Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Late Great Mort Walker

Mort Walker and the statue of Beetle Bailey on the campus of
Mizzou in a a photo from the fall 2001 issue of Mizzou
Alumni Magazine.
Mort Walker, the creator of the comic strips Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois, died today at the age of 94. The cause was pneumonia. In all he worked on Beetle Bailey for 68 years, the longest stint of any American cartoonist.

Mort Walker was born on September 3 1923 in El Dorado, Kansas. The family lived in Texas and Oklahoma before finally settling in Kansas City, Missouri. His mother, Carolyn Walker, was an illustrator for The Kansas City Star.  As a child Mr. Walker would go with his parents to the newspaper where he became friends with many of the cartoonists there. He had decided to be a cartoonist when he was only three years old.

By the time Mort Walker was twelve he was already contributing cartoons to such publications as Child Life, Flying Aces, and Inside Detective. When he was 15 he had his own comic strip in The Kansas City Star. When he was 18 he became chief editorial designer for Hall Brothers (now known as Hallmark Cards). It was in 1942 that he was drafted into the United States Army. During the war he was in charge of a POW Camp of 10,000 Germans in Italy.

Following the war Mort Walker enrolled at the University of Missouri. There he was an editor and contributor of the student publication ShowMe, whose staff met at the local hangout and hamburger joint known as The Shack. He also worked on the university's yearbook, The Savitar. He graduated in 1948.

After graduation Mr.Walker moved to New York City to pursue a career as a cartoonist. It was in the late Forties that he began doing a single panel cartoon called Spider for The Saturday Evening Post. Spider centred on its title character, a lazy college student, and drew upon Mort Walker's experiences at Mizzou. Spider evolved into the syndicated newspaper strip Beetle Bailey, which made its debut on September 4 1950. Originally a campus humour comic strip, after six months it was doing so poorly that King Features Syndicate considered cancelling it. It was not long after the start of the Korean War that King Features Syndicate suggested that Beetle join the Army. It was then on March 13 1951 that Beetle Bailey enlisted in the U.S. Army. Nearly the entire cast of the comic strip changed except for Beetle himself (although the college days of Beetle Bailey had also included an intellectual named Plato).  The change in the strip's focus saved it, and it was soon one of the most popular comic strips of the time.

Mort Walker was not content simply working on Beetle Bailey. He also created the domestic comic strip Hi and Lois, which was illustrated by Dik Browne. It made its debut on October 18 1954. Hi and Lois would also prove to be a success and continues to this day. Mort Walker would also create or co-create several other comic strips, although none of them would see the success of Beetle Bailey or Hi and Lois. These comic strips included Mrs. Fitz's Flats (with Frank Roberge in 1957),  Sam's Strip (with Jerry Dumas in 1961), Boner's Ark (1968), Sam & Silo (a revival of Sam's Strip from 1977), and Gamin and Patches (from 1987).

In addition to the various collections of Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois strips, Mort Walker also wrote the book The Lexicon of Comicana (1980). He wrote his autobiography, Mort Walker's Scrapbook: Celebrating a Life of Love and Laughter, as well. Between 2006 and 2010 he published the magazine The Best of Times, which was free throughout the state of Connecticut and also made available online. It featured editorial cartoons, comics, puzzles, and a variety of articles and columns.

It was in 1974 that Mort Walker founded the National Cartoon Museum. Initially located in Stamford, Connecticut, it later relocated to Greenwich, Connecticut, then Port Chester, New York, and then finally Boca Raton, Florida. It was dissolved in 2002.

There can be no doubt that Mort Walker was one of the most successful cartoonists of all time. Beetle Bailey, Hi and Lois, and Sam and Silo remain in print to this day. What is more, Beetle Bailey proved to be something of a phenomenon. In 1963 King Features Syndicate produced a series of 50 six minute cartoons for television based on the comic strip. Beetle was voiced by the legendary Howard Morris and Sgt. Snorkel by Allan Melvin. Since 1953 several Beetle Bailey comic books have been published by such companies as Dell Comics, Gold Key Comics, King Comics, Charlton Comics, and Harvey Comics. In 1989 a TV special was produced for CBS. While it never aired, it has been released on DVD. That Mr. Walker would see success with yet other comic strips makes him all the more remarkable.

Of course, as a Mizzou alumnus Mort Walker was particularly beloved here. In 2000, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Beetle Bailey, he was honoured with an exhibition by the University of Missouri in the grand concourse of Ellis Library. Displayed were original strips, published reprints, and poster sized prints of selected strips. Earlier, on October 23 1992, a life-sized bronze statue of Beetle Bailey was erected at Mizzou. It is currently located near the entrance of the Reynolds Alumni Building. Those who met Mr. Walker always spoke of his good humour and his kindness. He was well known for making special drawings for people, particularly those who were seriously ill.

