My Friend Irma, created by writer-director-producer Cy Howard, is a top-rated, long-run radio situation comedy, so popular in the late 1940s that its success escalated to films, television, a comic strip and a comic book, while Howard scored with another radio comedy hit, Life with Luigi. Marie Wilson portrayed the title character, Irma Peterson, on radio, in two films and a television series. The radio series was broadcast from April 11, 1947 to August 23, 1954.
Dependable, level-headed Jane Stacy (Cathy Lewis, Diana Lynn) began each weekly radio program by narrating a misadventure of her innocent, bewildered roommate, Irma, a dim-bulb stenographer from Minnesota. The two central characters were in their mid-twenties. Irma had her 25th birthday in one episode; she was born on May 5. After the two met in the first episode, they lived together in an apartment rented from their Irish landlady, Mrs. O’Reilly (Jane Morgan, Gloria Gordon).
Irma’s boyfriend Al (John Brown) was a deadbeat, barely on the right side of the law, who had not held a job in years. Only someone like Irma could love Al, whose nickname for Irma was “Chicken”. Al had many crazy get-rich-quick schemes, which never worked. Al planned to marry Irma at some future date so she could support him. Professor Kropotkin (Hans Conried), the Russian violinist at the Princess Burlesque theater, lived upstairs. He greeted Jane and Irma with remarks like, “My two little bunnies with one being an Easter bunny and the other being Bugs Bunny.” The Professor insulted Mrs. O’Reilly, complained about his room and reluctantly became O’Reilly’s love interest in an effort to make her forget his back rent.
Irma worked for the lawyer, Mr. Clyde (Alan Reed). She had such an odd filing system that once when Clyde fired her, he had to hire her back again because he couldn’t find anything. Useless at dictation, Irma mangled whatever Clyde dictated. Asked how long she had been with Clyde, Irma said, “When I first went to work with him he had curly black hair, then it got grey, and now it’s snow white. I guess I’ve been with him about six months.”
Irma became less bright as the program evolved. She also developed a tendency to whine or cry whenever something went wrong, which was at least once every show. Jane had a romantic inclination for her boss, millionaire Richard Rhinelander (Leif Erickson), but he had no real interest in her. Another actor in the show was Bea Benaderet.
Katherine Elisabeth Wilson (August 19, 1916 — November 23, 1972), better known by her stage name, Marie Wilson, was an American radio, film, and television actress. She may be best remembered as the title character in My Friend Irma.
Born in Anaheim, California, Wilson began her career in New York City as a dancer on the Broadway stage. She gained national prominence with My Friend Irma on radio, television and film. The show made her a star but typecast her almost interminably as the quintessential dumb blonde, which she played in numerous comedies and in Ken Murray’s famous Hollywood “Blackouts”. During World War II, she was a volunteer performer at the Hollywood Canteen. She was also a popular wartime pin-up.
Wilson’s performance in Satan Met a Lady, the second film adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s detective novel The Maltese Falcon, is a virtual template for Marilyn Monroe’s later onscreen persona. Wilson appeared in more than 40 films and was a guest on The Ed Sullivan Show on four occasions. She was a television performer during the 1960s, working until her untimely death.
Wilson’s talents have been recognized with three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: for radio at 6301 Hollywood Boulevard, for television at 6765 Hollywood Boulevard and for movies at 6601 Hollywood Boulevard.
Wilson married four times: Nick Grinde (early 1930s), LA golf pro Bob Stevens (1938–39), Allan Nixon (1942–50) and Robert Fallon (1951–72).
She died of cancer in 1972 at age 56 and was interred in the Columbarium of Remembrance at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood Hills.
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