Friday, February 26, 2016

My Friend Irma

My Friend Irma, created by writer-director-producer Cy Howard, is a top-rated, long-run radio situation comedy that spawned a media franchise. It was so popular in the late 1940s that its success escalated to films, television, a comic strip and a comic book. Marie Wilson portrayed the title character, Irma Peterson, on radio, in two films and the television series. The radio series was broadcast on the Columbia network from April 11, 1947 to August 23, 1954.

Dependable, level-headed Jane Stacy (Cathy Lewis—and Joan Banks during Stacy's illness in early 1949) began each weekly radio program by narrating a misadventure of her innocent, bewildered roommate, Irma, a scatterbrained stenographer from Minnesota. The two central characters were in their mid-twenties. Irma had her 25th birthday in one episode; she was born on May 5. After the two met in the first episode, they lived together in an apartment rented from their Irish landlady, Mrs. O'Reilly (Jane Morgan, Gloria Gordon).

Irma's boyfriend Al (John Brown) was a deadbeat, barely on the right side of the law, who had not held a job in years. Only someone like Irma could love Al, whose nickname for Irma was "Chicken". Al had many crazy get-rich-quick schemes, which never worked. Al planned to marry Irma at some future date so she could support him. Professor Kropotkin (Hans Conried), the Russian violinist at the Princess Burlesque theater, lived upstairs. He greeted Jane and Irma with remarks like, "My two little bunnies with one being an Easter bunny and the other being Bugs Bunny." The Professor insulted Mrs. O'Reilly, complained about his room, and reluctantly became O'Reilly's love interest in an effort to make her forget his back rent. In 1953, Conried dropped from the cast and was replaced by Kenny Delmar as his cousin, Maestro Wanderkin.

Irma worked for the lawyer, Mr. Clyde (Alan Reed). She had such an odd filing system that once when Clyde fired her, he had to hire her back again because he couldn't find anything. Useless at dictation, Irma mangled whatever Clyde dictated. Asked how long she had been with Clyde, Irma said, "When I first went to work with him he had curly black hair, then it got grey, and now it's snow white. I guess I've been with him about six months."

Irma became less bright and more scatterbrained as the program evolved. She also developed a tendency to whine or cry whenever something went wrong, which was at least once every show. Jane had a romantic inclination for her boss, millionaire Richard Rhinelander (Leif Erickson). Another actor in the show was Bea Benaderet.

The show was sponsored by Swan Soap, and Irma would usually make a silly remark about it so the name could be advertised. Frank Bingman was the announcer for Swan Soap. The program was also sponsored by ENNDS which got rid of breath and body odors and each tiny capsule was said to contain 100 mg of chlorophyll. Pepsodent was also a sponsor.

Because of the popularity of the show (early in the series, shows 41–43), a contest was run for the services of Irma/Marie Wilson to act as a secretary for the highest bidder for one day, with her willing to travel anywhere in America. The money was to go to the March of Dimes charity to fight polio. Three businessmen bid $1,000, but the winner was the Coca Cola Bottling Company of Fort Worth, Texas which bid $5,000.

The TV version, seen on CBS from January 1952 until June 1954, was the first series telecast from the CBS Television City facility in Hollywood.

The film My Friend Irma (1949) starred Marie Wilson and Diana Lynn, but is mainly remembered today for introducing Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis to moviegoers, resulting in even more screen time for Martin and Lewis in the sequel, My Friend Irma Goes West (1950).

The My Friend Irma comic strip, illustrated by Jack Seidel, began September 11, 1950, receiving a promotional boost in the November 7, 1950, issue of Look. In 1951, Dan DeCarlo took over the strip with Stan Lee scripting.

Atlas Comics (Marvel) published the My Friend Irma comic book which ran from #3 to #48 (1950–55), and was most often written by Stan Lee with art by Dan DeCarlo. After Atlas stopped publishing My Friend Irma, DeCarlo and Lee created a similar feature for Atlas titled My Girl Pearl.

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