So Dean gives me a shout on Saturday: “Check out John Nesbitt’s Passing Parade ten-minute 1945 episode, ‘People on Paper!'” Passing Parade began life as a radio series launched in 1937, which quickly grew in popularity despite its unusual format: it rarely featured the sound effects or music that were by that time established as hallmarks of the medium. Nesbitt built and held his audience strictly through the combination of his expressive, confident voice and the auctorial skills he consistently displayed in his script writing. A sample of twenty of his programs is available here; the June 6, 1944 “D-Day” special is perhaps the most famous installment in the entire run.
MGM Studios began producing a companion program of “short subject” films that played in movie houses across the land, beginning in 1938. The cinematic Passing Parade married Nesbitt’s narration with pictures (moving or still, depending on the subject at hand) and brought a whole new dimension to the concept.
Seven years into the MGM series, Nesbitt and his production staff turned their attention to the nation’s comics pages with “People on Paper.” A baker’s dozen newspaper cartoonist were depicted, including Little Orphan Annie creator Harold Gray, while popular characters such as Dick Tracy sprang to life on page after page as the camera watched, thanks to a handful of bold, assured strokes of the pen.
I didn’t have access to “People on Paper” through the avenue by which Dean had encountered it, but a little sleuthing showed that it is available for general viewing at this address. If you have the available time, we encourage you to take a look at the talented men who developed both an industry and an artform. We suspect that none of them, in 1945, ever expected that their work would live on more than seventy-five years later in editions like these:
Nesbitt himself died young, at age 49, the distinctive voice familiar to a generation stilled forever in 1960. His contributions to popular culture were honored by not one, but two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the first (recognizing his radio work) on Hollywood Boulevard and the other (for film) on Vine Street. Comic strip lovers should offer him a private vote of thanks for capturing these images of many of our most beloved cartoonists in “People on Paper.”