September 6, 2017 posted by

RADIO ROUND-UP: The Johnson Wax Program Presents, Fibber McGee and Molly!

Ever wonder about those funny catch phrases we always hear over and over in classic cartoons? This month I’m beginning a new feature for Cartoon Research, about how classic radio comedies, and the broadcast comedians of that era, influenced Golden Age cartoons. I’m calling it “Radio Round-Up” – and I’ll be creating a video each time to illustrate those classic lines… and indicate where they came from. (For any old-timer radio aficionados, feel free to add anything I may have overlooked in the comments below.)

In the 1930s and 1940s, radio was the driving force in popular culture. Radio broadcasts were as immense an industry as the film business. Families and other communities of people converged to hear their favorite programs, which spanned from serialized action/adventure, dramatic plays and comedy—the latter often paired with variety shows. In the latter category, audiences latched on to endearing entertainers such as Eddie Cantor, Ed Wynn, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Joe Penner, Bob Hope and Red Skelton. Many shows would have a featured actor, or secondary character, become recognizable to listeners with a catchphrase—for instance, “You wanna buy a duck?” uttered by Joe Penner.

Naturally, animators were fervent listeners of radio—fixated on popular culture, as many people who reference movies and television today—and they supplanted these expressions in their films. At the time of their cartoons’ release, audiences would have reacted favorably, given their familiarity with the character(s) associated with their signature quotes.

Today, the context of these jokes is lost, and appear as puzzling non-sequiturs to the uninitiated. These contemporary gags remind us how the studios and audiences regarded the lasting value of these cartoons—they had no intention to be shown again after their theatrical run. On the other hand, these dated references and jokes are reflective of American society many decades ago.

More devoted animation buffs are aware of the topical references borrowed from radio programs and inserted into these films, thanks to researchers and historians sharing information in print or online. However, many might not have heard a certain radio catchphrase, or routines of the character its animated equivalent is based on, from its direct source. This column will provide the right context on how influential radio was to animation, particularly its comedy and variety shows. With each catchphrase, advertising slogan or character, an excerpt from the radio program will be presented, with various clips from specific cartoons displayed after.

The first radio program profiled is the long-running situational comedy Fibber McGee and Molly, which debuted in 1935. Sponsored by Johnson’s Wax and Johnson’s Self-Polishing Glo-Coat (until 1950), the show featured married couple Jim and Marian Jordon. As a reflection of Depression-era America, audiences resonated with McGee performing mundane tasks, such as taking piano lessons, much to the consternation of annoyed neighbors by his awful playing. McGee could also be involved in a tight jam, like getting his feet stuck in fresh tar. Through it all, the patient Molly supported her husband’s shortcomings. In addition, a procession of eccentric secondary characters—such as Thockmorton Gildersleeve, Wallace Wimple, The Old Timer, Mayor La Trivia, the little girl Teeny, and Mrs. Abigail Uppington—would appear and comment on the situation at hand.

Many of the running catchphrases in Fibber McGee and Molly were borrowed by cartoons, especially in the Warner Bros. animation department. In some cases, its side characters were loosely portrayed in several films. Here are some examples:

Whenever Fibber told a bad joke with his wife present, Molly often responded, “Tain’t funny, McGee!” Tex Avery referenced Molly’s trademark putdown in a couple Warners cartoons (Daffy Duck and Egghead, Holiday Highlights), mostly as sign gags. In Avery’s MGM cartoon, The Shooting of Dan McGoo (1945), the Wolf uses a variation on the phrase towards Droopy (or “McGoo,” in this case). After a beat, he looks to the audience and states how corny his previous line sounded.

Marian Jordan also portrayed Sis—later changed to Teeny—an annoying little girl who often visited the McGee’s house to agitate and outwit Fibber, ending her sentences with “I betcha.” Many of the Warners cartoons often used this line for smaller characters, with one exception being Porky at the Crocadero (1938), when a bumpkin telegram messenger ends every sentence in a similar fashion.

