August 31, 1941 is considered an important date in the history of the Golden Age of Radio — for it was on this very day that Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, neighbor and nemesis to Wistful Vista’s famous son Fibber McGee, bid goodbye to his employees at his successful girdle works company and hopped a freight to nearby Summerfield to supervise the estate of his deceased sister’s orphaned children, Marjorie (played at various times by Lurene Tuttle, Louise Erickson and Mary Lee Robb) and Leroy Forrester (Walter Tetley). Except for a handful of guest appearances, Harold (Hal) Peary — the actor who played the pompous Gildersleeve — ceased to be a Fibber McGee & Molly regular (he had been playing Gildy on that program since 1939), having secured a successful spin-off entitled "The Great Gildersleeve."
"The Great Gildersleeve"
One of the most engaging plotlines of the Gildersleeve series was launched with a broadcast from October 5, 1949, in which Gildy and girlfriend Kathryn Milford went on a double-date with his niece Marjorie and her new boyfriend Walter J. “Bronco” Thompson (Richard Crenna). Marjorie had had a lengthy succession of boyfriends since the series’ inception (Oliver Honeywell, “Bashful Ben’ Waterford, Marshall Bullard, etc.), but Bronco turned out to have staying power in spades. He would propose to Gildy’s niece on December 21, 1949, and in the episodes to follow, much hilarity surfaced from the conflicts that arose between Gildersleeve and Bronco’s domineering mother (played by Jeanette Nolan) and absent-minded father (Joe Forte, Joseph Kearns). The young lovers finally tied the knot on May 10, 1950 and the nuptials were heavily promoted by the show’s sponsor, Kraft Foods, and the National Broadcasting Company — a five-page spread was prominently featured in the May 23rd issue of Look magazine, entitled “Gildersleeve Gives the Bride Away.” Ironically, this would be the last season for the original Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, Hal Peary. (Peary had signed a contract with NBC’s rival, the Columbia Broadcasting System, thinking that his show would follow — but when Kraft Foods decided to stay put, the Tiffany network created a Gildersleeve derivative for its new star entitled "Honest Harold.") With the departure of Hal Peary, actor Willard Waterman was hired to continue on in the Gildersleeve role and, apart from a few nitpicking details (Waterman was not the vocalist that Peary was, and Gildy’s “singing” occasionally had to be performed by someone else). his voice was virtually indistinguishable from that of his predecessor.
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,”
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 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.
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-
This 10 CD Collection comes complete with original Kraft Foods commercials and can be purchased at your local Borders, Barnes & Noble retailers or online at http://www.NostalgiaTown.com.
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