Radio Series Review: My Friend Irma

My Friend, Irma came to radio in 1947 starring Marie Wilson as Irma, a quirky young secretary from Minnesota who came to New York and was befriended by Jane Stacy (Cathy Lewis and later Joan Banks) who took her on as her roommate. The series is all about their misadventures. 

It would be spun off into two films as well as a TV series. The series was created by Cy Howard, who would go on to create Life with Luigi and it’s stylistically similar in many ways as well as both series featuring legendary  voice actors Hans Conried and Alan Reed. 

The series had a lot of running jokes. Conried’s character Professor Kerplotkin would greet Irma and Jane with an analogy to two things with the latter being a back-handed suggestion Irma wasn’t quite all there and would apologize stating it was “a little joke” he’d picked up somewhere. Mrs. O’Reilly, their landlady would show up and also get insulted by Professor Kerplotkin. The Professor would also complain about his room in the most over the top way possible and make a suggestion of something romantic with Mrs. O’Reilly (played by Jane Morgan and later Gloria Gordon) only to pull the rug out from under her with yet another insult.

Irma’s shiftless boyfriend Al (John Brown) would always try to turn any situation to his own benefit through (often poorly thought out) schemes. When he ran into a situation where he didn’t know what to do, he would say, “There’s only one man who knows what to do,” dial a number and then say, “Hello, Joe….Got a problem.” Nothing is inherently funny about this but Brown’s delivery practically wills it into a laugh line.

Probably the biggest running gags in the series center around Irma and could be paraphrased, “You know how weird Irma is?”

Marie Wilson deserves a lot of credit for her performance. It’d be easy for a character like Irma to become annoying, but she rarely does, and it’s the writing that sometimes makes Irma too whiny. Her comic delivery and timing is great and helps to sell the show. She’s particularly adept at having Irma’s mixing up messages other people tell her to deliver to sound completely natural.

The supporting cast is good Again, it’d be easy for them to come off badly and for the most part, they don’t. While they all know Irma’s a little bit off, they’re all supportive. Her boss, Mr. Clyde was mean but most comedy bosses during that era were mean, so that was to be expected.

My biggest problem in the series was Jane Stacy. On one hand, she could be nice to Irma and help her out and she could also be long-suffering with all the problems Irma caused. On the other, she often could lose it. In addition, she was the one who introduced the episodes and talked to the audience. She tended to deliver the meanest and most cutting remarks about Irma not only to other characters, but to the audience.

I came to view Jane as Irma’s “friend” who resents having her around and complaints constantly to other people about Irma. I found Jane insufferable and two-faced. I had negative reactions to other Cathy Lewis characters because I’d think of Jane Stacy when I heard them. Joan Banks’ take on Jane Stacy and Mary Jane Croft’s character of Kay Foster weren’t any better but they didn’t have as much time to wear on my nerves as Lewis did.

Numerous casting changes occurred in the course of the program, and not all of them are well-documented or observable. The bulk of episodes in circulation are from the show’s earliest days from 1947 to the spring of 1949, so many casting or character changes are unexplained within the radio program as any transitions occurred in episodes that were lost. There was a total of three episodes in circulation for the three year period between March 1949 and January 1952, and a smattering of episodes for each year from 1952-54. While I have limited exposure to later casts, the original cast, with both Brown and Conried is probably is the best the show had, though the later actors did fine.

Overall, My Friend Irma is a decent comedy. While it’s far from my favorite, it has some laughs. There’s little continuity, so you don’t suffer that much as a result of the missing seasons.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

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