Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, May 2, 2019


In radio's first true spin-off series, our hero Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve has left the quiet town of Wistful Vista, where he had been the perfect foil of Fibber McGee, to the town of Summerfield (somewhere in Radioland) to become the town's water commissioner.

Harold Peary (1908-1985) began his radio career in 1923, eventually gaining his own local (San Francisco) show as a singer in The Spanish Serenader.  He moved to Chicago in 1937, and the following year began to play the prototype of his most famous character in the popular show Fibber McGee and Molly; the character had several first names and occupations before he became Throckmorton P. (the P. stood for Philharmonic) Gildersleeve, McGee's neighbor and owner of the Gildersleeve Girlish Girdle Company.  (Incidentally, somewhere along the journey, he lost his wife -- referred to but never seen on Fibber McGee and Molly -- and became a bachelor with guardianship of his niece and nephew, Marjorie and Leroy Forrester,the orphaned children of his late brother-in-law.

The Great Gildersleeve ran on NBC radio from August 31, 1941-June 2, 1954.  Regular characters included Birdie (the black cook and housekeeper, who as the series progressed became more intelligent and the one person who kept the household running as smoothly as possible #letsslowlychangestereotypes), Judge Horace Hooker (neighbor and executor of Gildersleeve's brother-in-law's estate #enemiesatfirstthenfinallyfriends), druggist Richard Q. Peavey, barber Floyd Munson #explain to mewhysomanybarbersarenamedfloydwilltouandyofmayberry), and police chief Donald Gates.

Over the course of the series, Gildersleeve almost got married three times, to Martha Scott, Jeanne Bates, and Kathy Lewis.  Speaking of marriage, niece Marjorie grew up and, during the ninth season, married Walter "Bronco" Thompson, played by Richard Crenna (#explaintomewhysomanyteenageradioboyfriendswerenamedwalterwouldyoumissconniebrooks).

Gildersleeve's far-less-than-perfect secretary Bessie was played by the real-life future Mrs. Harold Peary, Gloria Holiday.

The Great Gildersleeve was most popular during the 1940s. In 1950 Harold Peary tried to move the show to CBS, but the sponsor, Kraft Foods, balked.  Peary had already signed a contracted with CBS which forbade him to star on NBC.  NBC still held the rights to the show and the Gildersleeve name, so Willard Waterman became the new Gildersleeve.  CBS place Peary in a show similar to Gildersleeve with the names changed, but that show lasted only one season.  By 1952, long-time popular characters vanished for months at a time and newer characters were tries out -- most lasting only a month or so.  The show morphed into a one-note bore, concentrating on Gildersleeve's love life.  In 1954, NBC's fall schedule begin with Gildersleeve.  When it finally appeared that November, gone were the original scripts, the live audience, the orchestra, and the thirty-minute format.  In its place was a five-times-a-week, fifteen minute program featuring only Gildersleeve, Leroy, and Birdie.  Sic transit gloria mundi.

During the show's heyday, Peary also starred as Gildersleeeve in four movies from 1942-1944.  Earlier, Peary was featured as Gildersleeve, along with Jim and Marion Jordon as Fibber McGee and Molly, in two films, Look Who's Laughing (1941) and Here We Go Again (1942).  Peary also issued three children's record albums narrating fairy tales "told in his own way by the Great Gildersleeve.  Also as Gildersleeve, Peary released a 78 record of Dr. Suess's Gerald McBoing-Boing.

A 1955 attempt to move The Great Gildersleeve to television with Willard Waterman in the title role lasted only 39 episodes.

At one time The Great Gildersleeve had been one of the brightest comedy programs on radio.

This episode was the show's 51st (out of 551).  Enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for filling in my gaps in knowledge about Hal Peary. I never imagined he would marry the actress who played Bessie. Also, what possessed him to try moving the show to CBS? It's too bad it didn't shine longer.