Monday, December 23, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –


By Rick Marschall.

Once upon a time, when you saw the Blondie comic strip, or any of it licensed products or merchandising, in your mind you probably heard “Blon-deeeee!” In dozens of movie serials, and a radio show, and the TV series, that was how Dagwood (Arthur Lake) would call out in exasperation or frustration to Blondie (Penny Singleton).

(I will forestall e-mails from trivia hawks and note that in the Columbia movies, 1939-1950; the CBS Radio comedy (1939); and two runs on television (NBC, 1954 and 1958) Arthur Lake was Dagwood. On the CBS-TV Blondie comedy of 1968-69, Will Hutchins played Dagwood. Penny Singleton always played Blondie except on TV: on the two NBC incarnations she was played by Pamela Britton. Opposite Hutchins on CBS-TV was Patricia Harty.)

Anyway, my first book – or maybe my second published; The Sunday Funnies I worked on simultaneously – was for the 50th anniversary of the Blondie strip. I went to King Features with the idea in the late 1970s. I knew several of the executives and editors, but I was led to Benson Srere, whom I did not know. Ben was the relatively new General Manager, having moved laterally in the Hearst universe from Good Housekeeping Magazine – which I have ever since called Good How, pronounced that way, wanting to feel like an insider.

Ben was surprisingly and pleasingly flattering to me. I had not written a book yet; but perhaps because I already had three previous syndicate jobs as Comics Editor he considered me a “fraternity brother,” I don’t know. But when I laid out my plans for the anniversary book – a half century of the most popular of all comic strips! – convincing him that I was nerdy enough to cover all bases of the Bumsteads, he proposed a deal.

I had approached King looking for permissions, or a licensing deal, but Ben turned things around. I would do the book for them; they would find a publisher; and they would set me up with Dean Young and “anything I needed.” How could I say No?

The book finally came out, with much behind-the-scenes peregrinations. For instance, although Harper and Row were the publishers (and I gained valuable contacts there), KFS engaged a middleman, a book packager from Canada. I forget his name now. He flew me to Toronto for a meeting, and handled a lot of the mechanical work, slowly, and since there was minimal design work required, I never figured his vital role. Eventually someone at King told me that he either absconded with his fee, or simply went bankrupt. I guess either can take up some time. When these details were whispered to me, I was told not to tell Dean Young about them. Technically I still am not telling him.

Dean Young and Jim Raymond
Dean, son of Chic, was another matter, and a real fringe benefit of doing this book, getting to know him. One of the nicest guys in comics. I was flown down to the West Coast of Florida for several meetings with him. And, essential for the book, we flew (I think a private plane) across the state to meet with Jim Raymond, the longtime artist on Blondie. After the book was published I periodically continued to visit Dean and his wife, usually with my own wife Nancy when on vacation. And Jim drew special artwork of the characters for the cover, chapter openings, etc., when I requested. 

Jim Raymond lived in Palm Beach, I believe, and was also a terrific guy. Genial, modest, full of stories. His wife served us lunch, and I still remember the beet soup, borscht, but white borscht, the best I ever have had. The Youngs and the Raymonds – I mean the brothers in each case – had interesting and intertwining careers. Chic Young, Cleveland cartoonist, was hired away from strips like Beautiful Bab and Dumb Dora to draw Blondie. Old man Hearst evidently liked his style.

Chic’s brother Lyman was engaged by King to draw an adventure-aviation strip, Tim Tyler’s Luck. To make the characters look semi-realistic, a young (no, that’s not the connection) cartoonist in the bullpen, Alexander Raymond, was hired as assistant. Soon he was assisting on brother Chic’s hit, Blondie. When the Bumsteads had a baby, there was a contest to name the baby, and a phony PR campaign showed Chic swamped by thousands of letters and telegrammed suggestions. The fix was in, however – Baby Dumpling’s real name was Alexander, after Alexander Raymond.

Right after this, the bullpen ace continued his upward climb, and, as Alex Raymond, he created Secret Agent X-9; Flash Gordon; Jungle Jim; and eventually Rip Kirby.

The intertwining coincidence progressed when, in the 1940s, Chic needed an assistant, and found him in Jim Raymond, Alex’s brother. This could actually go deeper. Alex Raymond was killed in a car crash in which Stan Drake (Heart of Juliet Jones) was seriously injured. A couple decades later Stan, most talented and versatile of cartoonists, became the artist half of the Young-Drake byline. Dean had inherited the scripting when his father died. (While I’m at it, I can mention that Stan also ghosted Li’l Abner for Al Capp whose brother Eliott Caplin was the scriptwriter for Juliet Jones…) Where is Kevin Bacon when we need him?

Well, there were great times in this Crowded Life with Dean, and special memories of that afternoon spent with Dean and Jim. As a first-generation King Features bullpen hand, Jim had many stories, even genial gossip, that he shared, and I have the tape somewhere. I will share more (and more) stories in this space in weeks to come.

Two more stories about the book. Intended as a 50th-anniversary book, it properly should have come out in 1980. But, for reasons hinted at above, it was issued just before the strip’s 52nd birthday! The panel of “experts” were going to title the book Fifty Years of Blondie and Dagwood’s America. They did lob off “Fifty Years of...” but the different fonts and colors made the cover look a little like the middle third of a Dagwood sandwich.

King Features was intent on having a celebrity Foreword, which was fine with me. At first it was a confounding challenge: Who? I finally remembered that the Chic Youngs and the Bob Hopes were once neighbors in Hollywood. The pitch of the book was Dagwood and Blondie as middle-America icons, so the fit seemed appropriate.

Bob Hope was agreeable. In fact he was so agreeable he asked me to write it, and he would change what needed changing. Hmmm. I did some more homework about him and his early career and the golf courses I imagined they played together. A brief association was begun with Bob… who did not change a word that I put in his mouth. And he probably got paid more for signing my work than I did for writing my own work, the whole book.

Whatever! A nice credit, especially at the beginning of a career. Several fantastic friends. This morning as I write this, I just received Dean’s annual Christmas card.




  1. Ya gotta find a way to get George Raymond and Jerry Caplin into the story.

  2. I have the very book since it came out! Nice to know the backstory after all these years. Thanks!