Actor: Jim Jordan, in an interview with NBC, noted that Fibber is a "liar and a bum", and couldn't explain how Fibber kept all of the friends that he had. He then went on to state that he was the opposite of Fibber in nearly every respect.
- Meaningful Name: Fibber is known for his tall tales.
- Medium Awareness: Frequently. For example, in one episode Wallace Wimple is talking about his wife leaving the radio on- "It's tuned to NBC, so she won't miss Fibber Mc...oh my goodness, she's heard everything we've said!"
- Misplaced Names Credits: "Marian and Jim Jordan as Fibber McGee and Molly."
- Multiple Choice Past: What kind of an act did Fibber and Fred Nitney have in vaudeville? How did Ole meet his wife? What did the Old Timer do for a living in the old days? We'll never know.
- No Fourth Wall: Not in a Tex Avery way, but most episodes, especially in the formative years, have at least one or two lines acknowledging that the action is taking place as part of a radio show. The wall was slowly constructed as the show continued, but that didn't stop the occasional Leaning on the Fourth Wall.
- The Operators Must Be Crazy: The operator Myrt always got sidetracked telling Fibber the latest gossip and never put the call through.
- Pungeon Master: Fibber.
- Punny Name: Mayor LaTrivia, a play on '30s-'40s NYC mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
- Required Spinoff Crossover: The McGees visited Gildersleeve in an episode of his own show.
- Rummage Fail: A character in the early years of the show, Horatio K. Boomer, had this as his running gag every week. It was usually an excuse for a Hurricane of Puns, inevitably ending with the Catch Phrase "..and a check for a short beer. Well, well, imagine that, no [object-of-the-week]!"
- Running Gag: Many, carefully spaced out so as not to get too tired. The most famous involved Fibber's utility closet, supposedly so stuffed that opening it caused avalanche-style sound effects.
- "The corner of 14th and Oak", where practically everything that happened in Wistful Vista outside the McGees' house took place.
- Self-Deprecation: The show started this early and often.
- Sound to Screen Adaptation: A TV series, starring different actors as Fibber and Molly, was attempted in 1959 but lasted only half a season. There were also several feature films made by RKO in the '40s and starring the radio cast.
- Spin-Off: The Great Gildersleeve and Beulah.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Mrs. Carstairs entered the show in the mid '40s, essentially being a duplicate of Mrs. Uppington, who had simply vanished off the show earlier.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Gildersleeve (though less so when he moved to his own show), Mrs. Uppington.
- Throw It In: Jim Jordan was a master at humorously ad-libbing past an occasional flubbed line, to the delight of the Studio Audience.
- Verbal Tic: Silly Watson, from the early Chicago years of the show, would habitually tack on the phrase "please sir" to the end of sentences.
- Very Special Episode: A small number of these occurred, especially during the war-time years, but one that stands out the mini-episode "War Time Cancer Show" in which McGee is upset that a friend of his has cancer, and Doctor Gamble enters to talk about the dangers and importance of consulting a doctor about cancer.
- While the cancer episode does fit the trope in question, technically it was a special 15-minute show specially recorded for the American Cancer Association, and NOT a regular half-hour episode.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Fibber and Doc Gamble.
- Fibber and Gildersleeve even more so.
- Where The Hell Is Springfield?: Exactly where Wistful Vista is located is a mystery.
- Written-In Absence: Molly was absent from the show for most of late 1938 and early 1939 while Marian Jordan was hospitalized for alcoholism (or "fatigue", as the press of the time put it). The show was temporarily retitled Fibber McGee and Company for this period.
- Both leads were absent from a 1944 episode while Jim Jordan recuperated from pneumonia; this was cleverly dealt with by having Gildersleeve (who had departed for his own show) returning to Wistful Vista to visit his old neighbors, finding them away from home, and interacting with the various Drop-In Characters while waiting for the McGees to return.