Archive | Bringing Up Father

Movietone News (The KFS Edition)

I’m hoping that U.S. readers of this space have recovered from the twin effects of turkey-based tryptophan and early-morning Black Friday shopping — and that every American reading these words had a fine and fun Thanksgiving holiday. I still have family visiting for a few days, but while they’re otherwise occupied I wanted to finish our look at some of the classic comic strips that made their way onto the silver screen decades before the wave of comic-books-turned-film-franchises that currently dominate international box offices. Last time we checked out the movie adaptations of “The Big Three” from the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate — Terry and the Pirates, Dick Tracy, and Little Orphan Annie — but the other behemoth in strip syndication, King Features, was also always ready to shift its most popular properties to a Hollywood footing. We’ll start this brief overview of King’s cinematic side with arguably their most influential comic strip of all …

Two years after it debuted in newspapers during the start of 1934, Flash Gordon came to movie palaces nationwide in an ambitious thirteen-chapter serial from Universal. As discussed in Volume Two of our Definitive Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim books, this cliffhanger proved so popular it spawned two sequels, was re-edited for release as a theatrical film and, later, as a feature for the syndicated TV market; generations of children grew to adulthood with this serial’s images of the Emperor’s palace, Mongo spaceships, and an always-breathless Dale Arden cemented into their memories. Much the same way the Flash Gordon strip helped bring science fiction to the newspaper masses, the Flash serial introduced SF to thousands of moviegoers.

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Title card for the original Flash Gordon serial. Note the prominent credit for cartoonist Alex Raymond.

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Who could blame King Vultan (John Lipson) if he has trouble diverting his gaze from the comely Jean Rogers? She assayed the role of Flash’s girlfriend, Dale Arden. Like the comic strip Dale, Rogers was a natural brunette, but the serial’s production staff decided audiences would respond better to Dale as a blonde.

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A nifty Flash publicity shot featuring, left-to-right, Priscilla Lawson as a zaftig Princess Aura, Rogers as Dale, and Buster Crabbe as the intrepid Flash Gordon, with Lipson’s Vultan literally looking over his shoulder. Charles Middleton is pitch-perfect as the ruthless, cunning Ming, the merciless ruler of Planet Mongo.

A year later, Universal Pictures brought Flash‘s topper strip, Jungle Jim, to movie audiences as a serial in twelve parts, with Grant Withers playing the part of Jim. More enduring was the late-1948 full-length movie version of the character Columbia distributed, which was a low-budget success, spawning more than a dozen sequels that appeared during a period from the end of the 1940s to the mid-1950s. The actor playing Jim Bradley for Columbia was arguably the most famous Tarzan of them all — multi-Olympic -gold-medalist, swimmer Johnny Weissmuller.

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In his early 40s by the time he left Tarzan’s loincloth behind for Jungle Jim’s safari hat, Weissmuller spent his entire career as a leading man playing either the Lord of the Jungle or the Manhunter of the Malay Peninsula. What other “name” actor can say his fame was built upon only two roles, both of them offshoots of newspaper comic strips?

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From later in the series, a lobby card for 1949’s The Lost Tribe. Note Elena Verdugo among the supporting cast; as discussed in our next Steve Canyon volume, she came close to having a recurring role in the short-lived Canyon TV series as Steve girl friend!

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If the chap in the pith helmet being led by Jim looks familiar, that’s because it’s none other than actor George Reeves in his pre-Superman days!

Since King’s roster of comics included so many humorous features, it’s only natural the biggest gag-strips morphed into cinematic incarnations. Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake’s twenty-eight Blondie films came out from 1938 through the mid-’40s and remained immensely popular as syndicated TV fare well into the 1960s. Less successful in execution to the Blondies, but very good looking in terms of the actors and costuming, are Monogram’s five Jiggs and Maggie pictures, starting with 1946’s Bringing Up Father.  This series starred Joe Yule as the hodcarrier-turned-millionaire Jiggs and Renie Riano as his social-climber wife, Maggie.

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Lobby card for Bringing Up Father. Maggie and Jiggs’s creator, cartoonist George McManus, also appeared in the movie as himself.

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From later in the series, this still is from Jiggs and Maggie in Jackpot Jitters. Like her comic strip counterpart, Riano’s Maggie is never shy about making men toe the line in her presence!

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The Bringing Up Father films received mixed reviews, at best. Their artistic merit can be debated, but certainly the two leads always look as if they might have stepped out of a panel of a McManus comic strip.

This look at comic strips come to life is hardly exhaustive, but it was fun to look back at select offerings with a Library of American Comics flavor. And for my friends who were remarking how extraordinary it is to see comic book properties being featured in 21st Century big-budget blockbusters, this little miniseries of articles might serve as a reminder that comics-to-film is nothing new under the sun … and that, as usual, the comic strips got there before the comic books did!

