“My Favorite Husband” was a radio show on CBS from 1948 to 1951, and then on television from 1953 to 1955. The show was based on the 1942 movie, Are Husbands Necessary? and both were based on the book, Mr. and Mrs. Cugat: The Record of a Happy Marriage by Isabel Scott Rorick.
The radio show starred Lucille Ball and Richard Denning as the happily married Mr. and Mrs. Cugat. Later the couple’s name was changed to Cooper, because of confusion between the fictional Mr. and Mrs. Cugat and the real bandleader, Xavier Cugat.
The show aired 124 episodes during it’s run and was sponsored by Jell-O. The show always signed on with Lucille Ball calling “Jell-O, everybody!” after the announcer, Bob Lemond, started the show. There were at least three plugs for Jell-O in every show.
When the show first started, it revolved around well-to-do, happily married couple Liz and George Cugat, who lived in Sheridan Falls at 321 Bundy Drive. They were billed as “Two people who live together and like it.” The changes after the first few shows were initiated by new writers Bob Carroll, Jr., Madelyn Pugh and Jess Oppenheimer, names you might recognize from a little show called “I Love Lucy” (there was a radio show version too!). The changes were made to make the couple more accessible to the listeners and in addition, the couple’s life-style changed from a well-to-do banker and his social butterfly wife, to a middle-class couple. The new writers thought that most listeners could not identify with a rich banker couple.
Many of the plots revolve around Liz trying to get one over on George, or George doing something to make Liz crazy. For example, in the first episode, instead of taking Liz out to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary in style, George takes Liz to a party to see his old girlfriend, which doesn’t go over very well.
Gale Gordon played George’s banker boss, Rudolph Atterbury and Bea Benaderet was Atterbury’s wife and Liz’s best friend, Iris. There were several wives versus husbands plots during the show’s run, often with hilarious results. For example, in one of the episodes from 1950, the Atterburys get a new car, but Rudolph refuses to teach Iris how to drive. Ever so helpful, Liz offers to teach Iris how to drive and you can imagine where the story goes from there.
There were many domestic comedies on the radio at the time such as “My Good Wife,” “Burns and Allen,” “Father Knows Best” and “Fibber McGee and Molly.” Many of the shows were very popular,but there were critics who thought that there were too many that were a pale reflection of “My Favorite Husband” or “Fibber McGee and Molly.”
“My Favorite Husband” was popular and funny, with a great writing team and great actors, and remained popular until the end of its run on radio.
It Was On TV?
In 1953, “My Favorite Husband” made the move to television, a relatively new medium at the time. Television executives wanted Lucille Ball and Richard Denning to reprise their radio show characters, but Lucille Ball refused unless her husband, Desi Arnaz, could play the husband’s part. Executives thought the switch from Richard Denning, an American, to Desi Arnaz, a Cuban with an accent, would be too confusing.
When Ball refused, Denning dropped out or was let go–that part is unclear–Barry Nelson and Joan Caulfield were hired to play the parts of George and Liz Cooper. The series went back to the Coopers being a well-to-do couple and storylines that dealt with their society life. For the first two seasons, the Atterbury’s were replaced with the wealthy next door neighbors, Gilmore and Myra Cobb, with Myra as an obvious social climber. In the final season, the Cobbs were replaced by Oliver and Myra Shepard, though Myra was played by the same actress. In a twist of irony, the final season was filmed at the Desilu Studios, owned by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball.
Ball and Arnaz went on to fame in a little show called “I Love Lucy.”