Even before I knew of Mort Walker's connection to mid-Missouri, Beetle Bailey was always one of my favourite comic strips as a child. It was genuinely funny and blatantly escapist. Indeed, much of the appeal of Beetle Bailey was in that Beetle could get away with so much. Often caught napping or otherwise slacking, in real life Beetle probably would been booted out of the Army on a dishonourable discharge. Instead, Beetle remains in the Army, doing as little as possible and apparently enjoying every minute of it. Of course, Beetle Bailey was not Mr. Walker's only creation. He also created Hi and Lois, which also held a great deal of appeal. Quite simply, it centres on a family who truly loves each other. While it was not successful, Sam's Strip was a pioneer when it came to metahumour. Quite simply, the characters knew they were in a comic strip. Mort Walker was a very talented cartoonist and a genuinely nice man. It is perhaps fortunate that we had him for as long as we did.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A Reminder for the 4th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon

This is just a reminder that the 4th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon is around two months from now, from March 23 to March 25. .For those unfamiliar with the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon, it is a blogathon in which bloggers write entries about their favourite episodes of their favourite classic television shows. If you want to participate, just leave me a comment on the original post announcing this year's blogathon!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Godspeed Dorothy Malone

Dorothy Malone, who played the Acme Book Shop owner in The Big Sleep (1946), Marylee Hadley in Written on the Wind (1956), and Constance Mackenzie on the TV show Peyton Place, died on January 19 2018 at the age of 93.

Dorothy Malone was born Dorothy Maloney on January 30 1924 in Chicago. The family moved to Dallas, Texas when she was only around three years old. She attended Southern Methodist University where, in 1942, she was seen in a school play by an RKO talent scout. She signed with RKO, who used her primarily in minor roles in such films as Gildersleeve on Broadway (1943), The Falcon and the Co-eds (1943), Higher and Higher (1943), Seven Days Ashore (1944), and Youth Runs Wild (1944). After leaving RKO she played a small part in the Boston Blackie film One Mysterious Night (1944).

Dorothy Malone then signed with Warner Bros., who changed her surname from "Maloney" to "Malone". Warner Bros. also utilised her much better than RKO had. She had a brief, if highly visible role as the owner of the Acme Book Shop in The Big Sleep. With Two Guys from Texas (1948) she played the female lead in a film for the first time. At Warner Bros. she also appeared in such films as Night and Day (1946), To the Victor (1948), One Sunday Afternoon (1948), South of St. Louis (1949), and Colorado Territory (1949). After Colorado Territory Miss Malone left Warner Bros. and went freelance. She finished the Forties appearing in such films as The Nevadan (1950), Convicted (1950), and The Killer That Stalked New York (1950).

In the Fifties Dorothy Malone appeared in the Martin and Lewis films Scared Stiff (1953) and Artists and Models (1955). In the early part of the decade she appeared in such movies as The Bushwhackers (1951), Torpedo Alley (1952), Jack Slade (1953), The Lone Gun (1954), Private Hell 36 (1954), The Fast and the Furious (1955), and Tension at Table Rock (1956). After years of playing wives and sweethearts, in the mid-Fifties Miss Malone dyed her hair blonde and sought to change her image. She was cast as the alcoholic and nymphomaniac Marylee Hadley in Written in the Wind for which she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She finished out the decade appearing in such films as Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), The Tarnished Angels (1957),  Warlock (1959), and The Last Voyage (1960). Miss Malone made her television debut in an episode of The Philco Television Playhouse in 1951. In the Fifties she guest starred on such shows as Kraft Television Theatre, Omnibus, Four Star Playhouse, Lux Video Theatre, The Loretta Young Show, Cimarron City, and Alcoa Theatre.

In the Sixties Dorothy Malone played book store owner Constance Mackenzie on the night time soap opera Peyton Place. She guest starred on such shows as Route 66, Death Valley Days, The Dick Powell Show, Dr. Kildare, and The Untouchables. She appeared in the films The Last Sunset (1961), Beach Party (1963), and Fate is the Hunter (1964).

In the Seventies Miss Malone guest starred on such TV shows as The Bold Ones: The New Doctors, Ellery Queen, Police Woman, The Streets of San Francisco, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, Flying High, Vega$, Condominium, and The Littlest Hobo. She appeared in the mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man and the television reunion movie Murder in Peyton Place. She appeared in the films The Man Who Would Not Die (1975), Abduction (1975), Golden Rendezvous (1977), Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff (1979), Winter Kills (1979), and The Day Time Ended (1979).

In the Eighties Dorothy Malone guest starred on the TV show Matt Houston and appeared in the television reunion movie Peyton Place: The Next Generation. She appeared in the films The Being (1983) and Descanse en piezas (1987). She made her last appearance on screen in Basic Instinct in 1992.

Dorothy Malone was, quite simply, an incredible actress. She played what was easily the sexiest character in The Big Sleep, no small achievement given Lauren Bacall and Martha Vickers were also in the film. What made the Acme Book Shop owner so sexy wasn't the way she looked (although Dorothy Malone was certainly beautiful), but the way she spoke, the way she moved, and the way she behaved. Quite simply, Dorothy Malone endowed the character with a good deal of sex appeal in only a brief time on screen. Of course, this was nothing unusual for Dorothy Malone. She had a talent for fully realising characters, even if she was only given a few minutes on screen. In the two-part Route 66 episode "Fly Away Home" she played a nightclub singer who was still in love with her ex-husband. In Artists and Models she played level-headed comic book artist Abigail Parker. In Tip on a Dead Jockey she played a woman whose husband becomes involved in some very shady business. Miss Malone also played historical characters during her career, including Lon Chaney's wife Cleva Creighton Chaney in Man of a Thousand Faces and actress Diana Barrymore in Too Much Too Soon. Dorothy Malone was exceeding talented, and could play a wide array of roles, from the wives and sweethearts of her early years to the more complex characters of her later years.