Bill Thompson

Bill Thompson provided the voices for many of the show’s secondary characters, one of which was The Old Timer, an elderly, partially deaf man, who often referred to Fibber as “Johnny” and Molly as “Daughter.” Whenever Fibber would respond to him, often with a joke, The Old Timer would respond by distorting his own antiquated gags with, “That’s pretty good, Johnny, but that ain’t the way I heard it!” Thompson recreated his “Old Timer” voice for Baby Face Mouse’s grandfather in Walter Lantz’s Arabs with Dirty Fezzes (1939), his first role for animated cartoons, before his prolific vocal career for such studios as Disney and MGM.

Another running gag of Fibber McGee and Molly involves a character that isn’t heard on-screen. Whenever Fibber needed to make a telephone call, he tells the operator the extension and stops in mid-sentence as he realizes, “Oh, is that you, Myrt? How’s every little thing?” The conversation between Fibber and Myrt would only be heard through Fibber’s side of the conversation and would relay every detail to Molly. This gag was swiped for such films as The Wabbit Who Came to Supper (WB/1942), Blitz Wolf (MGM/1942) and Daffy the Commando (WB/1943.) Myrt wasn’t always omnipresent behind the receiver, as she did have a brief speaking part in a 1943 broadcast.

For the safety of running this post a bit too long, I’ll split the Fibber McGee and Molly references for next week’s “Radio Round-Up”. Other characters from the show will be profiled including Bill Thompson’s other performances as Wallace Wimple and Horatio K. Boomer, as well as the McGees’ maid Beulah and The Great Gildersleeve…

Here’s my first Radio Roundup video, which presents both the radio excerpts and the accompanying clips. This might not contain every cartoon that references a specific radio catchphrase or character, but the general idea is there, regardless. Due to the age of these recorded broadcasts, the audio portions vary in quality. Be sure to tune in next week!

“T’aint funny, McGee!” — clips used: A Sunbonnet Blue (WB/1937), Daffy Duck and Egghead (WB/1938), Holiday Highlights (WB/1940), and The Shooting of Dan McGoo (MGM/1945)

“That ain’t the way I heard it!” and other Old Timer references—clips used:
Pied Piper Porky (WB/1939), The Hardship of Miles Standish (WB/1940), The Ducktators (WB/1942), The Screwdriver (Lantz/1941), Tortoise Wins by a Hare (WB/1943), and Hysterical High Spots in American History (Lantz/1941)

“I betcha…” — clips used: Porky at the Crocadero (WB/1938), Porky’s Hotel (WB/1939), The Sneezing Weasel (WB/1938), Sioux Me (WB/1939) and Shop, Look and Listen (WB/1940; Bill Thompson voices the W. C. Fields mouse, patterned after his Horatio K. Boomer character from Fibber McGee and Molly).

“Is that you, Myrt?” — clips used: The Wabbit Who Came to Supper (WB/1942), Blitz Wolf (MGM/1942) and Daffy—the Commando (WB/1943)

(Thanks to Keith Scott and Yowp for their help.)


  • This is the kind of column that I would like to be able to do.

    When these theatrical cartoons came to television, the kids of the time could ask their parents about any of the topical gags that might have stumped them, be they from radio shows or contemporary advertising. The parents might have been able to explain them to their offspring.

    AS the cartoons ran from generation to generation, the opportunities for such explanations diminished.

    Of course, today, you can’t see these cartoons on broadcast television, and not much on cable television either.

    Thus, it’s up to folks like you — and like me with my “needle drop notes” on Sunday — to explain these things for future generations.

    Let’s both keep it up!

    • Don’t forget that so many of the actors on the radio shwos became the cartoon voices..and that INLCUDED Mel Blanc himself…Pinto Colvig, and too many others to name.

    • The opposite came true for me as well. I grew up on these cartoons but, although I didn’t know the original reference, I thought these lines were funny anyway, just in the delivery if nothing else. Later, when I started listening to OTR, and heard all these in their original context, it made me enjoy the cartoon references that much more!

