Thursday, September 13, 2007
Obscurity of the Day: Dragnet
Dragnet was a no-nonsense police procedural drama that was phenomenally popular, originally as a radio show, then as one of television's earliest hits.
In the comic strip world TV tie-ins were initially quite popular (in addition to Dragnet, there were strip adaptations of I Love Lucy, Howdy Doody, Bat Masterson and many others). Few TV-based strips did well, though, including today's obscurity. The reason in hindsight seems obvious -- why bother reading a strip, necessarily a watered-down and simplified version of the television show, when I can tune in the program and see the real thing.
Dragnet was no exception to the rule, though it has to be admitted that the strip did a great job of replicating the feel of the TV show. The dialog rang true, and the monotone 'voice-overs', a trademark of the show, were translated to the strip as typewritten captions, a motif that worked perfectly. The art, always slick, cold and flat, was perfectly in tune as well.
The strip proper started on June 23 1952, though many papers ran a one week preview before that. Art was initially by Joe Sheiber. He only lasted until September 20. The strip was uncredited and unsigned until March 9 1953, when Bill Ziegler owned up to it (judging from art style, I think he was doing it during the unsigned period as well). Ziegler lasted until January 9 1954. The last artist on the strip was Mel Keefer, who took it to a final bow on May 21 1955. The feature was distributed by the LA Mirror Syndicate.
The writing on the strip was uncredited, but it wouldn't surprise me a bit if Jack Webb, star, producer, director and owner of the TV show, was at the helm, perhaps editing television scripter James Moser's plots. Webb was notorious for zealously controlling every aspect of his baby. Ron Goulart in The Funnies says that Webb's mother-hen rule extended to the artists on the strip - the frequent artist changes were due to Jack Webb's search for an artist "who could draw him as good looking as he thought he ought to be."
PS - sorry about the crummy condition of the samples - the paper I took these from (the Albany Times-Union) seems to have never bothered to clean its presses.
PPS - Alberto Becattini tells me that Mel Keefer attributed the strip writing to Jack Robinson, a writer on the TV series. Thanks Alberto!
The writing is extremely true to the original radio show (and TV show)...I wouldn't be surprised if they adapted radio or TV scripts directly to the comics page. Thanks again!
I surrender and humbly bow to Allan who must have discovered some obscure secrets concerning George Herriman’s productions. In fact – apart the 1906 “Amours of Marie Anne McGee” which
every blogger should know (posting of Saturday, August 11 1907), the only other “Weekday strip” (this is how I call the series which were published in weekdays, but not all days) anticipating “Proones the Plunger” I succeeded in finding is “Home, Sweet Home”, published in 1904 in Frank A. Munsey’s “New York Daily News. For the short-lived Sunday section of that newspaper, Herriman created the Sunday series “Bud Smith” and “Major Ozone”, later continued for World Color Printing; possibly he did some other weekday strip I don’t know --- also if I have a very faint remembrance of a possible first avatar of “Us Husband”, a series that Herriman recreated (or probably simply “created” in 1926). Another 1904 series I don’t know anything about is “Bubblespikers”, quoted in http://www.krazy.com/herriman.htm. May it be one of the elusive “Weekdays”?
Here are some conjectures about WHERE could Herriman have published pre – 1907 weekday strips. Before that date GH worked for the “New York World”, the McClure Syndicate (which, for unknown reasons, continued many series begun in the NYW), for the “Philadelphia North American”, where he drew many one shots and some short lived series such as “Tattered Tim”; for the above mentioned “NY Daily News”, and for World Color Printing. To my knowledge, neither McClure Sections nor the North American published weekday strips at the time; the NYW ** did **publish them (Allan has recently indicized it, and this may be a hint), and World Colr Printing tried some syndicvation experimenyts selling “packets” of strips such as “Annie McGee”.
In 1904 – 1905 Herriman authored a series of sport cartoons for Hearst’s “NY Evening Journal”: this is another place where he could have created short lived series, maybe the mystery “Us Husband” and “Bubblespikers”, if they do exist. Then he passed to the “Los Angeles Times” (see posting of July 3 2007; no weeday strips there), and after a year or so he begun working again for Hearst creating political cartoons (the ones that Allan graciously offers us weekly in “Herriman Saturdays”) for the “Los Angeles Examiner”, the same newspaper that published “Proones” in 1907. Maybe Allan discovered something else in that newspaper.
Or I am completely wrong, and Herriman created his strips for another newspaper that only Allan knows. Or he self sope that the contest ends soon, so I’ll be able to sleep again.
Regarding the Daily News run (they used the section from January 2 - May 29 1904) I've never been convinced that they were the originators of the section. They are certainly one of the only papers that ran the full four pages, but I know of at least one other paper that ran it as well. And of course we have the St Louis Star and others running a two page version. I still maintain that it makes more sense to me that WCP was producing the material.
The one mysterious aspect of it is that the Daily News was running that Home Sweet Home daily strip, which I've not seen elsewhere. This could very well point us to a different conclusion. Or it could just mean that WCP was already trying to break into dailies with close to zero success.
I have an index of the Daily News Sundays for 1904 from Jeffrey Lindenblatt but have not seen the papers myself yet to see what was going on with the dailies, besides that one Herriman strip that's been documented.
One reason that I question the Daily News as the originator is that Frank Munsey was at the helm. He usually had a disdain for comics (and anything else that cost money to produce), notwithstanding that short-lived NY Press section much later.