Sit down, close your eyes and let your mind form the images as you relive the golden age of radio programs. Each week we'll feature a different and exciting program in MP3 format. Just click on the radio image below to be transported back in time.

This Week

 

The Great Gildersleeve

 

Memorial Day Parade

May 30, 1943


The character of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve came into being of Fibber McGee and Molly, one of radio's most beloved and long-running situational comedies. Sitcoms evolved from the vaudeville variety tradition that had dominated early radio comedy.

Variety shows often had a recurring troupe of players who would present a series of comic sketches in each episode. The characters in the sketches were often "stock" which meant that the audience would not need to spend time getting to know them. An early innovation of Sitcoms was to present the same characters in each episode. Fans needed to invest the time to get to know the characters and were rewarded by the opportunity to welcome friends over the air each week.

Another important element of Sitcoms is that each episode presents a complete story. Generally, the main character finds something that needs to be accomplished and comes up with a plan to do it, the supporting characters each contribute, get in the way, or at least comment on the scheme, which is resolved, successfully or otherwise, by the end of the broadcast.

The Great Gildersleeve is notable in broadcast history as the first example of a character from a popular Sitcom "Spins off" on his own program. Actor Harold Peary joined the Fibber McGeecompany in 1938 and was so popular that writer Don Quinn created a regular character for him as Fibber's foil and next-door neighbor, Gildersleeve. Gildy got his own show which debuted on August 31, 1941.

Gildersleeve's backstory changed somewhat in the move from Wistful Vista to Summerfield. When he lived next door to 79 Wistful Vista, Gildy was a married businessman of some sort. He moved to Summerfield as a confirmed bachelor to assume guardianship of his niece and nephew after their parents had passed. To do so he had to give up his interest in the Gildersleeve Girdleworks ("If you want a better corset, of course, it's a Gildersleeve!"). Gildy soon found employment as Summerfield's new Water Commissioner.

Having a position in the city government put Gildy in the center of the Summerfield social scene where he would find friends and romance. His circle of friends included the Jolly Boys Club who would gather to commiserate about the difficulties of life and sing the old songs. The Great Gildersleeve took a step away from the practice of other sitcoms by being a pure drama. The sponsor breaks stepped out of the action and there were no regular musical numbers, however, star Harold Peary wanted to sing, and the Jolly Boy numbers gave him the chance.

Running into the Jolly Boys each week gave the program a loose framework (and plenty of catchphrases) but the real joy was seeing Gildersleeve navigate the Summerfield singles scene. As a confirmed but eligible bachelor, Gildy wasn't necessarily seeking matrimony, but he certainly enjoyed the company of pretty girls. This also put him in direct competition with the show's other bachelor and Jolly Boy member, Judge Hooker.

The relationship between Gildy and Hooker was not as caustic as between Gildersleeve and Fibber. The Judge would fill the role of both foil and competitor. Responsible for the well-being of Leroy and Marjorie, Hooker was placed in a position of authority over Gildersleeve's guardianship. As their relationship blossomed into friendship, they were often pitted against each other to prove who was "the better man" in pursuit of eligible bachelorettes.

The kids and their problems are another source of comedy on the show. Marjorie was a "typical" teenage girl who could get the best of her Uncle with her feminine wiles if she needed to. Nephew Leroy was a typical Sitcom "Scamp" who got away with mischief by being somewhat smarter than the father-figure in his life. Interestingly, while Marjorie would mature and eventually marry over the series' run, Leroy would remain in his early teens for the whole show, a fact made all the more interesting when we consider that Walter Tetley, the actor who plays Leroy, was 27 when the show began.

The Great Gildersleeve turned into one of the best of all Radio Sitcoms by delivering believable characters in believable, if somewhat crazy situations.

 

  Huntington Beach News


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