This year marks the 75th anniversary of Steve Canyon’s debut on the nation’s comics pages, but his “kissin’ cousin” Poteet says, “Lordie-bee — what about me? This is my sixth-sixth anniversary, and I still look pretty good for a gal my age!”
Perhaps one of the reasons why few would dispute that claim is that Steve Canyon creator Milton Caniff used a series of real-life models to develop Poteet’s look, and to help it evolve through the years. We’ve discussed these models in our Canyon text features since Poteet first took the stage in Volume 5, and we’ve had photos of many of them to share with you. Recently we went back into the newspaper stacks to see what else we could find on them, and we now have a few heretofore unseen updates for you.
Above we have two images featuring Nancy O’Neal. Nancy was a Bellaire, Texas teenager who won a 1956 contest to model as the original Poteet (click for a larger view of each photo). At left is one of the publicity photos given coast-to-coast distribution that features Nancy’s arrival in Manhattan for her initial session working with Caniff, complete with a “passport” Milton drew to show the route Nancy took to reach New York. One year later Nancy was back at home in Texas, albeit with a professional modeling contract connecting her to the John Powers agency. She still appeared as Poteet for select appearances, as shown in the shot at right, taken at a Midwestern state fair. She smartly salutes while a soldier compares flesh-and-blood Poteet to her pen-and-ink counterpart on the comics page.
By 1957 Nancy was not the only Poteet-model — Caniff was lining up a photo shoot to support a big story he was planning involving Poteet, her pal Scooter McGruder, and the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). There was no margin in bringing Nancy up from Texas for the photo session when young Lynn Thompson — a native of Massapequa, on Long Island — was available to step into Poteet’s trademark cavalry hat — and her CAP uniform. Lynn, at right in the first photograph below (click for the full view), poses with Brooklyn’s Terri Keene, who played the part of Scooter in this shoot. In the other photo, Caniff makes an adjustment to Poteet’s “casual wear.”
By the 1960s, Poteet had graduated from college and was embarking on a career as a newspaperwoman. Her employer was a Middle American daily modeled on the Journal-Herald in Caniff’s boyhood stomping grounds of Dayton, Ohio. For a photo session designed to help him bring Poteet into her newspaper’s city room, Milton visited the Journal-Herald with a teen model from the area, Suzy Aicher. We found Suzy modeling some mod clothes (“hip-hugging dailies,” was the caption’s description) during 1967, her sophomore year at Dayton’s Colonel White High School. She graduated two years later; at right below is her senior picture, from the school’s 1969 yearbook.
As of 1967, Poteet’s real-life counterparts had come to something of a full circle: for one of his last major model shoots, Milton Caniff turned to a new Houston model, Ann Meyer, to serve as the latest Poteet Canyon. You’ll see a photo of Ann as Poteet, teamed with her pseudo-Bitsy-Beekman, Linda Whatmore, in Steve Canyon Volume 12 when it goes on sale later this year. After the book had gone to press, while researching this piece, we learned a sad and sobering fact about Ann in a newspaper story dated December 8, 1969:
“Mrs. Ann Meyer Stephens, 24, of Houston died in a head-on collision, which seriously injured her husband of nine days, John Thomas Stephens, 29,” said the brief article. The car crash occurred near Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Ann Meyer’s life was ended far too soon, and declining Steve Canyon readership increasingly left little money to pay for model shoots during the 1970s and ’80s. but Poteet’s story continued to intermittently unfold in one Canyon story after another, all the way to 1987.
So while we celebrate Steve’s 75th this year, let’s also pause to cheer Poteet — and the many models who help Milton Caniff bring her to vivid life …