Monday, December 3, 2012

Mary Margaret McBride

I Love Lucy with "Ethel" playing, Mary Margaret McMertz.
 I Love Lucy is the best loved television show of all time. It has been dubbed, "The Greatest Show on Earth."   Fans are interested in every tid bit of knowledge into the 1950s that can further enhance their enjoyment of this show which became popular more than 60 years ago. Well, if you have recently seen the I Love Lucy episode, "The Million Dollar Idea, the one where Ethel and Lucy try to sell, "Aunt Martha's Old Fashioned Salad Dressing, you may recall Ethel going by the name, "Mary Margaret McMertz."

That was actually spoofing a name that was as popular and well known as, Bill O'Reilly's name is today.

The First Lady of Radio was born into a farming family in Paris, Missouri, in 1899. She grew up there and in 1919 received a B.A. from the University of Missouri, subsequently taking a job as a reporter with the Cleveland Press after a stint with a local paper. Newspaperwomen were rare but Mary Margaret made good quickly with her unusual angles to her stories and an uncanny ability in interviewing. Soon she was writing feature stories for national magazines, until the depression hit her hard, especially since her parents relied on her for their support.

When in 1934 she had a call to go over to WOR, a Manhattan radio station, she thought it slightly ridiculous. Her voice is hardly the kind used on radio, then or now. It was a homey voice with a heavy mid western twang that can be referred to as "flolksy," and was as free of pretension as Mary Margaret herself. Three times she auditioned for the producer. When finally she was hired, at twenty-five dollars per week, they told her she would broadcast under the name Martha Deane. The plan was for her to create the character of a grandmother, with many grandchildren, and to make constant reference to them during her talks and interviews. After under three weeks broadcasting in the character of the grandmother, in the middle of a description of the cute antics of a grandchild, she got confused, forgot the child's name and blurted out that she was not Martha Deane, not a grandmother, that in facts she wasn't even married.

The audience loved her frankness and she continued for some time. But, the style she had developed at WOR would never change. She always insisted on doing commercials her way and was adamant about not accepting a product on her show unless she had tried it and liked it. She was waiting for a list of prospective, patient, sponsors just hanging around until the greatest personal saleswoman in radio would get around to pitching  their products.

Mary Margaret McBride

In 1937 Mary Margaret moved from CBS to NBC, and in 1950 she moved to ABC. One of their shows many distinctive features was that she insisted on her guest's first interview on none at all. This never was an official policy but word got around in the trade quickly and no author, politician, movie star, inventor, ect. was foolish enough to miss a chance to be interviewed by the queen of them all. Her audience was on a much higher intellectual level than that of the soap operas, and she never talked down to her audience or guests. The genius of her interviewing skill lay in the fact tat she was a good listener. Unlike many interviewers these days where the guest gets a chance to speak now and then. While there was a naive quality to her voice, her questions were pointed and well thought out. People divulged things to her on the air that they had never told their spouses or lawyers.

For her fifth anniversary on the air, fans packed the Grand Central Palace, for her tenth, Madison Square Garden, and five years later they nearly filled Yankee Stadium. A rose was named for her, Fred Allen joked about her, and Bob and Ray parodied her. She was named, along with Mrs. Roosevelt, sister Kenny, Emily Post, and Dorothy Thompson, as one of America's five most important women.

In 1954 her close friend and manager, Stella Karns, died of cancer. Miss McBride gave up her six-day-per-week, sixty-minute radio program, and tried television briefly, before retiring her show. For a while she made guest appearances with Tex and Jinx McCrary. She appeared also with Jack Paar and Mike Wallace but throughout the late fifties she was spending more and more time at home in the Catskills. Her book A Long Way from Missouri was published in 1959, followed by Out of the Air in 1960, which recounted her years of being the most active woman in radio. She made rounds of the interview shows to plug it and them retired to West Shokan, New York. Mary Margaret lived alone in a reconverted barn with a beautiful view of a reservoir and mountains while continuing to do radio voice overs at a local station until her death at the age of 76 in 1976.


  1. I used to deliver her with my parents mail when I was a kid. To this day, the view from her place is my favorite.

    1. Thank you very much for your input. Few people remember her