We continue our look at comics-related ads that appeared in Life Magazine, previously begun here. This time, just for fun, we’ll go in reverse-chronological order and start at the tag-end of the 1950s. I was but a wee bairn of two months and twenty-five days old (and Stevenson B. Canyon was once again crossing paths and trading barbs with “The Copperhead,” Copper Calhoon) when this ad for Teacher’s Scotch, starring the one-and-only Milton Caniff, appeared in Life‘s October 12, 1959 issue:
In various LOAC books we’ve shown (and discussed) examples of the intersection between comics and the world of advertising, yet it’s not a topic we’ve lingered over in this space. I decided to change that just a bit recently, when going through the contents of a bunch of Life Magazines. (One of the perks of this job is being able to sift through old magazines and newspapers, to get a look at — or in some cases, remember — The Way It Used to Be.) These Lifes had a variety of comics-based advertisements, so I snagged a batch of them to share with you.
The earliest Life ad I found with a comics connection was in the magazine’s April 15, 1940 issue. I knew Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff were popular, but until I saw this I had no idea they were experts on digestive difficulties …
Dean Mullaney and Kurtis Findlay are back for another episode of the Library of American Comics & EuroComics Podcast!
In this special episode, Dean and Kurtis invite Don McGregor to talk about this favorite classic comic strips, including Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon and Dick Tracy!
Several years ago we took some time in this space to show you what my LOAC bookshelf looked like. I shelve my books in alphabetical order by author, or by publisher where that makes more sense — for instance, while my William Saroyans are under “S”, my Fantastic Fours are under “M”, with the rest of my Marvel Comics collections. My Library of American Comics titles are therefore under “L,” and then shelved alphabetically in a logical way (well, logical to me, anyway), as you can see:
One of the key points I raised in my text feature for Steve Canyon Volume 8 was that Milton Caniff’s picaresque adventure strip was still a hot property as the Sixties began to unfold. The perceived “Communist threat” was a very real part of life during that period, and the nuclear specter hung heavily over citizens of many countries (having spent my single-digit childhood years in the ’60s, I clearly remember the bi-level department store in my hometown, with both ground-level and basement shopping, and how the stairwells leading down to the basement prominently displayed “Fallout Shelter” decals). We too often try to examine the works of the past from a modern-day sensibility, ignoring a simple but accurate truth: It Was a Different World Back Then. (And our society couldn’t have arrived where it is today without our grandparents, parents, and some of us living through the way it was then … but that’s a thought for another day and another forum).
While doing some advance work for Canyon Volume 9 — which will feature more never-before-reprinted stories, this time from the years 1963-64 — the power of the feature to serve as a “draw” was once again brought home to me as I saw the plethora of advertisements and promotions for the series that ran in various client newspapers. Here’s a small cross-section of them, sure to whet the appetite of any Caniffite:
So I’m busily working away on the text feature for Steve Canyon Volume 8 (a juicy assemblage of material that includes Milton Caniff turning real-life incidents into story fodder!) and I get this e-mail from my dear, long-time friend Doug Thornsjo. If you read the Definitive Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim you got a taste of Doug’s writing (and his voluminous knowledge of movie serials) in Volume 2, in which he produced an article about Buster Crabbe’s three chapterplay turns as Flash.
Doug knew that in Canyon we had provided some coverage of the Ideal toy line based on Milton Caniff’s high-flying colonel, items like the Jet Helmet …
Stop a hundred random persons on the street and ask them which holiday they associate with the month of May. “Memorial Day” will certainly be the first many select. Others will choose “Mother’s Day.” Some will surely note that Ramadan starts on May 27th of this year.
Yet there are other holidays and observances tied to this often-most-pleasant-of-months. The very first day of the month is May Day, after all … Cinco de Mayo has become increasingly tied into the cultural zeitgeist … and this year Derby Day occurs one day later, on May 6th. The entire month is devoted to raising awareness for both Lyme Disease and Lupus. May 28th is National Burger Day, while the 31st is World No Tobacco Day.
For the purposes of this piece, however, we’re focused on the third Saturday in May, which is designated as Armed Forces Day in the United States. This observance was originally enacted in August of 1949 and marked the consolidation of the four major branches of the American military under the Department of Defense. The very first Armed Forces Day was also celebrated on a May 20th, in the year 1950.
So, with an itch to assemble one of our occasional “fantasy comics pages” that features various strips taken from one day in history, I decided to pick strips that were originally published on an Armed Forces Day early in the event’s history and settled on May 18, 1957.
I was pleased with the strips I chose from that date — a nice mix, I think, between drama continuities and comedy series, between easily-recognized strips (Archie, Mary Worth) and titles that have fallen into obscurity over time — Jeff Cobb, for example, or Morty Meekle. The former was artist Pete Hoffman’s adventure-hunting investigative reporter, the latter Dick Cavalli’s romance strip for NEA that quickly pushed the kid members of the supporting cast into the spotlight (by the mid-1960s Cavalli renamed the strip Winthrop, after the most prominent of the youngsters, making their takeover complete). Another modern-day obscurity I’ve included here is David Crane, launched in 1956 by Win Mortimer. In an interview with his widow published in Roy Thomas’s Alter Ego # 88, Mortimer’s widow described the strip by saying, “David Crane was small-town minister. Win had a good Biblical background; he could quote anything.”
