Friday, May 14, 2021


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Jack Betts

(An earlier version of this profile was posted on January 28, 2014.)

John George “Jack” Betts was born on March 21, 1904 in Brooklyn, New York, according to his World War II draft card. His middle name is from a family tree at Betts’s parents were Steven H. M. Betts, a machinist, and Alice Ethel Stevens, who married on October 1, 1901, in Jersey City, New Jersey. Betts’s father was born in Brooklyn, New York, which was his residence in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. Betts’s sister, Ethel (1907–1982), was three years younger and born in Brooklyn.

In the 1910 census, Betts and his sister were living with their maternal grandparents, John and Anne Stevens, whose two sons, daughter and daughter-in-law were part of the household. They resided in Jersey City, New Jersey, at 257 Union Street. The family tree said Betts’s mother had passed away February 9, 1910 in Brooklyn, New York, about two months before the census enumeration (April 15). Betts was six years old at the time. His father has not been found in this census; he passed away in 1970.

Betts’s education and early art training was in Jersey City. He was a Boy Scout who contributed spot illustrations to the Jersey Journal’s “Scouting” column. His debut was March 26, 1918.

Fellows, be seated.

I want you to meet our new artist. He’s Tenderfoot Scout Jack Betts of Troop 17, and he’s the Art Editor of this department of the Jersey Journal. You’ll meet him here every Tuesday.

It’s only natural that you’d want to get a view of the Scout who drew the three pictures that appear to-day. So I said: “Jack, old man, just draw a picture of yourself making your bow to the audience.”

And this is what Jack drew:

But just between you and me, he doesn’t look a bit like the drawing. That’s just his way of having his little joke.
Below is a detail of the column from the April 2, 1918 issue.
We—that is, Jack Betts, the art editor, and I—sat down yesterday to plan this week’s Scouting news.

“How shall we start it, Jack?” I asked.

“Well,” said Jack, “last week you had a little fun with the showing them how I don’t look; now it’s my turn.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, growing pale.

“I mean,” Jack said in determination, “that this week we’ll let them see how you look.”

“But listen, Jack, old man—we can’t do anything like that.”

“We’re going to” said Jack, and he reached for his pencil.

“Jack,” I said, weakly, “have mercy.”

And this was Jack’s idea of mercy:

The spot illustration, below, was published in the April 30, 1918 column.

Another column detail is from the June 18, 1918 edition:
Farmer and the Scout: Scout and the Bug
Since I told you last week that Troop 17 was going to go farming, I’ve been hearing every day of Scouts who are going to go forth and tackle the pesky cut worm, and the cabbage worm, and the ferocious potato bug.

“What do you think of it, Jack?” I asked Jack Betts, our trusty cartoonist.

“Great stuff,” said Jack.

“Can you draw a picture of a battle between a cut worm and a Scout?’

Jack said he could. He did. Here it is:
After that we know for a fact that a Scout is brave.
One of Betts’s drawings earned him a mention in the national periodical, St. Nicholas, February 1919.

In the 1920 census, Betts’s maternal grandmother was the head of the household which included two of her children and her two grandchildren. They lived in Jersey City at 219 I [eye] Avenue. The census recorded Betts’s name as John.

At this time, very little is known about Betts in the 1920s. He married around 1925 and was credited for an illustration in the October 1928 issue of College Life.

According to the 1930 census, Betts was married to “Ester”, a Swedish emigrant, and had two children, Joan, age four-and-a-half, and Jack, age one. They resided in Jersey City at 37 Clendenny Avenue. His occupation was artist at an advertising agency. At some point Betts’s marriage ended in divorce.

The News and Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina), January 10, 1936, reported Betts’s second marriage.
Burlington, Jan. 9—In a quiet ceremony Miss Trixie Dameron and Jack Betts were united in marriage on Monday, December 30, at the Methodist parsonage in New York City. Rev. Mr. Devine heard the vows in the presence of the immediate family. Mrs. Betts wore a black crepe daytime frock with white trim with which she wore a black caracul coat and matching accessories. Mrs. Betts is the daughter of Mrs. Rosa Dameron of his city and received her education at the Anderson High School. Mr. Betts, of New York city, received his education at the National Academy of Design and Art Students League. He is a commercial illustrator now connected with Hanff-Metzger Advertisement Company of New York where the couple will make their home.
In October 1936, the American Distilling Company launched a major advertising campaign to promote its Old American Brand whiskey. Betts illustrated the two-panel advertisements which featured “Prof. Jim Crack”. The advertising agency Hanff-Metzger created the campaign, which was copyrighted and recorded in the Catalog of Copyright Entries, Part 4, Works of Art, etc., 1936 New Series, Volume 31, Number 3, on pages 135 and 139

The New York Times, April 29, 1939, noted that Betts leased an apartment at 2 Horatio Street, and that was his address in the 1940 census. This was the first time,
in the census records, his name was recorded as Jack. His occupation was freelance artist and he had completed three years of high school. Betts’s first wife and children lived in Miami, Florida.

