Bit of a change for these sorts of Friday things. Rather than a video I’d like to share an old-time radio program. This is the Fibber McGee and Molly that originally aired the 17th of June, 1941. It’s titled “Amusement Park”. I don’t know whether that was the script name or just how the Fibber McGee and Molly fans chose to name it. If I have overcome archive.org’s horrible new interface, this should be a link to download an MP3 to it. If I haven’t overcome archive.org’s horrible new interface, well, you should be able to select track 21, “Amusement Park”, below and listen in your web browser, rather than your MP3 player or audio program of your actual choice. Mostly, though, archive.org’s new interface is horrible.
Anyway. Fibber McGee and Molly was a proto-sitcom. The show started as being about vagabond motorists Fibber and Molly having encounters with amusing locals. After a few years of this they won a house in a raffle (really) and settled down to what’s almost the modern format of the genre. Most episodes give Fibber some modest task to attempt, at home, while Molly comments, and comical neighbors drop in, one at a time, to riff on that.
It’s not quite the sitcom as perfected, mostly because the episodes don’t really have plots. They have themes and jokes circling around the theme. But most of the time you could scramble the appearances by the comical neighbors and have about as good a show. There’s not a running storyline; at best it’s got running jokes. Which seems really odd because the show would have stuff develop over the course of episodes. Indeed, this episode introduces something that would be picked up on the next week, their close of the 1940-41 broadcast season.
I mentioned with Rube and Mandy last week that Amusement Park movies tend toward storylessness. But for Fibber McGee and Molly that works, since the format begs for chance encounters and nothing much happening. The curious thing about this episode is that Fibber and Molly don’t actually do anything but walk around and talk and try to use a photo booth. Before the episode started Fibber apparently rode the roller coaster twelve times, but none of that’s on-microphone. That seems quite odd considering it’s a radio show, and they only need sound effects to put the cast on anything. And the show even features a comic song praising the Sound Effects Man.
The best sound effect, though, is in the voice acting. Teeny, the Little Girl who keeps nagging Fibber for food, was voiced by Marion Jordan. So was Molly McGee. In most episodes of the show, Teeny is one of the comic neighbors, who drops in for her bit and disappears after delivering a minute or two of jokes. And in most episodes Molly makes some excuse to leave the scene. This is one of the few episodes where Marion Jordan has to do both Molly’s and Teeny’s voices, repeatedly, and extendedly, in the same scenes. And, you’ll remember, live. It’s a neat bit of voice acting, one it’s easy to not realize is going on.
There are a couple of racially tinged jokes here. Most are like how funny it would be for a Zulu person to hear the Hut-Sut Song. That was a contemporary nonsense-verse novelty song you hear in a couple of Looney Tunes. (And where are the modern nonsense-verse novelty songs, by the way?) In the Sound Effects Man song there’s a reference to shooting “redskins”; I’m sure they just meant to honor the football team.
I do get a strange feeling listening to this because I know the original broadcast date. It was the 17th of June, 1941. World War II was nearly two years old. President Roosevelt had just the month before declared the Unlimited National Emergency that left the United states all but officially at war with Germany. The German invasion of the Soviet Union was less than a week away. Not a hint of this creeps into the dialogue. Japan’s terror-bombing of Chongqing had recently killed four thousand residents who were in a bomb shelter. It would be out of character (and, for Operation Barbarossa, anachronistic) for people to talk about the war while at an amusement park. (There were scattered references to the war in earlier episodes, such as the one in which Fibber McGee’s gotten his draft notice.) But there is this strange tone to hearing so much small, normal, routine things in the midst of such an epic picture.