Saturday, March 17, 2018


Herriman Saturday

June 27 1909 -- The University Club holds its annual "High Jinks", an orgy of eating, beer drinking, and wacky performances. This year's edition is held in Arroyo Seco, now a nature preserve, about halfway between L.A. and San Francisco.


This is great art!
Unless there's another Arroyo Seco I haven't heard about, this one is on the west side of Pasadena, just east of Los Angeles.
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Friday, March 16, 2018


Wish You Were Here, from a William F. Marriner Wannabe

Here's a postcard drawn by either William F. Marriner or one of his innumerable copiers. My money is against Marriner himself, because the lines are not wispy enough to be his work. Once you eliminate Marriner you're left with a whole laundry-list of his wannabes. Anyone care to offer an opinion about which this might be?

This divided-back card mentions  no maker, and says this is part of a series called "Topical Comics". Hmm. Not sure what the topic is here, really. A very faint postmark may be indicating the card was used in 1910.


Hmmmm... wonder if it's Pat Sullivan?
It's not Sullivan, the linework is really too ametuerish for any real artist, and the lettering is pretty crude too. Look at the sloppy mailbox. If it weren't cut off by the edge of the card, the inline panel and the outside line couldn't meet logically. Any pro would not be so careless. In those days Marriner's style was something of a standard, everyone had an instant recognition for an "urchin", if you will, by a Marrineresque character.
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Thursday, March 15, 2018


Should 'Book Thursday' Continue? Your Opinions and Ideas Please

Hello, cartoon lovers. Thursdays here at Stripper's Guide have been featuring digitized old and rare books for quite awhile now. With the end of Moses Koenigsberg's King News last week, it is time to peruse my library trying to figure out what -- if anything -- should be the next featured book. I see a few possibilities, but I'd much rather hear what you want to see.

Considering the less than overwhelming outpouring of comments on previous books, I get the feeling that I may be putting a lot of work into this for an audience that is more in my own mind than out there in reality. So I put it to you folks: is Book Thursday something you'd like to see continue? If so, tell me what books you'd like to see run here. Keep in  mind that any book I digitize for presentation must be in the public domain and must be primarily text, not images, since image-heavy books add too many hours to the already surprisingly laborious task of digitization, reformatting, proofreading and posting. And, of course, it should offer an interesting and informative look at the history of cartooning, newspapers, or syndication.

Hi Allan
I have enjoyed both the books you have included. I felt the Moses Koenigsberg could be a bit heavy in places but it was a good chance to get to read a book I had always heard about.I have no suggestions as to a follow up, but have enjoyed the chapter a week format you have used.
Enjoyed Watson's History of Syndicates much more than the recent King News Of course I have long wanted to read the Watson book. Also, though I have many books about newspapers I come here for comics. And the length of King News (versus the Watson 96 page? booklet) may also have been a factor.

My suggestion would be to give us smaller doses.
Like the "Our Comic Artists" chapter out of Our American Humorists.
The A. B. Maurice piece from American Wit and Humor - and anything else by Maurice.
Of course articles from Fourth Estate, Literary Digest, and other periodicals published 100+ years ago.

And maybe in between that, give us some Bill Nye and other humorists of the 19th Century along with the Opper, Zimmerman, etc illustrations.
Didn't George Seldes champion Krazy Kat in a book? Love to read that.
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Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Mel Tapley


Melvin Stanton “Mel” Tapley was born in Peekskill, New York on May 29, 1918, according to his Social Security application which was transcribed at Tapley’s parents were Harry Tapley and Louise James.

In the 1920 U.S. Federal Census and 1925 New York state census, the Tapley family of three lived in Cortlandt, New York at 1105 Park Street. Tapley’s father was a chauffeur.

Tapley’s childhood activities were well documented in the local newspaper, Peekskill Evening Star. Tapley attended the elementary Oakside School. The April 21, 1926 Evening Star reported the outstanding pupils in March and said Tapley ranked seventh in his third grade class. Three weeks later the Evening Star said Tapley was one of 400 children participating in the Marble Championship Contest. Tapley’s musical talent, as a piano soloist, was heard at his school’s Assembly Hall on June 2, 1926. Tapley was fourth in his class during the months of May and June, according to the Evening Star. Tapley had perfect attendance in the months of September and October 1926.

At a recital by Miss Adelaide Craft’s School students, Tapley and another student were awarded gold medals, as reported by the Evening Star, June 22, 1927.

One of Tapley’s friends visited for two weeks.

At the Oakside School Arbor Day program, Tapley played a piano solo, according to the Evening Star, April 19, 1928.

On May 2, 1929, the Evening Star listed the members, including Tapley, of the “Just Kids Safety Club”.

Tapley’s address was unchanged in the 1930 census.

The Evening Star, February 26, 1930, said Tapley was one of the seventh grade representatives in the spelling contest.

Ninth-grader Tapley was on the honor roll according to the Evening Star, February 12, 1932. Two months later, Tapley was a member of the National Junior Honor Society.

The April 29, 1932 Evening Star said scores of students created posters for Love Pirates of Hawaii, a two-act opera produced by the junior high school. Tapley’s poster was displayed at the Cattuti Floral Shop.

The Evening Star, June 28, 1932, reported the Junior High graduation and Tapley received a diploma.

The Evening Star included a page, The High School Tattler, produced by the Peekskill High School journalism students. In the September 27, 1933 issue was an article about the change in the school’s newspaper, Keyhole, from a daily paper to a bi-monthly magazine. Tapley was one of three students responsible for contributing art.

Tapley was in the Boy Scouts. The Evening Star, June 23, 1934, said Tapley, who was in Troop 21, received an award.

Tapley was one of eleven students initiated into the National Honor Society according the Evening Star, June 14, 1935. Eleven days later, the newspaper listed the Class of 1935 graduates which included Tapley. He was also a member of the Quill and Scroll Society, an honor society for journalists.

Tapley continued his education at Cooper Union as noted in the Evening Star, October 18, 1935, “Melvin Tapley, son of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Tapley of 831 John Street, is taking a four-year course in Commercial Arts at Cooper Union, New York City. Melvin graduated from the Peekskill High School last June.”

The Evening Star, March 14, 1936, said Boy Scouts Troop 21 held a banquet celebrating its eighth anniversary. Tapley was a participant in the signaling demonstration, “Scout John Jackson directed a demonstration of sending and receiving the semaphore code. Melvin Tapley sent the message, ‘You will be welcome at the Scout rally on March 25 at the Peekskill High School gym.’ It was received with but one minor error, by Charles Bolden.’”

The New York Age, May 16, 1936, published the results of the annual Elks Oratorical Contest and said “Second prize was awarded to Melvin Tapley of Peekskill whose subject was ‘Booker T. Washington and the Constitution.’”

