10 hours - Digital Download
The Great Gildersleeve
In the early 1940’s, actor-singer Harold "Hal" Peary was savoring the fruits of show business success as a result of his enormously popular role as Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve on radio’s "Fibber McGee & Molly". A regular on the program since 1937, Hal’s talents ran the gamut of parts from a Chinese laundryman named Gooey Fooey to that of Perry, the Portuguese Piccolo Player. One day, Peary sold the series’ creator, Don Quinn, into giving him a much meatier part in the weekly proceeding; Quinn, who had experimented with a number of one-shot characters with the surname of "Gildersleeve,” began casting Hal in various "Gildersleeve” occupations (optometrist, dentist, etc.) until finally settling the actor into permanency as girdle company entrepreneur (and Fibber’s pompous next-door neighbor) on October 17, 1939.
Gildersleeve was a delight as the only man windy enough to match McGee’s legendary bluff, and Peary played him to perfection. But the role soon became a problem for Hal, in that he had become so identified with the part that it became impossible for him to take on other assignments. Furthermore, Peary felt that his musical talents were being sidelined due to his being locked into the role. In 1941, he seriously considered giving up Gildersleeve - causing both the National Broadcasting Company and McGee sponsor Johnson’s Wax a bit of consternation, as they did not want to lose the actor’s services.
An idea soon developed: why not "spin-off” the Gildersleeve character into his own series? Hal found himself amenable to this arrangement, for he felt he had a better chance of resurrecting his love of music on a program in which he was the star. So in an audition recorded May 14, 1941, Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve bid goodbye to his employees at the Gildersleeve Girdle Works (and also toodle-loo to his wife and nagging mother-in-law, neither of whom were ever mentioned again) and hopped a train to nearby Summerfield, where he went to oversee the estate of his recently departed younger sister and her husband, and look after their children, Evelyn (later changed to "Marjorie” in the series) and Leroy Forrester.
The audition, which was titled "The Great Gildersleeve", was underwritten by "Fibber McGee & Molly" sponsor Johnson’s Wax and it was assumed by all involved that the company would offer it up as Fibber’s 1941 summer replacement. But the boys from Racine, Wisconsin took a pass and went with another show ("Hap Hazard") instead. Fortunately, the Gildersleeve audition was so well-received that the Kraft Foods Company agreed to take on the show and pay its bills—so on August 31, 1941 (with a slightly revised version of the pilot), "The Great Gildersleeve" made its official debut over NBC Radio and would continue on General Sarnoff’s network for nearly sixteen years, becoming a cherished audience favorite.
Once "The Great Gildersleeve" got under way, its main character for all intents and purposes had left Wistful Vista for good - though he would make occasional guest appearances on his parent show. Settling down in Summerfield, he continued to be both executor and uncle to Marjorie (first played by veteran actress Lurene Tuttle, followed by Louise Erickson and Mary Lee Robb) and Leroy (Walter Tetley), and even landed a position as the town’s water commissioner. He often found himself going up against a Fibber McGee-like nemesis in the persona of Judge Horace Hooker (Earle Ross), and found friends in mild-mannered druggist Richard Quincy Peavey (Richard LeGrand) and wisecracking barber Floyd Munson (Arthur Q. Bryan). Other Gildersleeve regulars included family maid Birdie Lee Coggins (Lillian Randolph), town police chief Charlie Gates (Ken Christy), snooty next-door neighbor Rumson Bullard (Gale Gordon) and Bronco Thompson (Richard Crenna), who as Marjorie’s steady boyfriend ended up proposing to and marrying her, becoming the father of twins in 1951.
"The Great Gildersleeve" is considered one of old-time radio’s best examples of the situation comedy format, and it differed from its parent show, "Fibber McGee & Molly", in that it emphasized a gentler humor that grew out of its realistic characters and situations as opposed to Fibber’s vaudeville-based verbal slapstick. (Radio historian Elizabeth McLeod once referred to the series as "the One Man’s Family of situation comedy.”) "Gildersleeve" was also unique in that many of its episodes utilized a semi-serialized format; while the shows certainly could be enjoyed as stand-alone episodes (which comes in handy for today’s listeners, since there are some broadcasts lost to the ravages of time) they often featured extended story arcs - examples of this include Gildy’s run for mayor in 1943-44, and an abandoned baby storyline featured in the 1948-49 season.
