Jordan, Marian (1896–1961)

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Jordan, Marian (1896–1961)

Radio comedian who co-starred with her husband James Jordan on the popular radio series "Fibber McGee and Molly" (1935–1956). Born Marian Driscoll in Peoria, Illinois, on November 15, 1896; died on April 7, 1961; daughter of Daniel Driscoll and Anna (Carroll) Driscoll; graduated from the Academy of Our Lady, Peoria; married James Edward Jordan (an entertainer); children: James Carroll Jordan; Kathryn Jordan .

On any given Tuesday evening between the years 1935 and 1956, millions of Americans gathered around their radios to listen to "Fibber McGee and Molly," a comedy series created by cartoonist Don Quinn, starring two ex-vaudeville performers from Peoria, Illinois, James and Marian Jordan.

Marian Jordan was born in Peoria in 1896 and had her heart set on a stage career from a young age, despite strong objections from her parents. Educated in parochial schools, she appeared in amateur theatricals and concerts while a student, and later studied voice, violin, and piano at Runnell's School of Music in Peoria. She met James Jordan in the choir of St. John's Church, but marriage was postponed until after the First World War. Though the couple wanted nothing more than to entertain, it took a while for their careers to take off.

While James worked in a machine shop, Marian hatched a scheme to make their dreams a reality. On her initiative, they organized a concert company and embarked on a four-year tour throughout the Middle West, playing schools, churches and opera houses. After they disbanded the company, they were contemplating their next move when they became intrigued by radio. Thinking it might be a perfect outlet for their talent, they auditioned for Chicago station WIBO and were hired to sing for a musical program. Shortly thereafter, they captured the imagination of cartoonist Don Quinn, who saw them more as an acting team and wrote them a sketch featuring a folksy grocer who was always "smack out" of everything. The sketch was expanded into a popular series and the Jordans, in a threeway split with Quinn, were able to make a modest living on radio.

Quinn then developed the amiable braggart Fibber McGee and his down-to-earth wife Molly, the popular characters with which the Jordans realized their full potential. The "Fibber McGee and Molly" show first aired in April 1935 as a daytime series. The program was only moderately successful in the afternoon slot, but when it was changed to 9:30 on Tuesday evenings, its popularity soared. The show was distinguished by sharply-drawn characters, bright, funny dialogue, and a distinctive American small-town spirit. One well-known running gag revolved around Fibber McGee's closet, packed to excess with items squirreled away for future use. Each time the door was opened, all poured forth with appropriate sound effects, thundering, banging, clanging, crashing for an extended period of time, generally ending with one last tiny tinkle. The term "Fibber McGee's closet" became an American idiom.

In addition to Molly, Marian played several other characters, including Grandma, Mrs. Wearybottom, and the exasperating neighbor child Teeny, all with distinctive voice variations. The successful show spawned several movies (the first of which was This Way Please, in 1937), in which the couple also starred. In 1938, Marian suffered a nervous breakdown forcing an interruption of the show for two seasons. During her recuperation, the Jordans and their two children made a permanent move to California, where they purchased a parcel of farm land. Marian spent her free time reading mysteries and love stories, and collecting Chinese prints.

In 1959, two years after the show left radio, NBC tried unsuccessfully to adapt the concept to television, with Bob Sweeney and Cathy Lewis

in the title roles of Fibber and Molly. The show lasted only one season.


Brown, Les. Les Brown's Encyclopedia of Television. 3rd ed. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink Press, 1992.

Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1941.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Jordan, Marian (1896–1961)

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