I couldn’t resist including another installment of the delightful Penny, as well as a Long Sam — Bob Lubbers never made anyone forget Foster, Caniff, or Raymond, but he was a really excellent craftsman. Donald Duck was a “must-have” once I saw the newspaper Don was reading — J. Jonah Jameson take note! There’s not much smilin’ going on in this day’s Smilin’ Jack, and to mark the appearance of our tenth LOAC Essentials volume, featuring Norman Marsh’s Dan Dunn, I was glad to find a fresh example of Marsh’s later self-syndicated strip, Dan’l Hale.
As you look at this fantasy comics page, one thing may jump out at you — none of these strips make mention of Armed Forces Day! It will surely surprise no one to hear the May 18th, 1957 Steve Canyon was devoted to observing the day, and Caniffites can turn to page 78 of “Princess in Exile,” our sixth Steve Canyon volume, to see how the U.S. Cartoonist-in-Chief saluted the boys in uniform. For now, though, here’s our fantasy comics page from May 18, 1957 (click any strip for a larger view) …
Regular visitors to this space may recall that in mid-December I posted the first of two pieces about models Milton Caniff employed as characters for his then-upcoming Steve Canyon storylines. The models posed for photo sessions that filled the dual purposes of offering visual reference to assist the drawing of the sequences while also providing client newspapers an eye-catching way to promote the Canyon strip. You can find that piece archived here: “Model Citizens, Part 1”. It provides some post-Caniff “what happened to …” information concerning model Gen Melia, who married playwright and restaurateur Warner LeRoy and later re-married as “Gen Walton.” Given a lack of information about her under that name, I concluded she was living “a lower-profile lifestyle.”
It was a delight, on March 2nd, to receive an e-mail from Bridget LeRoy that says, in part: “As the one and only child of Warner and Gen LeRoy, I greatly enjoyed your blog … just to let you know, [my mother] has written over a dozen children’s books, co-authored three best-selling cookbooks (“Loaves & Fishes”) along with several plays and TV films, and married Tony Walton, one of the greatest set and costume designers of all time. Yearly trips to the Tony Awards and occasionally to the Oscars are a thing. So ‘a lower profile lifestyle’ — not so much. I can’t thank you enough for this piece of my family history. It means the world to me.”
Bridget is not overstating her step-father’s achievements — Mr. Walton is indeed a master at his craft, with Tony Awards for his work on Pippin, House of Blue Leaves, and the 1992 Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls, as well as a “Best Art Direction” Oscar for Bob Fosse’s ambitious, semi-autobiographical 1980 film, All That Jazz (he was earlier nominated by the Academy for work on his initial motion picture project, Disney’s classic Mary Poppins). From 1959 to 1967 Walton was married to his childhood sweetheart, Dame Julie Andrews.
The initial information about her mother Bridget provided sent me digging deeper, and not only did I find links to the Loaves and Fishes cookbooks Gen co-authored with the late Anna Pump (Loaves and Fishes), I found several of her children’s’ books available at on-line used booksellers and ordered three of them. Earliest of the three is Emma’s Dilemma, from 1975, about a teenage girl who may be forced to give away her beloved sheepdog, Pearl. The cover illustration is also credited to Gen LeRoy:
Lucky Stiff! was a breezy 1981 hardcover picture book about pre-teen Anabel and her adjustment to having a new baby brother named Vaughan (“Sounded like yawn. Everyone would laugh at his name”). Accompanying Gen’s text are lively illustrations like this one, by J. Winslow Higginbottom:
Taxi Cat and Huey is an ambitious 1992 book for young readers, written from the first-person perspective of basset hound Huey (‘short for Hubert”), who lives with his owners, Fred and Maureen Walton, and Taxi, the kitten the Waltons introduce into their household. The illustrations are by Karen Ritz:
When these books arrived at my home I left them on the table in the living room, planning to take them upstairs to my office the next day and scan the artwork you’ve just seen. My wife picked up Taxi Cat and Huey and read it in a single sitting. About the author, my wife said, “She’s good. That’s a really cute story!” So take it from my wife (someone whose interests do not include comics, Caniff, or Canyon) — Gen has real writing chops.
And if that recommendation doesn’t convince you, consider this excerpt from a long October 27, 1995 article by Hap Erstein, theater writer for the Palm Beach Post, concerning Gen’s first theatrical play, titled Not Waving…:
“Most first-time playwrights have to struggle to create interest in their work. Not Gen LeRoy. Her dramatic comedy Not Waving … does not have its world premiere until 8 tonight at the Pope Theater Company, but it has already generated more high-powered attention than most scripts by veteran writers. Such actresses as Julie Harris and this year’s Tony Award winner Cherry Jones have participated in developmental readings of LeRoy’s play. Prestigious though cash-strapped New York theaters like Circle in the Square and Circle Rep once vied to produce it … And even before the debut of Not Waving …, it has been bought by Robert DiNiro’s Tribeca Films for a future movie.”