The 1940s was a busy decade for Betts. He produced advertising comics for Ben Gay, Nestlé, and Super Suds.

Betts signed his World War II draft card on February 16, 1942. He was a self-employed commercial artist who worked at home at the same address. He was described as five feet eleven inches, 180 pounds, with gray eyes and brown hair. 

Betts illustrated the poster Don’t Fall for Enemy Propaganda which can be viewed here and here.

The New York Times, April 15, 1944, noted Betts’s new business arrangement: “Bruce Stevenson, artists’ representative, will move his studio to 415 Lexington Avenue on May 1. Noel Sickles and Jack Betts have joined his staff.” Stevenson advertised in 26th Annual of Advertising Art (1947) and 28 Annual of Advertising Art (1949). Betts’s listing in the Official Directory, American Illustrators and Advertising Artists (1949) said: “Jack Betts 2 Horatio St. CH 2-1927 New York 14, N. Y. Humorous Illustration, Continuities. Rep. Bruce Stevenson”.

Betts was one of the artists who illustrated the adaptations of Book-of-the-Month novels that appeared in newspapers. In 1946 he drew the panels for Britannia Mews.

Betts drew spot illustrations for several magazines including American Legion, Collier’s Magazine’s Keep Up with the World column, This Week Magazine, and Bluebook.

The books and pamphlets Betts illustrated include Footprints of the Trojan Horse (1942), I Am an American (1946), New Footprints of the Trojan Horse (1952), and Who? Me? (1954).

A 1957 Manhattan, New York City directory listed Betts at 2 Horatio Street.

The New York State Death Index, at, said Betts passed away on August 3, 1957. His residence was in Rye, New York. An obituary has not been found.

A photograph of Betts and a greeting card by him can be viewed at Fabulous Fifties

—Alex Jay


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Wednesday, May 12, 2021


Selling It: Mrs. Drear and Mrs. Cheer


After a long and lucrative career, Rose O'Neill by 1932 was out of fashion and becoming financially strapped. The creator of the Kewpie doll was reduced to taking a job illustrating a series of Oxydol ads under the running title Mrs. Drear and Mrs. Cheer. O'Neill did excellent art for these ads, but to add insult to injury, some of the ads in this series have her signature cut off. Evidently her name was not considered any particular draw. 

O'Neill produced twelve ads for the series. It must have been considered a successful campaign, because the series was run three times; March to May 1932, then September to October, then March to May 1933. In all three series the ads were the same batch, just reruns.


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Monday, May 10, 2021


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Seymour Reit


Seymour Victor/Victory “Sy” Reit was born on November 11, 1918, in Manhattan, New York, New York, according to the New York, New York Birth Index at  Reit’s middle name, Victor, was found on his World War II draft card and Social Security application (transcribed at Victory was the middle name mentioned in obituaries. 

Reit and his family have not yet been found in the 1920 U.S. Federal Census. 

The 1925 New York state census recorded Reit, his parents, Lazarus and Mary, sister, Phyllis, and a servant in Manhattan at 725 Riverside Drive. His father was a lawyer and German emigrant.

In the 1930 census, Reit’s divorced mother was the head of the household which included Reit’s sister, maternal grandmother and aunt, and a servant. They lived in a Manhattan apartment at 317 West 93rd Street. 

In 1935 Reit graduated from the DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. Reit continued his education at Washington Square College, New York University, where he contributed to the school humor magazine, Varieties.

The New York Times, December 17, 2001, said Reit was 19 years old when he started at Fleischer Studios in Miami, Florida. He was an in-betweener and writer.

Reit’s father passed away December 23, 1939. 

The 1940 census said Reit and Woodrow Gelman shared an apartment in Miami at 2027 SW 6th Street. They were cartoonists at a film company (Fleischer Studios). In 1939 Reit earned $1,820. 

On October 16, 1940, Reit signed his World War II draft card. He was a Manhattan resident at 800 West End Avenue and employed at the comics studio, Eisner and Iger. Reit was described as five feet four inches, 115 pounds, with brown eyes and black hair.

Reit enlisted in the Army on August 17, 1942. The Times said he worked in a camouflage unit on the West Coast. (In 1978 he wrote a book, Masquerade: The Amazing Camouflage Deceptions of World War II.) Reit with the Army Air Forces in Europe after D-Day. A profile in Something About the Author, Volume 21 (1980) said he was a photo-intelligence officer. After that he was on the personal staff of General Hoyt Vandenberg. A Bronze Star Medal was awarded Reit in 1945. He discharged in 1946. 

