The Great Gildersleeve

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(ended 1956)

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The Great Gildersleeve

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One of radio's most popular comedy series in the 1940s was The Great Gilversleeve starring Harold Peary in the title role. It finally came to TV in this 1955 syndicated sitcom with Willard Waterman as the lead.

Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve first appeared in 1939 as a supporting character on the hit radio series Fibber McGee and Molly. He proved so popular that sponsor Kraft Foods spun him off into his own series beginning in 1941.

Both radio and TV versions have Gildersleeve as the water commissioner for the town of Summerfield, running the estate of his late brother-in-law, and raising the two kids, Leroy and Marjorie Forrester. He was single and loved the ladies, dating a non-stop parade of different women. (A few early jokes on Fibber McGee made reference to Gildy's wife, but that marriage was quickly forgotten, never to be mentioned again. Richie Cunningham's older brother Chuck would later meet the same fate on Happy Days.) Their housekeeper, Birdie Lee Coggins, was played by African-American actress Lillian Randolph, the only cast member other than Waterman to make the transition to television.

Waterman took over the role on radio in 1950 when Peary was lured away from NBC by rival CBS. (This during the "Great CBS Talent Raid" when the network, tired of playing second fiddle, stole NBC's biggest stars by waving big, big money at them. Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Red Skelton, Edgar Bergen, and Kate Smith were among those making the switch.) The problem was that The Great Gilversleeve remained on NBC. Waterman, who sounded a lot like Peary, was his replacement and, obviously, the choice for the video series.

The TV series did not catch on and lasted just one season (39 episodes).

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