Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Big-Time Radio arrives at Maple Leaf Gardens

When most of us hear radio and Maple Leaf Gardens referred to in the same breath, we think of Foster Hewitt and his hockey broadcasts. His play by play brought the game into homes across the Nation. Another show which gathered huge ratings across Canada was Fibber McGee and Molly. On the evening of October 30, 1945, their broadcast originated from Maple Leaf Gardens. For those who subscribe to Sirius-XM Satellite Radio, they are re-broadcasting the episode on their Radio Classics channel (Sirius 118/XM 164).

Jim (Fibber) and Marian (Molly) Jorden broke into radio with a local show in Chicago (WJBO) during the 1925 season. Prior to radio, they toured across North America with a vaudeville act. The Fibber McGee and Molly series started in 1935. For three decades it was a top-rated show in both the U.S. and Canada. The show revolves around Fibber & Molly and their daily lives, which are intertwined with friends and neighbours in the fictional town of Wistful Vista.

The show from Maple Leaf Gardens was huge news at the time. The couple arrived in Toronto on Friday October 26, 1945, in advance of their broadcast the following Tuesday. They were mobbed by fans at Union Station who wanted to greet the two popular radio stars.

The purpose of their visit to Canada and the broadcast from Maple Leaf Gardens was outlined in the following editorial published in the Globe and Mail.

In times of stress people search for humor, for entertainment which is pleasant, friendly. When to that type of amusement is added a family homey approach, folks are given real enjoyment. That quality is one reason why Fibber McGee and Molly are so popular in their radio broadcasts.
 Tonight that couple, who give weekly enjoyment to millions, will perform at the Maple Leaf Gardens in aid of the Ninth Victory Loan campaign. It will be a show for all ages, and give as much pleasure to the bobby soxers as it does to their parents.
 There are those who have complained about American film, stage and radio personages coming to Canada to aid Victory Loan campaigns. They say that it gives the impression of ballyhoo. Whatever foundation there may be for these objections, the fact is that these artists do help remind people that the Victory Loan is in full swing. They do more than that. They, like Fibber McGee and Molly, remind their multitude of listeners of the purpose of those campaigns while helping to create a spirit of co-operation.
 Mr. Harry Sedgwick, who was responsible for bringing Fibber McGee and Molly to Toronto for the Toronto Public Relations Division of the National War Finance Committee, has done a useful piece of work. For there is not the slightest doubt that they will assist the War Finance Committee in reaching the Victory Loan objective.
 There is an unusual aspect about the radio program of Fibber McGee and Molly other than it's straight entertainment value. This is in the manner in which the plot of the program promotes the campaign it is supporting. The sale of bonds is but one. Others have been gas rationing, waste, special campaigns of all sorts. The program has a unique skill for integrating the patriotic theme with straight entertainment.
 Canada welcomes Fibber McGee and Molly. May their reception tonight be as warm as the feeling their many listeners have for them.

The show begins with announcer Harlow Wilcox voicing the opening introduction, "From the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Ontario and in conjunction with the Ninth Victory Loan we bring you the Johnson Wax Program with Fibber McGee and Molly." At this point, a giant ovation is heard from the spectators who packed the Gardens. The episode is titled "Fibber the Sculptor". There is one reference to hockey in the show. Fibber is advised to stop wasting his time with the sculpting and get out and do something. The Doctor tells him to go skating, but quickly changes his instructions. Fibber reminds Doc Gamble that he once played for the Peoria Bullfrogs. This causes Molly to clip "Golly what a goalie".

If you get the chance, check it out. The episode is available at several sites on the web as a free download. It provides some insight into the era and is an example of the type of entertainment enjoyed by those who played in the Original Six during that time period.

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