Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Sol Hess

Solomon Henry “Sol” Hess was born in Somonauk, Illinois, on October 14, 1872, according to Illinois death index at In the 1880 U.S. Federal Census, Hess was the fourth of five children born to Levi, a livestock dealer, and Henrietta (Schulheimer). His father was German and his mother Bavarian. The family resided in Northville, Illinois. Sometime after the census, Hess’s father died.

The New York Times, January 1, 1942, said “Hess’s formal education was limited to the first six years of grammar school.”

Hess’s mother was listed as a widow in the 1891 Chicago, Illinois, city directory. The family’s address was 88 Seeley Avenue. Hess has not yet been found in the 1900 census.

In 1905, Hess, Henry G. Rettig and Axel E. Madsen voted to change the name of the corporation, H.G. Rettig and Company, to Rettig, Hess & Madsen. Three consecutive notices were published in The National Corporation Reporter on June 1, 8 and 15. 

The Cook County, Illinois marriage index recorded Hess’s marriage to Mrs. Rae Hoffman on October 7, 1908. According to the 1910 census, Hess, his wife and five-year-old step-daughter, Bertha, lived in Chicago at 4911 Prairie Avenue. His occupation was watch salesman.

On September 11, 1918, Hess signed his World War I draft card which had his home address, 5430 Indiana in Chicago. Hess was the manager of the wholesale watch company, Rettig, Hess & Madsen. His description was medium height and build with brown eyes and gray hair.

Hess’s entry into comics was told in the book, I’ve Got News for You (1961) by John Wheeler and Ring Lardner.

One association that ended up profitably all around began in Stillson’s, the hangout for Chicago Tribune staffers opposite the old Tribune building in the Chicago Loop. Sol Hess was a Chicago jeweler who liked to associate with newspapermen and pay the tabs, so he was welcome. Among those he met in this rendezvous were Ring Lardner, Clare Briggs, John McCutcheon, and a struggling cartoonist, Sid Smith.…

When he met Hess, he met a fortune, for Hess had a new idea for a strip which combined continuity and humor. It was called “The Gumps” and almost immediately was a great success. Sol wrote the balloons as a labor of love and for the privilege of hanging around with the newspaper crowd….
When Smith’s contract ended with the Tribune, he got a new contract for a huge sum and a Rolls Royce. Smith offered Hess $200 a week to continue writing but Hess threatened to quit.

Hess appeared in The Gumps, January 14, 1920.

Wheeler heard about Hess’s unhappiness and explained what he did.
I heard of this situation by the grapevine, and rushed to Chicago to talk to the erstwhile ghost writer….He had in mind a strip, “The Nebbs,” which had the same pattern and his sparkling humor. We hired a young artist named Wally Carlson to do the drawing. I guaranteed Hess 60 per cent against a guarantee of $800 a week. After we had signed the contract, I didn’t know whether I had made a bad deal or not, but we had to gamble in those days….

Bridgeport Telegram 5/16/1923

American Newspaper Comics (2012) said The Nebbs began May 21, 1923. Hess wrote the Sunday toppers Dizzy Doings, from April 1936 to 1938; and Simp O’Dill, from February 24, 1929 to 1941. After Hess’s death in 1941, his daughter and son-in-law wrote the strip and the toppers, Simp O’Dill, from 1941 to 1947; and Gag Bag, from June 6, 1943 to 1949.

Ron Goulart’s The Funnies: 100 Years of American Comic Strips (1995) explained the origin of the names of the strip and main character.

“The name Nebb had been used a number of times in The Gumps,” Hess told [Martin] Sheridan. “It comes from the Jewish word ‘nebich,’ a reference of contempt for a ‘port sap.’ The name Rudy was very popular at that time, at least its distinguished owner was, so we chose the famous movie idol Valentino’s first name.” Rudy Nebb was similar in looks and attitude to Andy Gump, except he was not chinless. He had a plump, goodhearted wife named Fanny, a teenage daughter, and a preteen son called Junior….
The Nebbs was populated with people known to Hess. In the Evening Repository (Canton, Ohio), March 5, 1929, Albert M. Dueber recalled Hess’s early days in business.
…Dueber, formerly with the Dueber-Hampden company, not only knows Sol Hess and several of the characters very well, but in addition has been included in the column on several occasions as have his daughters, Josephine Dueber and Mary Jane Dueber Farrell.

“I first met Sol Hess about 30 years ago in Chicago,” Mr. Dueber relates.

“At that time he was errand boy in a jewelry store which was on my list and we became very good friends. He finally obtained his own store and was a jobber for Dueber-Hampden watches.

“Our salesman in the Chicago territory was Earl Stamm and he and Hess established a friendship. It is Earl Stamm’s son, John, who is the attorney representing Sylvia Appleby in the cartoon. The boy now is in college in Chicago.

“Practically all of Hess’ characters are from real life. He is clowning his friends in most cases and many of his pictures of them are true to life.”
Hess was a Chicago resident. The 1920 census said Hess was a wholesale jeweler who resided at 614 East 51st Street. According to the 1930 census, Hess and his wife lived in Shoreland Hotel at 5454 South Shore Drive. His occupation was cartoonist. Hess’s residence and occupation were the same in the 1940 census.

Hess passed away December 31, 1941, in Chicago, as reported the following day by the Chicago Daily Tribune.

—Alex Jay


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