The Evening Star, December 22, 1936, said Tapley received a cooking award at the Boy Scouts rally in his district.

The Peekskill Junior League, a black social service group, held a dance to raise money for the March of Dimes. The Evening Star, January 30, 1939, noted that Tapley was the president of the league.

The Evening Star, April 6, 1939, said Tapley won a scholarship, valued at approximately $2,500, from the Art Students League of New York. His and other winners’ work were scheduled for an exhibition later in the month. The article added that Tapley was finishing his art course at Cooper Union and “anticipates completion of night courses in psychology and English at New York University next September.”

Tapley’s graduation from Cooper Union was reported in the Evening Star, June 8, 1939. He was awarded a degree in graphic design.

1939 Cable, Cooper Union Yearbook
Melvin Tapley is a joy and a woe to all who know him, because Mel is a connoisseur of that animal known as a “pun.” Shuttling back and forth every day from Peekskill, he is usually the first one in school in the morning—and the first to leave in the evening! Aside from being an unusually talented artist, Mel has a vey handsome “baritony” and tickles the ivories tunefully.
The Class of 1939 included designers Herb Lubalin and Lou Dorfsman. Pictured in the 1939 yearbook were Jeanyee Wong (Class of 1941) and Roy Krenkel, a freshman or sophomore.

In the 1940 census, Tapley lived with his parents and brother in Peekskill at 8 Charles Street.

American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Tapley created four strips in the early 1940s. In 1942 The Brown Family was an advertising strip for Brown Bomber Bread. Tapley’s Spoffin’ was syndicated by the New York Amsterdam News. For Continental Features, Tapley  produced Breezy and Jim Steele in 1943. 

Judge Joseph M. Fox’s book, The Story of Early Peekskill, was published in 1947, and featured drawings by Tapley.

The Catalogue of Copyright Entries, Third Series, Volume 3, Part 1B, Number 1, Pamphlets, Serials and Contributions to Periodicals, January-June 1949 had this entry on page 308:

Breezy, by Tap Melvin [pseud.] [Comic strip] (In Afro-American, Baltimore, Mar. 6, 1948, p. M-14) © 3Mar48; B5-8452.
Pioneering Cartoonists of Color (2016) said he also used the pseudonyms T. Melvin and Stann Pat. Under the name of Stann Pat he created Do's and Don'ts and Your Public Conduct.

A passenger list, at, recorded Tapley’s return from the Bahamas on June 2, 1962.

The Herald Statesman (Yonkers, New York), October 11, 1966, said Tapley one of eight fellows named the Intergroup Relations Project of the School of General Studies at Columbia University. The eight fellows are being trained to fill positions improving the relationships among racial and ethnic groups in America….They will spend a year at Columbia taking liberal arts courses, mainly in the School of General Studies; a required course in intergroup relations at the School of Social Work; and participate in a special seminar in intergroup theory. Next summer, they will work in the field under supervision arranged by the School of Social Work. They will then take permanent positions with agencies specializing in intergroup relations.
Peeksill’s African American History: A Hudson Valley Community's Untold Story (2008) said
Melvin S. Tapley (PHS [Peekskill High School] Class of 1935) distinguished himself as an accomplished editor, artist and pioneer cartoonist as arts and entertainment editor of the Amsterdam News in New York City until his retirement in 1997. Mr. Tapley was president of the local NAACP chapter for eleven years until he resigned in 1968.
Tapley passed away on February 8, 2005. The Journal News (White Plains, New York) published an obituary on February 11. 
Melvin S. Tapley, of Peekskill, N.Y., died Tuesday, February 8, 2005 at Westchester Medical Center, Valhalla, N.Y. after a long illness. He is survived by his devoted daughter, Allison Tapley-Thompson, dear granddaughter, Imani Thompson, brother Dr. Harold L. Tapley, nieces, nephews and a host of other relatives and friends. Viewing Services will be Friday, February 11, 2005, 11 am to 1 pm and 2 pm to 4 pm at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, 11 Rev. G. Franklin Wiggins Plaza, Peekskill, N.Y., where family will receive friends and where Funeral Services will be held Saturday, February 12, 2005 at 9:30 am. Interment, Hillside Cemetery, Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.

—Alex Jay


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Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Clarence Rigby

Fourth Estate 10/10/1908

Clarence S. Rigby was born in November around 1865 in Youngstown, Ohio. Rigby’s birth month was recorded in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census; Rigby’s birth year is based in part on census records and his age on the death certificate. The birthplace is based on the fact that Rigby’s mother, Emma, was a Youngstown native and resident in the 1870 census.

In the 1870 census, Rigby was the oldest of three sons born to George, a plasterer, and Emma. According to the 1880 census, the Rigby family added a son and daughter and resided on North Rayen Avenue in Youngstown.

Rigby’s father passed away September 11, 1886.

Information regarding Rigby’s art training has not been found. American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Rigby created or worked on at least 24 series including Alexander, Book-Taught Bilkins, Bruno and Pietro, Dummydom, The Foxy MiceLittle Ah Sid the Chinese Kid, and The Trials of a Little Mother. Rigby was also involved in animation with J.R. Bray.

Artist Rigby lived in Brooklyn, New York, and was married to Caroline as recorded in the 1900 census. Rigby’s brother, Joseph, also an artist, lived him them at 495 East 8 Street. Joseph would go on to work for the Pittsburgh Press.

Morning Telegram, August 16, 1901, reported the upcoming baseball game between artists and actors. The purpose was to raise money to endow a hospital bed for artists and actors. The Telegram said, in part,

Homer Davenport, big, broad shouldered and clumsy looking; Swinnerton, in a Guernsey which never has felt the despoiling touch of laundress; Outcault, who can draw pictures of “pore ’lil Mose” with his eyes shut; T. Powers, with a clean shave and a vast consciousness of the change in his appearance; Shultz, the “Foxy Grandpa” artist; Kemble, McCarthy, Louis Dalrymple, Pughe, C. Mortimer, F. Gilbert Edge, Grant Hamilton, Harry Dart, H. F. Colthaus, Joseph Lemon, Clarence Rigby, Bert Cobb, C. G. Bush, Thomas Nast, Archie Gunn, Bob Edgren and Abram Stone were present, representing the artists. De Wolf Hopper, Burr Mcintosh, Digby Bell, Francis Wilson, Joseph Weber, Lew Fields, Dave Warfleld, Willie Collier, Dan Daly, Peter F. Dailey, James K. Hackett, James Powers, Andrew Mack, Gus and Max Rogers, Edward Foy, Charles J. Ross, Frank Daniels, Harry Bulger, Robert Graham and Daniel McAvoy were in attendance looking after the actors’ side of the arrangements.

