Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Obscurity of the Day: Little Nell

Above is the first disjointed week of Little Nell, the story of a small-town girl who goes to the big city to seek her fortune. Gene Carr produced this short-running strip for United Feature Syndicate from December 12 1927 to April 14 1928. In Carr's long career he made only this one attempt to do a serious continuity strip, and showed that there was no good reason to try a second.

The first week gives the impression of about six weeks of continuity edited with a rusty chainsaw down to one. The most interesting aspect of this first week is the impression that our heroine just might have an unusual ambition -- to become a psychoanalyst. No such luck though. Once Nell makes it to the big city it is revealed that she want to be -- what else? -- a stage star.

In the ensuing four months Nell never goes on an audition, never gives any impression of having talent of any sort, seemingly no ambition whatsoever. What she excels at is weeping continually and uncontrollably.

She gets a room in a boarding-house and bawls at the landlady, makes friends and sobs all over them, finds an agent to cry at, whimpers at a sugar-daddy, howls at Lotharios, and snivels as the landlady throws her out for not being able to make rent.

In the final week of the strip she takes a train back to her hometown (conductor soaked), goes back to ma and pa (drenched) and introduces us to her gal-pal Mary Ann Gay (doused). Nell blubbers to us readers that this girl, who hopefully isn't quite so prone to water-works, is on her way to the big city to work at a newspaper. The next week the new Mary Ann Gay strip begins, now penned by Lou Skuce.


What an odd mess. There was almost the germ of an idea there at first...trouble is, I can't figure out whether we were to side with Nell, the "new woman" who wants to make a difference, or her old man who thinks it's all bunk. And I still can't figure out what the deal she made with Stilwell is all about. Awful, but interesting.

Was the Mary Ann Gay strip any better?
Hi Smurf --
Only read the first few days of Mary Ann Gay; it was even more text-heavy than Little Nell (which is going some) and looked to be headed toward the same sort of scenario. Maybe someday after I've had time to forget the agony of reading this series!

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