Thursday, September 8, 2005

Blondie Turns 75

It was seventy five years ago today that the comic strip Blondie first appeared. Its creator Chic Young was already a veteran of comic strips, having already worked on Beautiful Bab and Dumb Dora. Blondie was always beautiful and blonde, but originally she was also single (her maiden name for trivia buffs out there is Boopadoop)--the epitome of the young flappers of the era. At the time Blondie had several boyfriends.

All of that would change when the son of a railroad tycoon, Dagwood Bumstead, entered her life. By 1932 Blondie and Dagwood would fall in love. In 1933 Blondie and Dagwood married. And while Dagwood, with his love of enormous sandwiches and catnaps might not seem very romantic to women these days, he did make one of the ultimate sacrifices for Blondie. His parents disapproved of Blondie so much that they disinherited and disowned him. A son of wealth, Dagwood chose a middle class life just to be with the woman he loved.

Married life suited both Blondie and Dagwood well. The comic strip had been declining in popularity, but with Blondie and Dagwood's marriage its popularity soared. As the years passed various changes were made to the comic strip. Their son Baby Dumpling was born in 1934; eventually he would be called by his given name, Alexander. Their daughter Cookie followed later. Both grew into teenagers, although Blondie and Dagwood remained the same age. In 1991 Blondie opened her own catering business with her friend Tootsie. Of course, some things in the comic strip never changed. Although his boss, Mr. Dithers, has threatened to fire Dagwood many times, he still works for the J.C. Dithers Construction Company. Dagwood still ploughs through the mailman in his rush to get to work. Neighbour boy Alvin Fuddle still harasses Dagwood with questions. And Dagwood still loves sandwiches made from whatever is in the refrigerator at the time.

The success of Blondie allowed its characters to expand into other media. Blondie and Dagwood made their movie debut in 1938 in the feature film Blondie, which led to a series of 28 movies which lasted until 1950. Penny Singleton played Blondie, while Arthur Lake played Dagwood. There was also a radio show based on the comic strip. Curiously, Blondie never found success on televison. There have been two TV series based on the comic strip, both lasting only about half a season. On the first series Arthur Lake reprised his role as Dagwood from the movies, while Pamela Britton played Blondie. The series lasted only from January 1957 to September of that year. The second series debuted in September 1968 and starred Will Hutchingson as Dagwood and Patricia Harty as Blondie. It only lasted until January 1968. Blondie has also been featured on a United States Postal stamp and in an exhibit at the Library of Congress.

Blondiewas popular enough to even outlive its creator. Chic Young died in 1973. His son Dean Young took over the comic strip and has done it ever since. Currently Blondie is published in 2300 newspapers and 55 countries. Its worldwide readership is estimated at 250 million.

As I see it, the success of Blondie is essentially twofold. On the one hand, the Bumsteads reflect American life as we would like it to be: a stable family that gets along well with each other and face few problems that they cannot overcome (even after all these years of Mr. Dithers threatening to fire Dagwood, he still has his job...). Particularly these days, when divorce and broken homes are so common, Blondie serves as a reminder that it is possible to have a successful, stable family life. On the other hand, much of its success is also due to the relationship between Dagwood and Blondie. The two of them obviously love each other. Indeed, I rather suspect that the comic strip gives hope to men everywhere as far as the realm of romance is concerned. If a bumbling fool like Dagwood can win a girl like Blondie, why can't the rest of us?

Blondie has been around for seventy five years now. Dean Young has no plans to retire any time soon and has even expressed the thought that one of his daughters could well take over for him. It seems fully possible that Blondie could then be around for another seventy five years. With its popularity showing no sign of diminishing, it seems fully possible that it will be.

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