RetroFan #11, November 2020, published the article, Who Created Casper the Friendly Ghost?. Two people claimed to be the creator, Joe Oriolo and Reit, who said 
Joe was an associate of mine years ago, when we were both employed at the Fleischer Animation Studios in Miami. He was a fine artist and animator; however, he was not the creator of “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” Joe created the actual cartoon of the character—but the concept, series idea and plotline were mine, prior to Joe’s involvement. Joe played an important part, but I was Casper’s legit “Poppa.’” ...

“At that time,” Reit recalled, “Fleischer paid a few bucks for Popeye jokes submitted speculatively by the staff. People also tried their hands at writing short stories for use in the series called Fabletoons. One weekend I wrote a three to four-page story I titled ‘Casper the Friendly Ghost.’ The story was mine—every last word. Shortly after, I gave it to Joe Oriolo, who wanted to develop visuals, and perhaps peddle it either to the studio or to a children’s book publisher.”
While Reit served in World War II, Oriolo sold Casper to Famous Studios for a flat fee. Reit got nothing. Casper debuted in May 1945. 

The New York, New York Marriage License Index said Reit and Ann Kleinman obtained a license in Manhattan on July 22, 1947.

The 1952 Catalog of Copyright Entries has an entry for Reit’s Salty the Sea Horse. 

American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Reit claimed to have written the series, There Oughta Be a Law, for about eight years in the late 1950s to mid-1960s. 

Reit and artist Erik Blegvad produced Where’s Willie which was a Golden Press book published in 1961. American Newspaper Comics said it was adapted into a comic strip for the McNaught Syndicate’s series, Children’s Tales. Where’s Willie ran on Sundays, January 16 and 23, 1966 and was adapted by Frank Bolle (see Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum). 

In the 1950s to 1970s Reit contributed to Mad magazine and comic book publishers Archie and DC.

The New Jersey Marriage Index said Reit and Edmee Busch married in July 1972 in Highland Park, New Jersey. 

Reit was associated with Bank Street College in New York City. Bantam Books published the Bank Street Ready-to-Read series which was produced by Byron Preiss. Reit wrote The Rebus Bears (1989), Things That Go (1990) and A Dog’s Tale (1996). Reit also contributed to the Bank Street Book of Fantasy, Bank Street Book of Science Fiction, Bank Street Book of Creepy Tales and Bank Street Book of Mystery, which were published in 1989 by Pocket Books.

Reit passed away on November 21, 2001, in New York City.

Further Reading
The New York Times, November 25, 2001 and December 17, 2001, obituary
Something About the Author, Volume 133, 2002 obituary 
Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999 


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Sunday, May 09, 2021


Wish You Were Here, from Dave Breger


Here's another card from Dave Breger's "Mister Breger on Vacation" series, issued by Nyack Art Pictures. The code on the back of this one reads 604 / 89367. Yet another unused card, and no copyright date, so we continue to assume these were issued most likely in the mid- to late-50s.


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Saturday, May 08, 2021


Herriman Saturday - February 2 1910


February 2 1910 -- The Postmaster General has seen fit to make a pronouncement that rural mailfolk are not to engage in hunting or fishing while making their rounds. Presumably same goes for city carriers, one hopes. 

If like me you are more accustomed to using the term "nimrod" to refer to various members of government and of some persons of doubtful intelligence in personal acquaintance, a reminder that in Genesis, some guy with that name was known as a great hunter, thereby the headline.  Of course, once Bugs Bunny started calling Elmer Fudd a nimrod, so much for the original definition.


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Friday, May 07, 2021


Obscurity of the Day: Surgeon Stone


Surgeon Stone is an obscurity that's a devil to track down. After starting out innocently enough as part of a whole slew of new Chicago Tribune Sunday strips that began like a machine gun blast in 1946, the Trib gave up on it pretty quickly. Wild Rose, John West, the revival of Streamer Kelly and other new additions for 1946 continued appearing in the Trib for a relatively long time, despite attracting practically no syndication clients. Surgeon Stone, on the other hand, arrived there on April 7 1946, and last appeared on March 2 1947 (the top and bottom samples above). 

That all seems pretty cut and dried, except that on really rare occasions I've seen later ones, and I've even seen original art for examples as late as 1950. Which seems rather weird, except that it meshes rather nicely with the fact that the Tribune advertised the strip as available as late as 1951 in the Editor & Publisher Syndicate Directories. 

So what gives? Assuming I haven't managed to miss a bunch of syndication clients for Surgeon Stone, why in the world would they have been producing it that long? If they wanted it for the Trib itself, that would be one thing, but even they didn't want it!

Finally I stumbled across the answer. Unfortunately this answer, as weird as it is, sure doesn't make me feel like I've solved a mystery -- just found another one. In the Chicago Tribune of October 4 1948, there is an offhand remark that Surgeon Stone was in fact still being run in Tribune, but only in the Canadian edition!

Heck, I didn't even know there was such a thing. And given that there was, what was it about Surgeon Stone that makes it worthy of being produced and printed only for an obscure edition of the newspaper? Sigh. There's just no end once you go down some of these rabbit holes. 

