When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, radio was just one of those historical things that my mother and the other grown-ups were always talking about, like the Depression and World War II. My mother couldn’t hear a squeaky door without mentioning Inner Sanctum, and, every time she looked in my messy closet, I had to hear about Fibber McGee’s. My grandmother talked about the Old Country, and my mother talked about radio and the War, which I guess was her Old Country. I listened to all of this with a sort of amused tolerance, and the bored superiority of the young.
Several years ago, long after my mother had died, I impulsively ordered a set of Great Gildersleeve cassettes from a mail-order catalog. I really don’t know why. I grew up watching television, not listening to the radio, and have only the very vaguest memory of The Great Gildersleeve as a television program– just the name Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve floating around in my unconscious mind, and the title “Water Commissioner.” But it happened to be a particularly stressful time in my life, and the set of cassettes, whose cover had a picture of a night sky over a quiet neighborhood, looked comforting.
When the set arrived, I began listening to them in order, starting with the first episode from August 31, 1941. I found myself fascinated both by the program itself, and by the historical context. Listening to the programs from that autumn, I could feel the building tension of those last weeks before America entered the War. As December 7 approached, I felt strangely burdened with my knowledge of what was about to happen. I wanted to somehow warn the characters, the actors, the audience. I had heard about the shock of Pearl Harbor often enough from my mother and aunts, but somehow listening to the episodes from that fall made me appreciate a little more what it must have been like for them to hear that news, which was going to change all their lives forever.
Listening to the wartime Gildersleeve episodes, with their frequent references to buying War Bonds, rationing, collecting scrap metal, etc., gave me a better understanding of my parents and their world. My mother would have been about the same age as Marjorie, and I love the episodes where her tastes in music and entertainment collide with her uncle’s. In later episodes, when Marjorie marries, has twins and cares for them in a thoroughly modern way, arguing with her mother-in-law over “demand” feeding, I saw the context of my own babyhood.
And so, in many ways, listening to the Great Gildersleeve for me is based on my interest in social history, as well as a way to feel connected to my parents, who died young, before I has a chance to listen more appreciatively to their stories. But I also just like the show, and like the people.
This website is my tribute to the program, and it’s very much a work in progress. I add to the Episode Guide as I listen to more programs. The annotations are subjective– I think that you can tell which episodes are my personal favorites. The section on the Cast of Characters also needs a lot of work. As I listened to the program, I was surprised to meet so many old friends from my childhood television viewing: Richard Crenna, from the Real McCoys; Gale Gordon, from The Lucy Show; Bea Benadaret, from Petticoat Junction; and Hans Conried, whom I remembered fondly as Uncle Tonoose on the Danny Thomas show.
I hope that you enjoy this web site, and that it will add to your enjoyment of The Great Gildersleeve!