In March of this year, I wrote about the Fibber McGee and Molly episode that was broadcast on December 9, 1941—when fires still burned at Pearl Harbor. It’s taken six months, but I have listened to every episode from that broadcast through the broadcast of October 2, 1945, which was exactly one month after the Japanese signed the formal surrender on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri. There is no better way to appreciate life on the home front than to listen to these broadcasts which are available at archive.org.
During the intermittent time, fifteen different episodes focused specifically on war-time conditions. Episodes from 1942, for example, are entitled, “Scrap Drive,” “Sugar Substitute,” “Spy,” and “Gasoline Rationing.” Episodes from the spring of 1943 include topics such as finding skilled workers, collecting for the Red Cross, and the perils of black market meat. When Fibber McGee and Molly returned from their summer hiatus that fall, one of the first shows was entitled “Renting the Spare Room,” in which a new character, Alice Darling, was introduced. Alice was a young, single woman who worked at the local airplane factory turning out warbirds for American forces.
The show was broadcast on Tuesday nights, which meant that it was broadcast on Tuesday, June 6, 1944. That night opened with a statement that began, “A three-dimensional war machine has swept out of the continent of Europe. With NBC, invasion news takes precedence over all scheduled programs.” Then Jim and Marion Jordan, the titular stars of the show, announced that they were awaiting bulletins just as was everyone else; they then turn the show over to the Billy Mills Orchestra, the show’s regular orchestra and nothing but music can be heard for the next half hour.
May 8, 1945 was also a Tuesday, a date to which we now refer as “VE Day.” That night’s show opened with regular announcer, Harlow Wilcox stating,
The curtain has fallen on the first act of the greatest drama the world has ever seen. The second and we hope the last world war. Act Two is going on in the Pacific Theater. In expressing our tremendous admiration and gratitude to our fighting forces, we feel that the best support of their efforts until complete and final victory, is by carrying on with our own jobs as best we can. In this case our job is to bring a few smiles to the home front and do our small bit toward easing the tension and anxiety in the homes of the men who are not here to laugh with us. So tonight, we present the regular Johnson’s Wax Program, as our stars go on the air in a spirit of tribute to the stars in your windows.
A more eloquent paragraph on any topic I have not read—credit to Don Quinn the show’s writer. The last line is perfect.
VE Day was not the end of the war, of course, a fact strongly reinforced two weeks later in an episode entitled, “Seventh War Bond Drive.” Americans were tired, very tired of the sacrifice and casualties, and they were rightfully fearful of the coming year and the cost of invading Japan. As the show’s summer hiatus drew near, no one then knew that the war would be over before the cast would reassemble in the fall.
But end, it did, and the first episode of the new season was “Welcoming LaTrivia Home From the War.” LaTrivia had been the mayor of Wistful Vista, the show’s fictitious setting, before joining the Coast Guard and an episode celebrating his return was symbolic of returning servicemen all over the country. Don Quinn didn’t have to use his imagination for this plot line: Gale Gordon, who played the part of LaTrivia left the show to join the Coast Guard and was now returned.
Alice Darling still lived with the McGees, but we find out in the October 2nd episode that she has been laid off from the aircraft plant, which is being converted into a baby carriage factory. Everyone was eager to convert to a life free from the war, but as the nation grew and radio converted to television and the baby boom boomed, the war continued to echo in the hearts of those who lived it. No one—not even the creator of Flash Gordon—could have dreamed then that one day, one of those baby boomers would tune in, not on a crackling Philco, but on something called a “smart phone,” which in this case, has become a time machine. The spirit of the home front during World War II, as well as a lot of laughs are out there. Just listen. It is a tonic to today’s troubled times.