Just in case you're thinking that the strip must star a Mountie or be set in the Northwest Territories, or at least have a lot of 'eh's in the dialogue, nah, forget that angle. Surgeon Stone is about a plastic surgeon, and there's no Canadian content that I can pinpoint. The strip, though rather repetitive with the hero getting mixed up with thieves over and over, is actually kinda cool. It has a great hardboiled film noir-ish feel to it, and the art by Richard Fletcher (the ChiTrib Rick Fletcher who also did Jed Cooper, not the one who took over Dick Tracy) gets better and better as the series goes on. By 1947 Fletcher has figured out a bold colour scheme for the strip, and employs great dramatic camera angles to make the strip really pop off the page. Good stuff, and deserved better treatment than it got from the Tribune.

Anyway, if anyone has access to this nigh-mythical Canadian Edition of the Chicago Tribune, if you could find me an end date for Surgeon Stone I'd be very grateful.


Hello Allan-
I didn't know there was a Canadian edition either, but maybe there were many odd iterations. Ever see their RAG PAPER EDITION? you don't want that one's Sunday comic section. It had more bleed-through than an abattoir!
Apparently the mail editions had some different features than the daily delivery or news stand versions. But perchance some editions of the Canadian version can be located, it would likely show that the Surgeon Stone strip displaces some strip that might have some special syndication arrangement North of the border.
I LOVE the rag paper edition -- so unusual to see old Sunday comics on nice bright white paper. But yes, there is the tradeoff of bad quality printing -- usually quite faint, too.

Until now I'd seen only a couple of dailies from this strip--early ones, I presume. I wasn't impressed. Fletcher's perspective was whacky and the layouts were awkward. These samples raise my opinion of the strip 300%. Very atmospheric drawing with great coloring.
Smurfswacker --
Surgeon Stone was a Sunday only strip. You must be thinking of another sawbones -- Doctor Bobbs maybe?

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Wednesday, May 05, 2021


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Walter Frehm

Walter Frehm was born Walter Friedman on March 11, 1912, in Manhattan, New York, New York, according to the New York, New York Birth Index at 

In the 1915 New York state census, Frehm was the youngest of four brothers (Solomon, Paul and Herbert) born to Morris and Ethel, both Hungarian emigrants. The family of six resided in Manhattan at 19 West 118th Street. Frehm’s father was an ice cream salesman. 

On December 24, 1917 Herbert passed away in Yonkers, New York. 

In the 1920 census, Frehm was “Walter Friedman”. Leonard was the youngest brother. Frehm’s parents were naturalized citizens in 1900. The family lived in Yonkers, New York at 8 Fernbrook Street. 

The 1925 New York State Census recorded seven people as Yonkers residents at 209 Buena Vista Avenue. Solomon’s wife was part of the household. 

According to the 1930 census, the Frehm family consisted of five members: Frehm, his parents, Leonard and Paul who was a commercial artist. Their home was in Yonkers at 288 Hawthorne Avenue.

In the early 1930s, Frehm followed Paul’s footsteps and attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. At first he studied illustration then switched to cartooning. 

The Herald Statesman (Yonkers, New York), December 11, 1936, published a legal notice stating Frehm and his brothers, Paul and Leonard, had changed their surname from Friedman to Frehm. Leonard would find work at Fleischer Studios. 

The Herald Statesman, November 26, 1938, reported Frehm’s marriage.
Mr. and Mrs. Walter Frehm, whose wedding took place Thanksgiving Day at a quiet ceremony at the Hotel Sharon in New York, are on their honeymoon in the South. The Rev. Dr. David Hollander solemnized the marriage nuptials at 2 P. M.

The bride, who was Miss Estelle Stern, daughter of Emil Stern of 192 Hawthorne Avenue, wore a silver lame gown and a corsage of orchids.

Her attendants were Miss Jeannette Stern, her sister, and Mrs. Benjamin Zimmet. Miss Stern was in rose lame and Mrs. Zimmet in black velvet. Both wore corsages of white roses.

Paul Frehm, a brother of the bridegroom, was best man.

Mrs. Frehm was graduated from Yonkers High School and New York University. Mr. Frehm, a graduate of Pratt Institute, is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Morris Frehm of 274 Hawthorne Avenue.
The 1940 census recorded the couple in Yonkers at 199 Hawthorne Avenue. The head of the household was Frehm’s father-in-law, a widower. Also residing there was Frehm’s sister-in-law Jeannette. 

On October 16, 1940 Frehm signed his World War II draft card. His address was 80 Bruce Avenue in Yonkers. Frehm said his employer was cartoonist Ken Kling who lived at 300 Central Park West, New York City. Frehm’s description was five feet eight inches, 150 pounds, with hazel eyes and brown hair. 

