Jim and Marian Jordan began their radio careers in Chicago in the 1920s, working for just a few dollars per show. They climbed the ladder of popularity, and their first NBC show was Smackout in 1931. In this show, Jim played the proprietor of a general store. When a customer would come in asking for an item, they would be "smack out" of it.
It was in this show that the Jordans began developing some of the character types they would use for decades. Marian created her little girl character, "Teeny", and Jim began telling long stories with clever alliteration. Those stories were usually written by the Jordans' very talented partner, Don Quinn, who was their writer for many years.
The team moved over to the Johnson Wax show in early 1935, and the characters of Fibber McGee and Molly were born. For the first few months, they were vagabonds, traveling the country's roads by car, and getting in and out of various scrapes. Later that year, they won a raffle while passing through Wistful Vista, and the prize was a house. All the pieces were now in place for one of the funniest shows in radio.
The show was refined during its first few years. The early structure was a lot of music with a few comedy sketches. By 1940 it had morphed to a sitcom-type format with a few songs. Marian had been absent for health reasons for about 18 months in 1938-39, and after she returned, the show's popularity took off. From that point on, Fibber McGee & Molly was Tuesday night "appointment listening" for most of America.
The most famous recurring gag on the show was the hall closet, the contents of which would come crashing down on anyone unlucky enough to open the closet door. However, this wasn't used all that often - perhaps once every few weeks. This kept the gag fresh, and somewhat unexpected. The show's supporting cast was strong. Bill Thompson played several characters, including the Old Timer ("That ain't the way I heared it!"), and Wallace Wimple, who lived in fear of his "big old wife, Sweetie-Face". Gale Gordon played the often-flustered Mayor LaTrivia, and later, a weatherman named Foggy Williams. Arthur Q. Bryan was Doc Gamble, a portly, mostly genial fellow who would drop by to trade barbs with McGee.
Don Quinn took on a co-writer, Phil Leslie, during the '40s. When Quinn eventually left
the show, Leslie maintained the stellar quality of the writing.
Most people today who've heard of Fibber McGee & Molly only know about that hall closet. Listening to the shows reveals a rich vein of comedy that goes much deeper than one running gag.