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Leslie, Phil


Biographical / Historical Note

Phil Leslie was a great comedic writer who started in radio and later moved to television. Born in 1909, he first worked in St. Louis, Missouri as bookkeeper for a bank. During this time he married his wife Helen, and they had four children Anne, Jane, Sue, and Phil Jr. In 1939 he left the bank business to pursue his dream as a writer. In 1943 he was hired as an assistant writer, working with Don Quinn, for the radio show Fibber McGee & Molly. Following Quinn’s retirement Leslie took over as head writer of the show. He was the head writer until the show’s end in 1959.

The famous Fibber McGee and Molly Radio Show from WMAQ/Chicago, one of the longest running radio shows, aired from 1935-1959, with the last three years aired by the NBC Monitor. Jim Jordan (1896-1988) was the voice of Fibber McGee and Marian (Driscoll) Jordan (1898-1961) was the voice of Molly.

Jordan and Driscoll were both from Peoria, Illinois and married in 1924. They joined with writer Donald Quinn in 1931 for their first radio show Smackout. Originally only broadcast locally on WMAQ the show went national in 1933 and ran until 1935.

After Smackout ended Quinn developed the characters of Fibber McGee and Molly with the Jordans. The show premiered in 1935 and after a few years it was a hit. It was sponsored by S.C. Johnson Wax company from 1935-1950. Commercials were integrated into the show by the character Harlow Wilcox, who Fibber usually met with a groan because he was always praising S.C. Johnson’s Wax. The show was sponsored by Pet Milk from 1950-1952, and then by Reynolds Aluminum until 1953. After 1953 the show went from doing half hour episodes to fifteen minute episodes due to the declining health of Marian Jordan and the declining popularity of radio. By the time the show ended in 1959 they were five minute episodes.

Leslie also wrote for The Beulah Show a spinoff of the Fibber McGee & Molly. Another spinoff of the show was The Great Gildersleeves which was a radio success in its own right.

As radio was on its way out and television was on its way in Leslie moved on to write for the new medium. He wrote several scripts for potential small screen adaptation of Fibber McGee & Molly and was approached by NBC in 1959 to write for their television version. According to Tom Price’s Fibber McGee’s Closet, Leslie declined the network’s offer when it became apparent that the producers were not respectful of the material.

The first television script he sold was an episode of Bachelor Father in 1957. He wrote the very first episode of The Donna Reed Show in 1958. Leslie started writing for Dennis the Menace in 1960 and stayed with the show until it ended in 1963. Aside from Dennis the Menace, he spent the bulk of his career moving from one television show to the next, writing an episode or two and then going on to the next job. He often worked with a writing partner named Keith Fowler.

Leslie wrote for such shows as The Eve Arden Show, Get Smart, Family Affair, Green Acres, The Farmer’s Daughter, Grindl, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Leave it to Beaver. He occasionally wrote five or six episodes of a single show, such as The Addams Family, Hazel and Here’s Lucy. From 1969 to 1970 he wrote several episodes of Julia, the first sitcom to star an African-American woman in a non-stereotypical role. His last produced work for television is believed to be a pair of scripts for The Brady Bunch in 1971.

Leslie died in at the age of 79 in 1988 from cancer. In 1998, a new version of The Addams Family went into production. Several scripts written by Phil Leslie and Keith Fowler were adapted for the new show.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Phil Leslie Script Collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: ACC-MSS 006
Scope and Contents The bulk of this collection contains bound and unbound scripts of the radio show Fibber McGee and Molly. The bound scripts are from 1937 to 1953 and the unbound scripts date from 1941-1954. Included with many of the unbound scripts are the story pitches, outlines, draft scripts, notes from readings and the final drafts. There are also several scripts from a television spinoff that was attempted. Over the many years Fibber McGee and Molly was on they did special appearances outside of their...
Dates: 1937 - 1999; Majority of material found within 1937-1970