…It was decided that Homer Davenport should play second base; Swinnerton, shortstop; Powers, first base; McCarthy, third base, and Bert Cobb, right field, and that Abram Stone should manage the game.
Rigby and his wife resided at 169 Prospect Park West in Brooklyn. The 1905 New York State census said Rigby was a newspaper artist.

The 1910 census said the comic artist Rigby owned a home on Nassau Avenue in Hempstead, New York.

In 1920, Rigby and his wife were back in Brooklyn at 1092 Dean Street. Eight people lodged with the couple.

At some point Rigby moved to Seattle, Washington. At age 60, Rigby passed away May 24, 1926, in Seattle, according to his death certificate which was transcribed at

—Alex Jay


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Monday, March 12, 2018


Obscurity of the Day: The Foxy Mice

Clarence Rigby, who worked for quite a few syndicates in the 1900s, took a stopover at the McClure camp twice; once in 1901 where he was present at the inauguration of the new syndicated Sunday section, and then a second stint in 1903 to early 1904. In that second stint he produced Trials of a Little Mother and today's obscurity, The Foxy Mice.

Rigby shows a real gift for drawing cartoon animals in this strip, which sports some of the nicest art I've seen by him. Since Rigby took approximately 3.7 seconds to come up with the gags in this strip about mice taking revenge on their nemesis, I guess that left him lots of extra time to do an extra nice job on the art.

I am left with one question, though. Is a "lobster cat" a thing? It was used as a slur against the cat in both of these strips. Slang dictionary comes up dry, and a search for the term in 1900-1910 newspapers comes up with nary a hit. If Rigby made up his own bit of slanguage here, I wonder what he meant by it. That the cat had big claws?

The Foxy Mice ran in McClure sections from August 23 1903 to July 24 1904; the later ones were run well after Rigby had defected over to World Color Printing. Thanks to Cole Johnson for the sample scans.


The ultimate slang authority is Jonathon Green, who gives (here): "lobster n.¹ ... 2.(a) [mid-19C+] (US) a slow-witted, awkward or gullible person; a general term of abuse; esp. of a socially inept or foolish person."
Sure- "Lobster" is very often seen as a popular epithet in circa 1900 comics and stories. It sort of faded awy fast, you don't see it anymore by the 1920s.
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San Francisco Call, aug 2, 1911

According to the latest edition of Webster's dictionary, one meaning of "lobster" is "a gullible, awkward, bungling, or undesirable fellow." This meaning is supposed by most persons to be a modern development olf slang. However, "lobster*? was a favorite term of abuse among Englishmen of Queen Elizabeth's day. Some students think it c probably was applied first to men< with red faces. As signifying a soldier the term "lobster" is as old as Cromwell's day. Lord Clarendon, historian of the civil war in England, explains that it^was applied to the roundhead cuirassiers "because of the bright iron shells with which th/iy were covered." Afterwards British soldiers in their red uniforms were called "lobsters." Then came another development. The soldier in the red coat became a "boiled lobster," while the policeman" in blue was, of course, an "unboiled" or "raw lobster." Again, "to boil a lobster" was for a man to enlist in the army and put on a red coat.
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Saturday, March 10, 2018


Herriman Saturday

June 25 1909 -- Herriman gives the "Guess Who" spotlight to the manager of the Vernon ball club, W.L. "Happy" Hogan.


Is there anything you can do about all the Sharon Sim comments, I hope? They truly are annoying.

Also, it would be quite helpful if there were someplace on your site where there was an errata for American Newspaper Comics. I know you've mentioned several over the years, but it would be great if they were all collected together at one easy to find spot.

And speaking of that Spence Easley began on Feb 27 1939 in the Boston Globe earlier than the Apr 10 date you list. The first strip is titled, "Introducing the Family." The second has an internal date of 2-28. I've sent you copies by email.
I'm deleting the spam as quick as I can, but this latest barrage was a whopper.

Thanks for the Spence Easley start date, which I discussed a little more with you privately.

As for errata, you're probably right that I should highlight somehow when I'm giving new or better info on the blog, but given that I don't have the energy to go back and highlight seven years worth of old posts, that ship has sailed.

When the second edition of the book is published (in some form -- maybe online?) rest assured that I will definitely figure out some method by which to make errata easily found.

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Friday, March 09, 2018


Wish You Were Here, from Kin Hubbard

Here's another Abe Martin card from the International Postcard Company series. Poor Abe, he lived before the day when 'country vittles' became available in every city and at every highway exit -- Bob Evans and Cracker Barrel are just a-waitin' to plug your arteries with chicken-fried steak smothered in gravy, with a side of (I am not making this up) candied bacon.


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Thursday, March 08, 2018


King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 19 Part 2

 King News by Moses Koenigsberg

Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941

Chapter 19

The Freedom that has Passed (part 2)

link to previous installment

Closing the door of the Hearst organization behind me opened the way to the most attractive prospect of my career. It concluded in a spectacular episode of big business, suggesting less the dream of a group of financiers than the imagination of a dramatist. The project was a merger of newspapers more extensive than any chain in existence. It was devised by Eugene Greenhut, who put together the $70,000,000 consolidation of Hahn Department Stores, Inc. The presidency of the amalgamated newspaper corporations was offered to me.

Greenhut evolved a method that removed my objection to chain operation of daily publications. He worked out a system by means of which each unit maintained local autonomy in matters involving the relationship between the publisher and the reader. The effect was to pool the various ownerships and thus stabilize the value of their securities, at the same time assuring central direction of all measures deriving advantage from consolidated effort.

Several months were devoted to preliminary organization. In the summer of 1929 we had assembled a tentative list of sixty-six dailies for admission into our nationwide family. From this roster thirty-five were selected as initial members. At that juncture news of our plans reached print. First publication was made by the Boston American on June 12, 1929, under a headline filling the greater part of the upper half of the first page and reading: $100,000,000 Newspaper Merger to Cover Country.” The story broke in Boston because of the disclosure of a letter written by Whitcomb & Company, who had been entrusted with the task of acquiring New England newspapers. The Boston American’s narrative included a passage from the Whitcomb & Company communication, with this excessively flattering passage: "The presidency of the corporation has been offered to a man whose work in newspaper circles in the past ten years has never been equaled.”
June 16 1929

The largest property that we decided to take over was the Denver Post. Its value was fixed at $15,200,000. A program was arranged for the execution of formal options in New York at the rate of one newspaper a day. The conclusion of this phase of the elaborate transaction would consume approximately six weeks. No publisher showed more enthusiasm for the deal than Frank P. Glass, owner of the Montgomery Advertiser. We had been friends for more than a quarter of a century. He told me he intended to use the cash that would be paid to him for the purchase of a splendid country estate which he had selected to present to his wife.

