Though this is the second season of the Great Gildersleeve show, it starts off with a lot of firsts, and features that have come to define the show. The first season saw several characters come and go, other than the core players. the Gildersleeve character had no clear occupation. He left his position at the girdle factory when he left Wistful Vista, and the world of Fibber McGee and Molly to take over the guardianship of his niece and nephew. His sole occupation was in managing the family estate and financial holdings. As the Fall of 1942 rolled in the ongoing theme of supporting the war is joined by the appearances of such enduring characters as Mrs Leila Ransom, Peavey the druggist, Floyd the barber, and Chief Charlie Gates.
I share a few clips with some of my personal favorites from the first few weeks of the season. A trip to the lake to do some fishing to get one last relaxing outing before the end of Summer arrives, helps to showcase the characters in the household. A golf tournament features an egotistical cornet player who challenges Gildy’s patience, and gives him a tough time on the golf course. Things really take shape as Gildy plants a tree, then he overcomes an embarrassment to be appointed as Water Commissioner. Over the long term though, fans who are familiar with the show might recognize that the very same lazy and lax performance of the outgoing official is pretty much the same work ethic that Gildy applies to the job. It’s just that Gildy is much more lovable.
When it involves her love interest, Marjorie can be full of teen age drama, and unstable. When her uncle is in his own impetuous moments, she can be a stabilizing force, motherly and responsible, to keep him in check. Marjorie is no slouch at tossing the punchlines back at her impetuous uncle. She has a sophisticated ease in swapping the slang of the day, doing some genuine jive talking. When Gildy triumphs, she dotes on him, stroking his ego. When he is crushed in defeat, she uses just the right tender emotion to find an advocate to present his case in the world of grown ups in the city council. Portrayed by the talented Lurene Tuttle, Marjorie is a character who swings from the excited squeals of a girl, to admonition of the men folk in her life.
Though the reality of having a maid is rare, in the radio shows of the day, you would think it was commonplace. Regardless, Birdie brings all the submissive, stabilizing character to the household of a devoted mother. She has the right amount of sass to let you know her obedient nature comes with a price. She doesn’t pretend to know how to run the house, and lets Gildy do his thing. Still, without her the house would fall apart pretty quickly. Another recurring character is Judge Hooker The Judge is Gildy’s constant rival, bickering like an old married couple, but always in a friendly way. They bark at each other a lot, but when it comes down to it, they both would do whatever it takes to repair a wrong, or a serious hurt.
Of the new characters brought in, Chief Gates and Floyd the barber return, but not very often. Both will be part of a singing group that Gildersleeves starts in the upcoming years, along with the Judge and Peavey. The deep voiced chief is the voice of authority, and a good match for the role. Floyd is a good listener, and though in this first appearance his voice is provided by Mel Blanc, in the future he would be voiced by Arthur Q Brian, the voice of Elmer Fudd. Gilda’s occupation as Water Commissioner is introduced, and his secretary would play a big part in the frustrations of his office. However, in her introduction, she is played by Verna Felton, and is quite the overbearing matronly type. As the weeks go by her character leaves, and a search for a replacement would eventually be filled by Bessie. The ditsie dame who was voiced by the real life wife of Harold Peary, the Great Gildersleeve.
Leila Ransom, the sweet Southern Belle, is a stereotype of the upper class, plantation raised lady. We don’t learn her back story in these episodes, but she is a widow, which makes her open for the amorous advances of Gildersleeve. If there ever was a person to match Gildy’s impetuous nature, she is it. Fickle, self centered, expecting the world to be available at her beck and call, but charming to the point of endearing her to those she meets. Leila would become Gildy’s girlfriend, and even take him as far as getting married… almost. A plot twist ensures the bachelor remains that way, but it’s not the last of Leila.
Leroy is both a typical boy, and a pal to his uncle. He has trouble in school. When there’s a chore to do, Gildersleeve puts Leroy to work raking leaves, mowing the lawn, digging holes, anything that his uncle wants to get out of doing himself. His friend Piggy Banks is often talked about, but rarely appears. Leroy is a perpetual 12 years old, and voiced by that perpetually 12 year old sounding Walter Tetley. When there’s trouble to find, Leroy can find it, and when he can’t, he’s probably in it with his uncle. He likes to eat, he storms up and down the steps, and admires his uncle as though he were his real dad.
Finally, the great man himself, Throckmorton P Gildersleeve. Did I mention that he’s impetuous? He can’t say no to a pretty face, he doesn’t understand women at all, he can go from soaring high on an ego trip, to crashing hard with hurt feelings. When things go wrong, its because the world is conspiring to get him, or so he sees it. He sees a fault in others, Leroy for example, and coaches him on his work ethic, procrastinating, and having no plan for life, then Gildersleeve learns the hard way that he’s guilty of the same things. He can be impatient, and the victim of miscommunication, and be having one of his bad days. At the drop of a hat, and an ego boost, his infectious laugh is able to get anybody laughing with him. He tries to make the right decisions, and get the upper hand, but is just as likely to fall prey to a prank, or his own pride. Is he a good parent? Through his many failures in setting the good example, he is loved by his family, and friends, and somehow things seem to work out for the best in the end.