June 16, 1917: Whipping Boy

Harrison Ford cracked a mean bullwhip as the title character in the Indiana Jones series of films. Ford wasn’t born brandishing a bullwhip; he had to learn it for the films. And he was taught by bullwhip master, Lash LaRue born on June 16, 1917.

Like many actors in the 40s and 50s, LaRue spent most of his career making B-Westerns. Originally hired because he looked enough like Humphrey Bogart that producers thought this would draw in more viewers, he used his real last name as the name for most of his film characters. He was given the name Lash because, although he carried a gun, he was noted for preferring to use an 18-foot-long bullwhip to take on bad guys. Lash not only disarmed bad guys, he performed many stunts such as saving people about to fall to their doom by wrapping his whip around them — often while at full gallop on Black Diamond, his trusty horse — and pulling them to safety. Lash, like a guy named Cash, was also known for always wearing black.

After starting out as a sidekick to singing cowboy Eddie Dean, he earned his own series of Western films and his own sidekick, Fuzzy Q. Jones (Al St. John), inherited from Buster Crabbe. He also got his very own villainan evil, cigar-smoking twin brother, The Frontier Phantom.

His films ran from 1947 to 1951. The comic book series that was named after his screen character lasted even longer, appearing in 1949 and running for 12 years as one of the most popular western comics published.

 

I hope some animal never bores a hole in my head and lays its eggs in my brain, because later you might think you’re having a good idea but it’s just eggs hatching. ~ Jack Handey

 

April 27, 1899: I Coulda Been a Tenor

Walter Lantz, who was born in 1899 to Italian immigrant parents,  actually had the surname Lanza until an immigration official anglicized it. Had he not, Walter could have grown up to be an opera singer rather than the creator of Woody Woodpecker and many other cartoon characters.

The first of these characters was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit star of a 1928 cartoon series for Lantz_OswaldUniversal Studios. The character, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Mickey Mouse, had once belonged to Disney. Lantz won it in a game of poker.

Other less memorable characters followed: a trio of chimps, Meany, Miny and Moe; Baby-Face Mouse; Snuffy Skunk; Doxie (a dachshund); and monkeys Jock and Jill. One character stood out from the crowd – Andy Panda became the comic star for 1939.

A year later, Lantz married actress Grace Stafford. While on their honeymoon, Walter and Grace were pestered by an insistent woodywoodpecker02woodpecker pecking on their roof, and Grace suggested that Walter use the bird as a cartoon character. Woody Woodpecker appeared for the first time in an Andy Panda cartoon and soon became a leading character.

Mel Blanc was originally the voice of Woody Woodpecker, but after only three cartoons he left to join Warner Brothers. Lantz held anonymous auditions for a new Woody. Lantz’s wife Grace made a secret audition tape and was chosen to be the new voice. She continued in the part until production ceased in 1972.

Woody Woodpecker is the only comic character to have his own hit song. Kay Kyser recorded “The Woody Woodpecker Song,” a top hit and Academy Award nominee in 1948.

Ho-ho-ho ho ho! Ho-ho-ho ho ho! Oh, that’s the Woody Woodpecker song.  They don’t write lyrics like that anymore.

If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is “God is crying.” And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is “Probably because of something you did.” — Jack Handey

April 23, 1983: Me Tarzan. Flash, Too.

Athlete turned actor, Buster Crabbe (Clarence Linden Crabbe II), looking back over his career, could easily have said “been there, done that.” After winning Olympic gold in 1932 for freestyle swimming, Crabbe dived into the movies, eventually starring in over a hundred movies, first taking a turn as the jungle hero in Tarzan the Fearless in the 1933 serial and a variety of jungle men in movies such as King of the Jungle that same year,  Jungle Man in 1941, and the 1952 serial King of the Congo.
Leaving the jungle for the far reaches of space, he played both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. His three Flash Gordon serials were Saturday morning staples in the 30s and 40s. The serials were also compiled into full-length movies. They appeared extensively on American television in the 1950s and 60s, and eventually were edited for release on home video. Later on television, Crabbe also found his way into the French Foreign Legion. As his acting career wound down, he became a spokesman for his own line of swimming pools. He died on April 23, 1983.