Glass was telling me about this while W. R. Weiler, president of the Allentown Call Company, with his treasurer and business manager, P. W. Leisenring, were preparing to sign the contract for the sale of their newspaper. They were in the office of Root, Clark, Buckner & Ballantine. That was the law firm founded by Elihu Root. With Weiler and Leisenring was Frank Hambleton, head of a Baltimore investment firm.

Hambleton was acting for the banking houses with which he was associated in financing the enterprise. He had picked up a pen to affix his signature. At that moment a member of the law firm entered the room in great excitement. There was a long distance call for Mr. Hambleton from Baltimore. It was so urgent that all other business must be interrupted. Hambleton withdrew to answer the telephone. He never returned. That was the black Wednesday in October, 1929, on which American securities were engulfed in a veritable cataclysm. Some time later Hambleton’s name was added to the list of suicides caused by that debacle.

By one of those psychologic freaks that contribute to the infinite variety of life, the dimensions of my disappointment were obscured by a picture in which comedy vied with pathos. It was painted by the mingled rage and chagrin of Frank P. Glass. Thirty years before he had been my employer. He was old enough to be my grandfather. He held a similar seniority to the wife whom he had taken to bosom a year or two before. Collapse of our undertaking blasted his promise to her of the handsome villa upon which their hearts had been set. He placed all the blame on me. He had been trapped by reliance on our long friendship. The blow to his pride blinded him to the vastness of the misfortune that had befallen all of his fellows in the project.

Out of the wreckage came a series of incidents pungently described by Gene Fowler in his entertaining volume, Timber Line. Gene began his climb to the lettered heights as a reporter in Denver. Later, he brightened the galaxy of King Features Syndicate stars. So there was first-hand coloring in his story of my negotiation with Frederick G. Bonfils for the purchase of the Denver Post, in the course of which it became necessary for me to act as general manager of that extraordinary newspaper.

The New York banking firm of Eastman, Dillon & Company had approached me with a proposition to buy the most desirable of the properties that I had approved for the Greenhut venture. There could be no hesitation in selecting the Denver Post. In many respects that publication was unique. Its earnings and circulation outclassed those of any daily published in a community of equal population. It is doubtful that as many as twenty newspapers in the entire country exceeded its regular net profits. And its impregnability was maintained despite the fact that no citizen of the state of Colorado was more cordially hated than its publisher.

Bonfils agreed to deliver the Denver Post for the same price that had been offered to him by Greenhut in my presence. Of course, Eastman, Dillon & Company wanted a certified audit of the books. That presented a snag. Bonfils insisted on utter secrecy until the transaction was completed. He objected to “a stranger prying into his accounts.” It would disturb the confidence of his staff. It would lead to damning rumors. “Gossip about the sale of a newspaper,” he said, “must be prevented with the same care with which mention of a woman’s chastity is guarded.”

Frederick G. Bonfils
Frederick G. Bonfils was by all odds the most anomalous character I ever encountered. In his companionship, the emotions shuttled between fine sentiment and sheer savagery. With hair still unflecked by gray in his sixties, eyes that shifted between a brooding brown to a gleaming green, he had the figure and carriage of a beau sabreur. But the practice of a suave manner and a customary softness of voice belied his appellation of “tiger man.”

On a visit to New York in 1927, he confided to me that a conservative estimate of his assets exceeded $45,000,000. The figure was not astonishing. His late partner, Harry H. Tammen, had gleefully narrated to me several times how in 1894 he had checked the counting of $880,000 in cash in Bonfils’ safe deposit vault in Kansas City, Mo. This money had come from operation of the Little Louisiana Lottery. That was before the beginning of the strange partnership that for thirty-five years challenged the credulity while exciting the amusement of the newspaper world.

In singularly melodious tones, Bonfils filled a simple talk about the stars with more poesy than most verse-makers write into their studied stanzas. Within the hour, he chuckled in satisfaction over reducing the compensation of an employee who had “tried to work a smart-Aleck trick to get a salary rise.” Amassing wealth hardened the enamel that encased Bonfils’ individuality. He had always been penurious. But as each million piled up in his strongbox, he grew increasingly censorious over the sumptuary indulgences of his companions. Once, when his chiding became nettlesome, I tried to silence it with a quip. “You are no richer than I am,” was the taunt. Bonfils turned purple. His pet pride had been gouged. “What do you mean?” he sputtered. “It’s simple, was my answer. “I can spend a dollar with less of a wrench than it costs you to spend a dime.” Even that failed to stop his private lectures on frugality.

Half a dozen trips to Denver and twice as many long-distance telephone conversations in the winter of 1929-30 finally resulted in a program acceptable to Bonfils for effecting the desired audit of his books. My installation as general manager of the Denver Post was the first step. After some weeks in that position, it would be logical for me to make the next move - the employment of an expert of my own choosing for a thorough survey of the publication’s financial affairs. This would be so much of a routine procedure as to obviate speculation.

In due time, Herbert W. Cruickshank came to Denver. We had never met before. But those who questioned him gained the impression that we might be old acquaintances. Cruickshank did not reveal that he was chief auditor of the Frank E. Gannett chain of newspapers. Gannett was eager to acquire the Denver Post. Eastman, Dillon & Company had made a tentative deal with him. It would be consummated if Cruickshank turned in a satisfactory report.

If, as has been said, a banker finds poetry in profits, Eastman, Dillon & Company read an epic in the figures that Cruickshank forwarded. The annual net profits of the Denver Post during the preceding eight years showed an average of $1,313,659. That was after the deduction of income taxes and other adjustments. The gross earnings for 1929 were $2,094,818.66. Eastman, Dillon & Company’s manager of new business, Melville P. Dickenson, hurried to Denver. His meeting with Bonfils closed in a bit of melodrama. Cruickshank stood beside me as a witness while Bonfils and Dickenson solemnly shook hands, sealing the agreement for the sale of the Denver Post for $15,200,000.

Bonfils left my suite in the Park Lane Hotel to fetch his lawyer. Dickenson and Cruickshank went into several forms of silent but sincere celebration. They were participating in the biggest deal of its kind yet reported. Thus far, there had been no public record of a newspaper sale for a sum approaching what Bonfils would receive. My own exhilaration may not have been undiscernible. A fee of $300,000 was coming to me. Dickenson, six feet two, was eight inches taller than Cruickshank. This difference made it somewhat uncertain whether they were attempting a jig together or going through a secret fraternity ritual. The telephone bell distracted my attention. It was a call from Bonfils. He had been gone less than fifteen minutes.

“Everything is O.K.,” he said, “but I must tell you that those people won’t get one ounce of my white paper. I wouldn’t give them enough to dry their hands. Oh! I wouldn’t go that far; but you know what I mean.”

