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!

Movietone News (The CTNYN Edition)

Hollywood has been on my mind a lot the past few weeks.

It started while assembling the week’s worth of puzzles that ran in this space a short time ago; each installment contained one Hollywood connection, and it was great fun sifting through images of wonderful old stars such as Eve Arden and Spencer Tracy.

Over the past couple days days there has been some discussion amongst my oldest friends regarding the new Doctor Strange motion picture from Marvel Studios. When you grew up reading Marvel Comics as we did, and when you dealt with the sneering of the adult population (I remember one bookstore clerk racking up the sale for a fresh stack of comics I was buying and snidely asking, “Are you going to read them all tonight?”), regardless what you think of the finished movie product it’s more than slightly amazing that John & Jane Q. Public now know who Stephen Strange is (and Tony Stark, and Steve Rogers, and Peter Parker, and …). Even more amazing to realize how many members of that public-at-large are shelling out hard-earned coin to see their big-screen adventures.

In the course of that discussion, it hit me that that while audiences watching theatrical versions of Marvel Comics characters is a relatively new phenomenon, the practice of audiences filling movie palaces to see cartoon characters move and talk and generally come to life is anything but new — and yes, it was the comic strips that got there first. That led me to put together this two-part look back at Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, focusing this time on the “crown jewels” of the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate.

Milton Caniff’s 1934-1946 run on Terry and the Pirates remains as feisty and entertaining today as it was when it was appearing in daily newspapers across the country. The Columbia Pictures serial version of Terry is less successful than its source material, but back in 1940 comics were considered cheap, throwaway entertainment and chapterplays were simply warm-ups for the featured film, so there were less-discerning filters being applied in those days. Certainly many of the kids attending the Saturday matinee were probably content to see Terry, Pat, Normandie, Connie, and Big Stoop walking, talking, and come to life before their eyes.

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Title card for the Columbia TERRY AND THE PIRATES serial

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“Look, Freddy, look! It’s Big Stoop!” Well, kinda-sorta — in the world of the film TERRY, Big Stoop can talk!

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Spirited conversation between Terry (William Tracy) and Pat (Granville Owen). At age twenty-three, Tracy was definitely “playing young” as teenaged Terry! Owen,. meanwhile, had the distinction of playing both Pat Ryan and Abner Yokum in the same year, since 1940 also saw the release of RKO’s LI’L ABNER movie.

 

As discussed in Volume 5 of our Little Orphan Annie series, 1932 brought RKO’s version of America’s Spunkiest Kid into the cinemas. It fared little better with critics than would Terry, despite featuring one of the premier child stars of the day, Mitzi Green.

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Mitzi Green strokes a pose as Annie. She had previously played Becky Thatcher in Paramount’s adaptations of TOM SAWYER and HUCKLEBERRY FINN.

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Title card to the 1932 LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE. The film was co-written by Tom McNamara, the cartoonist-creator of US BOYS, who went on to a second career as a Hollywood writer and director.

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This title card for the ANNIE motion picture features Harold Gray artwork. Go, Sandy, go!

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What is more charming than a child and a dog? In the 1932 production of LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE, Sandy has been cast as a German Shepard rather than a mutt — the popularity of Rin Tin Tin may have had something to do with that decision …

 

Arguably the best and certainly the the longest-lived of the celluloid versions of the CTNYN “Big Three” is Dick Tracy. America’s Top Manhunter first hit the movie screen in 1937 as a fifteen-chapter Republic Pictures serial, the first in a series of five from that studio.

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Ralph Byrd certainly looks the part of Tracy, assaying the role in all of Republic’s serials, two of the four RKO movies, and a 1950-51 television series.

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Lobby card for the final Republic TRACY serial.

 

RKO followed Republic in 1945 with a series of four Dick Tracy full-length films. Morgan Conway played Tracy in the first two before Ralph Byrd resumed the part for Dick Tracy’s Dilemma and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome. In this still with June Clayworth from the latter production (1947), it’s clear Byrd still looks great as Tess Trueheart’s one-and-only.

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In case you’re wondering, the “IML” on Miss Clayworth’s jacket are the initials of her character’s name: Irma M. Learned. Yes, she’s Dr. I.M. Learned …

CTNYN wasn’t the only major comic strip syndicator to have its characters entertain movie-goers. We’ll be back soon with a look at a trio of strips from the King Features stable that lived parallel lives in the flicker-pictures.

