A Plucky Guy

One of the most eagerly-awaited periodicals to arrive in the mailboxes of subscribers not only in the Badger State but by history buffs throughout the country is the Wisconsin Magazine of History. A respected publication with articles by noted researchers and professors and complemented with abundant documents and photographs from the archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society, the glossy quarterly is never stuffy and rarely fails to contain at least one feature that prompts readers to smile with delight.

For this subscriber the most delightful feature in the Spring 2019 issue is “All the Rage,” an overview of the University of Wisconsin Mandolin Club, which thrived from the 1890s through the 1920s. Near the end of the 12-page article, author John Zimm credits Bill Monroe as a well-known musician who kept the use of the mandolin alive through the style of music known as bluegrass.

One of the most eagerly-anticipated occurrences on network radio during the 1940s and 1950s was the opening of the hall closet at 79 Wistful Vista, home of Fibber McGee and Molly. Often no comment was made on the specific contents that tumbled out of that gallimaufry in the hall, but whenever Fibber spotted his beloved instrument he would mutter “My old mandolin” in a voice tinged with nostalgic reverence similar to the tone of appreciation others might use upon encountering their high school diploma or college yearbook in the attic.

During the January 9, 1945 broadcast Fibber demonstrated to Molly and the listening audience there was some organization even in a cluttered closet by replacing the items that had tumbled out in a systematic fashion: snowshoes, moose head, tennis racket, ice skates, camera tripod, skid chains, little stuff, mandolin.

The spotlight focused brightly on that old mandolin during the evening of March 21, 1944, a rarity in the series in that the hall closet was opened twice during the same episode. McGee, at first pleased at finding his old friend, gradually became disgruntled when everyone else who picked up the instrument picked it better than he did. The studio audience and the listeners at home were delighted and not a bit dismayed when the man with the mandolin who claimed to have played it when it was all the rage himself ended up in a rage.


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