That was Bonfils’ way of “putting over a fast one.” The white paper, or newsprint, was scheduled as surplus. If that were withheld, all the other items in the same account would be similarly treated. Bonfils was breaking the news to me that, before the sale was completed, he intended to declare out in dividends his accumulated profits amounting to $1,634,976.46. He was adding that sum to the price he had agreed upon. Gene Fowler tells how this was identical with a trick worked by Bonfils and Tammen in their sale of the Kansas City Post a few years before. In that instance, the sellers picked up an extra tidbit of approximately $100,000. In this case, the entire transaction was ditched.

Yarns, including the version by Gene Fowler, have been printed about the meeting at which my relations with Bonfils were broken off. It is true that I reproached him rather sharply. But it is not true that physical violence attended the break. Bonfils’ share in the squabble was characteristic. Instead of defending his action, he tried to prove that it entailed a loss to me smaller than I reckoned. He asserted that his penciled memorandum that I held set my compensation not at $300,000, but $200,000. His passion for parsimony extended even to a canceled liability. Paring a dead promise to pay gave him a satisfaction akin to scaling a live obligation.


 The trend of journalism in the depression of the ’30s turned my mind to lessons taught by the balance sheets and operating statements I had examined in selecting candidates for the Greenhut merger. In the previous generation, the ordinary newspaper was one of the cats and dogs in the backyard of finance. The industry was considered too hazardous on the whole for sound investment. Competitive uncertainties were incalculable. "Anybody can toss a printing press into a cellar and start up as a rival for your business,” said one banker in explaining the refusal of a loan to a solvent daily.

Frank Munsey
By the ’20s that situation had been transformed. The publisher no longer pussy-footed around the financial centers. He was pulled in by the coat lapels. For this transition, the credit or blame rested on no one more than Frank A. Munsey. It was Munsey whose spectacular operations set the pace for the compression of newspaper competition. For a while he was the target of critics who dubbed him “Assassin of the Dailies."

The sobriquet grew increasingly appropriate, as he consigned to the graveyard successively the New York Press, the New York Morning Sun, the New York Mail and the New York Globe. Selling the New York Herald to the New York Tribune in 1924 was his final contribution to journalistic necrology.

During the decade which ended that year, the list of American newspapers suffered a mortality of 27 percent—greater than has been recorded in any period of quadruple length. The obituary roll numbered 566. The roster of 2,580 dailies in 1914 was cut to 2,014 in 1924. Thus, that ten-year span witnessed 80 percent of the shrinkage that took place in more than a quarter of a century— from the 2,580 in 1914 to the 1,878 in 1940.

Munsey found great pride in an ability to assess the worth of a contemplated purchase, offhand or otherwise. Such a feeling was almost essential to his method of negotiating for a newspaper. No standardized formula existed for evaluating a periodical publication. One theory favored the capitalization of readers at so much per head. Offers to prospective members of the Greenhut merger were based on a multiplication by ten of the average net earnings for the last preceding five years. Overtures were made to various dailies on estimates of their profits. The Holden estate, owning the Cleveland Plain Dealer, refused to consider a proposal of $22,000,000. From this point, appraisal of newspaper properties entered the field of pure speculation. In that zone of statistical adventure one need not have rated as an expert to guess the worth of the New York Times or of the Chicago Tribune at “anywhere between fifty and seventy-five millions each—or more.”

The sale of the Philadelphia Inquirer for approximately $15,000,000 in 1936 to M. L. Annenberg supplied no additional yardstick of value. On the contrary, it emphasized factors that commanded recognition as determinants of worth as important collectively as the record of earnings. A study of the variations in these phenomena had meantime led me into a new field of newspaper work. I set up a service of private counsel for publishers. Out of the tasks thus assumed, a perspective was formed clearer and more comprehensive than any view afforded me along the firing-line of direct responsibility. It is from that vista that these pages have been written.

The newspaper dedicated to its readers can neither be built nor destroyed from the outside. Its fate is decided wholly by inner forces. It can make no errors of commission. Its only blunders are those of omission. Of such is the kingdom of journalistic service. But why, at the zenith of its usefulness, was the press called upon to meet the fiercest and bitterest attacks in its history? The Fourth Estate alone can answer. It became a victim of its own vices.

It was a far cry from the internal newspaper disaffections incipient near the close of the century to the widespread schisms that cropped up thirty-odd years later; but it traced a course of grave culpability. Few publishers put forth any effort during that period to correct the untoward conditions that were accumulating elements of explosion. No motion was made to abridge or modify the right of arbitrary dismissal. Pension plans were mentioned, but they remained in the pigeonhole of deferred business. There was no serious discussion of steps to insure job steadiness. There was no recognition of either the advisability or the validity of stated allowances for payroll severances.

Instead, the ax of retrenchment continued to fall in the news department without conventional restraint of any kind. Salaries were reduced at will. Working positions were consolidated with consequent multiplications of duties. The reporter had neither recourse nor redress. Small wonder that envious eyes turned across the aisles of newspaper servitude to the shelter of industrial organization—the alliances of printers, engravers, stereotypers, pressmen and even truck drivers—which commanded a share in the regulation of employment and wages. Small wonder, too, that when the hour of temptation struck, this privilege enticed many thousands from the ranks of professionalism into the folds of union labor.

The harvest of nettles came in the 1930s. By that time the hardbitten journalist was amenable to almost any regimen for relief. In 1933 the American Newspaper Guild was organized. It consisted of editors, reporters and artists. Trade unionists found ready converts among those who, under more satisfactory craft circumstances, might have scorned vocational parity with the butcher, the baker and the buttonhole maker.

In 1935 the Guild joined the American Federation of Labor. That meant the assumption of allegiance to a separate authority. Members of the Fourth Estate pledged a loyalty apart from newspaper sovereignty. Two years later, the American Newspaper Guild transferred its membership to the Committee (afterward the Congress) for Industrial Organization. Meanwhile, the Wagner Labor Relations Act had been invoked. It enforced the employment of Guildsmen with stronger predilections for excursions in sociology than for the newspaper policies of their employers.

All the activities of the American Newspaper Guild were under the sanction of a constitution and by-laws, to which each member subscribed. Thus was violated the primary canon of the code compiled from the lessons of my professional experience. That rule prescribes that the gathering and reporting of news shall be limited to those fitted for the responsibility. It adds: “Such fitness is inseparable from singleness of devotion to newspaper duty. It can subsist only in complete independence from divergent accountability or commitment.”

The constitution and by-laws of any organization with definite objectives must necessarily exact from its subscribers an accountability or commitment. When those objectives embraced industrial, sociological or political aims, certain obligations of fraternal loyalty were attached. A constituent thus became both formally and morally answerable to a central authority. So the American Newspaper Guild established an accountability divergent from independent journalism. Its members, therefore, became unfitted for the gathering and reporting of news under the primary rule of my code of professional ethics.

