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Radio / Fibber McGee and Molly

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"No, don't open that door, McGee!"

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 they'd honed in earlier vaudeville and radio work and combined them with a Midwestern small town setting to create one of that era's most iconic shows.

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 that never quite panned out. In spite of this, 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 attempt to perform some simple task, only to get interrupted by people dropping in at the house or stopping him and Molly on the street. 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 around 1940 and running through The Great Depression, World War II, the rest of the '40s and into the '50s), with its catchphrases and running gags well-known bits of American popular culture. There were two spinoff shows (The Great Gildersleeve, starring blowhard former neighbor Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, and Beulah, starring the McGees' housekeeper), along with four films featuring the characters – none of which are legally available on DVD as of 2023 – and a short-lived TV 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". Similarly, Nick DePopoulous calls them "Fizzer" and "Kewpie."
  • 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.
  • Catchphrase:
    • Molly's "Heavenly days!" and "'Tain't funny, McGee."
    • Fibber's "How's every little thing, Myrt?"
    • Mr. Old-Timer's "That's pretty good, Johnny, but that ain't the way I heared it!"
    • Gildersleeve's "You're a hard 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.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: 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.
  • Cutesy Name Town: Wistful Vista. It even sort of rhymes.
  • Don't Explain the Joke: Fibber often does this with his more obscure puns, invariably leading Molly to say, "'Tain't funny, McGee."
  • Doom It Yourself:
    • Numerous episodes involve Fibber conducting various home-repair projects, with predictable results.
    • In one of the movies, Fibber builds his own dishwasher. The result is nearly sold to the military as an anti-aircraft piece!
  • 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 in 2010.
  • 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. At one point, Wilcox just barges into their home and gives his pitch without any set-up, saying he's not ashamed of his employer or role, so he shouldn't have to beat around the bush; Fibber worries this might set a precedent for pitch-men.
  • Everybody Calls Him "Barkeep": The Old-Timer. Or, as Molly usually addresses him, "Mister Old-Timer".
  • 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 drop-in characters stropping by to wish Fibber and Molly a good summer. One of these is a woman whom neither of the McGees can quite recognize... until, just as she's leaving, she identifies herself as Myrt.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Fibber's Unusual Euphemisms were colorful, fast, and family-friendly. His usual exclamation of frustration was, "Dad drattit!", and his reaction to discovering he'd been outsmarted was, "Aw shaw!" 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, about which Molly has no illusions whatever, they are deeply in love.
  • Henpecked Husband: Wallace Wimple
  • Long Runner: 21 years (1935–56) as a standalone series, followed by three more as a short segment on Monitor.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Fibber is known for his tall tales.
    • Wallace Wimple is indeed a wimp.
    • Mrs. Uppington is "uppity" or haughty.
  • 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 Poster: "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.
  • Newhart Phone Call: Fibber's conversations with Myrt the operator.
  • 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.
  • 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 Catchphrase "..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.
    • "Oh, is that you, Myrt? How's every little thing, Myrt?"
    • Whenever someone asks the time, it's always referred to as "half-past."
  • Self-Deprecation: The show started this early and often.
  • Signing-Off Catchphrase:
    Fibber: Goodnight.
    Molly: Goodnight, all!
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Teeny's "I betcha".
  • 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. However, it is hinted to be near Peoria, Illinois several times.note 
  • Women Are Wiser: Molly is much more sensible and levelheaded than Fibber is.
  • Written-In Absence:
    • Molly was absent from the show for most of late 1938 and early 1939 while Marian Jordan was hospitalized for chronic alcoholism (or "fatigue", as the press of the time put it). The show was temporarily retitled Fibber McGee and Company for this period. When Marian Jordan was able to return to the show, the announcer deliberately emphasized the name "Molly" in the restored title her first episode back, resulting in a long round of applause for her.
    • Both leads were absent from a 1944 episode while Jim Jordan recuperated from pneumonia; they cleverly dealt with this by having Gildersleeve (who'd departed for his own show) returning to Wistful Vista with his nephew to visit his old neighbors, finding them away from home, and interacting with the various Drop-In Characters while waiting for the McGees to come back. (It eventually emerges that they ran for the hills as soon as they found out he was coming.)