Mary Margaret McBride

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Mary Margaret McBride


By Albin Krebs 

“Mary Margaret McBride, whose homey network radio programs delighted millions of American housewives five days a week for more than 20 years, died yesterday at her country home in West Shokun, N.Y., after a long illness. Miss McBride, who was 76 years old, retired from network radio in 1954 and gave up her New York apartment in favor of her Catskills Mountains home, a converted barn about 100 miles north of the city. Until a few months ago, she conducted from her living room a thrice-weekly program on station WGHO in Kingston, not far from her home.  

Mary Margaret – that’s what everyone called her; not Mary, and not Miss McBride, but Mary Margaret – was a super saleswoman in radio’s heyday. Sponsors begged her to carry their messages in her breathy, homespun style, but she accepted only the products she tried and liked, and, being a teetotaler since the age of 4, when she took the temperance pledge, she dew the line at liquor advertising. She also disapproved for cigarette smoking, so that was another Mary Margaret product taboo. 

Mis McBride, an amply proportioned woman with a hearty, sentimental approach to life, larded her programs with recipes for invariably weight-gaining dishes. When she spoke of food, her listeners, many of whom considered her one of the family – a favorite aunt, perhaps, or a cousin – could depend on Mary Margaret to fairly drool with pleasure. 

Lyrical Radio Repasts 

To bring realism to her program, she said, she like to actually eat several courses while on the air, always, of course, paying tribute to he sponsors’ products. At the close of some of her radio repasts, Mary Margaret’s description of a meal could take on fairly lyrical qualities. “If I had to eat the same meal every day for the rest of my life,” she said during one program, “this is what I’d choose, fixed the way my mother did it: delicate buttermilk biscuits so hot you can’t pick them up, with butter slathered on their delicate insides; mashed potatoes that have been hand-beaten with cream and butter until they are fluffy as a cloud; baby chicken fried to crisp brownness; and, to finish off with, hot apple dumplings, rich with cinnamon, butter and brown sugar, and thick yellow cream to pour over… There would also be pickled peaches in thick syrup, grape jelly, spiced gooseberries, and pear and cherry preserves.” 

In addition to her gastronomical flights, Miss McBride offered her listeners, mostly women who took time out for 45 minutes each weekday at 1P.M. from the drudgery of dishes and diapers to tune her in, interviews with a wide assortment of people. Besides well-known personalities such as Eleanor Roosevelt, President Harry S. Truman and Jimmy Durante, Miss McBride liked to bring on zookeepers, plumbers, interior decorators, businessmen, almost anyone she thought might prove interesting. 

Although she was from a long line of Southern Baptists who took a conservative view of tobacco, alcohol and sex, Mary Margaret had a keen eye and a keener ear for subjects that would captivate her devoted audience. And so, on one occasion, to the dismay of her network and her sponsors, she invited Sally Rand, the fan dancer, to drop in on the program. It turned out there was nothing to worry about. Good, comforting, down-home-folks Mary Margaret skilled over Miss Rand’s theatrical calling and elicited from her a touching memoir of her poverty-stricken childhood in the Ozark Mountains. 

‘Female Arthur Godfrey’ 

Such was Miss McBride’s influence that she received at least 1,000 letters a week, and when she talked about a controversial book or play, a week’s mail could run up to 5,000 pieces. Occasionally, following a misunderstanding with a sponsor, she would just let slip on the air how she had been maltreated, and the offending soup maker or baker or meatpacker would be bombarded by mail reproving him for hurting “poor Mary Margaret.” Miss McBride was referred to some years ago as “the female Arthur Godfrey.” He too had an interview show over daytime radio. And in a way, the two of them pioneered the format of today’s television talk shows. 

Mary Margaret McBride was born Nov 16, 1899, in tiny Paris, Mo., the daughter of Thomas Walker McBride and the former Elizabeth Craig. Mr. McBride was “a farmer with itchy feet, and no sooner would he get a rundown place in shape, then we’d move to another spread that needed fixing up,” Miss McBride recalled some years ago. Mary Margaret’s Great-Aunt Albina was wealthy and sent her to boarding school and the University of Missouri, with the understanding that Miss McBride would become associated eventually with a boarding school endowed by the great-aunt. 

Went Into Magazine Writing 

But after a year of college, Miss McBride told Great-Aunt Albina she intended to become a writer. The old relative’s money stopped, and Mary Margaret had to take a part-time job on a newspaper in Columbia, Mo., earning $10 a week, until finally she received a degree. In 1920, after she had worked briefly for The Cleveland Press, Miss McBride came to New York, where she was a reporter on The Evening Mail. In the following decade, she branched out into magazine writing, for The Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan and several other publications.  
Miss McBride’s first radio job was with WOR in 1934. For a couple of weeks she pretended, as ordered, to be a folksy grandmother telling stories and reading recipes, but in the middle of one program, she suddenly told her ‘live’ audience: “Look, I’m not a grandma, nor a mother, nor am I married. Why don’t I just be myself?” Her listeners approved, and for six years, Miss McBride was a WOR fixture. Later she moved to CBS radio network but was uncomfortable in the 15-minute format given her, and eventually she switched to NBC, for the long stay that won her national fame.  
To celebrate her 10th anniversary on the air, Mary Margaret’s devoted fans packed the old Madison Square Garden on Eight Avenue at 50th Street, and on the 15th anniversary, Yankee Stadium could barely accommodate her devoted followers.

The funeral service for Miss McBride will be private. 

Source: Unknown, undated newspaper article.