Erstein goes on to provide information about Gen’s background for his readers: “Her Pope Theater program biography includes an eclectic list of previous professions. ‘Before beginning a career in writing,’ it states, ‘Ms. LeRoy did work as an IBM programmer, dry goods salesperson, waitress, accounts payable clerk, TV commercials model, Norman Rockwell’s New York model for several of his Saturday Evening Post covers, photographer’s assistant, mother of two children, wife, [and] illustrator …'”
That bio touches upon one topic Bridget LeRoy and I had discussed in our e-mail exchanges. “There was one additional piece that [Gen] was a little upset I forgot to mention,” Bridget informed me. “She went on to be Norman Rockwell’s model in three or four or maybe even five of his Saturday Evening Post covers. You can certainly find that online, including a video where she discusses it.”
Indeed I could, and indeed I did. The video is brief but wonderful, an excellent account by Gen of her experiences modeling for Rockwell. It includes several photographs of Gen taken to support two of those Post covers. You can see the video here: Gen Walton on Rockwell, and Post covers for which Gen modeled are shown below:
There are two ways I can bring this discussion around full circle. The first is obvious to any Caniffite: Norman Rockwell’s nephew, Dick Rockwell, was Milton’s long-time assistant on Steve Canyon. But this second way is one only a very few persons have likely seen — until now. Thanks to Bridget LeRoy, we are pleased to share with you this pencil portrait of Gen Melia (as Caniff knew her). Compare it to the photographs of Gen as Whitey Barker in our Steve Canyon Volume 7, or the shots of Gen posing for Rockwell in the YouTube video, and I think you’ll agree Milt did an outstanding job of capturing the essence of one truly accomplished woman:
Our thanks to Bridget LeRoy for reaching out to us and providing us with so much additional information (Bridget has an impressive resume of her own, as a Google search shows). And yes, I’ll cop to it — while Gen LeRoy Walton’s name certainly did fall out of nationally-syndicated gossip columns of the type I cited in my original piece, the evidence presented here makes it plain that my December conclusion about her living a “lower-profile lifestyle” was thoroughly unjustified! But this is one of those occasions where I’m perfectly happy to have (like Huey, perhaps?) barked up a wrong tree …
Caniffites may recall the tail-end of my introductory essay for Steve Canyon Volume 4, in which I discussed and excerpted a chain of 1953 letters between Milton Caniff and Hugh M. Hefner that I unearthed during one of our research trips to The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at The Ohio State University. The letters revolved around Hefner’s desire to produce a “Miss Lace” featurette in an early issue of (as Hefner put it) “a new men’s magazine beginning publication this fall.” That magazine was to be called — Stag Party.
There’s many a slip ‘twixt the initial plans for a magazine and its eventual launch, and in Hefner’s case Stag Party was renamed Playboy before it hit the stands. The nudes of the already-iconic Marilyn Monroe contained in that historic first issue helped make “Hef’s” venture a rousing success from the outset — but featuring a high-profile talent like Milton Caniff and a nostalgic — and buxom! — character like Miss Lace in the second issue didn’t exactly hurt the circulation numbers.
My friend and cultural scholar/historian Doug Thornsjo recently acquired a batch of very early Playboys and — *toinnn-n-n-ng!* — the discovery that his new arrivals included the second (January, 1954) issue meant we’d be able to share a sizable portion of the “Miss Lace” feature with you in this space. (We’ll block what the Monty Python crew once called “the naughty bits” in a couple places, just to keep things all-ages-appropriate.)
Here’s the first page of the three-page article:
Page two features four “Lace” strips that appeared in camp newspapers worldwide during the War years. Here are two of my favorites:
The last page contains four special “Lace”s — Hefner’s lead-in text will explain what made them special:
And here’s one more of the rejected “Male Call”s that seems especially appropriate for Playboy:
As a little bonus — again, with just a bit of blockage used — here’s an image from later in the second issue of the magazine, featuring the always-exemplary penwork of James Montgomery Flagg:
Hugh Hefner was something of an artist himself; he was also a great admirer of cartoonists and illustrators, as his use of Caniff and Flagg attests. One of Playboy‘s legitimate contributions to the 20th Century arts scene was its liberal use of cartoons and the generous pay scale it offered to those artists who appeared in its pages during its heyday (fiction writers also benefited from the greater-than-market-average rates Playboy paid). Whatever one may think about Hefner and the culture that grew up around his magazine and him, The Digital Age has yet to generate (to the best of my knowledge) a financial angel for artists and writers who is the equal of “Hef.” (I’d be glad to hear from anyone who can prove me wrong, though!)
And of course, one of the fun things about my job is the ability to revisit past topics when opportunities arise to amplify and expand upon them with new knowledge or imagery. Thanks Doug (as if I didn’t owe you enough already!) for making that possible in this case. Those interested will find Doug and his sharply insightful film reviews, sociopolitical commentary, and line of unique Tarot-based products on the Web at The Duck Soup Homepage.
09/11/16 UPDATE: From the letters pager in Playboy‘s fourth issue, here is the published reader reaction to the “Miss Lace” featurette, including kind words from Pappy himself!