Found in My Far-From-Junk Drawer

Last time in this space I discussed growing up with a “junk drawer” in our home, a catch-all for things that didn’t easily fit in anywhere else in the house. I mentioned having a similar catch-all in my filing cabinets today. It definitely doesn’t qualify as a junk drawer, given the many wonderful outsized or unusual items that reside within it, but it serves a similar purpose to my father and mother’s original Fibber McGee-style drawer from my boyhood days.

A recent dive into that Far-From-Junk drawer brought me to the KFS booklet commemorating Bringing Up Father‘s 20th anniversary, and that sparked thoughts that resulted in the “character evolution” piece that ran here at the end of September. It occurred to me that perhaps you might like to see a smattering of the other items I keep in my Far-From-Junk Drawer, so this week I dived back in.

Since we began by considering Bringing Up Father, and since I’m a huge fan of all things George McManus, let’s start off this look with two of almost a year’s worth of 1934 BUF newspaper strips I own, clipped from the pages of the Kansas City Star. McManus always has a great way with animals, and here you’ll see Jiggs and Maggie have received a most unusual pet, given as a gift from nobility with whom they had recently rubbed elbows:

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I always love gags about Maggie’s singing, and here the little pachyderm proves he has good taste regarding bad music!

A few years ago, Al Capp/Li’l Abner fan extraordinaire Mike Fontanelli sent me a C.A.R.E. package of all things Abnerian — some clipped daily and Sunday strips, a smattering of magazine articles, and other odds and ends, including a nice sampling of Cream of Wheat ads featuring the denizens of Dogpatch. Here’s a sample, which seemed especially appropriate since 2016, like 1944, is a leap year :

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Li’l Abner Yokum proves that Cream of Wheat not only tastes good, it’s good for you!

I also have some Ben Casey material, like this newspaper ad promoting the series, by the irrepressible Neal Adams, who continues to produce great-looking art today, *mumble-mumble* decades later:

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Neal Adams, of course, became an almost-revered figure in the comic book world for his work at both DC (on Superman, Deadman, and Green Lantern/Green Arrow) and Marvel (X-Men, Avengers, Inhumans, Thor). The superhero world’s gain was the comic strip world’s loss!

Not all the items in my catch-all drawer pertain to comic strips. I make no secret of my love for baseball, and here’s a fine copy of a photo of the young Jackie Robinson that I received as a benefit from being a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame:

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As the first African-American to play major league baseball, Robinson wore number 42. That number has now been retired from the sport, and no major leaguer will ever again wear that number without special permission from the Commissioner’s office.

Back in the comic book world, Jim Steranko moved away from doing work for Marvel Comics to publish magazines (Mediascene, Prevue) under his own company. He produced other products as well, like his bellwether History of Comics and stiff cardboard comic book “holders.” Here are the two facing sides of those holders, rendered as only Steranko can do it:

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By the way, Steranko’s brilliant Introduction to our Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles is must-reading for any student of the artform.

Finally, during the 1980s and into the early ’90s, I was devouring Mark Schultz’s Xenozoic Tales while it was initially being published by Kitchen Sink Press. How big an XT booster was I? So big that on a trip to Million Year Picnic in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I bought one of the boxes of “Cadillacs & Dinosaurs” candy bars they were selling. The candy is long gone, of course, but here is the top of the box, plus one of its side panels, featuring series stars Jack Tenrec and Hannah Dundee amidst some heavy dinosaurian action:

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Though the core comics series was published as Xenozoic Tales, a parallel series and a short-lived animated TV series both appeared under the “Cadillacs & Dinosaurs” title.

Here’s hoping you’ve enjoyed this peek inside my Far-From-Junk Drawer — and that you agree with my classification of its contents as definitely being anything but junk!

Time Changes Everything — and Everyone!

In my house, when I was a boy growing up, we always had a “junk drawer,” that catchall where everything went that didn’t quite fit anywhere else. When my siblings or I would complain that we couldn’t find a particular item, the inevitable question would come back, “Did you look in the junk drawer?”

Today I still have the equivalent of a junk drawer for a portion of my LOAC filing. I don’t think of it as a junk drawer, of course — there are too many terrific items stored inside it that could never qualify as “junk!” But certain outsized articles, or thick bundles of clipped strips, or, yes, things that otherwise don’t quite fit anywhere else all end up in this one particular file cabinet drawer.

