Saturday, April 22, 2006
Obscurity of the Day: The Pioneers
The story concerned itself with the trek of a group of families who leave the wilds of Maine to strike it rich in the California gold rush. This is a tale full of possibilities, but in the hands of writer Glenn Chaffin (later to create Tailspin Tommy) it is a real yawner. The art by someone named Lovrien Gregory (also sometimes spelled Louvrien) doesn't do much to help the cause. Initially the story was told exclusively in captions, but occasional word balloons began popping up later. Our sample strip is one of the few that used word balloons for most of the strip.
The Pioneers began its run on February 12, 1928 and ended January 13, 1929. Ralph Wolfe took over the art chores on 7/22/28, and then the writing on 9/23. Wolfe improved the strip on the art front, but the writing didn't get much livelier.
I must confess that I've not read the strip through to the end, despite having the opportunity, so I can't say whether it concluded with the group arriving in California or got cancelled in mid-odyssey; my guess is that the strip was intentionally closed-end. The run of the strip comprises 49 episodes based on my dating, so I wonder if there was perhaps an even 50 episodes in actuality (my dates come from a run in the Columbus Dispatch). Being from Bell Syndicate, it should come as no surprise that the strip continued to be sold after its initial running dates, so you may find later ones; the latest I've seen run in late 1929.
Jay Maeder, writing in Goulart's Encyclopedia of American Comics, claims that the strip was running in 1926, and that Glenn Chaffin was not the first writer. If Jay is reading the blog, perhaps he could tell us if this was indeed the case. I've never found the strip running earlier than the cited running dates, but maybe I have just never come upon the right sources. Jay, you out there?
"It wasn't much of a page. It was this historical drama. Lester Lear was writing the thing and he had this girl cousin who was drawing it, and then Bell took it over and Lester got too busy to write it and he asked me to do it. At the time I took it over the story had to do with the Erie Canal. I bought a book and read up on the Erie Canal. Can't remember much else about the thing. As I recall, the girl became ill and caved in or something. The page wasn't making any money anyway, and Bell just dropped it."
Lester Lear was Bell's Los Angeles rep, previously the guy who had hired Chaffin to write a Hollywood gossip column, subsequently the guy who introduced him to Hal Forrest. "Bell took it over" perhaps suggests the page might have earlier been running just locally someplace. Anyway, I guess I can't at this moment firmly document the 1926 start date, but that was certainly my impression.
I guess the thing must have been running in some paper out in California, which makes sense then that the story is about trying to get there for the gold rush.
Just goes to show, for every question you answer you generate more to replace it.
Thanks very much for the great info Jay!
Friday, April 21, 2006
Obscurity of the Day: Tommy of the Big Top
For some reason John Lehti's delightful Tommy of the Big Top strip never found its audience. The art was wonderful, the stories good, but it just never seemed to take off. Perhaps an early sign of the demise of the story strip?
The strip started 10/28/1946. Young Tommy was living with his older sister, the parents not in the picture for reasons I haven't discovered. Sister, who looks to be a teenager, is being successfully courted by a loathsome fellow, and Tommy wants nothing more than to be out of the picture in case the pair get married.
A circus comes to town and he resolves to join it, and our sample strips show a snippet of that sequence. Continuing this sequence the circus manager insists that the sister give permission for Tommy to join the circus. To keep the story from bogging down at that point, Lehti has good ol' sis acquiesce to the proposal without so much as batting an eye. So Tommy is off on his adventures with the circus.
What I like about the strip is that it tries not to follow the well-worn path of just having the circus as a backdrop for stories about the kid solving mysteries and foiling crimes. The stories (at least as much as I've read of the strip) really try to evoke the exotic atmosphere of circus life, and the adventures are down to earth and believable. The stories very deliberately try to evoke the thrills and mysteries of circus life. In this era, running away with the circus was a standard youthful obsession, and Lehti milks that desire like a real pro by showing kids a highly sanitized but nevertheless exciting view of what a kid might experience if he or she acted on the fantasy.
Tommy of the Big Top ended sometime in 1950 (can anyone supply a specific date?) and Lehti went on to have far more success with his Bible story strip, Tales From The Great Book.
