My Friend Irma was a radio situation comedy that began broadcasting in April of 1947 on CBS. Marie Wilson was cast as the dumb blonde, Irma Peterson, and Cathy Lewis played her best friend and roommate. John Brown was cast as Irma’s boyfriend, Al, and Jane Morgan was originally cast as Mrs O’Reilly, proprietor of the rooming house where Irma and Jane resided. Later, Gloria Gordon played the part for most of the comedy’s run on radio.
Dumb doesn’t begin to describe Irma’s thought process. Those around her were constantly frustrated with her lack of knowledge about even the smallest of things. For example, Irma thought that “flypaper” was an airline’s stationery and that “compulsory military service” was having to date a sailor when you didn’t want to.
Best friend, Jane, correctly assumed that Irma’s boyfriend, Al, was a hustler and constantly attempted to put a damper on the couple’s relationship. Al was a deadbeat, always running from the law and consistently unemployed. His get-rich-quick ideas always fell apart, and his backup plan was to eventually marry Irma so that she could support him.
Irma was employed by Mr Clyde, played by Alan Reed. Clyde was a lawyer who soon began to suspect that Irma was a dim-bulb. But, when Clyde fired her, he had to hire her back immediately because he couldn’t find a thing in the office. Irma distorted her employer’s dictation and had the most unusual filing system that anyone ever heard of.
One of the most annoying, but humorous parts of the show was Irma’s propensity to whine at problems that beset her during each episode. A funny part of the My Friend Irma programs was when Russian Professor Kropotkin, played by Hans Conried, hilariously complained to landlady, Mrs O’Reilly, about his room and other problems at the boarding house.
Kropotkin’s vocation on the show was a violinist and he was employed at the Paradise Burlesque. He was constantly in arrears with his rent, so he loathingly began to court Mrs O’Reilly in hopes that she would forget.
My Friend Irma was a successful radio series for CBS. Writer, producer and director, Cy Howard also had other hits in radio, including Life With Luigi and Marie Wilson went on to play Irma in two films and a television show.
Unfortunately, for Wilson, My Friend Irma typecast her into a role that she could never overcome. Wilson was a long way from stupid, but the media was constantly comparing her to her fabricated alter-ego, Irma. Many times, critics wrote that she was so much like Irma that they had to rewrite some of the things Marie said to make them believable in the show.