Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Happy birthday, Jim Jordan!

The man better known to old-time radio fans as Fibber McGee was born in—where else?—Peoria, IL one hundred and fourteen years ago on this date.  Jim Jordan, in tandem with his wife Marian (his childhood sweetheart), entertained radio audiences almost from the medium’s very first inception; they began on Chicago radio station WIBO in 1926 as The O’Henry Twins, moving from station-to-station for a variety of shows (including The Smith Family, a 1929-32 soap opera believed by some radio historians to be the first of its type) that culminated in Smackout, a WMAQ comedy-serial that was later broadcast nationally over NBC Blue.

Jim and Marian Jordan’s show was a favorite with the wife of an adman named John J. Lewis, who was working with the Johnson’s Wax company of Racine, WI to create a new show for sponsorship—and writer Don Quinn, who was in the Jordans’ employ as the scribe for Smackout, created what would ultimately be known as Fibber McGee & Molly.  The comedy show, detailing the life of a small-town braggart and his long-suffering wife, has since become identified as one of the programs that represents the Golden Age of Radio along with The Shadow, The Lone Ranger, Jack Benny, etc.  Jim and Marian stand out in the world of radio comedy as being one of the few big-time comedy teams who didn’t take their show to television—when Fibber McGee & Molly ultimately did make the leap (in 1959), it was without the Jordans…Bob Sweeney and Cathy Lewis were cast as the famous couple from 79 Wistful Vista instead.

Marian Jordan passed away in 1961, but Jim continued on as an elder spokesman for old-time radio while occasionally appearing in television commercials (as Fibber) and guest-starring on TV shows (a classic 1976 episode of Chico and the Man).  When Disney’s The Rescuers was released in 1977 and my mom took my sisters and I to see it, I’m sure that’s when my lifelong tendency to embarrass them in movie theaters started…because when I heard the character of Orville the Albatross speak I shouted “Hey, it’s Fibber McGee!”

Jim Jordan lived to the ripe old age of 91; finally leaving this world for a better one on April 1, 1988 (could April Fools’ Day have been more appropriate?).  But his radio comedy legacy lives on here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, and so we’d like to take a brief moment to remember both him and the other individuals celebrating a natal anniversary today:

W.C. Handy (1873-1958) – Father of the Blues

Halliwell Hobbes (1877-1962) – British character actor great whose vehicles include Platinum Blonde, You Can’t Take it With You, Here Comes Mr. Jordan and Sherlock Holmes Faces Death

Gerald Hamer (1886-1972) – British character great who was also in Sherlock Holmes Faces Death with fellow birthday celebrant Hobbes—but is seen to better effect in The Scarlet Claw

George S. Kaufman (1889-1961) – Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, director-producer and drama critic who contributed to such films as Roman Scandals and A Night at the Opera

George Seldes (1890-1995) – Legendary investigative journalist at a time when being a member of the fourth estate really meant something

Lawrence Tibbett (1896-1960) – Renowned baritone with the Metropolitan Opera (1923-50) whose films include The Rogue Song and The Prodigal

Mary Margaret McBride (1899-1976) – Radio personality and newspaper columnist frequently joked about on Fred Allen’s program

Eddie Condon (1905-1973) – Jazz guitarist and bandleader who popularized the “Dixieland” sound

Gene Baylos (1906-2005) – Standup comedian who was a favorite of other comics but never really established a foothold in television despite appearances on Car 54, Where are You?, The Hollywood Palace and The Dick Van Dyke Show

Burgess Meredith (1907-1997) – Peerless stage, screen and television character great whose vehicles include Of Mice and Men, Advise and Consent, the Rocky films and Grumpy Old Men; his TV gigs include roles on such programs as Mr. Novak, Search, Gloria…and of course, Batman (wak wak wak wak)

George Petrie (1912-1997) – Stage, screen and television character actor who enjoyed a long association with Jackie Gleason and his various television shows; also appeared in regular roles on the likes of Leave it to Beaver, Dallas and Mad About You

Jack Smith (1913-2006) – Popular vocalist known as “Smilin’” Jack Smith on radio; later became a host of TV’s You Asked For It, presiding over the famous motorcycle jump attempted by Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli on Happy Days

Daws Butler (1916-1988) – TDOY voice actor god who supplied the speaking tones of Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss, Hokey Wolf…and so many others

Ellen Albertini Dow (1918-     ) – Elderly thesp who specializes in cutesy “little old lady” parts, notably the rapping bit in The Wedding Singershe turns ninety-two years old today!