Lehti was born in Brooklyn according to the biography in Goulart's Encyclopedia of American Comics. No mention of his family history.
Tommy was a daily-only strip, so there should be no Sundays. I'll be interested to hear more from you on what those Danes were up to!
Any info you could provide on John's comic strip work would be of great interest to me and the blog readers. One thing that has me wondering is regarding "Facts About The Bible". I still find that running in some papers, so I assume it was sold in batches. Do you know how many installments were done? Is it just reworked versions of "Tales From the Great Book" or was it new material? Is the syndicate, Linage-Plus, your dad's company or a syndicate that he sold the rights to?
Inquiring minds wanna know!
Thanks very much for the additional info about your dad.
A few questions:
1) I haven't seen any "Tales" from beyond 1971. Do you know the specific end date in '72?
2) Did "Facts" gets started pretty much right after "Tales" ended, or was there significant time in between. In my collection I don't have any "Facts" from before the 80s.
3) Is the art and story in "Facts" just sort of rejiggered "Tales" material, or did your dad actually produce new material for this version?
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Obscurity of the Day: Sister
Sister stuck to a strict gag-a-day format in both the daily and the Sunday versions. The child, who was mildly mischievous, sort of a Little Iodine on Ritalin, had a pair of generic parents who went by the board-approved names Mom and Dad, befitting their complete lack of any distinguishing character traits. Now I speak of gags, but that may be gilding the lily. The writing on the strip gives me the impression that the Berenstains were big Dennis The Menace fans, because many of the gags seem to be recycled from that feature. As anyone can tell you, the recycling process does not yield new materials of the same quality as the original.
Perhaps the best gag in the strip, and it seems to be unintentional, is that the titular Sister is an only child. Anyone giving pause to think about this may wonder how the name came about. Is there a feral sibling locked up in the attic? Is there some horribly sad secret in this family to which we aren't privy?
That this strip lasted three years (running for its entirety in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, for one) speaks, I think, to the possibility that strips just get cancelled a lot slower at sleepy Iowa-based syndicates. Surely it wasn't particularly popular in its run; I see it pop up as a Sunday rarely, and the daily is even more scarce.
As to 'kid's strips', when I was looking for more Blade Winters (the latest I found was februari 14 1953) I ran into that delightful Peanuts sized strip about kids dressed as their parents by Sam Brier. Could you tell more about that? Was there a sunday?
Ooh, that's even more disturbed. Nothing like a little incest to spice up a comic strip.
As for Small World (Brier's strip). I have running dates of 9/15/52-5/5/56. Delightful art and good gags on that one.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Obscurities of the Day: 1945 Joe Palooka Toppers
Ham Fisher's Joe Palooka went through a lot of topper strips in its day. The hardest to find, as is true for all toppers, are the ones after 1940. Compounding the problem with Palooka is that by this time it usually only used a topper in the tabloid format (I have on occasion seen half-pagers with the topper, but that was the exception, not the rule). Worse yet, the Palooka tabloid version was available with the paper's choice of a topper or a large title bar, and unfortunately for us completists, most papers opted for the title. Why so many papers chose a title bar over an extra feature is a bit of a head-scratcher.
Today we have samples of some of the toppers in Joe Palooka's 1945 crop. This was the last full year of toppers, as the feature was dropped entirely in July 1946. Fisher didn't stick with any topper title for long in this era, and often juggled toppers from week to week. Some topper titles were one-shots. Here's the vital statistics on the toppers in today's samples:
Sidewalks Of Manhattan - 11/18/45 - 2/24/46
Miss Jones - 3/12/44 - 11/11/45, also ran under the titles of Miss Jones On The War, The War And Miss Jones, the title on our sample was used only once, on this last installment of the series.
The Atom Age - 10/14/45 - 11/4/45
Fisher's Current History - one-shot title, ran on 10/28/45
Now That It's Over - one-shot title, ran 10/7/45
Fisher's Follies - 8/12/45 - 9/30/45
Letter From Home - one-shot title, ran 9/16/45
War Time Anecdotes - 11/21/43 - 9/9/45
Art on all of these is presumably by Mo Leff.