I recently had cause to open that drawer, searching for one specific article, and as typically happens I found myself looking through a batch of other artifacts before I found what I was seeking. One of those stray pieces that caught my attention was the tribute booklet King Features Syndicate assembled in honor of George McManus and Bringing Up Father on the advent of the strip’s twentieth anniversary. Thumbing through that jumbo-sized pamphlet, I took particular note of the spread that featured a look at how Jiggs’s physical appearance had changed throughout the history of the series:

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Giving equal attention to both main characters, King provided a similar look at how Maggie morphed from stocky dowager to trim fashionista. Maggie’s display went Jiggs’s one better, since it included the years from which the images were taken:

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It occurred to me that it might be fun to see how the looks of other major comics characters had evolved over time. I started by going back to 1926 with Little Orphan Annie, snagging an image from mid-June of that year, culled from one of my favorite Harold Gray stories, guest-starring Pee Wee the Elephant. Almost twenty years later, on April 15, 1946, I selected a panel showing how Annie had grown and matured. Fifteen years after that, in July of 1961, it’s arguable whether or not America’s Spunkiest Kid looks younger than she did in 1946, but her hair has definitely got wilder and more unruly!

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Dick Tracy looks lean and lanky in this first panel, from June 27, 1932. In 1947, fifteen years later, he’s favoring a snap-brim fedora and his profile has become even more chiseled. Moving down the timeline another nineteen years, to 1966, Tracy arguable looks more weathered, with deeper lines around his eyes. His chapeau is more compact and close-fitting — but his necktie has remained incredibly resilient! (Note that Moon Maid is present in the background of the 1966 panel — you’ll be meeting her soon in our ongoing Dick Tracy series.)

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Having taken snapshots in time of both Annie and Tracy, it was only natural to look at Terry Lee, the third star in the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate’s three “crown jewels.” As you can see below, in 1935 the star of Terry and the Pirates was a boyish adventurer very much in the Tom Swift/Tintin tradition. A decade later, with America and her Allies poised to emerge victorious from the conflicts of the Second World War, the Terry we see listening with surprise as he gets an earful from Johnny Jingo is a mature young man who has fulfilled creator Milton Caniff’s goal of growing up to displace Pat Ryan as the adult focus of the strip that bears his name. Fifteen years further down the timeline, in this panel from May 1, 1961, George Wunder’s Terry has aged gracefully — he’s filled out, with broader shoulders and a more rounded face. No matter his age, though, Terry Lee’s fate regularly seems to be entwined with that of exotic, mysterious women!

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Since King Features characters set me on this path, it seemed proper that I pick another KFS star to conclude my look at character evolution. I think you’ll enjoy examining the radical changes that occur in the look of Secret Agent X-9, Phil Corrigan, as we move from his natty Hammettesque 1935 rendering (the product of Alex Raymond’s talented pen) to his more rumpled, almost slope-shouldered, January 31, 1957 Mel Graff appearance to his suave 1971 look, courtesy of Al Williamson.

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Given the disposable nature of daily newspapers and the inevitable audience turnover, one is left to wonder how many readers noted these visual changes over time. Certainly the stylistic differences of the artists who drew X-9/Corrigan would be hard to miss, but was it a relatively seamless transition for most readers from Caniff to George Wunder on Terry? And for strips produced by the same hand for decades — Little Orphan Annie, Bringing Up Father, Dick Tracy — how often did the changes in physical appearance get noticed and, when noticed, how often did they get accepted with a simple mental shrug? None of us were there, none of us can really know — but it’s certainly fun to ponder!

O, Sweet Mystery of BUF, At Last I’ve Found You!

Several months ago, I jumped on the opportunity to buy a sizable batch of early-1930s Bringing Up Father daily strips clipped from the pages of the Kansas City Star. I’ve been tackling them at the pace of one a day—just the way newspaper readers used to experience them! A fine way to start even the coldest, snowiest of New England mornings, I decided, was to enjoy a grin by watching George McManus put Maggie and Jiggs through their paces. Earlier this week I got a double dose of enjoyment, as one of my 1934 BUFs conclusively settled one of the long-unresolved questions about the series’s combustible-but-inseparable stars.

Ever since the 1980s, when I first feasted my eyes on McManus’s lush linework in the pages ofNemo magazine, I’ve read any number of articles about BUF and its artist, several of them professing confusion about whether the name “Jiggs” is a first or last name. Until the first such essay I encountered, it had never occurred to me that “Jiggs” was anything other than a last name. It seemed obvious to me that the comedy is subtly heightened if the outrageously aggressive wife is referred to by her first name while her husband is referred to only by his last name. Since typically a standard use of the last name imparts a certain sense of manliness and authority to the person in question, “Jiggs” as a last name is funny, because “manly” and “authoritative” are two traits not often associated with BUF‘s perennially put-upon-from-all-sides hero! So “Jiggs” as a last name automatically seemed funnier to me than “Jiggs” as a first name—it was a surprise to me that someone might not make that connection and thereby question whether “Jiggs” was a given name or a surname. My reaction the first time I saw the question posed was, “Ahh-h-h, c’mon!”, but down through the years I’ve seen the matter raised a handful of times, so clearly this is not as cut-and-dried as I initially thought.