February 17, 1895: New Kid on the Block

Mickey Dugan, a bald, snaggle-toothed kid with a silly grin who always wore an over-sized yellow hand-me-down nightshirt, was right at home in the 19th century New York slum known as Hogan’s Alley, and beginning on February 17, 1895, became right at home in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World.
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In the neighborhood filled with quirky characters that was home to R. F. Outcalt’s comic strip, Mickey, also know as the Yellow Kid was the quirkiest. The Hogan’s Alley comic strip gradually became a full-page Sunday color cartoon with the Kid as its main character. He spoke in a muddled slang that was practically his own language, and everything he said was printed on his nightshirt as though he were a walking billboard.

yellow_kidIt may have been a cartoon, but Outcault’s comic strip aimed its humor and social commentary squarely at an adult audience. It has been described as a turn-of-the-century theater of the city, in which a group of mischievous ragamuffins act out the class and racial tensions of their urban environment.

As the Kid’s popularity  grew, the strip’s presence actually increased paper sales for the World, and led to all sorts of merchandising from dolls to playing cards to cigarettes.  It also earned Outcault the appellation ‘father of the comic strip.’

Several years later, Outcault created the character Buster Brown who became a spokesboy for the Brown Shoe Co with the immortal line “Hi! I’m Buster Brown and I live in a shoe. This is my dog, Tige, and he lives there, too.”

 

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December 7, 1970: Cartoonist (A) Draws Invention (B)

He is probably the patron saint of inventors everywhere – or at least their idol – for his uncanny ability to devise an incredibly convoluted method to carry out the simplest tasks. In fact the Merriam-Webster dictionary adopted his name as an adjective in 1931 meaning just that, to accomplish something simple through complex means.

Rube Goldberg died on December 7, 1970, at the age of 87, leaving a legacy for inventors and cartoonists alike. He was a founding member and first president of the National Cartoonists Society and is the namesake of its Reuben Award for Cartoonist of the Year. In 1948, he won his own Pulitzer Prize for his political cartooning.  And he is the inspiration for many competitions challenging would-be inventors to create machines using his scientific principles.

Professor Butts and the Self-Operating Napkin offers a typical scenario for a Rube Goldberg invention: A soup spoon (A) is raised to the mouth, pulling string (B) and thereby jerking a ladle (C), which throws cracker (D) past parrot (E). Parrot jumps after cracker and perch (F) tilts, upsetting seeds (G) into pail (H). Extra weight in pail pulls cord (I), which opens and lights automatic lighter (J), setting off skyrocket (K), which causes sickle (L) to cut string (M) and allow the pendulum with the attached napkin to swing back and forth, wiping the user’s chin.

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October 28, 1913: Present Bricks

 

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   The editors of the New York Evening Journal did not think it suitable for the comics section. The public didn’t much care for it. But publisher William Randolph Hearst liked it and gave it a permanent place in the Journal, beginning October 28, 1913.

   Krazy Kat was a carefree, simple-minded, gender-confused cat (sometimes a he, sometimes a she), desperately in love with a mouse. It isn’t just unrequited love; Ignatz Mouse, a rather despicable little rodent, positively hates Krazy and endlessly schemes to throw bricks at Krazy’s head. Poor Krazy sees this as a sign of affection.

   Add a dog – Officer Bull Pupp, a police officer who dotes on Krazy and makes it his purpose in life to prevent Ignatz from throwing bricks and to haul him off to jail when he’s caught in the act. This peculiar love triangle takes place in a surreal Arizona (or is Arizona naturally surreal?), where the strip’s creator George Herriman had a vacation home.

   The premise was simplistic, the humor slapstick, but critics have loved it for 100 years. During it’s thirty-year run, it gained such admirers as H.L. Mencken, Jack Kerouac, E.E. Cummings and Willem de Kooning, and many modern cartoonists have cited the strip as a major influence on their work.