Frehm’s National Cartoonists Society profile said he assisted Will Gould on Red Barry and later ghosted Kling’s Joe and Asbestos. Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999 said he did a small amount comic book work. The Green Mask appeared in Mystery Men Comics. American Newspaper Comics (2012) said the Fox Feature Syndicate distributed The Green Mask as a Sunday strip (two comic book pages, side by side, occupied a half page), from February 7 to August 11, 1940. 

In 1958 Frehm joined King Features. The Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, South Carolina), October 17, 1982, profiled Frehm, on page eight, and said he was offered Ripley’s Believe It or Not
Frehm’s first real encounter with Ripley was during World War II when Ripley telephoned him with the offer of a job. Frehm, however, turned down the job because he was more concerned with completing the work he was doing for the war effort. [In Suburbia Today, July 19, 1981, an article about Ripley’s Believe It or Not said Frehm was “drawing up blueprints for the bombers being built at the General Motors plant in North Tarrytown.]

It was in 1958 when Frehm’s older brother, Paul, a veteran illustrator with King Features (the copyright holder for the strip), called Walter to propose that they both draw “Ripley’s Believe or Not!” Paul had been drawing the strip with various other artists since Ripley’s death in 1949. [Suburbia Today said “… the younger Frehm was merely an assistant. Paul did the main panels—the “shock­ers”—while Walter did the lettering and drew the minor panels ….”]

For the next 20 years, the brothers faced the monumental task each week of producing at least 21 new drawings—each a new and original item in the Ripley collection of oddities. Their drawings remained faithful to the style originally created by Ripley. 

Since Paul’s retirement in 1978, Walter has been drawing all the strips. “We get our items from all kinds of sources and from all over the world,” said Walter. “In fact, we have a regular list of contributors.”
In 1989 Frehm retired from the strip which was continued by others.

Frehm passed away on June 2, 1995, in Boca Raton, Florida. The Sun Sentinel published an obituary on June 9. 


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Monday, May 03, 2021


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Paul Frehm

National Cartoonists Society 1970

Paul Frehm was born on November 1, 1904 or 1905, in Brooklyn, New York. The New York, New York Index to Birth Certificates, at, said his birth year was 1905. Frehm’s World War II draft card and the Social Security Death Index have the year 1904. The birth certificate also said his parents were Morris Friedman and Ethel Ramer who lived in Brooklyn on Hopkins Street. 

The 1915 New York state census recorded Frehm as “Percy Friedman”, the second of four brothers, Solomon, Herbert and Walter. The family of six resided in Manhattan at 19 West 118th Street. His father was an ice cream salesman. 

On December 24, 1917 Herbert passed away in Yonkers, New York. 

In the 1920 census, Frehm was “Paul Friedman”. Leonard was the youngest brother. Frehm’s parents were Hungarian emigrants who became naturalized citizens in 1900. The family lived in Yonkers, New York at 8 Fernbrook Street. 

Around 1923 Frehm enrolled as Paul Friedman at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. The 1924 yearbook, Prattonia, said he was in the General Art class of 1925. 

Frehm had two illustrations published in the Jackson News, December 28, 1924. 

The 1925 New York State Census recorded a 20-year-old daughter, Beatrice, as part of the Friedman household. She was Solomon’s wife. The seven people were Yonkers residents at 209 Buena Vista Avenue. Frehm’s occupation was artist. 

The Political Life of Al Smith strip appeared in 1928. It was drawn by Frehm and written by Barry Meglaughlin. 

According to the 1930 census, commercial artist Frehm was a lodger at his parents’ home in Yonkers at 288 Hawthorne Avenue. His youngest brothers, Walter and Leonard, were part of the household. 

Frehm drew The Crime of the Century strip which was written by reporter Lou Wedemar (1901–1979). The strip told the story of the 1932 kidnapping of Charles A. Lindbergh’s son. On December 27, 1934, King Features Syndicate released the strip to coincide with the trial of Bruno Hauptmann, the accused kidnapper. The series ended on January 23, 1935 in the Detroit Times. In 1999 the strips were collected and published as The Lindbergh Kidnapping: The Original 1935 “Crime of the Century” Comic Serial

American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Frehm drew several Sundays of Chip Collins’ Adventures in 1935.  He did a week of Ted Towers Animal Master dailies from May 23 to 30, 1936.

The Herald Statesman (Yonkers, New York), December 11, 1936, published a legal notice stating Frehm and his brothers, Walter and Leonard, had changed their surname from Friedman to Frehm. Leonard would find work at Fleischer Studios. 

In March 1939 Frehm visited Havana, Cuba. Then in August he went to Bermuda. The passenger lists had his address as 274 Hawthorne Avenue, Yonkers, New York. The same address was in the 1940 census. Frehm, an illustrator, and his brother, Leonard, lived with their parents. All of them had the Frehm surname. 

Frehm signed his World War II draft card on October 16, 1940. His address was unchanged. He was employed at the New York Mirror newspaper. Frehm was described as five feet ten inches, 150 pounds, with brown eyes and hair.

The New York State Marriage Index said Frehm married on November 23, 1944 in Yonkers.

Frehm’s profile at the National Cartoonists Society said 
Born in Bklyn.—Yonkers H.S. to Pratt I.—Staff artist on N.Y. American–layout & illustration. Transferred to Mirror—then to King Features—top assignment with Damon Runyon covering trial of Bruno Hauptman [sic], kidnapper of Lindberg [sic] baby.—More feature stories and trials then art supervisor of commercial advt for King. Art for Camel cig., Bendix, Goodyear–etc. I helped Bob Ripley when his schedule got rough—when he died I was chosen to carry on feature. 21 yrs now & still gig strong. During war–U.S.O. cartoonist shows sketching the wounded.—Married to Mildred Spector–one son, Andrew, graduated U.S.C.—now with Universal Studios.
Frehm took over Ripley’s Believe It or Not in 1949 when Ripley died of a heart attack. A profile in Suburbia Today, July 19, 1981, said 
... With Ripley gone, the task of feeding illustrations to “Believe It or Not” fell to Paul Frehm—the older brother of the Frehm whom Ripley once offered a job. Paul was an established cartoonist in the King Features stable; it was he, in fact, who got Walter Frehm interested in cartooning in the first place. And it was Paul, in 1958, who succeeded where Ripley failed: in convincing Walter to help with the endless task of turning out “Believe It or Not.”

Paul had established that the Ripley-less “Believe It or Not” would resemble Ripley’s original as much as possible. Ripley’s name remained on the strip; there would be no tampering with success. So when Walter was hired, he learned to adapt his style to match Ripley’s bold, melodramatic pen strokes.

At first, the younger Frehm was merely an assistant. Paul did the main panels—the “shock­ers”—while Walter did the lettering and drew the minor panels—the Texas-shaped birthmarks, the one-armed trapeze artists and the like. ...
In 1978 Frehm retired and handed the series over to Walter.

Frehm passed away on December 24, 1986, in Florida. The Social Security Death Index said his last residence was Hallandale, Florida.

Further Reading and Viewing
Chronicling America, various illustrations 
The Nassau Daily Review, President Franklin Roosevelt 
The Advance-News,  Mrs. Greta Henkle 
Nassau Daily Review-Star, Willie Sutton 
Lambiek Comiclopedia 


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Sunday, May 02, 2021


Wish You Were Here, from a Bud Fisher Emulator


Here's another 1909 licensed card of Mutt and Jeff, this one featuring just Mutt in a nice faux photograph pose. Mark Johnson has described how cards like this came about in the comments of this previous post.


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Saturday, May 01, 2021


Herriman Saturday


January 31 1910 -- In a comic strip that initially has you thinking that Herriman is actually going to come out on the right side of a racial question for a change, he pulls the rug from under us in the final two panels. Turns out he's just mocking boxers who are willing to take on Sam Langford.


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Friday, April 30, 2021


The Wheeler-Nicholson Syndicate, Part XVII (Conclusion)

Based  on the evidence at hand, The Syndicator's last issue was for material intended to appear August 29 to September 4 1926. The Wheeler-Nicholson syndicate seems to have ended its business at or near the same time.

Here are two short items from Editor & Publisher that serve as the proof. In the September 4 issue (concurrent with the final week of The Syndicator) we find that Oscar Hitt, the syndicate's number one cartoonist, has left the company:

Oscar Hitt, formerly with Wheeler-Nicholson and the New York World Syndicate, is now handling his own comic feature. Associated with him is Maurice Workstel, art critic.
While that item isn't conclusive, by the November 27 issue there is no room for doubt in this short mention:

A.L. Brandt, formerly with the Wheeler-Nicholson Syndicate, now defunct, has joined the sales staff of United.

It's too bad that no publication I've found published a real post mortem about Wheeler-Nicholson, because that would make for fascinating reading, but the evidence in E&P, while terse, is definitive.

It seems almost incomprehensible that Wheeler-Nicholson's The Syndicator lasted a mere eight issues, but all evidence seems to point to that being true. Even if the concept was not the most brilliant to come down the pike, and the material lackluster, if it is true that the service was offered for a practical pittance, why did it not have even a slight brush with success? 

But maybe that assumption is wrong. Perhaps the company could not in fact offer the material as cheaply as they claimed in their advertising. With investors being asked to shell out real money, labour and materials in service to producing The Syndicator, the syndicate may have had no choice but to over-reach on their prices. If that were true, it makes perfect sense that there were few takers. NEA and other blanket services were already pretty inexpensive, so if Wheeler-Nicholson couldn't compete on price, their wares were certainly not so fabulous as to make up for that. 

There's also the possibility that Wheeler-Nicholson had the ability to produce the needed mountains of material snatched away. The blanket service had already imploded once at the beginning of January, so why couldn't that happen again? Investors, apparently primarily production plants, might have had Wheeler-Nicholson on a very short leash. After eight weeks they could have expected to see a stack of signed client contracts. When that stack came in too short, the plug was pulled. Alternatively, it could have been the creative personnel who pulled the plug. The company might have made promises to pay them once eight weeks of material had been produced and distributed, and they failed to come through. 

If the Major had intended, as I believe he did, to leverage The Syndicator into a newsstand magazine, perhaps he could not pull that off in the very short time he had to put the plan into action, or his bid for newsstand distribution was rebuffed in some way that made it obvious to his investors that the plan was not going to work. It could well be that the plug was pulled not because the syndication wasn't immediately profitable, but because the other and more important phase of the business plan turned out to be a dead end. Could it be that what the Major learned from this experience were the lessons he needed to make his next foray into the newsstand magazine field, almost a decade later,more fruitful?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There is quite an irony to the timing of Wheeler-Nicholson, Inc.'s demise. I have to thank another of my brilliant readers and fellow researchers, Jeffrey Lindenblatt, for pointing this out to me. 

If the company had held on just a mere half a year longer, a veritable wink of an eye in business, the syndication business was going to have a shake-up, one that could have offered a blanket service like Wheeler-Nicholson's a road to financial success. In April 1927, the New York Telegram, one of the ever-struggling second-tier papers in New York City, was sold to the Scripps chain. Scripps was the parent company of NEA, and so the newspaper contracted with NEA to provide their blanket service. In order to boost sales of the Telegram, NEA was instructed to consider this client paper to be on an exclusive contract encompassing a huge area around New York City. 

NEA's blanket service, used by many small papers in the environs of New York City, was suddenly cut off. These client papers were all of a sudden in a frenzied search for material to fill their now empty pages. If Wheeler-Nicholson had managed to keep up their service until April 1927, they would have been able to sign a slew of clients in the New York - New Jersey - Connecticut area, easily enough to put Wheeler-Nicholson on firm financial footing.

Here's an example from the Yonkers Statesman of the sea change that happened in April 1927, all but one strip had to be changed from one week to the next:

That's the end of our series about the Wheeler-Nicholson syndicate. If you come across any new information, you know I'm always eager to hear about it!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Index to this Series:

Part I (introduction)

Part II (first stirrings of the syndicate)

Part III (Vivian Vanity first series; defection of N. Brewster Morse)

Part IV (Great Mystery and Adventure series)

Part V (1925 text features)

Part VI (Hot Doggerel; Joe Archibald sports feaures; the January 1926 implosion)

Part VII (new series of Vivian Vanity; capital increase)

Part VIII (1926 E&P Syndicate Directory advertisement for The Syndicator)

Part IX (1926 E&P Syndicate Directory list of Wheeler-Nicholson features; syndicate backers)

Part X (The Syndicator text features)

Part XI (Oscar Hitt: Ambitious Ambrose, Wally and his Pals, Hi-Way Henry, Uncle Eph)

Part XII (M.A. Dunning: They Never Do This But Once, Maggie's Yiddish Moe)

Part XIII (Joe Archibald's features in The Syndicator era)

Part XIV (Afonsky's editorial cartoons; On The Links)

Part XV (Squirrel Food; Mike O'Kay; Looney Land)

Part XVI (A.B. Chapin cartoons; Fables in Slangwidge; College Comics)

Part XVII (syndicate end and conclusion)

Thanks, Allan! A most informative series, with many questions to think about.
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Thursday, April 29, 2021


The Wheeler-Nicholson Syndicate, Part XVI

 Coming down to the wire here on Wheeler-Nicholson, Inc. We have only to cover three more features today, and then tomorrow a final wrap-up. 

First off today we cover a real oddity (an oddity amongst oddities, I suppose). In amongst the sporadic editorial cartoons by 'Meetrich' and sports editorials by Joe Archibald, I found two cartoons by A.B. Chapin, apparently intended for op-ed pages by the syndicate even though the cartoons are clearly non-topical humour. Odder still, Chapin at this time was gainfully employed by the Autocaster Service to produce a weekly frequency feature of exactly the same sort of cartoons. 

Since the Autocaster feature was a weekly, perhaps Chapin was free to shop around his wares to other syndicates as well, and I guess that could explain this. But a relatively high-profile guy like Chapin selling individual cartoons to Wheeler-Nicholson? Hmm, doesn't readily pass my smell test.

Anyway, here they are:

Next we have our final strip offered by Wheeler-Nicholson, called Fables in Slangwidge. Obviously the title is trading on the very popular George Ade book Fables in Slang -- to the point of copyright infringement --  and the material in this strip has got it's 1920's hipness turned up to the max. 

The author of this attractive strip was Jack Wilhelm, whose delightful drawings were, at least at this point in his career, not matched by any facility in writing. These strips about the young generation of the Roaring 20's are rather painful to read. But then this is his first known cartoon feature, so he's forgiveably wet behind the ears.

