Mr. Mergenthwirker's Lobblies: A Fantastic Comedy in Three Acts by Nelson Bond (1957)
The lobblies came into being in 1937, the same year that Nelson S. Bond began his writing career. Those amiable, invisible, mischevious, beer-guzzling, color-changing, claivoyant -- and purely fictional --creatures don't really exist, but it's pleasant to think they could be real and actually had a hand in his success. Lobblies, after all, are more than ready to help anyone who has a pure heart.
Mr. Mergenthwirker's Lobblies was first published as a short story in Scribner's magazine in November, 1937. It was the basis for a radio series as well as a story series in Argosy. It gained further legs when Julius Fast included it in his 1944 anthology Out of This World; Fast's collection went through four printings in three years. In 1946, Bond used the story to helm his first collection, Mr. Mergenthwirker's Lobblies and Other Fantastic Tales. Earlier, in 1943, Bond began putting his popular creatures in play form -- an unpublished version of the play was copyrighted in 1943; this version was eventually presented on NBC television's Broadway Previews on September 22, 1946, featuring no actors I have ever heard of. Oh, well. The final, revised version of the play was published in 1957, the first of several plays by Bond to be published, and the one we are dicussing here.
Len Hawley, a reporter newly promoted to a desk job, is engaged to ice queen Alicia Burton, the daughter of a currect alderman and mayoral hopeful. Len has been working hard on his future father-in-law's campaign but, even though Burton is now considered a shoo-in for the next day's election (thanks mainly to Len's efforts), the politico is none to happy about his daughter being engaged to a lowly journalist. Being a typical dim-bulb hero out of a 1940s slapstick comedy, Len does not realize that his fellow reporter Sherry Maguire is secretly in love with him. Enter Henry Mergenthwirker.
Megenthwirker is a quiet, inoffensive man who wants to report a murder, one that will happen later that day. He claims that his friends Henry and Japheth, lobblies who can see the future but can themselves only be seen by Mergenthwirker, told him in great detail about the murder. Len kicks the man out of his office only to later find that the murder had occurred exactly as Mergenthwirker had said. What Mergenthwirker had not mentioned was that the victim was his soon-to-be father-in-law's attractive secretary.
Act II finds Len drowning his sorrows at a nearby bar. Mergenthwirker and his (we assume 'cuz we can't see 'em) lobblies enter. This is where we discover how much lobblies like beer and where Len watches in amazement as glasses are drained of beer while no one is there to drink them. There's also some amusing interplay between the lobblies and a drunk at a slot machine. Mergenthwirker tells Len that he and the lobblies are at the bar to watch a bank robbery that will soon take place across the street. Len has now been convinced that the lobblies are real and that the robbery will take place. He calls his paper and gets reporters and a photographer to come to the bar and cover the soon-to-break story. Len's boss soon appears wondering why most of his newspaper's resources are hanging out at a neighborhood bar. Minutes later the robbery happens and Len's crew are on top of the story. Len is hailed as a reporting genius and the story is readied to be called in just in time to make the that day's edition. But...
Just then word comes through that Alicia's father has just been arrested for his secretary's murder. The robbery story is forgotten as Len's boss prepares major stories about the arrest, stories which will also sink Alderman Burton's chances in the next day's election.
Will Len save his future father-in-law and solve the murder? Will he finally wise up and realize the Sherry is the one for him? Will the lobblies ever sober up? *****SPOILER ALERT***** Yes, to all three questions. *****END OF SPOILER ALERT*****
This is a charming, and very dated, romantic comedy. Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn were starring in the movie in my mind as I read the play. Amusing and frothy, Mr. Mergenthwirker's Lobblies may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it gave me a few pleasant hours.