That’s why I’m now glad to have found this October 11, 1934 daily. The set-up is terrific: Maggie and Jiggs have moved to a new apartment. No sooner have they settled in than Maggie starts taking phone calls from an attractive young woman calling herself “Tootles,” who keeps asking for Jiggs and talking about the places they’re supposed to be going together! (Adding insult to injury for Maggie, “Tootles” thinks she’s leaving a message with the maid.)

Suddenly brimming with suspicion that Jiggs is making love to another woman, Maggie sets off to do some investigating of her own. After several days of growing hilarity, this strip provides the punchline to the story:

 

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As you can see, not only were Maggie’s fears groundless, but this strip makes it clear “Jiggs” is, indeed, the last name of our favorite corned beef and cabbage lover, his wife, and two children.

Another comics mystery solved!

If you have a hankering for more Bringing Up Father, don’t forget about our two collections of Jiggs-family hijinx, From Sea to Shining Sea and Of Cabbages and Kings.

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Even as we drive toward our one hundredth release, they remain two of my very favorite projects in the history of LOAC.

 

For fans of George McManus

No sooner did I get done writing about our Polly and Her Pals LOAC Essentials volume and the special frisson I got from it than a purchase arrived that made me think of another of our books that has a personal “something extra” attached to it.

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Bringing Up Father: Of Cabbages and Kings is chockfull of not just the antics of Jiggs and Maggie, but also rare artwork and information obtained as a result of my late-2012 trip to Los Angeles to research the George McManus papers held at UCLA’s Charles E. Young Research Library. (A travelogue of that trip can be found here).

Whenever I open up Of Cabbages and Kings I recall what a thrill it was to pick up and examine wonderful artifacts like that 1947 Christmas card, a masterwork of color and design (see page 13 in the book), plus all the great photographs and newspaper articles sprinkled throughout my text. Best of all, however, is the knowledge that after my “warm-up act” is over, the book is loaded with over two hundred fifty pages of McManus-created hilarity. I’m such a fan of McManus that I recently pounced on the opportunity to acquire a variety of 1934 Bringing Up Father dailies. Since our sales indicate I’m not alone in my enjoyment of Maggie and Jiggs’s perpetual marital skirmishes, let me share a sampling of them with you here …

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A Century of Pleasure

Although George McManus passed from this earthly coil in 1954, his immortal characters live on in our collective memory—and (of course) in our forthcoming second volume of his classic newspaper strip. The strip premiered in January 1913. Happy Centennial to Bringing Up Father!buf100

Son of Westward, Ho! (Ho-Ho!)

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Above: a 1950 Fathers Day drawing for the St. Paul (Minn.) Dispatch

Following up on my earlier Bringing Up Father discussion and account of my trip to UCLA to research the George McManus Papers there…

UCLA’s Special Collections Libraries have a Duplication Services department, through which all requests for copies and computer scans are routed. Before leaving L.A. I had spoken with department lead Brandon Barton about how best to accommodate the logistics of the McManus artwork we’d be requesting from the collection for use in our Of Cabbages & Kings book, and upon my return from the west coast, after a couple days to get my notes in order, I had a three-page list of items zapping toward his inbox (along with as many pages of descriptive notes to assist Brandon’s crew in locating the artifacts I wanted).

Holidays and a mix-up regarding one of the boxes made Brandon’s task anything but a smooth one, but he and his Duplication Services staff came through with flying colors—and I mean that literally!

Because the artwork and photos I had requested arrived recently, and I was like a kid in a candy store as I reacquainted myself with these treasures. (“Oboyoboyoboyoboyoboyoboyoboy!” is the way I put it in an e-mail to Dean.)

We have some neat family-oriented photos of McManus to share with you in Of Cabbages & Kings, and the artwork…! We have more than we can use in this book or a sequel (or maybe two), so let me tantalize you with just a tidbit or two right now:

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Above: Maggie and Jiggs in service of selling ads for King Features.

Below: an undated card for the Friars Club, of which ol’ George was a member.

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Couple that with a text feature that reflects a chunk of my research results and you’ll soon have in your pulpy little palms what we immodestly (but accurately) characterize as, “the greatestBringing Up Father collection ever assembled!” And when you realize BUF comics have been being sandwiched between two covers since 1919, that’s saying something!

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As a bonus, here’s something that was NOT in McManus’s papers but which we found in our Library’s stacks: a Jiggs “Tijuana Bible,” in which Jiggs…well, let’s just leave it up to your imagination!

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