“TOM TEASER” AND MULDOON THE SOLID MAN
Edward E. Ten Eyck (1858- Sept. 8, 1886), a gifted comic writer and dime novelist, who died at the extremely young age of 28, began writing for Norman L. Munro as a teenager, and became one of Frank Tousey’s star authors in 1878. He wrote short sketches under the name of “Ed,” comic novels as “Tom Teaser” and a few adventure yarns as “Allyn Draper.” Most of these first appeared in Munro’s Our Boys and Tousey’s Boys of New York and Young Men of America. They were reprinted many times in The Wide Awake Library, Boys of New York Pocket Library, Boys’ Star Library, Five Cent Comic Library, Snaps, Happy Days and Pluck and Luck. In addition to his juvenile writings, he produced humor books, notably Mrs. Snoodles’ Curtain Lectures (1882) and A Cure for the Blues (1883).
His best-remembered fictional character, Terence Muldoon, originated in a peculiar relationship between publisher Frank Tousey and the pioneering Broadway team of Harrigan and Hart (Edward “Ned” Harrigan (1844-1911) and Anthony J. “Tony Hart” Cannon (1855-1891)), known as “America’s Gilbert and Sullivan.” In a publicity ploy, Harrigan and Hart appeared as authors of dozens of ghostwritten detective stories and adventure serials in Frank Tousey’s story papers. In 1880 another publisher brought out Harrigan and Hart’s New York Boys, which lasted until 1881. (In 1872, theatrical impresario Antonio “Tony” Pastor (1811-1872), had appeared as the putative author of the first “Old Sleuth” stories in George Munro’s Fireside Companion, so Tousey’s use of Harrigan and Hart as frontmen was a logical P.R. gambit, advantageous to both.)
In 1874, Harrigan and Hart produced a sketch called “Who Owns the Clothes Line” with a hit song about “Muldoon the Solid Man,” an affectionate piece about an Irish-American politician. With clever lyrics by Ned Harrigan and a catchy tune by his father in law David Braham, the song was soon being whistled and sung from Broadway to western frontier outposts to Ireland, where it became a staple of pub singers. (Over the years, several Harrigan and Hart songs have become almost indistinguishable from “authentic” folk music, notably the sea chantey, “Get Up Jack, John Sit Down,” a cavalry tune, “The Regular Army O” and “Muldoon the Solid Man.”)
Their short sketch “The Mulligan Guards” and its signature song became so popular that several “Mulligan” sequels followed. Even the New York bootblacks who operated “The Grand Duke’s Oprea [sic] House” on the lower East Side used “The Mulligan Guards” as their signature piece.
The idea of a two-way “feedback loop” between cheap literature and the popular theater is an old one. Plays were often based on popular novels, while “novelizations” of popular plays became commonplace, often sold in box offices. A lucrative and illegal business in “pirated” plays emerged after workable shorthand methods were introduced by Ben Pittman and others. An unscrupulous “play pirate” would send several shorthand experts to a performance to transcribe the dialogue and stage directions, knowing that one or two might be spotted and ejected, but the others would remain undetected. With the text in hand, the “pirate” would sell the play at cut-rates to struggling theatrical troupes who could not afford the licensing fees. If the play proved a hit, he would then commission a “novelization.” Gilbert Patten, writing as “Burt L. Standish,” based an entire Frank Merriwell novel on Frank’s difficulties with plagiarists in Tip Top Weekly No. 154: Frank Merriwell’s Great Hit; or, Fighting the Play Pirates (March 25, 1899).
In the legal market, novelists like Edward L. Wheeler, Col. Prentiss Ingraham and Albert W. Aiken, all Beadle authors, would write their own plays or register the novels with dramatization rights reserved, but this had the same limited effect as today’s Interpol and F.B.I. warnings on DVDs and CDs: it only deterred the law-abiding.
In one way or another, several Harrigan and Hart stage characters soon became regulars in the world of comic sub-literature: The Mulcahey Twins, The Mulligan Guards and of course Terence Muldoon, in a series penned by Edward Ten Eyck and Cecil Burleigh under the pseudonym of “Tom Teaser.” Unlike the nuanced and respectable episodes in a Harrigan and Hart stage performance, the five-cent comics were pretty crude, with an untrammeled racism and ethnic japes that cause a modern reader to wince. Nevertheless, they were popular in spite of (or because of) this quality.
At least the Tousey comics provided an “equal opportunity” brand of politically incorrect bad taste. Every ethnic, racial and regional stereotype was impartially lampooned, particularly the more recent immigrants: Irish, German, Italian and Jewish Eastern Europeans, however "Britishers," Mexicans, Native Americans, uncouth westerners, country “rubes,” urban toughs and “dudes” were not slighted. Terence Muldoon and his large brawling family managed to encounter nearly all of these in their various activities with fire companies, the police force, baseball teams, boarding houses, night schools, business enterprises, etc. The Muldoons and their supporting characters would sometimes travel west, or abroad and suffer through more mishaps.