Patricia Barry (1921-     ) – Peerless character actress whose vehicles include The Beast With Five Fingers, The Man I Love, The Undercover Man and that classic Thriller episode, “A Wig for Miss Devore”

Royal Dano (1922-1994) – TDOY character actor fave whose vehicles include The Red Badge of Courage, Johnny Guitar, The Trouble with Harry and Man of the West

Barbara Peyton (1927-1967) – Promising Hollywood starlet who landed roles in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, Dallas and Only the Valiant but whose career took a precipitous plunge as a result of her off-screen behavior (including a legendary 1951 brawl between boyfriends Franchot Tone and Tom “Detour” Neal)

Clu Galager (1928-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor who’s best known for his roles as William Bonney (aka Billy the Kid) on the TV oater The Tall Man and as deputy sheriff Emmett Ryker on The Virginian; also the source of the classic “I think this falls into the ‘or what’ category” line in TDOY fave Into the Night

Guy Stockwell (1934-2002) – Actor brother of Dean whose vehicles include TV’s Adventures in Paradise and Return to Peyton Place and the films The War Lord, Beau Geste and It’s Alive

Joanna Pettet (1942-     ) – British stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include The Group, Casino Royale, The Night of the Generals and TV’s Knots Landing

Jay Hammer (1944-     ) – Film and television actor whom I always associated with playing the white son of interracial couple Tom and Helen Willis on The Jeffersons until he got the Guiding Light gig as reporter Fletcher Reade

Garnet Mimms (1944-     ) – Enchanter

Steve Railsback (1945-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor whose films include Cockfighter, The Stunt Man and Lifeforce…but of course, everybody really remembers him as the dude who played Charles Manson in 1976’s Helter Skelter

Barbara Leigh (1946-     ) – Film and television actress (and the Pride of Ringgold, GA) whose movies include The Student Nurses, Pretty Maids All in a Row and Junior Bonner…but is better known as the original Vampirella

Chi Coltrane (1948-     ) – Rock, pop and jazz singer-songwriter

David Leisure (1950-     ) – Ubiquitous character actor who was everywhere in the 1980s as prevaricating automobile pitchman Joe Isuzu; had a regular gig as the wacky next-door neighbor on the TV sitcom Empty Nest

Miguel Sandoval (1951-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor best known as D.A. Manuel Devalos on TV’s Medium (is this still on the air?); his films include Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Jurassic Park, Get Shorty and Blow

Griff Rhys Jones (1953-     ) – British actor-comedian whose breakout star status on TV’s Not the Nine O’Clock News led to a successful partnership with Mel Smith in the film Morons from Outer Space and the TV series Alas Smith and Jones

Allison Anders (1954-     ) – Film and television director/one-time Facebook chum whose movies include Gas, Food Lodging, Mi vida loca and Grace of My Heart

Marg Helgenberger (1958-     ) – Film and television actress best known for her roles as K.C. Kolowski on China Beach and Catherine Willows on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

Tricia Cast (1966-     ) – Moppet film and television actress whom I remember mostly for her roles on The Bad News Bears and It’s Your Move…but she’s done a lot of soap opera work like Santa Barbara and The Young and the Restless

Lisa Bonet (1967-     ) – Moppet film and television actress who’s best known as Denise Huxtable on The Cosby Show (and briefly on its spin-off, A Different World); she’s probably doing important show business things as of this post but I’ll be damned if I know what

Tammy Lauren (1968-     ) – Another moppet film and television actress that I remember from bad 70s/80s sitcoms (Who’s Watching the Kids?, Angie, Out of the Blue) who went on to do grownup stuff on such shows as Homefront and The Young and the Restless

Martha Plimpton (1970-     ) – Former moppet actress whose vehicles include The Goonies, Running on Empty, Parenthood, Beautiful Girls and I Shot Andy Warhol

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1 comment:

quizshowbob said...

I totally remember Tricia from 'It's Your Move'. I really liked that show, but it didn't last very long.