Monday, December 05, 2016
Obscurity of the Day: Them Days is Gone Forever
Here's a joke for you:
Ned the newspaper cartoonist dies after a long hard life. The next thing he knows he's standing in front of a grand old bearded fellow in flowing white robes. Ned thinks to himself that he finally caught a break. What a relief that he's gone to Heaven and not the other place.
The grand gentleman in the robes welcomed him to the kingdom and asked him how he'd like to spend eternity. Ned doesn't need to put much thought into his answer. In life he'd always had to beat the bushes for every little bit of work as a cartoonist, and his passion for cartooning had in many ways been a curse.
Ned replies, "Cartooning is what makes me happy. I would be happy to do it for all eternity. If it's not too much to ask, I'd like to write and draw a popular daily comic strip that would be read throughout your kingdom."
The grand fellow thought for a moment, and then said, "I shall grant your wish, Ned. Our daily paper here sure could use a little levity, and I'm sure you could give all of our billions of souls here a much needed daily laugh." As he said this, his flowing white beard was slowly but surely turning red, and flames started to lick up from below. The robes were consumed in the flames, and Satan's tail began to flick back and forth, as he flashed a mischievous grin.
"Just one little thing, Ned. I think we'll need to make one minor requirement of your comic strip. For all eternity, you shall have to end the strip with the very same punchline. And you don't want to know what'll happen if you don't make me crack a smile every day when I read it. Good luck!"
It seems to me that having to do a daily comic strip with the same punchline every day is the very definition of hell for a cartoonist. Yet Al Posen started a comic strip with exactly that gimmick, and of his own free will! In Them Days Is Gone Forever, which debuted with the then tiny United Feature Syndicate on February 13 1922, not only does Posen tell a gag in rhyme every day, but he ends the rhyme with the exact same punchline. Al Posen must have had a masochistic streak a mile wide.
Posen's self-imposed hell did not end quickly. Though United Feature at that time was basically a hole-in-the-wall syndicate, they did manage to sell Posen's strip to a decent number of papers, making it one of their flagship titles. Once they had a decent number of strips in the can, they also resold the strip to rural papers, presumably on the cheap.
By 1924, though, Posen had to be on the brink of losing his mind, and he finally waved the white flag. On April 21 he renamed the strip to The Jingle Belles, and brought in Josie and Jessie Jingle, a couple of cute dancers as his star attraction. Though he continued the rhyming theme, he no longer had to end each strip with the same line. That must have been a huge relief. Only problem was, it didn't seem to take. Whether it was by Posen's choice or his syndicate insisted, The Jingle Belles was scrapped and Them Days Is Gone Forever was brought back on November 3 of that year. Well, not exactly -- the English was partially corrected -- it was now Them Days Are Gone Forever.
Whatever magic there was in the strip seems to have dissipated, though. Clients weren't nearly as plentiful anymore. As a last ditch attempt to save the strip, in March 1925 the writing of the musical jingles (not the rhymes, but the actual music symbols that ran along the top of the strip) was credited to famed bandleader Vincent Lopez. Whether Mr. Lopez actually wrote any of the strip's musical accompaniment seems far-fetched, but it really didn't matter as the ploy seemed to do nothing to attract clients back to the fold. The strip was cancelled on April 4 1925, and from then on was sold strictly in reprints, which I've seen appearing as laste as 1928.
An odd postscript to the story of this strip is that Mr. Posen gave final proof of his madness a decade later. Having sold a strip to the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate called Sweeney and Son, he resurrected Them Days is Gone Forever as a topper to the Sunday strip. Well, at least he only had to face writing one new rhyme each week as opposed to every day!