Monday, August 21, 2017
Obscurity of the Day: Bessie Busybody
Bessie Busybody is I guess what you'd call a double obscurity. It was a feature of the Philadelphia North American syndicate in 1903-04, so that's already plenty obscure. The double comes in with the fact that the North American itself did not run this strip, but only offered it to some of their small client list of newspapers, where it was an option they could run instead of Fatty Felix and the Flipp Boys. But don't ask me why their clients needed a substitute for Fatty Felix -- since that was essentially the North American's headline strip, why would clients want something else instead?
That mystery aside, this series by Hy Gage, he of the funny name and the extremely naive cartooning style, is a real delight. When it began on October 25 1903 it looked like it was going to be yet another totally forgettable strip about a naughty child. However, Gage soon got completely carried away with his character, and had her starring in adventures in the deep sea, outer space, and in bizarre fantasy lands. His undersea adventure was even sort of a continued story from one Sunday to the next, a rarity this early.
Gage mined some of his ideas from the writings of Lewis Carroll and L. Frank Baum, but brought plenty of his own creativity into play. A slight bit of -- let us say inspiration -- aside, Gage really pulled out all the stops and gave readers a whole lot of bang for their pennies in these joyously wild full page strips. How very odd that this series, which I think is some of Hy Gage's most interesting work, should not have even seen the light of day on his home turf in the Philadelphia North American.
Bessie Busybody is known to have run until at least the end of June 1904, and possibly longer.
Thanks very much to Cole Johnson, who alerted me to this delightful double obscurity, and provided the scans.
It's true the Bessie Busybody series was not in the NORTH AMERICAN, but outside of the fact that the OREGON JOURNAL fielded a lot of NA Sunday strips, and Gage was based in Philly, how do we know this title was a NA release? It has no imprint. Maybe Gage was self-syndicating. Besides, if you will recall the configuration of a NA section, Fatty Felix in 1904 is offered as a half page only, usually coupled with the NA's longest running series, Muggsy.
I think the appearance of Bessie Busybody along with an otherwise full menu of PNA material in the Oregon Journal cannot be a coincidence. Circumstantial evidence, yes, but pretty darn convincing to me. Granted, I'd love to have a second paper with which to back up my claim, but beggars etc etc.
As for your observation that Fatty Felix was a half by this time, that's a very good point. Unfortunately my North American index is some 2000 miles away from my current location, so I can't compare it to the OJ to see what else was missing from their section. Any ideas?
PHILADELPHIA NORTH AMERICAN
28 February 1904
The Up-To-Date railroad terminal as pictured by McDougall(Full)
Willie makes a water motor for the sewing machine (by Crane)(½)
Speaking of ancestors (Mamma's "Uncle Tom"/ Cowboy) (by Chas. Reese) (½)
Fatty Didn't know the Chief was behind him, but the Flipps did (By McDougall (½)
Muggsy, on Board Ship, breaks up a crooked card game (By Crane) (½)
20 March 1904:
Effect of the war on everyday affairs by McDougallovichekski (Full)
Willie Westinghouse gets his teacher into more trouble (By Crane) (½)
Little Jap "It" and the Fierce Russians (By J. F. Hart) (½)
Jealous Percy Flipp couldn't resist a chance to injure Fatty Felix (McDougall) (½)
Muggsy and a Sausage Factory (By Crane)(¼)
Doll ad- Attleboro premium House, Attleboro, Mass.(¼)
From their first section in 1901, it looked like the NA was offering a modern syndicated list of features. THE BOSTON SUNDAY POST ran the NA material starting only a few weeks after it's debut.