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Jim and Marian Jordan's
Contributions to Radio

Laura Buck
Washington School, Peoria

"It was a heavenly day," Jim Jordan was quoted, "that Marian [Driscoll] was born." Jim Jordan himself was born on November 16, 1896, on a farm six miles from Peoria. Marian was born on the south side of Peoria. This couple, who loved to sing, always wanted to be entertainers, and they foresaw the vast commercial radio audiences for which they were to perform. Eventually they teamed to make one of early radio's best-known acts, "Fibber McGee and Molly."

Jim Jordan and Marian Driscoll met in St. John's Cathedral, Peoria, at a choir practice. They enjoyed talking about being in a vaudeville show, although at the time Jim worked at a hardware store and Marian taught piano. Jim was later in a vaudeville act, "A Night with the Poets," as a popular but low-paid tenor.

Jim later became a mailman, and he married Marian in 1918. Jim attempted to enlist during World War One but was later called on a draft quota. He was sent to France to fight, but caught influenza

Microphone
Radio microphones like this one by RCA, were at one time commonplace in radio studios. Broadcast announcers and performers stepped up to the mike to get their message out to their listeners at home.

ILLINOIS HISTORY / MARCH 1993 45


As the radio era flourished, bigger and better radios were available for purchase. Today's radios are dwarfed by furniture-sized console radios of the 1930s and 40s.
Philco Ad

and was placed in a military hospital. After the war he stayed in Europe performing vaudeville for recovering soldiers.

Jim then returned to the United States and tried several jobs as a laborer, a mechanic, and an insurance salesman. Marian and Jim then created a vaudeville show, doing odd jobs to make ends meet. Two children, Jim Jr. and Kathryn, were born during this time.

In 1927 Jim and Marian premiered their first show, "The Smith Family," on radio station WENR in Chicago. They had been singing commercials for the past two years, and the show was a great boost to their career.

In 1931 they started their second show, "The Smack-Outs," about a gossipy green-grocer who loved to say that he was "smack-out of everything 'cept hot air." This was also their first show with cartoonist Don Quinn, who wrote the show. The show lasted four years.

Their next show was "Fibber McGee and Molly," which became their greatest success in radio comedy. Johnson Wax advertising department discovered the comedy team and their ability to make people laugh during the "Smack-Outs" show. Jim and Marian based "Fibber McGee and Molly" on the characters in "The Smack-Outs." Their new show premiered in 1935 on the NBC Blue Network. But the plot line was far-fetched and the ratings low. The characters were too unreal, a problem with many early radio programs.

In 1939 "Fibber McGee and Molly" were transferred to the West Coast. Don Quinn added more reality to the characters, and the ratings began to climb. People related to the lifelike traits of the couple. "Fibber," played by Jim, was supposedly the typical middle-class man, and he and Molly were the epitome of a middle-class couple. He was a dreamer and very homey and loved talking of his earlier days playing the mandolin while on the Illinois River. "Molly," played by Marian, was the practical one. She sometimes had to set Fibber straight. She was intelligent and trustworthy, the perfect wife.

Fibber's antagonist was his next-door neighbor, Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve. Gildersleeve was the president of Gildersleeve's Girdleworks, and he and Fibber were always trading insults and insights. Harold Peary, who played Gildersleeve, was an ex-singer on a variety show. His character was later given its own show, "The Great Gildersleeve," and the "Dutchman" became another popular radio personality. When Peary left for his own show, Quinn created the character of Mayor La Trivia, a vote-seeking politician whom Fibber and Molly loved to antagonize. He was played by Gale Gordon. Gordon was drafted for the Coast Guard in World War II,

46 ILLINOIS HISTORY / MARCH 1993


Cast and crew of WLS radio
The cast and crew of WLS radio in Chicago gathered for a photo. Since listeners
at home did not know what radio personalities looked like, some stations
published staff photos in local newspapers.

and the character of Doc Gamble was created. Doc was smoother and wiser than Fibber, and loved to prove it.

The show created many other interesting characters. "Mrs. Uppington" (or Uppity, as she was called) was the town snob and gossip. "Teeny," a girl who lived next door, always annoyed Fibber with her whinings. Beulah, the black maid who "loved her Fibber," was later replaced by an Irish-Scotch maid. Wallace Wimple was a henpecked figure who was constantly being annoyed by his wife, whom he called "sweetie-face."

An integral part of the plot was their closet, which soon became a radio cliche. It was filled with everything from moose heads to bladeless can openers. Whenever Fibber opened the closet, there came a series of sound effects that became known as "the sound memorial of stuntmen."

"Fibber McGee and Molly" was a ten-minute segment on "Monitor," a television variety show, when the Jordan's ended their act. Marian Jordan died of cancer a year later, and Jim died in 1988. They left behind a memory of their shows and lives that will not be forgotten. "Fibber McGee and Molly" has become a symbol of the Golden Years of Radio, those days when people would gather around the radio each night to listen to that show and many others like it. Jim and Marian's show (and their famous closet) survived their deaths, and form a part of our cultural heritage.[From F. Burton, Radio's Golden Years; J. Harmon, The Great Radio Comedians; Peoria Journal Star, Ap. 6, 1961, Ap. 2, 1988, and Ap. 10, 1989.]

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