If this precept prevailed, it would have excluded from eligibility in 1941 a majority of the personnel of the American press. The elimination would have involved perhaps an equal percentage of employers and employees. The quest for industrial betterment had drawn into the Guild more than a third of the 35,000 news workers. Various pursuits, apart from their newspaper duties, had long since split the professional integrity of as large a proportion of publishers.


"The freedom of the press" is dead. Its passing has escaped the notice of those who, failing to understand it in life, are unable to identify it in death. Always a magnificent mystery to most of its beneficiaries, it has left for them a heritage of little more than mixed memories. The press, that so zealously and jealously fought against infringement of its freedom, has itself strangled the “freedom of the press.” It was a slow process of suffocation, through gradual closing of the hands that guided it, until a hallowed tradition became twisted into a mockery. The tragedy traces a misunderstanding more extensive than any fallacy that ever beclouded the genius of an American institution.

The term “freedom of the press” was a misnomer. It would have been better comprehended as “freedom for a press”—the right to operate a printing machine without let or hindrance. It became confused in the popular mind with the privilege or claim of a current business. It was in no way peculiar to a completed publication. It applied not to the printed, but to the unprinted, message.

It was a franchise to publish anything typed, written, drawn or engraved. That right belonged to everybody—to Tom, Dick and Harry. But Tom took it over as his very own and Dick and Harry never complained. Apparently, they never understood. Nor did they seem to care. Tom, himself, misconstrued the nature of his prize. He tried to hold it as an endowment. He sought its enrichment with substantial favors from government. He claimed for it immunities and exemptions denied to the manufacturer, the merchant, the banker, the engineer and the artisan. Yet the grant, on which he strove to base these special privileges, was no more his than theirs.

It bestowed on him no license. It released him from no obligation. It lessened none of his liabilities. It left him amenable to every penalty assessable for a criminal publication of any nature. Yet it was the most precious of his constitutional guaranties. It was the birthright of his calling. But, too often, it went the way of that other birthright from which we derive the Scriptural lesson of Esau.

The principle of freedom for a press, as inherited from the founding fathers, has been crushed in two vises. One—monopoly —was tightened by the established press. The other—tyranny— was clamped by that coalescence of power which, through laws regulating labor relations, prescribes how the publisher may lay his hands on his own printing machine.

Gentlemen most vociferous in decrying attacks on “the freedom of the press” were most active in arrogating that so-called freedom for themselves. By means of combinations, associations and financial and political wire-pulling, the publisher already in the field closed the door to additional entrants. To found a newspaper in any city of considerable size in the ’20s or thereafter required fluid capital running into millions of dollars.

In important centers, the organized channels of news were placed under exclusive command—the Associated Press through the protest rights of its members and the United Press and International News Service through a form of contract vesting an existent client with a cumulative equity in the value of the service delivered to him. Thus the publisher on the ground was empowered in some cases to withhold permission and in others to exact a price for a newcomer’s share in a vital element of newspaper operation. The permission has never been granted. The price was usually prohibitive.

Control of news sources to bar fresh publishing adventures was supported by the corralling of features. An insurmountable handicap confronts the daily unable to secure a regular supply of comics, columns and other copyrighted series adequate both in number and popularity. In many cities, these materials were removed from the market. They were bought to be suppressed. Of course, there was no statement of such a purpose. Usually, the buyer talked about “protecting his territory against destructive competition.” The syndicates were not unwilling. After all, they had no means of compelling publication of what they sold. And in time, the client might be persuaded to make use of some part of the budget for which he paid. Meanwhile, it would be futile to refuse a revenue otherwise unobtainable. That explains the “sewing up” of features under blanket contract.

To make impregnable the bulwarks erected against invasion of a publishing center, the local merchant has been enlisted. Without his patronage, a daily is hopeless. He contributes anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of its gross income. He has become a proselyte to the virtues of newspaper monopoly. He objects to spending any more money on advertising than is needed to move his merchandise profitably. He believes the job can be done more economically for him by one than by two publications covering the same community. He is selfishly interested in maintaining the established publisher in exclusive occupancy of the field. And his balance sheets are not lined for entries showing either “the abridgement of social and political expression” or “the cramping of cultural outlets.”

Equality of opportunity to publish a newspaper would not have been attained even by overcoming the obstacles thus far outlined, insuperable as they have generally proved. There would still remain several formidable barricades to scale. Behind one stands the space-buyer, second in importance only to the local merchant. He represents the difference between profit and loss on the average daily. He is variously described as the general, foreign or national advertiser. He acts through advertising agencies. They observe an unwritten agreement to withhold business from new publications for at least a year. Ostensibly the purpose is a test of permanence.

That period of starvation is accompanied by another trial even more severe. The new daily, if it has carried on to this point, will have been forced to fight for newsstand “locations”—positions on hundreds or thousands of display stations, according to the size of the city. The outcome of this struggle may prove a decisive factor in a newspaper’s life or death. It is often determined by political manipulation.

Apologists for this state of journalism may cite the launching of an afternoon paper in New York in 1940 and the subsequent planning for a new morning daily in Chicago, That plea turns upon itself. Marshall Field III was a backer of both ventures. His daring may well be explained by his own statement, “I happen to have been left a great deal of money and I don’t care what happens to it.” Freedom for a press can neither be redeemed nor restored by ransom, even with the many millions of so ardent a humanitarian as Marshall Field III.

Not until the halter of monopoly encumbered its defense did the right for a free press become vulnerable to invasion. Then the politician rode it down. At the head of a corps of union-labor pressure groups—with panzer columns made up of legislative enactments—he captured the industrial trenches of journalism. The American Newspaper Guild was installed as an army of occupation. Protests of tyranny lodged by newspapers were rejected by the courts. It is not intended here to analyze the merits of the conflicting claims, some of which, though sanctified by inclusion in the law of the land, still require judicial clarification. The facts have been set out in preceding pages.

From within the precincts of the “free press” itself have come manifestations of agencies that not only make it impossible for outsiders to enjoy freedom for a press but also curb drastically the freedom of those who have a press. They have brought into the complexities of publication a divided house, a disputed authority, and in many instances a definitely hostile opposition to the will, the wish and sometimes even the survival of the publisher.


 It must not be forgotten that, despite the buffeting and confusion of a swiftly changing social order, the American newspaper has continued to maintain world leadership in the highest function of journalism—the collection and publication of news. Prodigies of reportorial performance mark the era for special study by the future historian. He will find it difficult to reconcile these exploits with the ever-narrowing constrictions which the courageous resourcefulness of the editor and the correspondent unfailingly surmounted.

