Thursday, May 28, 2020
Obscurity of the Day: Phyllis and Fang
Phyllis Diller, one of the first female stand-up comedians, was near the top of her career in 1968 when she teamed up with the Register & Tribune Syndicate to offer a daily comic strip featuring her self-deprecating humor. If you are over 50 and had a TV growing up, you certainly remember her fright wig, loud dresses, cigarette holder, and cackling one-liners on the variety programs and celebrity game shows, in which a favorite subject was her lazy, boozing, good-for-nothing husband "Fang".
Her comedy, some of which was written for her by cartoonist ghost-writer Mary McBride, was full of one-liners, making it seem like a natural for comic strips. However, the constant references to alcohol and other quasi-adult topics probably made newspaper editors a little nervous. They also might not have seen the appeal of the artwork supplied by Marvin Myers. Myers' style was definitely avant-garde compared to the normal comics page fare, and it did take some getting used to. It certainly didn't help that due to some odd production problem the strip was often full of type lice, which make Myers' noodly lines look like an unholy mess (the samples above have had the problem corrected).
Phyllis and Fang debuted on January 29 1968 in very few papers, and it only took four months for the syndicate and creators to give up on the strip. In the Des Moines Tribune itself, home paper of the syndicate, which may be the only paper that ran the series from beginning to end, the strip ended on June 1 1968.
In case you are too young to remember Ms. Diller's striking stage presence, here's a little taste:
Phyllis was funny, at least at first. I think she was oversold,until any novelty she had was drained out. Same thing happened to Steve Martin. Maybe you or some readers will recall her sitcom, "The Pruitts of Southampton"? They put her into something that erased her wacky, witchy persona and cast her as a member of a poor but lovable family of grifters that bluffed their many creditors while living in their mansion (the Biltmore Estate in N.C.!), sort of like "The Rogues". I know, few remember that show either, but suffice to say, it stunk, and gave Phyllis's career a blow.
I remember this strip, it ran in the Philadelphia EVENING BULLETIN. I liked it, although I was a child at the time. I'll guess that the strip was a failure not from the gags, but because it just looks so terrible. If I'm any judge of potential client editors, I would think Miss MacBride's amatuerish scrawl style was a quick turn-off.
If I recall it right, one day the Bulletin dropped it and offered an excuse like, "Phyllis and Fang are on hiatus while Miss Diller is on tour" or some such nonsense.
The worst problem seemed to be that sometimes, when we issued everything on slick clay stock, they would be improperly stacked, before the ink dried. Then they would stick together and prove from hard to impossible to fix. These would be of course, replaced by us, but if the deadline for the client was too close, they might use a messed up strip anyway. I imagine all the other syndicates had problems now and then, too.
Probably the whole process bypasses printed proofs now, computer generated ones go directly to the client paper.