In The Dime Novel Companion (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000) J. Randolph Cox notes that Terence Muldoon arrives in America, aged fifty, and “experiences all of the popular notions of the ignorant immigrant and survives it all. Muldoon never knows when he is being fooled, but…he is quick to learn and before long becomes an alderman.” His wife Bridget remarks that “If there were an ‘Ancient Order of Old Fools,’ Terence Muldoon would not only join, but get himself elected president as soon as they received his application.”
Although many of Tousey’s “comics” originated in his large format story papers, they circulated longest in “The Great 5 Cent Wide Awake Library” from 1878 to 1898, which ran 1,353 issues, plus 43 issues of the “Wide Awake Library – Special Numbers” at ten cents for twice as much content. On January 12, 1898, a week after the final issue of Wide Awake Library, Tousey began Pluck and Luck: Complete Stories of Adventure,” mostly reprints of the earlier series, but with full color covers. This nickel weekly ran until 1929, for 1,605 issues. Popular genres and subseries rated their own weeklies, including the techno-fictional Frank Reade, Jr. stories, and the “comics” in Snaps. A Comic Weekly of Comic Stories by Comic Authors. “Tom Teaser’s” stories of the Muldoon clan and other hapless buffoons dominated the “Wide Awake Library – Special Numbers” and featured in the black-and-white Five Cent Comic Library and the color cover Snaps. Besides Muldoon, Ten Eyck also created “Alderman Sweeney,” “The Jolly Moke,” “Our Camping Out Club,” “Ikey” "Cholly and Gussie" and other comic characters.
The original Muldoon series by Edward Ten Eyck included the following titles:
Muldoon the Solid Man
Muldoon’s Boarding House
Muldoon’s Brother Dan
Muldoon in Ireland; or, The Solid Man on the Old Sod
Muldoon the Sport
After Edward Ten Eyck died in 1886, Cecil Burleigh continued the series with:
Muldoon’s Night School
Muldoon the Fireman
Muldoon Out West
Muldoon’s Base Ball Club
Muldoon’s Base Ball Club in Boston
Muldoon’s Base Ball Club in Philadelphia
Muldoon the Cop
Muldoon’s Grocery Store
Muldoon’s Trip Around the World
Muldoon in Search of a Cousin; or, On a Hunt for a Fortune
Life occasionally imitates Art. William A. Muldoon (1852-1933), a son of Irish immigrants born in upstate New York, achieved an international reputation as the champion Greco-Roman wrestler in 1880. He was instantly dubbed “Muldoon the Solid Man.” A Civil War veteran who enlisted at age 12 as a drummer boy, he served in the Indian wars with the Sixth Cavalry and volunteered in the French army during the Franco-Prussian War. In 1876-1880, he was a New York City police officer and made the rank of detective. Throughout the 1880s he alternated a stage career with an athletic one. At his health farm he developed a sensible regimen involving exercise and diet and became one of the world’s first “personal trainers.” After applying his rigorous coaching methods to John L. Sullivan, who had lost his fighting edge to dissipation, Muldoon’s prize pupil won the heavyweight boxing championship against Jake Kilrain in 1889, in a brutal 75-round bare-knuckle match. This victory assured the success of Muldoon’s fledgling health farm in White Plains, NY. He expanded this facility into the “Olympia” in Purchase, NY, where he treated celebrities for various forms of ill health brought on by an atrocious diet and lack of physical activity. Among his clients were Secretary of State Elihu Root, Ambassador Joseph H. Choate, philosopher Elbert Hubbard and investigative journalist “Nelly Bly” (Elizabeth Jane Cochran). Muldoon later served as chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission. Boxers Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney considered themselves his disciples. Unlike the bumbling Terence of the comic tales, William Muldoon lived out the Horatio Alger myth, rising from humble beginnings to success.
For further reading (and listening):
The sheet music of "Muldoon the Solid Man" may be viewed at the John Hopkins University site:
A long excerpt from Harrigan and Hart’s The Mulligan Guard Ball (1879) appears in:
Robert M. Lewis, From Traveling Show to Vaudeville: Theatrical Spectacle in America, 1830-1910 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins, 2003), pp. 95-105.
Thanks to anthropologist and performer Mick Moloney, modern audiences can experience Harrigan and Hart’s Irish-American music hall hits as they were presented in the 1870s and ‘80s on compact disks:
Mick Moloney, “Muldoon, the Solid Man”
CD: Long Journey Home: The Irish in America, Track 10
Copyright 1998, Unisphere records
CD: McNally’s Row of Flats: Irish-American Songs of Old New York by Harrigan and Hart
Copyright 2006, Compass Records
For an affectionate biography of the real-life William A. Muldoon, see:
Muldoon The Solid Man of Sport. His Amazing Story as Related for the First Time by Him to His Friend Edward Van Every. With A Foreword by Jack Dempsey (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1929). Digitized by Google Books.
Illustrations are from the collections of the author, the New York Public Library, Duke University Library, Bowling Green State University Library, (Browne Popular Culture Library, Digital Resource Commons,) Bowling Green, Ohio, and Mr. Joseph Rainone.
“TOM TEASER” AND MULDOON THE SOLID MAN Part II HERE