Fibber & Co.
Monday, Apr. 22, 1940
Tops for popularity among all U. S. weekday radio entertainers (just behind Sunday top-liners Jack Benny and Edgar Bergen) are an old time, tank-town vaudeville couple from Peoria, who 15 years ago were considered washed up—Jim and Marion Jordan. By radio alias they are Fibber McGee and Molly of 79 Wistful Vista. This week they celebrate Fibber & Co.’s fifth season on the air for Johnson’s Glo-Coat floor wax.* Last week they made their debut in the dramatic bigtime, playing Mama Loves Papa (a Charles Ruggles-Mary Boland movie story) on CBS’s Lux Radio Theatre. They let the characterization pass, wrung the gags unmercifully, but no one minded. A year ago Fibber & Co. were metaphorically down among the acrobats in popularity. This season they were booked into a select spot on NBC’s Tuesday-night bill. The result has been as gratifying as a season at the Palace.
In post-war vaudeville, low-slung Jim and Marion Jordan (he 5 ft. 6, she 5 ft. 4), a married musical pair, never got near the Palace. They never got far in radio until they met a fat, frustrated but merry cartoonist named Don Quinn, who gagged better than he drew. Quinn devised a skit called Smack Out, in which Jim ran a grocery that was always smack out of everything but the proprietor’s tall stories.
The program earned the Jordans and Quinn $125 a week altogether. Out of it developed Fibber McGee & Co.
To some 20,000,000 regular listeners Fibber’s garrulous tarradiddles, the broguish comeuppances Molly metes out to him, the dated didos of his numerous stooges, are as familiar as the pattern of the living-room rug. Fibber is an incorrigible blowhard, but a game guy to boot. With nonpareil confidence, he tries his luck at anything, from barbering to running an army.
On the air Fibber is always Fibber, but Molly plays many recurrent script characters—Grandma, frustrated Mrs. Wearybottom, Teeny, a neighbor’s child famed for throwing Fibber for a minor loss every time she pops up.
Next to her ” ‘Tain’t funny, McGee,” the most reliable line in the weekly Johnson Wax act is the “deef” Old Timer’s topper for Fibber’s gags: “That’s pretty good, Johnny, but that ain’t the way I heerd it. . . .” The Old Timer, Mr. Depopolis (a restaurateur), and Horatio K. Boomer, who acts and sounds W. C. Fields in carnival pitch, are various voices of Radio Actor William Thompson.
The man who keeps the funnybones of Fibber & Co. ribbing the customers in the old-fashioned way is still Don Quinn. He and the Jordans still split the radio salary three ways, a weekly net of something like $4,000. As top-line radio salaries go, this is small potatoes. Tip-off to the Johnson Glo-Coat bargain rate with Fibber & Co. is that S. C. Johnson & Son own the names Fibber McGee and Molly.
Without these air-inflated cognomens, Jim and Marion Jordan might now be back in Peoria. As it is, they live on a Peoria scale.
In Chicago, when they first crashed the four-figure level, they built a new house. But it was a duplicate in most respects of the $70-a-month house they had rented, and they built it on the next-door lot.
In 1939 they moved to California for Molly’s health, after a nervous breakdown at 40 which kept her off the air for almost two seasons. Their California home is a modest, eight-room Ensenada bungalow with green shutters, and rooms for the two young Jordans, Jim Jr. and Katherine. Out back, Jim Sr., now about 45. has a workshop and a vegetable patch, just as Fibber has at radio’s 79 Wistful Vista. But off the air Jim Jordan is everything Fibber is not. He is handy with tools, his garden produces and, on the side, he runs two lucrative, if Fibber-style, ventures. One is a factory making sandblasting equipment. The other is the Kansas City bottling plant of Hires Root Beer.
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