I've managed to get almost all the Joe Palooka toppers fully researched, but if anyone happens to have tearsheets of the JP topper Smile Darn Ya! by George Sixta, a really rare one that ran in 1941, I'd love to know what dates you have.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Obscurity of the Day: Little Lefty
Now that the blog brain trust has supplied the correct ID for the Daily Worker's cartoonist 'del' as Maurice del Bourgo, let's take a look at his magnum opus, Little Lefty.
Little Lefty started on October 8, 1934, and was by far the longest running strip in the history of the socialist paper The Daily Worker. It ran daily, with occasional hiccups, through January 3, 1943. The star of the show would have gotten along well with Percy Crosby's Skippy. Both were fond of philosphizing at length over the sorry state of the world. Skippy preferred the all-American apple pie solutions of democracy, freedom and the golden rule as a cure for the ills of society, whereas Lefty was just as certain that a socialist state was the cure.
Lefty was unabashedly political, and the jokes, when they could be wedged in amongst the idealistic sloganeering, were weak at best. This made Lefty fit in perfectly with the rest of the Worker's so-called humor. As I've mentioned before, the folks who contributed to the Worker were far too earnest and idealistic to really allow themselves to let loose with a good 'slip on a banana peel' type knee slapper. "How can we laugh when the world is in such a state?" I can imagine them muttering at their drawing boards.
Little Lefty actually ran seven days per week for long stretches. When the Daily Worker added a Sunday edition, Little Lefty On Sundays was inaugurated. This version, essentially just an extra daily, ran 1/12/1936 - 5/28/1939, changing its title to Buttons on 11/6/1938.
In 1940, a new character was introduced named Marmaduke. He's hard to describe, sort of a flying eel with a handlebar moustache. I haven't read enough of this stretch of the strip to really understand the significance of his form, but one of these days I'll dig some strips out from that era to show. Marmaduke was less fond of spouting philosophy as Lefty, but he made up for it by earnestly showing the horrors of capitalism through longer contiuning storylines. The strip was sometimes renamed Adventures Of Marmaduke in 1940-41, and when Little Lefty appeared in this time the strip was often titled Little Lefty's Cartoonews. This title flagged the strip as even more earnestly political, as Lefty commented on the news of the day, making the strip verge on being a political cartoon.
The strip went on a long hiatus starting 6/8/1941, coming back for a short run 11/2/1942-1/2/1943. After this 'del' seems to have left the paper for greener pastures.
The samples shown are the first two installments of the strip from 1934.
Blog Note: I'm getting more and more spam comments on the blog so I've activated the comment verification feature of Blogger. If you leave a comment now, you'll just have to answer a very simple question to post (you just type the word shown in a graphic image). Hopefully this will cut down on the junk mail that I have to go around deleting every morning these days.
Monday, April 17, 2006
Peter Arno's Escapades
Sorry about bringing you in here at the middle of the Arno story, do have earlier clippings but they're lost somewhere in the paper bizzard. The article does bring you up to date, though.
A second tangential interest to comics historians here in these stories; Cornelius Vanderbilt for a short while ran his own newspaper syndicate (the CV Syndicate, appropriately), which included several comic strips in their offerings.
Vanderbilt's Tale Myth, Says Counsel
Lawyers for Arno and Mrs. Vanderbilt Give New Version of Clash
Reno, Nev., June 18 - An entirely new version of the trouble between Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr, author, and Peter Arno, New York illustrator, was told tonight by William Woodburn, attorney for Mrs. Vanderbilt, as a pending separation suit was dismissed.
Woodburn's statement preceded a scheduled conference of Sam Platt, attorney for Vanderbilt, and himself, on the separate maintenance suit Mrs. Vanderbilt intends to file. The conference was postponed until Friday.
Vanderbilt claimed he chased Arno from his home Monday morning and tried to fire at the cartoonist, but his revolver was empty. Arno has denied knowledge of the chase.
"Mr. Arno and Mrs. Vanderbilt arrived home Sunday morning from a party at the home of mutual friends," Woodburn said. "Before Mr. Vanderbilt arrived home they were in the house talking.
