Monday, March 09, 2020


Obscurity of the Day: Mortimer Mum

Gag cartoonist Bill Sakren had a string of syndication series that never really went much of anywhere in the 1950s and 60s, but long before that, in 1935, was his debut on newspaper comics pages. The young Sakren jumped into the deepest end of the pool, offering a pantomime daily feature called Mortimer Mum through the George Matthew Adams Service. Writing pantomime gags is tough, and doing six of them a week is a task not to be taken on lightly.

Sakren did a creditable job with this feature about an odd little man who gets into crazy situations, but Sakren's timing was incredibly bad. Mortimer Mum debuted on April 15 1935*, which put it in competition with two pantomime juggernauts, Henry and The Little King, both of which debuted in 1934 and caught fire right out of the gate.

Mortimer Mum limped along with a small client list until September 10 1938** when Sakren threw in the towel. The syndicate immediately began selling the strip in reprints, but that didn't last too long. I've found them running into 1940.

The normally reliably Ron Goulart says in his book The Funnies that this was a Sunday-only strip, but  it was definitely a daily, and if there was a Sunday version, I haven't seen it.

* Source: Boston Evening Transcript
** Source: Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader


There were several others in the pantomime field, "Adamson's Adventures"(or "Silent Sam" if you prefer), the Swedish import, was here starting in the early 1920s, and Frank Tashlin's "Van Boring" was in place starting in 1934. In Fact, the New York Evening Post carried Mortimer Mum and Van Boring on the same page, for a while.
It's hard to keep a strictly "silent" character going. Even Henry once let out a howl of pain from a Bee sting. (1935). Sakren came to depend on another character to carry the ball, that being "Gabby", a tall, loud-suited guy with glasses, sort of a Walter Catlett type, who did lots of talking.
I wonder if Mortimer Mum was the inspiration for "Mr.Mum" of later decades.
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