The wacky women who dominated 1950s television comedy did not begin with Lucille Ball (Gracie Allen and Imogene Coca predated her TV debut), but the phenomenal success of Ball in I Love Lucy surely inspired a grand assortment of imitations on the small screen. Soon after Lucy's TV premier, programs like I Married Joan with Joan Davis, Life with Elizabeth with Betty White, and My Friend Irma with Marie Wilson premiered, all centered around the doings of various "wacky wives" with staid, even dull, husbands. Drawing on similar conventions was one of the most successful sitcoms of the 1950s, My Little Margie.
My Little Margie presented 21 year-old Margie Albright, who lived with her widowed father Vernon in a New York City penthouse. Mr. Albright worked as an executive for the investment counseling firm Honeywell & Todd, and was perpetually in fear of losing "the big account" because of Margie's meddling. Rounding out the cast were Freddie, Margie's "boyfriend," elderly neighbor Mrs. Odetts (the Ethel to Margie's Lucy), Roberta Townsend, Vern's lady friend, George Honeywell, president of Honeywell & Todd, and Charlie, the black elevator operator (depicted as a sad African-American stereotype, typical of TV at that time).
The program starred Gale Storm (31 when she began in the role), a former film actress noted for her roles in westerns playing apposite Roy Rogers. Vernon was played by Charles Farrell, formerly a highly successful silent film leading man. The program premiered in 1952 as a last minute summer replacement for I Love Lucy but proved so popular, landing consistently in the top five, it was renewed for fall and ran for three seasons.
The title My Little Margie can certainly be taken in such a way as to be demeaning to women: "my" indicating the possession of someone as if they were a thing, and "little" a somewhat inaccurate and condescending term for a twenty-one year-old woman. Nevertheless, it has been noted that the premise of My Little Margie was in other ways rather progressive. First, Margie was a single woman at a time when most women on television were conveniently married off. Secondly, the Albrights were slightly different from the normal nuclear families then being depicted on TV. The widowed father and his daughter were frequently involved in stories designed around the two taking on and exploring roles not their own, duties and responsibilities which conventionally would have been handled by the now absent mother. Additionally, Margie, though "of marrying age," is seldom depicted as eager to walk down the aisle. Though she had a steady boyfriend in neighbor Freddie Wilson, few sparks ever flew between them. Margie was always too busy for her own romance, usually busy launching schemes to keep gold diggers away from her single dad. Margie's self-chosen single status and irrepressible individuality make her, in some respects, one of TV's pre-feminism feminists. Week after week, despite what her father and other men around her wanted her or expected her to do, Margie did her own thing, engaging in outrageous acts and everyday rebellions, as Gloria Steinem would later refer to them.
Yet, despite the presence of such advanced notions, in practice Margie rarely chose to develop them. Produced by the Hal Roach Studios, the series had access to all the studio's haunted houses sets and breakaway props and frequently fell back on the Roach's stock and trade--slapstick. The program got most of its mileage from Storm's enchanting charm, her wardrobe (provided by Junior House of Milwaukee, almost always with a fetching, matching hat), and her frequently performed trademark "Margie gurgle," a rolling of the throat it seemed only Storm could produce.
My Little Margie, had absolutely no critical support. From its premier, every newspaper dismissed the show as silly. Yet it had enough fan devotion to secure a highly rated run, making it one of the first shows to survive on audience support alone. Moreover, it was the only television program to reverse the usual media history and make the jump from the small screen to the audio airwaves; an original radio version (also starring Storm and Farrell) aired for two years. Its popularity is also attested to by the fact that Margie was one of the most widely syndicated programs of the 1950s and 1960s. It even proved popular enough to air on Saturday mornings, perhaps acknowledging Margie's near-cartoonish antics before a new and loyal audience among kids.
Castleman, Harry, and Walter J. Podrazik. Harry and Walter's Favorite Shows: A Fact-Filled Opinionated Guide to the Best and Worst on TV. New York: Prentic Hall, 1989.
Mitz, Rich. The Great TV Sitcom Book. New York: Perigee, 1983.
Storm, Gale. I Ain't Down Yet. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1981.
Margie Albright............................................ Gale Storm
Vernon Albright....................................... Charles Farrell
Roberta Townsend................................... Hillary Brooke
Freddie Wilson........................................... Don Hayden
George Honeywell.................................... Clarence Kolb
Video: My Little Margie: "Margie and the Shah" (airdate: 5/12/54), directed by Hal Yates; Teleplay by Frank Gill, Jr. and G. Carleton Brown; story by Alan Woods and John Kohn from the Internet Archive. TV Land To Go: The Big Book of TV Lists, TV Lore, and TV Bests by Tom Hill ranked this episode #43 in a list of the top 100 sitcom episodes of all-time.