"When Mr. Vanderbilt entered the three of them talked amiably. Then Arno went home, parting as a friend.
"The next day Mr. Vanderbilt telephone Mr. Arno, threatening to pump him full of lead.
"Mr. Vanderbilt also threatened to shoot Mrs. Vanderbilt. Monday night Mr. Arno and True Vencill, a friend of Mrs. Vanderbilt came to my house to see me about it. The next day Mr. Arno told the police."
Woodburn and Clyde Souther, attorney for Arno, both said they believed the whole affair had been fabricated by Vanderbilt. Souther added:
"Arno believes in justice and his discussion will be limited to the mere statement of fact that his relation to Mrs. Vanderbilt has always been eminently proper."
Lois Long Divorces Arno, Cartoonist
Writer-Wife Cites Cruelty; Husband is Accused in Vanderbilt Case
Reno, Nev., June 29 - Lois Long, writer-wife of Peter Arno, obtained a divorce from the cartoonist here today on a cross complaint, which charged that she lived in "abject terror" of Arno because he was violently abusive on "hundreds of occasions."
Miss Long did not personally appear in court, her testimony being offered by deposition.
Arno was there, however. His only witness was True Vencill, at whose home Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. had been staying since she separated from Vanderbilt after a quarrel, a fortnight ago, over attentions Arno was allegedly paying her. Vencill established proof of Arno's residence in Reno for a six weeks' period.
Within two months after their marriage at Stamford, Conn., on August 12, 1927, Arno became subject to "outbursts of jealousy," his wife's deposition said.
On one occasion, she alleged, he dragged her from a table at which she was dining with a friend, and there were "several occasions" when he struck her. They separated November 10, 1930.
Arno will pay $8,000 alimony the first year, $7,000 for each of the two succeeding years, and $6,000 a year thereafter. Two hundred dollars a month is to go to support of their daughter, Patricia, whose custody will be divided.
Arno, whose true name is Curtis Peters, Jr., expects to remain here for another week, and then go to Los Angeles. He had no comment to make on any future matrimonial ventures.
Arno Slips, Falls In Vanderbilt Row
One Blow Lands and Men are Separated at Chance Reno Meeting
Reno, Nev., July 3 - George E. Killmer, head of a private protective association, said Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., and Peter Arno, the noted cartoonist accused by Vanderbilt of breaking up his home, fought at a chance meeting at a railway station here early today.
Killmer said Vanderbilt had gone to the station "to bid good-by to Logan Billingsiea, president of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, New York.
After they had passed each other several times hostilitiess began. Killmer related, when Arno descended from a railway coach, in appearance "retaining an insulting grin." The officer said Mrs. Vanderbilt's name was used by the two men, but that he "could not get them." Vanderbilt was declared to have struck Arno, who slipped and fell, after which the men were separated.
Peter Arno Takes Count in Dispute With Entertainer
Hollywood, Nov. 6 - The New Yorker cartoonist, Peter Arno, was knocked "cold" in an Embassy Club fist fight today while celebrities looked on.
Somebody planted a "haymaker" on his chin. The knockout followed words between him and Drexel Biddle Steel, entertainer and actor from Philadelphia, who was giving a supper party for Claire Delmar, Swiss actress.
Steel denied he delivered the potent poke and Sally O'Neill, actress, companion of Arno at the club denied reports that she belabored Steel with a chair. Steel said Arno was struck by Gordon Butler, Steel's business manager.
Arno, who once had a sensational altercation with Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., said he was struck by Butler after he, Arno, had seized Steel and "popped him" for "annoying my women guests, Miss Sally O'Neill and another young woman."
Among those at the scene were Joan Crawford, Franchot Tone and Mr. and Mrs. Clark Gable.
Miss O'Neill verified Steel's statement that it was another man who struck Arno. She said her impression was that the "other man" struck her companion on the chin from the rear, which the ringsiders agreed would have been quite a feat. One version was that Steel drew back to "paste" Arno, but that someone beat him to the punch.