No matter what vehicle may be employed for delivery—the daily journal, the radio or some medium yet to be devised—an uninterrupted flow of the day’s tidings is essential to the maintenance and progress of our culture. Though the “freedom of the press” has passed, freedom of the news must not perish. No human possession should be more zealously guarded than liberty of communication—through the air, under ground, by whatever instrumentalities the genius of man may provide. Upon that liberty depends the happiness and progress of mankind. It is the perennial prey of the world’s marauders—of all the ruthless exploiters of their fellow men. It is the only pillar upon which humanity may rest its hope of peace and advancement.

The sole sovereignty that has stood unmoved by the assaults of world revolution is that dominion of mind in which man’s soul subsists on current intelligence. At the conference of press experts convened by the League of Nations at Geneva in 1927, I remarked that news was a process of civilization. Lord Burnham, the presiding officer, retorted that he had considered civilization a process of news. Between those observations emerges a truth of supreme importance to mankind. If, from the blood-drenched wreckage through which humanity has staggered, only one sovereignty shall survive, let it be KING NEWS.

The End


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Wednesday, March 07, 2018


Obscurity of the Day: Nielsen

In the 1970s, Universal Press Syndicate was open to trying to sell just about any strip that showed promise. That led to a lot of breakout strips and a lot more that never really got out of the gate. Nielsen is decidedly in that latter category, and the reasons it didn't succeed are just as plain as the reasons that it deserved more of a chance than it got.

Jeff Millar was already a valued asset at Universal, having created the very successful Tank McNamara for the syndicate in 1974. Five years into that strip, Millar must have been feeling a little restricted by the sports focus of his feature. While the meat of Tank McNamara was mass media, it was all filtered through the lens of sports. Millar came up with Nielsen, appropriating the name of the ubiquitous TV ratings company, to extend his commentary about mass media to the more general music, TV, movie and advertising businesses. Universal liked the idea and paired Millar with a new collaborating cartoonist, Jon McIntosh, to produce the strip. (McIntosh in his bio says he drew two different Universal strips, but I don't know what the other was.)

Neilsen debuted on April 2 1979 in a very modest number of client papers. The problems with the strip that kept it from a big opening seem pretty obvious -- there was a lack of focus and too many characters. The short 2-4 day continuities in the daily gave the strip a jackrabbit feel with the subject bouncing around in all directions, and without a strong central character to hold it all together it just seemed schizophrenic and unsettling.

On the other hand, Millar was offering wonderfully wry commentary on mass media, his gags were more hit than miss, and the strip had a great modern look to it. Had Millar been given the time to hone his strip a bit, and give readers time to catch up with him, it might have been as much or more of a success than Tank McNamara. However, at Universal Press in those days, the red carpet that was so swiftly laid down could also be yanked from under just as quickly. Nielsen was taken off the air on October 20 1979, just a hair past the six month mark.


"Second Chances", drawn by Hinds, fared better. Focused on a couple who were both on their second marriage, it ran for a few years. In the end, Tank moved into the house next door (an event presented in both strips). The Chances live on as Tank's friends, usually offering advice and commentary on Tank's love life.
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Tuesday, March 06, 2018


Obscurity of the Day: Billy Blinks the Boy Bandit

Here's a delightful series that William F. Marriner penned for the Philadelphia Inquirer. In Billy Blinks the Boy Bandit, Marriner traces the travails of a little kid who has decided that the wrong side of the law is the fun side. Billy is a thief, specializing primarily in safecracking. He steals toy safes from other little kids, but never gets to enjoy the spoils of his hard work. Just like the Shadow always told us, the weed of crime bears bitter fruit.

Billy Blinks the Boy Bandit appeared sporadically in the Inky's Sunday comic section from February 4 to September 9 1906. Apparently by then our junior yeggman finally saw the error of his ways and switched to a law-abiding path. The scans above are from the collection of Cole Johnson.


I think the top example was the only time the character's name was spelled (or misspelled) "BINKS". It ran on 18 February 1906 in the parent paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, though in sydication (such as The Los Angeles Herald) it appeared one moth later.
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Monday, March 05, 2018


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Ajay


Abraham William “Abe” Ajay was born on March 24, 1919, in Altoona, Pennsylvania according to his Social Security application which was transcribed at His parents were William T. Ajay and Mary Simmons.

In the 1920 U.S. Federal Census, Ajay was youngest of two sons. Their parents were Syrian emigrants. Ajay’s father, a confectionery store merchant, was the head of the household that included his brother, also a confectionery store merchant, his mother-in-law and brother-in-law. They lived in Altoona at 2907 Maple Avenue.

The 1930 census recorded the family of five (Ajay had a sister) at the same location..

Ajay graduated from Altoona High School in 1937. The school yearbook, The Horseshoe, said Ajay was president of the Statesman Club.

The New York Times, March 14, 1998, said Ajay “moved to New York City to study at the Art Students League and the American Artists School in Manhattan, where he became friends with Ad Reinhardt, Will Barnet and Robert Gwathmey. He was hired as an artist by the Work Projects Administration in the Depression.”

Ajay and Margaret Thomas received their marriage license on April 28, 1938 in Queens County, New York.

According to the 1940 census, Ajay, his wife and son, Alexander, resided in Queens at 2052 32nd Street. Ajay was an artist working on a “N Y Art Project” that was through the Work Projects Administration.

Revolutionizing Children’s Records (2007) said Ajay began his professional career as a political cartoonist for the New Masses. He also contributed political cartoons to the New York City tabloid, PM. Ajay provided the art direction for Film Fun and Modern Screen magazines. He and three PM colleagues founded, in 1946, the commercial art studio, The Artery.

American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Charles Martin (the New Yorker cartoonist) created The Scuttles panel that debuted October 12, 1944 in the tabloid, PM. Ajay drew it from May 10, 1943 to December 16, 1944. Martin returned December 18, 1944 through its end on January 5, 1946.

PM editor, John P. Lewis, explained the changeover in the May 14, 1943 issue.

We have just finished one of the most difficult tricks in the comic business.We managed to shift from one artist to another on our little one-column panel comic, The Scuttles, without missing a beat. Checking among some of our readers, we were not able to find that any of them knew that a different artist had been doing the job since last Sunday, when we used the last of Charlie Martin’s Scuttles.

Martin, who had been in our Art Department since the paper started, has joined up with the OWI for foreign service. The new man—we put his name on the panel for the first time today on page 11—is A. W. Ajay. We just call him Ajay and that’s the way he signs his work.

