Monday, August 27, 2018

 

Obscurity of the Day: In Rabbitboro / Dumbunnies






Albertine Randall, whose married name was Wheelan, came to newspaper cartooning work very late in life. In her earlier years she was primarily known as a children's book illustrator. She was well into her 50s when the bug hit, and she probably caught it from her famous son, Edgar "Minute Movies" Wheelan. In May 1922 (exact date uncertain)* her strip In Rabbitboro debuted with the George Matthew Adams Service in a reasonably healthy number of papers.

In Rabbitboro featured a cast of bunnies and was set in a seaside resort town. The lead was Dick Dumbunny, who was just as often a gagster as well as the butt of jokes. Dick wore a  Pierrot clown costume for reasons unclear, while the rest of the town residents went in for more conventional attire.

The strip had an undeniable charm. I think 'sassy' would be an accurate description of the humor. Perfectly fine for the kids, but mom and dad could get a chuckle out of it too. My pet peeve with animal strips of this type, in which the characters are animals for no particularly overwhelming reason, can be forgiven for its other strengths.

According to an article in Cartoons magazine, the official name of the strip was originally Dumbunnies, changed to In Rabbitboro from mid-1923 to 1926, then switched back to Dumbunnies. I long assumed that to be a true statement, but now with the benefit of more digital newspapers to canvass, I believe the truth is that the original title is In Rabbitboro, changed to Dumbunnies in June 1926, and never reverted.

I believe that Randall retired the strip on June 2 1928** or very shortly thereafter despite several online sources stating that it ended in 1929. The strip did get resurrected in the 1930s, sold in reprints, which always muddies the waters.

* Source: The Fourth Estate, May 27 1922.
** Source: Harrisburg Telegraph

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Comments:
Was Randall British? Concert parties were little variety shows presented at English seaside resorts, traditionally featuring Pierrot costumes and usually on outdoor stages. Dick's getup would have been a familiar sight at Brighton or at Scarborough (note the name resemblance), although he likely wouldn't have worn it while doubling as a bellhop or otherwise between performances. Conceivably, Rabbitboro featured other British touches that were lost on American readers and editors.

Concert parties figure in the movies "Sylvia Scarlett" and "The Good Companions". "Good Companions" was based on a popular British novel of three sensible folk cut loose from their dull lives, who hook up with a failing concert party and help propel it to success. Young John Gielgud plays a fired schoolmaster paired with Jessie Matthews, a lively young singer. "Scarlett" is a Hollywood oddity starring Katharine Hepburn as a girl impersonating a boy, who joins Cary Grant and a few others to form a concert party fraught with soap opera complications.


 
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