The Chadbourne Dossier: “Famous Artists and Writers” (Ninth in a Series)

Our pal, Bill Chadbourne, provided us with material from his personal collection that we’ve been intermittently sharing with you over the past two years. This installment of The Chadbourne Dossier, and the one that will follow in about a week, offer a real treat – excerpts from a 1949, spiral bound promotional book put together by King Features Syndicate (KFS), entitled Famous Artists & Writers.

In his introduction to the package, King columnist Mel Heimer wrote, “KFS is a mammoth, world-blanketing enterprise, the largest syndicate in the world and a vital adjunct of the Hearst newspaper organization … KFS sells to more than 2,500 papers, published in 32 languages in more than 90 countries. Eighteen hundred papers are in the United States and Canada. One of its comic strips alone – Chic Young’s celebrated Blondie – goes to 1,211 newspapers and has almost reached the ‘saturation’ point; i.e., it virtually cannot be sold anywhere else in this country and has only a few remaining foreign markets left to sell.” Heimer started at KFS in 1944 as a staff writer, then launched his “My New York” column in 1947. Two decades later, Heimer began offering a column on television through the syndicate, though that feature lasted only a handful of years, because Heimer passed away in 1971, at only fifty-five years of age.

Mel Heimer, in a publicity photo for one of his books

The bulk of the book is devoted to King’s “Artists and Continuity Writers,” with each creator contributing a piece of artwork on a left-hand page, with his or her photo and biography on the right-hand page. A smaller section provides photos and biographies for “Feature Writers” – Heimer had earned a page here, along with fashion writer Prunella Wood, finance columnist Merryle Rukeyser, and more than two dozen other knights and ladies of the keyboard.

In selecting examples from Famous Artists & Writers, we chose to skip some cartoonists whose work we’ve extensively covered, and whose bios offered no new tidbits of information. Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon artwork, for instance, was a headshot montage we’ve used in the past, as did Kitchen Sink Press in their 1980s Canyon reprint series; the bio includes familiar stories and quotes (“Stick to your inkpots, kid …”; “I write myself into some of the toughest difficulties”). Alex Raymond is in a similar situation – his illustration is the full-body shot of Pagan Lee that we featured on dustjacket of our Rip Kirby Volume Three, and his text feature discusses his apprenticeships with Chic and Lyman Young, his tenures on Flash Gordon/Jungle Jim/Secret Agent X-9, his creation of Rip Kirby, and his family background, including the names of his wife and children.

That left us with plenty of great examples from which we could choose. Since Chic Young and Blondie’s long shadow was apparent on several of the book’s pages, it was a natural to include Chic’s material here. Another of our favorites, Cliff Sterrett, was an easy selection to make.

We also thought it would be wise to include Fanny Cory, who brought her strip Sonnysayings from Ledger Syndicate to KFS in 1935, simultaneously launching Little Miss Muffet – not, as the title suggests, a nursery rhyme series, but rather an “adventurous orphan” continuity designed to compete with Little Orphan Annie. While living the rugged life in Montana, Cory produced both strips until her retirement in 1956. We’ve partnered another favorite, Edwina Dumm and “Cap” Stubbs and Tippie, with Fanny’s pages.  

You might also like this lovely Mac Raboy portrait of Flash Gordon and Dale Arden. Otto Soglow’s artwork used in the book is familiar to anyone who saw our Cartoon Monarch collection of his Little King strips – we had it available from another source before Chad provided us this book, and we used it as our cover! Soglow’s bio makes for fun reading, so we’ve included it below, along with another lively article devoted to one of King’s most popular authors/humorists/raconteurs, Arthur “Bugs” Baer. We’ve also shared the write-ups on two other marquee KFS columnists, gossip monger Walter Winchell and right-wing curmudgeon and all-around pain-in-the-keister, Westbrook Pegler.

There’s more to be seen, so watch this space over the next handful of days for more from the King Features Syndicate Famous Artists & Writers collection. And to refresh yourself on our previous Chadbourne Dossier entries, please Number 1, Number 2, Number 3, Number 4, Number 5, Number 6, Number 7, and (wait for it …) Number 8!

Also, don’t forget LOAC celebrated King Features’s 100th anniversary with our 2015 King of the Comics:

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