 

Answers from the 3DBB

(And kudos to everyone who fondly remembers Tennessee Tuxedo & His Tales, from whom I’ve cribbed for the titles of recent posts, including this one …)

As promised, today is the grand unveiling — the answers to each of the five puzzlers we published in this space last week! Each puzzle showed three images, and there was a connection linking image # 1 to image # 2, and image # 2 to image # 3. Your task was to identify those linkages.

I designed each puzzle so the links would have to do with the names of the three characters shown in each set. I mixed in a touch of “old Hollywood” to each puzzle, just to add an extra wrinkle to the proceedings (and so comics experts might find an additional challenge, although let’s face it, comic strip fans are often movie buffs, too). And now, the grand unveiling …

First in the Series: The three images shown are Ouchy Mugouchy (from Will Gould’s hard-hitting detective strip, Red Barry), a young Terry from Terry and the Pirates, and durable British comedian and actor Terry Thomas, perhaps best known for the large gap between his two front teeth and his roles in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines; and The Mouse on the Moon. Those wondering how that trio of names connects clearly haven’t read our recently-released Red Barry, Volume 1. Otherwise, you’d know Ouchy’s real name is Archibald Galahad Lancelot Lee, which makes the connections:

  • Archibald Galahad Lancelot LEE to
  • TERRY LEE to
  • TERRY Thomas

You can find the first puzzle here, if you want to refresh yourself on those three images: First Puzzle

Second in the Series: Gentlemen in the audience, don’t bother to thank me for finding three sterling examples of pulchritude for this puzzle. The connections here are:

  • EVE Jones (from Stan Drake and Elliot Caplin’s primo soap opera strip, The Heart of Juliet Jones) to
  • EVE Arden (whom one of our favorite correspondents, playing along each day, perfectly described as, “forever Our Miss Brooks, and the assistant to James Stewart in  Anatomy of a Murder. Always the wise cracking woman, way ahead of her time.”) to
  • Dale ARDEN (inamorata of the one and only Flash Gordon in the comic strip, films, and books that bear his name)

The second puzzle and its images can be seen here: Second puzzle

Third in the Series: Here the comics characters were certainly easy, but I hoped the motion picture still might trip up some of you. The connections are:

  • DICK Grayson (the redoubtable Robin, from the strip he shared with Batman) to
  • DICK TRACY to
  • Spencer TRACY (unquestionably one of our greatest actors. We see him here in his 1941 triumph, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but he’s also splendid in Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, Father of the Bride, Inherit the Wind, Judgment at Nuremberg, and most especially the nine films he made with Katharine Hepburn, of which Woman of the Year and Adam’s Rib are my personal favorites)

Want another look at those three images? You’ll find them here: Third puzzle

Fourth in the Series: Though earlier this year we had published a collection featuring the character in the first image of this puzzle, I hoped choosing to run an extreme close-up of him might make it difficult for you. And this time I made the connections tie to the first names of all three personages depicted. Those connections are:

  • MIKE Flint (star of Jack WIlliamson/Lee Elias’s science fiction Sunday epic, Beyond Mars) to
  • MICHAEL Caine (another Mike, looking young and very Seventies-ish in this shot, but who of course continues to work in major motion pictures to this day) to
  • MIKE Nomad (hard-charging co-star of the solid Saunders/Overgard adventure strip Steve Roper and Mike Nomad)

Here are the images, if you want a second look at them: Fourth puzzle

Fifth & Final in the Series: I ended on an esoteric and purposefully tough note, though again, in each case the connections between the three subjects was their shared first names. Did the first image stump you? He is:

  • DANNY Hale (star of the eponymous strip that later shifted its title slightly to Dan’l Hale. This self-syndicated strip, by cartoonist Norman Marsh, was billed as “A true-fiction, action-adventure saga of the colorful, long rifle, log cabin, and Indian days of our turbulent frontiers …”) to
  • DANNY Kaye (versatile actor, comedian, song-&-dance man, and baseball fan, perhaps best known for his roles in the films The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and The Inspector General) to
  • DAN Dunn (Norman Marsh’s breakthrough character, the star of his own decade-long comic strip who also appeared in Big Little Books and in a short-lived pulp magazine and radio show)

You can see the three of them here: Final puzzle

 

If you’d like to learn at least a little bit more about Danny Hale, plus a whole lot more about Norman Marsh (for instance, he was a sailor from the Gilligan School of Seamanship!), plus read the first year of Dan Dunn dailies, be watching early next year for our Dan Dunn – Secret Operative 48 LOAC Essentials volume.  It was a lot of fun putting together that book; both the comics and the cartoonist who created them were quite fascinating!

