"The Great Gildersleeve" Old Time Radio Comedy At Its Best!

"The Great Gildersleeve" became one of radio’s most successful situation comedies, and nearly fifty years after it left the airwaves, it continues to be a favorite among old-time radio fans. Enjoy this 10 CD Collection of Comedy at its BEST!
The Great Gildersleeve
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July 24, 2008 - PRLog -- "What A Character!"

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" was distinctive in that the series placed a strong emphasis on character-driven comedy, as opposed to the vaudeville-based slapstick of its parent show, "Fibber McGee & Molly." As portrayed by Peary, the Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve character — who, on Fibber McGee, had a pronounced larcenous streak — mellowed considerably, settling into the comfortable role of kind and loving uncle to his niece and nephew. Assisted in the running the household by housekeeper Birdie Lee Coggins (Lillian Randolph), Gildy secured steady employment as Summerfield’s water commissioner and found a brand-new circle of friends, including town druggist Richard Q. Peavey (Richard LeGrand, Forrest Lewis), wise-cracking barber Floyd Munson (Arthur Q. Bryan), dedicated police chief Charlie Gates (Ken Christy) and the cantankerous Judge Horace Hooker (Earle Ross). The Great Man also became notorious as Summerfield’s most eligible bachelor, romancing such women as flirtatious Southern belle Leila Ransom (Shirley Mitchell), her equally coquettish cousin Adeline Fairchild (Una Merkel), schoolteacher Eve Goodwin (Bea Benaderet) and nurse Kathryn Milford (Cathy Lewis) — just to name a few of the many.

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,” 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 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.

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 Gildersleeve left the airwaves on March 16, 1957. (Summary written by Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.)

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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We specialize in restored original broadcasts of Old Time Radio shows in various collector sets: Comedy, Variety, Mystery, Detectives, and Westerns from the 1930's, 40's and 50's.

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Tags:Great Gildersleeve, Old Time Radio, Otr, Classic Radio Shows, Otr Comedy
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