Wednesday, March 08, 2017
Obscurity of the Day: Wide-Awake Willie
Gene Byrnes is best known for his phenomenally successful comic strip Reg'lar Fellers, a frenetic and fun kid gang strip which was loved by kids, and grown-up kids, from the 1910s to 1940s. The strip began as a panel adjunct to his main weekday feature, It's a Great Life if You Don't Weaken, in 1916. That strip was penned for the New York Evening Telegram. When Byrnes decided that it was time for Reg'lar Fellers to graduate to a daily strip in 1918 (on a date that try as I might I cannot pin down), he either didn't offer it to the Telegram, or they turned it down. This event, however it unfolded, eventually made Mr. Byrnes a relatively wealthy man, as he was able to retain his copyright to the strip, and to make his best deals with syndicates.
In 1918, the Telegram's parent paper, the New York Herald, asked Byrnes for a Sunday feature. Byrnes apparently was either so enamored of his new Reg'lar Fellers strip, or bereft of alternative ideas, so he made the Sunday strip about the main character of that strip, Jimmie Dugan, but changed his name to Willie. Wide-Awake Willie, basically an identical strip to Reg'lar Fellers, debuted on March 17.
Eventually Byrnes came to an arrangement with the Herald to distribute a Sunday version of the Reg'lar Fellers strip. Wide-Awake Willie was then uncermoniously given the heave-on as of November 28, and the Herald ran the Reg'lar Fellers Sunday strip starting the next week.