The Great Gildersleeve (1941–1957), initially written by Leonard Lewis Levinson, was one of broadcast history’s earliest spin-off programs. Built around Throckmorton Philharmonic Gildersleeve, a character who had been a staple on the classic radio situation comedy Fibber McGee and Molly, first introduced on Oct. 3, 1939, ep. #216. The Great Gildersleeve enjoyed its greatest success in the 1940s. Actor Harold Peary played the character during its transition from the parent show into the spin-off and later in a quartet of feature films released at the height of the show’s popularity.
On Fibber McGee and Molly, Peary’s Gildersleeve was a pompous windbag who became a consistent McGee nemesis. “You’re a haa-aa-aa-aard man, McGee!” became a Gildersleeve catchphrase. The character was given several conflicting first names on Fibber McGee and Molly, and on one episode his middle name was revealed as Philharmonic. Gildy admits as much at the end of “Gildersleeve’s Diary” on the Fibber McGee and Molly series (Oct. 22, 1940).
He soon became so popular that Kraft Foods—looking primarily to promote its Parkay margarine spread — sponsored a new series with Peary’s Gildersleeve as the central, slightly softened and slightly befuddled focus of a lively new family.