James Edward Jordan was born November 16, 1898, on a farm outside Peoria, Illinois. He grew up on the farm (the area is now located within the city limits of Peoria). He grew up with a girl named Marian Driscoll, whom he met at St. John's Catholic Church. Marian taught Sunday school and both were involved in the church choir. They always knew they would get married. Jim graduated from Peoria Central High School (on the radio program, the Jordans often referred to their alma mater as Peoria Union High School, as "union" was a common inclusion for the name of a high school in which it served a large area in California, where the program was performed after early 1939) in 1914 and worked on the farm, courting Marian and seeing her at church. They also began working on singing songs and telling jokes, which would become their livelihood as a couple in years to come.
In 1917, Jim was drafted into the Army. He was sent to France and was one of the few soldiers at that time to rise to the rank of sergeant in just a few months, then he was wounded. He returned to the United States in July 1918 and he married Marian on August 31.
The couple embarked on a show business career that began with Vaudeville. Jim was always the joker and Marian was the straight man. After the birth of their first child, they were longing to do work which would keep them in one place. Jim was a hard worker but knew, from growing up at the farm, he didn't have the necessary skills to do most jobs to support a family. In 1925, they began working on radio station WENR in Chicago to do several comedic programs. In 1930, their program Smackout over NBC nationwide. The program was sold to S.C. Johnson & Sons (Johnson's Wax) in 1935 and became Fibber McGee and Molly.
The program started out in 1935. Marian had long had a drinking problem, as her father also did. She was a driven person who never felt supported. Jim, in private life, had an abrasive personality which wasn't anything like the jovial Fibber McGee. They never would divorce, or its Roman Catholic counterpart, annul their marriage. They wouldn't even think of separating, for the sake of their children. What they did was send Marian to an alcoholic treatment center outside Chicago in 1938. The NBC network began moving shows from Chicago to Illinois. The only program that ended up not moving was The Breakfast Club.
Molly returned to the show in early 1939. Within ten months, Fibber McGee and Molly became the most popular comedy program in the country. The show lost its sponsorship by Johnson Wax in 1950. Then its sponsors were Pet Milk and Reynolds Aluminum. Marian became gravely ill in 1952, which proved to be terminal cancer. The program was moved from Radio City West in Hollywood to the Jordans' home in Encino in the West San Fernando Valley. The program then aired every day for 15 minutes. Previously, it was heard on Tuesday nights.
The daily programs aired for three years. Then the McGees/Jordans began doing short sketches on the 48 hour weekend variety program, Monitor on NBC, until 1960. Marian then retired. She died in April 1961. One year later, Jim married Gretchen Stewart, a much younger woman who was not a show business performer.
Over the years while married to Marian, Jim only did one character who was a grocery store manager on Smackout and a happily married man on Fibber McGee and Molly, as well as the handful of movies the Jordans made together. In 1976, he did a sitcom, Chico and the Man. Then, he did the part of Orville the albatross in the Disney cartoon feature, The Rescuers (1977).
The last twelve years of his life were spent in obscurity, just as he wanted. He had moved to a house in Beverly Hills, where he died of a blood clot to the brain on April 1, 1988. Jim is buried next to Marian at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. Gretchen remarried to someone else.