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Inspiration for 10 28/16

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August 25, 1913: We Have Met the Enemy

Starting his career as an anonymous young storyboard artist for Walt Disney Productions pogo_himselfon Donald Duck cartoons and other shorts, the cartoonist who would later be compared to everyone from Lewis Carroll and James Joyce to Aesop and Uncle Remus moved to the animation department in 1939. There, during the next five years he contributed to such Disney classics as Pinocchio (Gepetto in the whale), Fantasia (a drunk Bacchus riding a donkey), and Dumbo (the crow sequence).  Walt Kelly was doing pretty well at $100 a week.

During the 40s, Kelly devoted himself more and more to comic book art at Dell. The little possum with whom he is now most closely associated came on the scene in 1943 in Dell’s Animal Comics. Pogo would go on to star in 16 issues of his own comic book and 26 years as a syndicated newspaper comic strip.  Along with Pogo, there were  Albert the Alligator, Churchy LaFemme (a turtle), Howland Owl, Beauregard (Houndog), Porkypine, and Miz Mamzelle Hepzibah (a skunk).

Kelly’s liberal political and social views were rarely disguised as he used the strip to champion the powerless and the oppressed and to satirize political dogmas and figures such as Senator Joseph McCarthy (Simple J. Malarkey, a gun-toting bobcat), Vice President Spiro Agnew, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Many newspapers dropped Pogo, and others moved it to the editorial page. Walt and Pogo were probably most remembered for their campaign on behalf of the environment and the battle cry: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Walt Kelly died in 1973.

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August 24, 1850: Meet Me at the Fair

London’s Bartholomew Fair, a wild celebration on the eponymous saint’s anniversary, died not with bartha bang but a whimper after enduring for more than seven centuries, Although originally established for legitimate business purposes, the fair had become all eating, drinking and amusement (for shame!) and a bit of a public nuisance with rowdiness and mischief.

Serious pursuits, uplifting exhibits, and dramatic entertainments had given way to shows and exhibits catering to the lowest common denominator of British fair-goers tastes – conjurers, wild beasts, monsters, learned pigs, dwarfs, giants. A prodigious monster with one head and two distinct bodies, a woman with three breasts, a child with three legs. A mermaid with a monkey’s head and the tail of a fish. Puppet shows, pantomimes, and coarse melodramas. A pig-faced lady and a potato that looked like King Henry VIII.

Eventually the fair grew less curiouser and curiouser, and on August 24, 1850, when the mayor went as usual to proclaim the opening of the fair, he found nothing to make it worth the trouble. No mayor went after that. Fonzie jumped the shark, and in 1855 the fair rolled over and expired.

I went to the animal fair,

The Birds and the Beasts were there.
The big baboon, by the light of the moon,
Was combing his auburn hair.
The monkey, he got drunk,
And sat on the elephant’s trunk.
The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees,
And what became of the monk, the monk?
The monk, the monk, the monk.

— Minstrel Song

September 28, 1909: Here Come the Scraggs

Cynical, sarcastic, contentious, irascible, misanthropic, peevish, and frequently a loose cannon — Al bio.castCapp, born in 1909, is about as far removed as you can get from his most notable creation, Li’l Abner Yokum—the good-natured innocent hillbilly who lives with his Mammy and Pappy in an atypical American community called Dogpatch. Capp’s satirical comic strip Li’l Abner reached 60 million readers in over 900 American newspapers and 100 foreign papers in 28 countries and had a profound influence on the way the world viewed the American South.

Initially a sort of hillbilly burlesque with oddball characters – the Yokums, Marryin’ Sam, Evil-Eye sadie hawkinsFleegle, General Bullmoose, Earthquake McGoon, Senator Jack S. Phogbound, Moonbeam McSwine – and outlandish situations such as Sadie Hawkins’ Day, the strip evolved into one of the most imaginative and critically acclaimed features of the 20th century, filled with black humor and biting social commentary.  When after 18 years of pursuit, Abner married Daisy Mae Scragg, it  made the cover of Life magazine (March 31, 1952).

Fearless Fosdick was introduced as a comic strip within a comic strip and a dead-on parody of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy.