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Happy Birthday, Gildy -- The Great Gildersleeve debuted on this day in 1941

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 31, 2013 04:20pm | Post a Comment
The Great Gildersleeve was a radio sitcom and one of the first spin-offs. It was tremendously popular in the 1940s and led to four feature films and three 78 records.



The series centered on Throckmorton Philharmonic Gildersleeve (nicknames included "The Great Man" or just "Gildy"), a lovable windbag who first appeared on Fibber McGee and Molly in 1939. OnFibber McGee and Molly he was McGee's antagonist armed with a catchphrase ("You're a haaard man, McGee!"). He was originally expertly played by Harold Peary.

Gildersleeve was so popular that he soon got his own show, The Great Gildersleeve, which debuted on NBC on 31 August, 1941. It was sponsored by Kraft Foods whose advertisements promoted their Parkay margarine -- a weird, oily yellow spread that people turned instead of butter during the Great Depression but strangely continued to eat after butter was affordable again). On The Great Gildersleeve, the titular character retained some of his pomposity and general man-childishness but was made more likeable. And whereas he had a wife on Fibber McGee, on his own he was a lifelong bachelor and much of the plot revolved around his awkward romantic pursuits.

The show was set in the small town of Summerfield, where Gildersleeve inherited his late brother-in-law's estate and orphaned niece (Marjorie) and nephew (Leroy) -- making him a bit of a mid-century forerunner to Bernie Mac. The household was rounded out by Gildersleeve's cook and housekeeper, Birdie Lee. At the series' debut, Gildersleeve ran a girdle-manufacturing company but his character was soon recast as Summerfield's water commissioner.

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