 

 

Gee, Tennessee — Here’s a Riddle! (Fifth & Final in a Series)

We’ll wrap up this workweek (for many) with the last of our little puzzlers. Can you identify the connections that link image # 1 below to image # 2, and image # 2 to image # 3?

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No awards or prizes are being handed out, but we’ve received communications from some of our favorite LOAC readers who have been enjoying themselves as they play along, which has been very gratifying.

If you missed any of our previous puzzlers, you can find them by clicking on the “Blog” link at the top of this page (as shown on this screenshot), then scrolling down:

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And please join us back here on Monday for the answers to all five portions of our frivolous little quiz …

Gee, Tennessee — Here’s a Riddle! (Fourth in a Series)

We’re coming around the clubhouse turn in this week’s little brain teaser exercise. As we’ve mentioned in prior posts since we started this series, there is a link that connects image # 1 below to image # 2, and another link connecting image # 2 to image # 3. Can you identify those links?

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No prizes or awards bestowed for correct answers — this is simply a fun exercise! Of course, you do deserve bragging rights if you correctly solve each of our puzzlers … And those answers will appear in this space on Monday!

 

Gee, Tennessee — Here’s a Riddle! (Third in a Series)

As we’ve been doing throughout the week, here is a collection of three images, with a link connecting the second to the first, the third to the second. Can you identify those linkages?

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As we said at the outset, no awards or prizes are being handed out — this little mental exercise is for the sheer fun of it!

Keep watching this space — another puzzler coming soon, and the answers to each of these posts will be coming next Monday.

Gee, Tennessee — Here’s a Riddle! (Second in a Series)

This week we’re being frivolous and offering you a series of posts, each containing three different images, with linkages connecting the successive images inside each post. Here’s our second offering — can you find the linkages tying image # 1 to image # 2 and image # 2 to image # 3?

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Keep watching this space — another post coming soon!

Gee, Tennessee — Here’s a Riddle! (First in a Series)

Just for the sheer fun of it, here are three images with a link connecting the first to the second and the second to the third. Can you identify those linkages?

 

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No prizes or awards being given out — in a week with so many weighty matters unfolding, this series of posts is simply an exercise in frivolity.

Keep watching this space — a second puzzler is coming soon!

We’re Goin’ Way Out (WAY Out) —

— That’s where the fun is, Way Out!

And kudos to those who remember that lift from The Flintstones, but this announcement has nothing to do with the modern Stone Age family … although it does bring good news for fans of adventures set long ago in a galaxy far, far away …

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The reactions to our four-volume Tarzan set showed how many of you like Russ Manning’s art. We like it, too, so we’re delighted to tell you that the Star Wars newspaper strip is coming to The Library of American Comics!

Starting in spring of 2017 with the first of a three-volume set, the battles between the Rebel Alliance and the evil Empire will be preserved between hard covers, as initially rendered by Manning (later to be followed by two other popular artists, Alfredo Alcala and Al Williamson), with stories provided by Manning and additional writers including another of our favorites, Steve Gerber (again, later, by the inimitable Archie Goodwin).

I won’t hard-sell you or offer up any corny lines about the Force being with us — I’ll just say we’ve navigated the long and winding path necessary to bring you the Star Wars strips many have requested, and we think you’ll like the results!

But that’s not all …

With Star Wars joining Star Trek and Beyond Mars in our LOAC line-up, there was one other major “space opera” strip we hoped to reprint, and we’re pleased to announce we’re turning those hopes into reality. Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for a trip to the Barnum star system —

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Yes, Star Hawks will also be coming your way, starting in 2017! It’s the brainchild of science fiction author/comics historian Ron Goulart, who teamed with comic book artist extraordinaire Gil Kane to entertain newspaper audiences with lighthearted tales of SFnal derring-do featuring ILS officer Rex Jaxan, his stellar law-enforcement partner Chavez, their robot dog Sniffer, and their boss, the lovely Alice K.  Star Hawks was produced in “two-tier” format — essentially the size of two daily comic strips — which allowed Kane to play with design and panel layout in ways that other newspaper adventure-strip artists could only envy, as shown in this example from the series’s debut :

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Kane was recognized by the National Cartoonist Society for his work on Star Hawks, and when Ron Goulart departed the feature Archie Goodwin, Roger McKenzie, and Roger Stern followed him in succession as scripters. The daily also eventually shifted to the standard single-tier format, but ZAM!, Kane’s artwork still looks dynamic, and the fun quotient remains high throughout the life of the strip.

We hope you’ll join us for the LOAC debuts of Star Wars and Star Hawks, in what’s sure to be a science fictional (20)17!

 

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