    • Let’s not forget Arthur Q. Bryan as Fibber’s friend Doc Gamble (he was also Floyd Munson the barber in the “Great Gildersleeve” spinoff).

      Jim Jordan would later do a cartoon voice – playing Orville the albatross in “The Rescuers.”

    • And broadcasting and cable are being replaced by the internet. Elmer Fudd was Arthur Q Bryan, who was also Doc Gamble and Floyd the Barber.

  • Next up… and I know it will be profiled in Part 2: the line “I luv that man” from Marlin Hurt’s Beulah (a Caucasian man voicing a black maid and, sadly, he died young).

    • And Hurt would be replaced by another white guy, Bob Corley, in the “Beulah” spinoff.

  • I loved the Chuck Jones cartoon where Bugs is in the department store with — “You know — the Great Gildersneeze.”

  • Fibber McGee and Molly was the focus of an episode of “NewsRadio” where Matthew received a bunch of Fibber McGee and Molly tapes as a present, while everyone else in the office got new cars:

    • Interesting writeup, but they left out the kicker — Jimmy James doesn’t just give Matthew cassettes of Fibber McGee & Molly; he gives him the rights to the program. Matthew could do whatever he wants with it — reissue the show, make movies, do licensing. Of course now the kicker is, who’s going to want anything associated with an old radio show?

  • Love this idea for a post series!

  • Fibber McGee & Molly and The Jack Benny Program were the two radio shows the Warners cartoon department borrowed the most heavily from, with the latter ending up with the most synergy between the cartoons and the radio show, with Mel and Bea Benaderet having major supporting roles with Benny, while some of Jack’s comedic flaws eventually found their way into Daffy Duck’s personality of the 1950s.

  • Just wanted to mention the source of these wonderful characters and catch phrases, Don Quinn, the creator and chief writer of “Fibber McGee and Molly” throughout its long run on radio.

    • Making Quinn’s comedy rather innovative was the fact of his usuallyworking practically against deadline.

      As in locking himself up in his home office on Saturday night with a dozen sandwiches, a full pot of coffee and a carton of cigarettes to accpmpany the task at hand–and yet they were ready for the Monday read-through!

      (Of note, too: The Teeny character originated with an earlier Jim and Marian Jordan radio venture called Smackout, in whicb Jim played a rural storekeeper who was repeatedly “smack out” of something as was in demand.)

  • Can’t thank you enough for this article (and upcoming column!). My twin passions are cartoons and OTR — in fact, I was involved with the FOTR con in Newark, NJ, for many years. This sure was fun!

    • “Love that man!”

  • Super theme for posting! Thanx, Devon.

    Looking forward to a thorough bio on Bill Thompson.

    I hope I hope I hope I hope I hope I hope…

    • Actually, it was Al Pearce who had that “Nobody hime, I hope, I hope, I hope” bit in the role of Arthur Q. Blurt, the World’s Worst Salesman (as would also be incorporated into radio ads for Rambler autos in the late 1950’s).

  • We the Animals, Squeak! (1941): Kansas City Kitty says “T’ain’t funny McRat!”

    • Thanks! I’m mostly going by memory for most of these inclusions, but I’m surprised I missed that one…

    • That cartoon spoofed another NBC radio program, “We the People,” which began with an announcer saying “We the people – speak!”

  • Fabulous bit of scholarship, well illustrated. A great job — congratulations!

  • BRILLIANT! I’m certainly going to be looking forward to Radio Round-Up from now on.

    I’ve seen websites dealing with this subject but the video you provide is a terrific idea.

  • This is such a necessary series! The connection between the golden age of radio with animation’s golden age is significant and needs more specific attention. Radio has fallen between the cracks, but shows like Fibber McGee were national treasures in their day, running as long as shows like The Simpsons with similar reach into other areas of entertainment and life in general. Can’t wait to read more.

  • Great idea. My all-time favorite is Gildersleeve character Mr
    Peavey and his classic retort, “We’ll now, I wouldn’t say that!”