But perhaps the most interesting facet of "The Great Gildersleeve" was the fact that the titled character was in possession of old-time radio’s most active libido, or as authors Charles Stumpf and Ben Ohmart put it, "was involved in more matters of the heart than a cardiologist.” Throckmorton P. was Summerfield’s most notorious bachelor on the prowl, and as a ladies’ man had a bevy of quail…er… girlfriends. The best remembered was the syrupy Southern belle Leila Ransom (played by Shirley Mitchell), who always threw in a few extra syllables when calling him "Thrawk-maaahhhtin”, and who also managed to get Gildy to the altar (in a broadcast dated June 27, 1943) before a fluke of luck saved him from being manacled to the coquettish flirt till death do them part. Other girlfriends included schoolteacher Eve Goodwin (Bea Benaderet), who was romanced and proposed to by Gildy during his mayoral campaign, Leila’s cousin Adeline Devereaux (Una Merkel) and Nurse Kathryn Milford (Cathy Lewis).
Except for a few minor cast changes, "The Great Gildersleeve" continued happily on NBC until trouble appeared on the horizon in 1950 when the show’s star decided to rock the boat. Hal Peary, in an example of the Columbia Broadcasting System’s famed "talent raids,” signed a contract with CBS - believing, of course, that his current show would follow him to his new network digs. But Kraft Foods was perfectly happy with NBC, and so while Peary moved on to a Gildersleeve-lite series called "Honest Harold" (a.k.a. "The Hal Peary Show"), his Gildersleeve role was recast with actor Willard Waterman - a performer whose tones were a dead ringer for Hal’s. (Waterman often lost acting parts due to his vocal similarity to Peary, and vice versa.) There were a few minor adjustments made to the series – Waterman eliminated Hal’s "dirty laugh” and depended on another singer for Gildy’s vocalizing - but unless you were a sharp-eared listener, the transition was positively seamless and Waterman would continue on in the role of the Great Man until Gildy left the airwaves on March 16, 1957.
"The Great Gildersleeve" remains a favorite for old-time radio enthusiasts even today, as its fine writing, engaging characters and brilliant blend of comedy and drama sets a high watermark for classic situation comedy. You’ll be certain to enjoy the twenty original broadcasts offered in this collection, transferred directly from original 16” NBC Orthacoustic master recordings and presented exactly as broadcast, complete with commercials for Kraft Foods.
#394 Trying to Name the Twins
Wednesday, February 28, 1951 – 30:00 – NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#395 Marjorie and the Twins Coming Home — Grandpa Isn’t Needed
Wednesday, March 7, 1951 – 30:00 – NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#396 Gildy Pushes Attendance at the Jolly Boys Club
Wednesday, March 14, 1951 – 30:00 – NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#397 Bronco Tries to Run the House
Wednesday, March 21, 1951 – 30:00 – NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#398 Leroy and Gildy Babysit the Twins
Wednesday, March 28, 1951 – 30:00 – NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#403 Spring Cleaning the Judge’s House
Wednesday, May 2, 1951 – 30:00 – NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#404 Marjorie and Bronco’s First Anniversary
Wednesday, May 9, 1951 – 30:00 – NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#405 Boating Date with Kathryn
Wednesday, May 16, 1951 – 30:00 – NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#406 Bronco’s Father Arrives — The Twins are Named
Wednesday, May 23, 1951 – 30:00 – NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#407 Leaving on Vacation to Half Moon Lake — Gildy’s Schedule
Wednesday, May 30, 1951 – 30:00 – NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#408 Leroy Buys a Car
Wednesday, September 5, 1951 – 30:00 – NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#409 The County Fair Comes to Summerfield
Wednesday, September 12, 1951 – 30:00 – NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#410 Getting Ready for School — Women Trouble
Wednesday, September 19, 1951 – 30:00 – NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#411 Marjorie Gets a Job
Wednesday, September 26, 1951 – 30:00 – NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#412 Gildy Wants to Be Re-Elected President of the Jolly Boys Club
Wednesday, October 3, 1951 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#413 Leroy Visits the Judge
Wednesday, October 10, 1951 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#414 Bronco Almost Forgets About His First Date With Marjorie
Wednesday, October 17, 1951 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#415 Gildy Takes Mrs. Winthrop and Babs On a Picnic
Wednesday, October 24, 1951 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#416 Gildy Finds a Lost Boy
Wednesday, October 31, 1951 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Kraft
#417 Marjorie and Bronco Want to Build a House
Wednesday, November 7, 1951 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Kraft