Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Obscurity of the Day: Captain Toodles

Thornton Burgess wrote popular children's story books for over fifty years, and an estimated 15,000 of his stories appeared in a daily newspaper series. His earliest appearances in newspapers, though, was actually a very short-lived comic strip titled Captain Toodles.

In 1910 a start-up called The News Syndicate began offering a weekly children's page to newspapers, titled The Children's Corner. Grandiose promises in their marketing, citing great content and famous authors were technically true, but most, maybe even all, of the material was just reprints from Good Housekeeping magazine. It turns out this made perfect sense because the News Syndicate was nothing more than a front company for Herbert Myrick's Phelps Publishing, which was -- big surprise -- the publisher of Good Housekeeping.

Thornton Burgess' first newspaper appearances, then, were merely reprints of material already published in 1908-09 issues of Good Housekeeping. The first four strips were illustrated by someone signing himself "Lester", and the last two were by the great T.S. Sullivant. Might Lester be Lester J. Ambrose, who is known to have done magazine illustration work in this period? I'm afraid I don't see any great resemblance in art style, but Ambrose might well have changed styles depending on the material. [Nope, my guess is wrong. Alex Jay will reveal Lester's identity tomorrow in an Ink-Slinger Profile]

The Children's Corner page did not include an episode of Captain Toodles each week, but over the time period of November 6 1910 to January 15 1911 they offered a total of six episodes. This represented all of the Captain Toodles material from Good Housekeeping. Unfortunately many papers only printed portions of the weekly page, or printed them out of sequence, or missed a Sunday or two entirely, and so far I've never found a paper that offers a complete run. Therefore, those dates should be taken with a grain of salt. The Children's Corner page itself doesn't seem to have lasted much longer, with a few straggling newspapers publishing material only until about March or so.


I believe this Lester is Charles F. Lester who worked for St. Nicholas and Life.

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