Wednesday, August 05, 2020
Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Harry Shorten
Harry Shorten was born on October 5, 1914, in Manhattan, New York, New York, according to his World War II draft card and Social Security application which was transcribed at Ancestry.com. His parents were Joseph Shorten and Lena S. Lebewohl or Lebenwald, both Russian emigrants. Shorten has not yet been found in the 1915 New York state census.
The 1920 U.S. Federal Census recorded Shorten’s parents and their five children in Manhattan at 126 Rutgers Street. Shorten was the third child whose older siblings were Russian. The youngest two were New Yorkers. His father, a junk shop truck driver, emigrated in 1911, while his mother and older siblings arrived in 1913.
In the 1925 New York state census, the Shorten family were Brooklyn residents at 357 Bradford Street. The address was the same in the 1930 census.
On February 4, 1932 Shorten graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School as reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The next day the Eagle said Shorten was one of “five outstanding graduating athletes whose names will be inscribed on the Charles Model Memorial Plaque.”
Shorten enrolled at New York University where he played football in his freshman year. In March 1936 Shorten was awarded a scholarship. The Eagle, June 9,1937, said
Harry Shorten of 458 Eastern Parkway, ace blocking back go the football team, today was awarded the Sussman Memorial Medal at N.Y. U. commencement exercises. The prize was presented to shorten by the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity for outstanding service to the sophomore class of Washington Square College of the university. He is a former Thomas Jefferson High School star.On June 7, 1937, Shorted and Rose Sadoff obtained a marriage license in Manhattan according to the New York, New York, Marriage License Index at Ancestry.com.
Shorten’s first published work was reported in the Ogdensburg Journal (New York), October 16, 1937.
The Mal Stevens opus, “How to Watch Football [sic],” is the literary work, we hear, of Harry Shorten, the 190-pound junior blocking back, pass receiver and wit of the N.Y.U. team, who turned it out when he had nothing else to do during the summer.
Shorten received his Bachelor of Arts degree in June 1939. Shorten told magazines and newspapers he graduated in 1937.
After graduating Shorten played for the Brooklyn Eagles in the American Pro Football Association.
Editor & Publisher, April 26, 1969, profiled Shorten who talked about his early writing and comics career.
… After graduating from college in 1937 [sic] with a degree in Geology (“I wouldn’t know one rock from another now”). …In the profile Shorten said he “invented” Archie. For the June 1954 issue of American News Trade Journal, Shorten wrote an article about Archie’s Mechanics and did not take credit for creating Archie.
“The sports magazines paid $1 per page of copy or $10 per story,” he says. “Earlier I’d sold stuff to Street and smith, Argosy, and a few others. Back in those post-Depression days you were paid from 1/2¢ to 1¢ per word and you got paid when you caught them. In those hungry days the publishing business was severely depressed.”
Shorten … sold “everything he ever wrote” and eventually gravitated to writing comic books. … “I was hired by Abner Sunbell [sic], editor of Columbia Publications, to be his assistant. He became my mentor: he was my teacher and my inspiration and taught me much of what I know today about the business.
“We put out Pep Comics, Blue Ribbon Comics, Black Hood Comics and Archie Comics. Eventually we had a string of 10 comic books, which isn’t bad. When I was with them their total assets were $300,000. Now they’re worth $3-million and they’re asking $5-million for the business.” …
While on the subject of millions: Shorten was making the magnanimous sum of $1 per page (steady) for grinding out comic book text and would average a steady $35 per week. Woe to the long suffering artist. “Those poor guys only got $5 per page and it took them all day to draw just one.”
… “In those days you had to turn out an astronomical number of pages to make any money.” While turning out an “astronomical number of pages” Shorten invented “Archie,” the bumbling high school student who later became a King Features daily comic staple. Shorten says he owns the copyright.
“In 1943,” he explains, “Henry Aldrich was a popular radio show [The radio show was called The Aldrich Family, a series that began in summer of 1939 and ended in 1953.] and the kid made a tremendous impact. I suggested to Sunbell that we start a strip with a Henry Aldrich-type kid. … I created ‘Wilbur’ with Lin Streeter as the artist and the character came out looking exactly like him. “Later we signed Bob Montana to draw ‘Archie’ and the kid came out being about eight-years-old, he was much too young. I was writing the strip and wrote him as being a teenager and he came out just right. That was the greatest time of my life. We worked on ‘Archie’ in hotel rooms and at Montana’s summer home in New Hampshire and had a great time.
“During that time we created ‘Katy Keene,’ ‘The Shield,’ ‘The Black Hood,’ ‘Reggie,’ ‘Jughead,’ ‘Betty and Veronica,’ ‘Ginger,’ ‘Super Duck,’ ‘Pokey Oakey,’ ‘Calthar the Jungle Man,’ and many others. We created many heavies but even more minor characters.”