Steel Wires Statement
Steel wired to New York a statement indicating he became incensed at something Arno said after Steel introduced him to Miss Delmar. Steel said Arno approached the Delmar party table and "accused me (Steel) of knowing him when his name was Curtis Peters, interior decorator for Gilda Gray."
"I arose and presented him to Miss Delmar, which she acknowledged," said Steel. "That was not enough for him and I explained at that moment there was just one thing he lacked - besides being born a man he had failed being born a gentleman.
"Mr. Gordon Butler, when Mr. Arno made a pass at me, stepped in to defend not only Miss Delmar but me, and sent Mr. Arno sailing across the dance floor, much to Miss Delmar's amusement and to Mr. Arno's surprise."
Miss O'Neill said she supposed the way the report started that she hit Steel with a chair was that Steel stood near Arno with a chair in hand and after the knockout and that she rushed over in an attempt to prevent further toruble.
Arno Tells His Side
"Last night at the club," said Arno, "Steel came to my table and I told him to cut out talk about his being an intimate friend of mine and that I was going in business with him.
"He went back to his table. A few minutes after that I went over to the orchestra leader and agreed to play the piano. While I was playing I saw Steel had returned to my table and was annoying my women guests.
"I walked back over to the table, grabbed him, pushed him back over to his table and then popped hiim. As I did so, this man Gordon Butler - Steel has a butler - smacked me on the side of the head and I went down.
"While this was going on Steel raised a chair and made for me. Miss O'Neill rushed in between us.
"The next time I see Drexel Biddle Steel," Arno added, "I'm going to hang one on him that he won't forget for a long time."
There were no hard feelings held by Steel.
Butler admitted modestly he was the hero of the occasion.
Labels: News of Yore
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Farm Publication Comics: Paw Tucker
There is a fertile history of farm publications in this country. Most of these newspapers and magazines had their own homegrown comic strips, often written and drawn by relatively accomplished, though today unknown, creators.
In the case of Paw Tucker, though, we do have a smidgen of information. The signature Bell refers to Ray C. Bell and his wife Caroline. Ray did the pencilling on his work, his better half did the inking and elaborated on Ray's sketchy backgrounds. This information courtesy of their son's book A Bedtime Companion - An Anthology of Humorous Americana (ISBN 0-9710519-5-X). According to son Robert, the dynamic duo drew cartoons for farm publications from the early 1930s through the early 1950s*.
Their production in the 30s was mostly panel cartoons, panoramic views of family get-togethers being a favorite subject (much like Dudley Fisher's Right Around Home Sundays). A central figure in many of these panels was Pa Tucker, and finally the Bells made him the star of his own comic strip, while also continuing the large panel format series. Pa's adventures lasted until the early 50's (my latest samples are from 1951)*, the panel cartoons were dropped around 1949.
Apparently the Bells managed to syndicate their wares to several different farm publications. They definitely appeared in Ohio publications (their home base), and all my samples are from the Wisconsin Agriculturist-Farmer.
Farm publication comics are a rich vein of American cartooning history, and well worth someone doing serious research. My hands are full with researching comics in mainstream publications and these features don't fall under the purview of Stripper's Guide (they fail to meet the requirements on two fronts; they didn't appear in "general interest newspapers", and most farm publications were bi-weekly, whereas Stripper's Guide rules say that comic strips have to appear in weekly or more frequent publications to qualify).
* since this post was written, I've found that the strip was running in the Wisconsin Agriculturist at least until 1963.
There are six large sheets of cardstock-like paper 9 3/4 by 22 inchs.
Each has Ray C. Bell Centerburg, Ohio at the bottom of the pages.
We were wondering if anone would be interested in them or not?
I will check this web site later to see if anyone responds.
Their "Paw Tucker" strip appeared in the "Ohio Farmer" magazine, which Dad subscribed to.
Dad told about visiting Mr. Bell at a hospital, must have been in the early 1950's. Ray Bell is said to have stated, "I'll tell you one thing. A hospital is no fit place for a gentleman!"
I always looked forward to the strip in the magazine. It just happened to come to mind as I was thinking about some other old strips that I enjoyed, took a chance,and did a search. Good to see the Tuckers again!