The flapperdom subject really appealed to Wilhelm, and his next two features, Meet The Misses and That Certain Party, both for McClure, would be more of the same except with somewhat improved writing. 

From what I can gather from the scattershot printing of Wheeler-Nicholson material, I'd guess that Fables in Slangwidge could have been a short-term series. Or perhaps I misunderstand -- maybe the reason it is seldom seen is that Wilhelm's wispy lines were really hard for these small papers to make into decent printing plates, and they often gave up. As it is, I had a heck of a time finding halfway legible samples to reproduce here; most looked like someone dumped mud all over the plates. I used to think there was only about one week's worth of this strip, but I did manage to find a sample that is numbered 24, so unless that is a red herring, the strip made it a minimum of at least four weeks:

Finally, we'll cover an oddball feature that strangely enough was also the only one to outlast the syndicate. Somehow the Major got a contract for reprinting cartoons from a very minor magazine titled College Comics, the poor cousin to College Humor. These magazines established agreements to reuse cartoons from college humour magazines, a very popular campus publication genre of those days. Wheeler-Nicholson ran a selection of these cartoons each week under the banner title College Comics. The typical ration might have  been about four cartoons per week, it's hard to tell. Newspapers were free to cut the individual cartoons apart and run them separately, which many did. Here's some samples:


The interesting thing about College Comics, and the reason I left it for last, is that it did in fact outlive the syndicate. It seems that Cosmos Newspaper Syndicate liked the idea of this sort of feature. Not hard to believe since the contract presumably gives the syndicate carte blanche to reproduce as much as they want from that humour mag -- one low price for a mountain of material. So as Wheeler-Nicholson was winking out of existence, the contract for College Comics presumably got sold or leased as one of their assets, and thus was born Collegiate Fun, basically the same idea but with lots more text material. Note in the masthead the credit to Wheeler-Nicholson, and that it now states explicitly that it is by permission of College Comics magazine. This feature didn't last very long even at Cosmos, presumably because the source magazine itself succumbed in short order.

I've got 15 Fables in Slangwidge strips that are different than the five you've posted, so there were at least 20 in total.
I'm pretty sure the College Comics panel titled "Two Hardy Perennials" is a very early S. J. Perelman.
Signature seems a little off from others I've seen, but I agree, that certainly looks like his work. Thanks for pointing it out!
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Wednesday, April 28, 2021


The Wheeler-Nicholson Syndicate, Part XV

 More cartoonists from Wheeler-Nicholson's The Syndicator period today. First we have Squirrel Food, a small one-column panel that seems not to have been intended for the comics page; at least it's used elsewhere in the paper whenever I see it, primarily as a hole-filler. The idea is derivative of Bughouse Fables, the Billy DeBeck panel showcasing people who say and do bizarre things, and to some extent Rube Goldberg's Foolish Questions. The cartoonist, known only as 'Heck', does a perfectly creditable job on this small panel, offering up pretty consistent chuckles or at least smirks. Too bad Heck wasn't producing more for the syndicate.

I'm guessing that this Heck person is the same guy who later produced Figurin' Sam for the Boston Record. The styles aren't too far apart, and they both exhibit a very well-developed funnybone. They also both favour the byline "By Heck."

Next up we have Mike O'Kay*, sort of a bright spot on the line-up because although the art is just barely professional, at least the idea is one that hasn't already been through the wringer. Granted, setting a comedy strip in the back woods with an outdoorsman as the titular funnymaker is of questionable merit, but at least we can assume that this is something worth judging on its own two feet, not by comparing it to some much more famous feature. 

Mike O'Kay is credited to 'Roberts', and unfortunately I don't have a clue who this might be. Could it be W.O. Roberts, who did a weekly strip called The Life of Christ the next year, or Paul Roberts, who later did a local panel for the Philadelphia Record? I doubt it. Anyone have an idea?

* really, that's the name, though in my samples here the newspaper couldn't seem to get the right title with the right strip

Last but definitely not least today, we have Looney Land, a panel cartoon offering outlandish animals described in humorous poetry. This, for my money, is the best strip or panel offered in Wheeler-Nicholson's The Syndicator. The cartooning is delightful and so is the poetry -- and regular readers know how rarely I positively review comic poetry. It is not technically proficient, granted, but it is bouncy, fun and has genuinely witty wordplay.

If this panel had been produced a decade or two later, we'd be rolling our eyes and accusing cartoonist Jim Navoni of trying to channel Dr. Seuss. But of course the good Doctor hadn't yet produced anything for the world at large to see in 1926, so the accusation is baseless. Perhaps we should accuse Geisel of copying Navoni?

 Navoni was also slated to produce Charley the Chump according to the E&P listings back in June. Unfortunately that strip appears never to have seen the light of day. 

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