Shorten dreamed-up the format for “There Oughta Be A Law,” which he wrote and his partner, the late Al Fagaly (who died six years ago) drew. “That was in 1944,” says Shorten. “We sold it to the McClure Syndicate and stipulated that they had to take ‘Archie’ along with it. We only gave them three weeks worth of daily samples but they grabbed it. The thing was in 20 papers almost immediately. We made from $30,000 to $40,000 the first year and the strip made $65,000 and up with the syndicate getting 40% and us getting 60%, which Fagaly and I divided equally.”
… The cartoon feature, which made Shorten a millionaire … was the springboard he used to jump head-first into the publishing business. “In 1952” he says, “we published the first of four ‘There Oughta Be A Law’ paperback anthologies … which grossed about $8,000 per book with 85% sales. Then we just kept going on until we built-up a list of 26 titles and publish 26 books per month plus four comic magazines and two TV magazines and we’ve added three book lines which include another 26 titles.”
Shorten, whose organization now grosses almost “four-million” per year employs 35 people—all of whom receive more than $1 per page for text and $5 per page for art. “We’re part of the V-T-R Corp., (American Stock Exchange) part of the V-T-R Corp., (American Stock Exchange)— he says. “It’s a conglomerate. They’re our parent corporation and are worth between $55-million and $60-million. V-T-R is headed by Fred Gould, a sharp young guy who made his money in real estate, and there are some very dynamic-minded young executives in the organization who already are looking for new properties.”
One property that became a casualty was, strangely enough, “There Oughta Be A Law,” which Shorten stopped writing “four or five years ago”. “It was fun in the beginning, then it got to be a drag,” he says. … United [Features] took the strip over from McClure in 1963. Art is being handled by Warren Whipple, who formerly worked for the late Jimmy Hatlo. … Sy Reit has taken over the writing chores from Shorten, who still owns the feature lock, stock and barrel.
Some years ago, when [John] Goldwater and [Louis] Silberkleit decided to launch their first Archie comic, everyone said they were crazy. A teen-ager as a comic book character? Not a chance. “All today’s kids want,” they were told, “are super-men, either saving or destroying cities, with plenty of thrills, gore, and manufactured excitement. True-to-life stuff will never go.”Rik Offenberger profiled John Goldwater and said
But John and Lou felt differently about it. Differently enough to gamble that the children of America wanted good, wholesome entertainment based on stories that had to do with normal characters who, in spite of their cartoon guise, acted and looked and talked pretty much like their own teen-age friends. They decided to build up a comic group based on that idea, a comic group that would create an entirely new concept in comic book publishing.
John Goldwater inspired by the popular “Andy Hardy” movies starring Mickey Rooney; wanted to create a comic about a normal person to whom readers could relate. He created “America’s newest boyfriend”, Archibald “Chick” Andrews. In Pep Comics #22, December 1941 writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana, published Archie Andrews first adventure. Gloria Goldwater, John’s wife said “He loved Superman and he wanted to create a kind of opposite to Superman,” “Archie was based partly on a red-headed friend of his named Archie,” Mrs. Goldwater said. “He also created Betty and Veronica. Then he decided Archie needed a real good friend. That was Jughead. It just grew and grew.”In Comic Book Artist #14, July 2001, Bill Pearson was asked about Shorten and said
Harry Shoten made his stake as the writer of the There Oughta Be A Law comic strip that had been very popular in the ’40s and ’50s. He had a very successful pocket book publishing business when the comics had a boom in the ’60s and he decided to take the plunge. I never talked to him but I saw him around the offices once in awhile. He looked like the very caricature of a publisher. Stocky body, bald head, and a fat cigar in his mouth at all times.In the 1940 census freelance writer Shorten and his wife resided in Brooklyn at 685 Sterling Place. The same address was on his World War II draft which he signed on October 16, 1940. His employer was MLJ Magazine Company. Shorten was described as five feet nine inches, 185 pounds with brown eyes and black hair.
At some point Shorten moved to Rockville Centre, New York.
The 1960 Manhattan, New York directory listed Shorten’s office at 505 8th Avenue.
Shorten was the publisher of the soap opera magazine, Afternoon TV, which debuted August 1968. The magazine held its first awards banquet in 1973. The Cortland Standard (New York), August 2, 1975, said “Harry Shorten, Publisher of Afternoon TV Magazine, explained that winners were selected through, a poll of professional TV writers and editors, ‘individuals in constant touch with the afternoon television scene.’”
Shorten passed away on January 14, 1991, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was laid to rest at Star of David Memorial Gardens. Obituaries were published in The New York Times, January 17, 1991, and South Florida Sun Sentinel, January 22, 1991.
The MLJ Companion: The Complete History of the Archie Comics Super-Heroes
Brain Bats of Venus: The Life and Comics of Basil Wolverton Volume 2
Grand Comics Database
Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999
Labels: Ink-Slinger Profiles