Monday, March 15, 2021
Obscurity of the Day: Don Key O.T.
J. P. Arnot's classic pantomime strip The General (check out part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 of a Stripper's Guide series on the strip), which starred, of all things, a statue, is a tour de force and a favorite of mine. Unfortunately when Arnot returned to the concept later, this time upping the ante by offering three characters (Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, and of course, the horse) the concept fell on its face.
Why? Perhaps in the intervening years Arnot's imagination had lost its fertility, or maybe the chump change he got for producing it made him unwilling to put the effort in, or perhaps his boss forced him to resurrect the strip and his heart was simply no longer in it. Whatever the reason, as you can see from the strips above, they barely even offer anything you can call a gag.
This was Arnot's last syndicated strip, coming after a hugely productive decade and a half in which he was often producing two daily strips in tandem. He'd been in the Hearst bullpen since 1916, and after the last of his strips got the can in 1928, he was lured off the reservation by Moses Koenigsberg.
Koenigsburg, as we know from his autobiography that ran here on Stripper's Guide, was Hearst's top syndicate man until the two had a falling out. Thrown out on his ear, Koenigsberg decided to show Hearst that his golden touch didn't depend on a connection to the newspaper kingpin. Koenigsberg created a new syndicate, Kay Features, and got together a small stable of features including Arnot's Don Key O.T. (others included Cuddles by Charles Forbell and the anonymously penned Dinah Says).
The new syndicate certainly didn't make much of a splash. Doubtless some papers passed on Koenigsberg's wares out of a fear of Hearst retribution, but frankly the quality of some features, like Arnot's, just wasn't up to snuff. Worse for the creators was that Koenigsberg lost interest in the syndicate basically as soon as he got it rolling -- he was at the same time formulating a plan to create a chain of one hundred papers with the owner of the Denver Post, a plan that went nowhere, but took up all his energy. Kay Features, meanwhile, withered on the vine.
Although Don Key O.T., along with most of the Kay Features stuff, was advertised in E&P from 1929 to 1933, I am now 99.9% certain that nothing was produced for Kay past a one year contract, and most if not all for less than that. It seems as if the reason the material was continually advertised is that Kay was soliciting the material to other hole-in-the-wall syndicates to rerun, which did happen in a limited way.
Don Key O.T., as disappointing as it was, seems to have been Kay's longest running feature. Though it was advertised to start in January 1929, the earliest it is found starting is February 4 1929*. The last paper I can find to print it in its original run is Harrisburg Evening News, which cancelled it on December 28 1929.
* New York Sun, indexed by Jeffrey Lindenblatt