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“Dad-rat the dad-ratted…”


Seventy-three years ago on this date, one of radio’s best-remembered running gags was introduced…and it was as simple as opening up a closet door.  The March 5, 1940 broadcast of The Johnson Wax Program with Fibber McGee & Molly introduced a radio sound effect that was rivaled only by the creaking door heard on Inner Sanctum Mysteries:


FIBBER: Now let’s see…which one of these keys is the closet door key…?

MOLLY: Say, maybe we better see if the closet is locked…let me take a look…

FIBBER: Oh, it’s locked all right…you don’t think I’d leave all my personal defects layin’ around for any prowler to get his hands on…

(SFX: door opening, thump of a box falling)

MOLLY: McGee…it isn’t locked…it’s… (SFX: Another box and additional stuff falling) Better give me a hand, McGee—this stuff is all falling out… (SFX: more thuds and clatter, building to a crescendo of a junk avalanche) Oh…ohhhh…help, McGee…I’m buried alive! Get this junk off of me!


fibbermcgeeclosetBy the time of this broadcast, Fibber McGee & Molly was one of the medium’s most popular comedy programs, easily holding its own among such competitors as Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy and Bob Hope.  But, writer Don Quinn was looking for a gimmick to give the show a creative shot in the arm…and the inspiration came from a running gag that star Jim Jordan remembered from he and his wife Marian’s early days of broadcasting on The Smith Family in 1925.  On that show, a sofa with a loose spring produced a funny BOING!!! sound whenever anybody sat on it.  And with that, Quinn created “Fibber McGee’s closet”—an audio effect that saluted those millions of listeners who had stored away piles of junk in their own storage spaces for so many years (kind of a precursor to Hoarders).


MOLLY: Oh…dear, oh dear…look at all this junk that fell out of that closet…

FIBBER: Don’t worry, I’ll put it back, Molly, I’ll…

MOLLY: Oh no, you won’t…


MOLLY: We’re going to go through that pile of whatnots and throw everything out we don’t need…

FIBBER: Oh yeah? Well, I’ve been through this stuff a hundred times and there ain’t a thing of it that I can spare…

MOLLY: Oh, there isn’t…?


MOLLY: What’s this old rusty horseshoe for?

FIBBER: Well, I found that in nineteen-ought-eleven…soon as I find three more we can pitch horseshoes in the back yard…

MOLLY: I see…you expect to find three more, huh?

FIBBER: You betcha…

MOLLY: You don’t think the automobile is here to stay, eh?

FIBBER: It won’t be, if we can’t catch up with the payments…


McGeeClosetThe execution of this simple-sounding gag was anything but—Manny Segal, the program’s sound effects man, would set the following items on top of a portable suitcase: 10 empty oil cans, a pair of ice skates, a snow shoe, a barrel of broken dishes, a bowling pin, two boxes of kitchenware, a rake, an egg beater, three cowbells and a mandolin.  The items would then roll down the suitcase to create the cacophony that emerged from the opening of the closet, and would culminate in the tinkling of a small bell—after which Fibber would invariably observe: “Gotta straighten out that closet one of these days.”


In Charles Stumpf and Tom Price’s invaluable reference book Heavenly Days: The Story of Fibber McGee & Molly, it was tabulated that the closet was opened a total of 128 times…with Fibber (at 83) the usual culprit.  Quinn was careful to use the routine sparingly so that it wouldn’t become stale from overuse.  As funny as the gag was, it couldn’t quite compare to the reaction from a March 11, 1947 broadcast when Doc Gamble (Arthur Q. Bryan) opened the closet…to complete and utter silence.  (It seems that Fibber had finally cleaned out the closet!)


19621Fibber & Molly also welcomed a special guest to this March 5, 1940 broadcast in the form of Gracie Allen—who was at that time making the rounds of various programs promoting her Presidential run (as a candidate for the Surprise Party).  Gracie and husband George Burns manufactured the stunt (and it wasn’t the first time they had done this—as evidenced by the famous “Gracie’s brother” gag in 1933) in an effort to boost their sagging ratings.  The closet door gag continued on Fibber McGee & Molly for years to come…and became so ingrained in popular culture that even those who have never heard the show are familiar with “Fibber’s closet.”


By the way—you can hear this historical broadcast as part of Radio Spirits’ CD collection Gracie for President.  Be sure to check out the Fibber & Molly collections Wistful Vista and That Ain’t the Way I Heard It!, too.


  1. MD says:

    And didn’t Mrs. Uppington disappear into the closet, never to be seen or heard from again?

  2. Jay Beck says:

    When I was a kid, the upstairs hall closet was called the “McGee” closet…..could never get one thing outta there without a bunch of other stuff following it….today my “McGee closet” is in the garage….but just as much as a challenge to get stuff out as years before.

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