Equals Big Bust
“My doctor recommended Ivory.”
--- “Sally Gibson”
Lincoln, Me. (DG)—
The advantage of network radio during the 1930’s
was the ability to come up with programming the major networks hoped would
be popular with the radio listeners. Some ideas worked on the air; others
didn’t. This article is going to focus on a major “didn’t.”
On Saturday, September 15, 1934 at 9:30 PM,
THE GIBSON FAMILY was to air its first broadcast over the stations
of NBC’s Red Network. This program was a combination musical,
romantic comedy, and serial program within a 1-hour format. On paper,
it was supposed to be the blockbuster program of the 1934-1935 radio season---
but a funny thing happened on the way to the season’s most popular radio program.
The program was about a typical American family
named Gibson, which was a good thing because of the program’s name!
Seriously, the typical American family consisted of Ma and Pa Gibson and their
children Sally and Bobby. Although the Gibsons weren’t any different
from other typical American families, there was a twist here. Sally
and Bobby had exceptional singing voices and were known for breaking out in
song when the situation called for it. The main focus of the program
was the romance between Sally Gibson and Jack Hamilton, another character
with an excellent singing voice. The musical background of Sally, Bobby,
Jack, and other major characters was to give the radio listeners a feeling
they were listening to a Broadway musical.
In order to put a program of this magnitude on
the air, it required a lot of money. In other words, THE GIBSON
FAMILY needed a sponsor with big pockets. The program got a
good one in Procter & Gamble in behalf of Ivory Soap
and Ivory Flakes, 2 of the company’s largest selling and best
the program aired its first broadcast, there was heavy publicity of its debut.
Of course, NBC was doing its part in getting the word out over the
airwaves. Since Procter & Gamble was shelling out the
green stuff, the company also mentioned the program on the printed ads for
Ivory Soap and Ivory Flakes. These ads introduced
the characters to the readers and would-be listeners.
In the enclosed ad, Sally Gibson revealed her secret
on why her complexion was so lovely. She used Ivory Soap
and nothing else for her daily facials. Sally informed the readers that
her skin was sensitive. Her doctor recommended washing with a mild,
pure soap. Since Ivory Soap was pure--- 99 44/100% to
be exact, Sally used it for her facials. The result was a complexion
that was softer, smoother, and lovely to look at.
Not only was Sally an attractive young lady, she
was also a smart one. In the same ad, the readers found out she used
Ivory Flakes to wash her stockings. In talking with a
friend, Sally gave a brief “I told you so” type of speech to her friend
who washed her stockings with the infamous “Other Soap.” Unfortunately,
the friend’s stockings had disgusting holes and runs. Sally never had
that problem with her stockings, because she washed them every night in
Ivory Flakes--- after she took them off, of course. Not only
was there a complete lack of holes and runs, nightly washing in Ivory
Flakes also helped to prolong the life of the stockings. It
was the best of all worlds for Sally. She continued to wear the same
stockings she washed in Ivory Flakes, and the money she saved
from buying new ones was used for other purposes (including buying more
Even on THE GIBSON FAMILY program,
Sally wasn’t the least bit bashful in giving Ivory a plug.
Between acts, there was a brief intermission on the program--- a fancy name
for the commercial. Announcer Jimmy Wallington took the listeners behind
the scenes to the dressing room where Sally was hurriedly getting ready for
the next act. Helping her was her maid Hilda. It was an exciting
moment for Sally, but Hilda didn’t share in her happiness. The maid
was depressed, because her boyfriend Henry acted distant to her. When
Hilda mentioned her face had unsightly red blotches, Sally immediately knew
the answer to the maid’s problems. Sally asked what soap Hilda used,
and the maid replied it was a beauty soap that guaranteed radiant beauty.
Sally stated that although Hilda’s soap was classified as a beauty soap, it
also contained fats and alkali that actually did more harm than good.
Instead of the beauty soap, Sally advised Hilda to use pure, mild Ivory.
When Sally hurried off for the next act, Wallington informed the listeners
Sally’s advice may or may not help Hilda attract Henry’s attention, but
Ivory was guaranteed to help the maid have a younger looking, smoother
Despite Sally doing very well as an Ivory
spokeswoman, there was a major concern from everyone involved with
putting THE GIBSON FAMILY on the air. The program got
off to a good start (it had the 17th highest C.A.B. (Co-Operative
Analysis of Broadcasting) rating of the 1934-1935 season), but its
C.A.B. rating was on a sharp downhill spiral since then. Since considerable
money was spent, some major changes were needed. To do this, the program
went off the air for about a month; then returned to the air.
THE GIBSON FAMILY
returned to the air on Sunday, March 31, 1935 at 10:00 PM. This version
was different from the original format. The romance between Sally and
Jack wasn’t even mentioned in the storyline. Their romance may have
continued, but the listeners didn’t know about it. To pour more salt
on the wound, Sally’s role on the program was diminished. The program’s
main focus was a traveling carnival setting up shop in the Gibsons’ hometown.
The only consistency from the original format--- Ivory Soap
and Ivory Flakes were still the sponsors.
Despite the changes, the second format didn’t do
any better than the first one. It stayed on the air for about 2 months.
With 2 strikes and you’re out, it was decided to pull the plug on the program
What was supposed to be the most talked about radio
program of the 1934-1935 season, THE GIBSON FAMILY went off
the air quietly before the 1934-1935 season officially ended. Although
Sally Gibson did her best Arthur Godfrey imitation in selling Ivory
Soap and Ivory Flakes, Procter & Gamble
paid an expensive price for a program that was on the air for less than a
Despite the failure of THE GIBSON FAMILY,
the idea of a Broadway play for radio didn’t die with it. On Tuesday,
October 29, 1935, there was another attempt to make this idea work.
It was heard on NBC’s Red Network, but it was a new play and with a
new sponsor. How well did this new program do? The answer to this
very important question will be in the article "Fire Chief Out,
Elephant In" on my website (www.dg125.com).