    • The dope from the Draft Board….

  • In the early 1970’s a couple of New York City-area FM radio stations ran a lot of 1930s-1940s era radio shows (part of that whole “nostalgia” craze going on at the time). I was in high school then, and listened to a lot of them, and always cracked up when I heard some catchphrase or tag-line that I’d first heard years earlier on some Warner Bros. cartoon.

    • Meanwhile, The Ideas Network of Wisconsin Public Radio has an anthology of Old-Time Radio programmes on Saturday and Sunday nights between 8 and 11 Central time called Old-Time Radio Drama,

  • I’ve always thought that it would be cool to have “pop up” cartoons, like they did with music videos some years ago. Music cues, radio characters, catch phrases and other pop culture references from the time all would benefit from a visual cue!

    • I believe you refer to VH-1’s “Pop-Up Videos”, as were essentially a play on the annoying “pop-up” ads in the early years of the ‘Innerwebz’, mostly for dubious scam offers.

  • This is great!

  • The catchphrases from this show got a lot of mileage in cartoons. As late as 1958, Woody Woodpecker’s JITTERY JESTER had a character repeatedly exclaim, “‘Tain’t funny, Dooley!”

  • I can only echo all of you in saying that this is a terrific idea for a continuing column on this website! I’m sure there are so many catch phrases and impressions in cartoons, and these go on through the 1950’s. I was watching the BUGS BUNNY cartoon, “KNIGHT MARE HARE” and heard Bugs utter the phrase “…just washed my ears and I can’t do a thing with ’em”. I know that another version of the phrase appeared in a much earlier LOONEY TUNES or MERRIE MELODIES title, but right now, I can’t think of it, and I think the line was spoken by Sarah Berner as some befuddled character. This is why Warner Brothers cartoons are sooo important.

    Out of all the studios, Warner Brothers cartoons took a great deal of their ideas from radio shows or advertisements, and like some folks who responded, I, too, just thought the phrases were funny and worth repeating to friends in jest, even if I didn’t know, at the time, where those phrases originated. Kids today don’t pick up on that subtlety. Their generation looks for other ideas, but animation of the golden age had sooo much going for it!

  • Very enjoyable read, and the video was a perfect companion piece. I knew there were many connections between OTR and the animations of the day. I also recall hearing the odd radio catchphrase in a movie or two from that era. I hope The Life Of Riley will be the subject of a future column.

  • Don’t forget Egghead’s voice itself was based on Joe Penner & of course, the Warner Brothers animators were listeners to Al Pierce’s radio show & that show featured his nervous door-to-door salesman character, Elmer Blurt. As Al Pearce rose to fame, his “Nobody home, I hope, I hope, I hope,” became a national catch phrase. I have heard that a time or two in the toons!

  • this is somewhat related….High Diving Hare, with Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam…

    Sam is pounding on a closed door yelling “Open up that door..!”…then he looks at the audience and says “Notice I didn’t say Richard…:…

    Is that from a catch phrase of the day?

    • It was from a popular song, Dusty Fletcher’s “Open the Door, Richard.”

  • I’ve always felt that someone should have taken one of these old radio shows and adapted them into a half-hour animated series, altering nothing except perhaps cleaning up the audio and inserting minor pauses for action sequences unneeded on the radio. I always imagine VIC AND SADE would be a good candidate (featuring, obviously, two episodes per show). Some might protest that putting images to shows they had to imagine would be sacrilegious, but I think that ship has sailed. This would be one way to interest a whole different generation in a completely dead (in this country, at least) entertainment genre.

    Belying that last sentence, of course, SiriusXM satellite radio features a 24-hour cavalcade of OTR shows, Greg Bell’s RADIO CLASSICS, which routinely runs episodes of all of the abovementioned shows. At least that’s the way I heared it. (By the way, if I were rendering The Old-Timer’s catchphrase phonetically I’d have spelled it “That ain’t the way I HEARED it!”)

  • “You’re a hard man McGee’!😁

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