Thursday, March 27, 2008
Obscurity of the Day: Mortimer and Charlie
Edgar Bergen took the American entertainment world by storm as no other ventriloquist has before or since. And yet, bizarrely enough, Bergen wasn't a particularly accomplished ventriloquist (he learned by reading a pamphlet) and his greatest success came on radio, a rather nonsensical venue for a ventriloquist.
What Bergen did have were a pair of memorable characters, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, superb comic timing, and the good sense to never try to upstage his dummies -- Bergen's on stage character was a retiring straight man, never the joker.
Edgar Bergen's creations were heavily merchandised to a welcoming public. That merchandising extended to a McNaught Syndicate comic strip that debuted with much hoopla on July 10 1939 (daily) and July 16 (Sunday). The strip was initially drawn by Ben Batsford who did a superb job of translating the Bergen clan to the funnies. The strips were funny and in character. I'm betting that many of the gags were translated from the hit radio show.
For reasons unknown Batsford left the strip after just a few months -- his last daily was September 30, last Sunday October 22. Was he having deadline trouble? Personal problems? Whatever the problem was, this would be Batsford's last syndicated strip after a twenty year career on the funnies page. I hear he went into comic books in the 40s.
Taking over for Batsford was Carl Buettner. He only signed the Sunday pages, not the dailies, but the art styles look to be the same to me. One website claims that he collaborated with Chase Craig on the strip, though, so maybe Craig did the unsigned dailies. After his short stint on this comic strip Buettner would go on to a career at Disney.
Buettner did almost as good a job on the strip as Batsford yet for some reason the client list was dwindling by the week. I can't imagine why. The feature is already so scarce by 1940 that I can't furnish a definite end date; the latest Sunday I can find is May 12, the last daily May 25. The daily is in the middle of a storyline. Can anyone supply an end date?
The dailies above are the first three days of the strip plus three from a wonderful sequence at the New York World's Fair.
As you mention Buettner went on to draw Disney Comics but I guess Chase Craig is pretty well known too. He went on to be Carl Barks editor at Western publ. :)
It's a wonderful collection, incidentally, shedding much light on Craig's freelance cartooning career as well as his many years working as an editor at Western/Gold Key. Lots of file copies of old comics included. Perhaps more importantly, some correspondence from Barks.
his daughter was is the painter Ramona Batsford Bendin, who has a gallery in Callabash NC (anyone in the southeast expects me to mention Callabash style seafood, so consider it mentioned). she has a website which mentions her father - you might want to follow up to see what she knows...