This is going to get complicated right now, but we have two Ajays. The original, is Andrew J. Hull, another artist in our department who once worked some place where there was another man with his name. As a result, they made up the name Ajay from Hull’s first two initials and pinned that on him so he wouldn’t be confused with the other man and he has been using it ever since. Now Ajay, in the person of Hull, and Ajay, in the person of the real Ajay, have all of us mixed up most of the time. Whenever anyone calls “Ajay,” both of them respond. Whenever anyone tries to talk to an artist about an Ajay, he usually finds he is talking to the wrong Ajay. I don’t know if you’ve followed it this far, but anyhow it’s complicated.

We’re going to solve the problem by signing Hull’s stuff—A. J. Hull and that will leave the other Ajay—the new Scuttles man—with full rights, title and interest to his own name on our paper. The Scuttles Ajay, incidentally, is a friend of Charlie Martin’s and they have talked over and worked out art problems together a lot. That’s why he was able to pick up Martin’s style and carry along the Scuttles without anyone knowing that a new artist had taken over.
During World War II Ajay was drafted on February 16, 1945.

On February 27, 1947, Ajay returned from a visit to Havana, Cuba. He landed in Tampa, Florida then continued on to Newark, New Jersey. The passenger list had his address as 210 East 68 Street in New York City.

In the Catalog of Copyright Entries, Third Series, Volume 10, Parts 7–11 A, Number 1, Works of Art, January–June 1956, Ajay copyrighted his Mr. Caper cartoons that were published in Sports Illustrated.

In the 1960s Ajay turned from commercial art to pursue fine art. The Times said Ajay produced “reliefs made of found objects. Later his constructions, often intricate in design, were created from tooled wood, gypsum and cast plastics…He had his first one-man show at the Rose Fried Gallery in Manhattan in 1964 and a 25-year retrospective at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, Conn., in 1990.” Ajay taught at State University College at Purchase, New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden collected works by Ajay.

Abe Ajay by Lee Hall was published by the University of Washington Press in 1990.

The Recorder (Greenfield, Massachusetts), November 1, 1990, reported the upcoming screening of two films, including “Abe Ajay: Dimension X 3”, at Greenfield Community College. The documentary covered a day in Ajay’s studio, capturing his work process and studying the completed art.

Ajay passed away March 9, 1998, in Danbury, Connecticut according to his death certificate which was transcribed at The certificate said he was a self-employed artist and lived in Bethel, Connecticut at 40 Walnut Hill. The Social Security Death Index also said Ajay’s last residence was Bethel, Connecticut. The Times and other sources said incorrectly that Ajay died in Bethel, Pennsylvania.

—Alex Jay


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Saturday, March 03, 2018


Herriman Saturday

June 21 1909 -- The new Vernon ball club loses two to the Sacramento nine in a morning - afternoon doubleheader. In the first game the Vernons made a decent showing, but in the afternoon Sacramento came out with big bats and indomitable pitching, leaving Vernon with a goose-egg on five weak hits.


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Friday, March 02, 2018


Wish You Were Here, from J.R. Williams

Sometime in the 1950s the Standley-May Company of Albuquerque issued a set of J.R. Williams' Out Our Way newspaper panels as postcards. Most of the cartoons focused on western themes, and the publisher enhanced the look with a wood grain pattern in the background, and cattle brands along the sides. 


There used to be ready printed calandars of Out Our Way as well, I recall some with the family/neighborhood panels, and also exclusively the cowboy themed ones. 1950s, I guess.

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Thursday, March 01, 2018


King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 19 Part 1

 King News by Moses Koenigsberg

Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941

Chapter 19

The Freedom that has Passed (part 1)

link to previous installment   link to next installment

Checkmating the conspiracy of Warsaw at Geneva brought the fulfilment of one of the fondest dreams of my boyhood. It led to my installation as a chevalier of the Legion of Honor of France. The conferment of that distinction was followed by sequels that reached a widely publicized climax. It incensed W. R. Hearst. He found fault with my acceptance of the decoration. His attitude was expressed in a page-wide editorial published in all the Hearst papers from coast to coast. The comment it provoked, in print and otherwise, determined me to record the facts with a fairness that could not be questioned. So the narrative is presented here in documentary form:

From Editor and Publisher of January 21, 1928 (reprinted from the daily press):

M. Koenigsberg, president of International News Service, Universal Service, King Features Syndicate, Newspaper Feature Service, and general manager of other Hearst organizations, has been named Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

The Knighthood was conferred for ‘conspicuous services in the interests of the freedom of the press and particularly for your brilliant contribution to that end at the recent international press conference at Geneva.’

Ambassador Claudel was advised by cable to notify M. Koenigsberg of the honor.

Telegram from M. Koenigsberg to W. R. Hearst under date of January 26, 1928:

Executive committee advises me that you question propriety of the acceptance by the president of your two news services of a decoration by the Legion of Honor of France. Thus, what I believe should have your high approval, appears to have evoked your condemnation. I am quite willing to resign as president of International News Service and Universal Service if you so desire, with the understanding that such action shall not be construed as an acquiescence in any charge of impropriety on my part or as the surrender of any other rights by either of us. In view of the quarter of a century of our association and in an eagerness to minimize the difficulties of the situation I am disposed to effect an immediate adjustment of my personal service contract on most liberal terms. This contract, which is with your syndicates and not your news services, has less than a year to run. What are your wishes?

From the New York Times of February 20, 1928:

Coincident with his formal acceptance of the Cross of the Legion of Honor of France yesterday, M. Koenigsberg announced his resignation as executive head of a group of Hearst news and feature services, of which he has been in charge, the Associated Press announced.

The French decoration was presented at a luncheon at the home of Pierre Cartier, jewel merchant and friend of Ambassador Claudel.

M. Koenigsberg was president of International News Service, Universal Service, King Features Syndicate, Newspaper Feature Service and Premier Syndicate, and was vice-president and general manager of International Feature Service, all of which are owned by Mr. Hearst.

Shortly after the announcement that the French Government had decided to award the decoration to Mr. Koenigsberg, an editorial was printed in the Hearst papers of January 30th, in which was included a letter from Mr. Hearst suggesting the resignation of any Hearst employee who accepted any favor or decoration from any foreign government. The letter included the following paragraph:

“I am distinctly and definitely opposed to any representative of our newspapers or news services receiving any decorations or honorarium from any foreign government, except for patriotic service rendered America’s allies in the time of war.”

Mr. Koenigsberg made no comment beyond confirming the fact that he had accepted the decoration and had severed all connection with the Hearst organization. Mr. Hearst’s representatives here declined to comment on Mr. Koenigsberg’s action.

The episode became a topic of lively discussion, especially among newspaper folk. Many were disposed to find in the circumstances a slur on the freedom of the press. Of course there was no warrant for such a view. A testimonial dinner of embarrassingly pretentious scope was tendered to me. It was organized under the auspices of the Friars Club, a theatrical and journalistic organization perhaps better known outside New York than any other social body in Manhattan. George M. Cohan presided. The speaker of the evening was Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University. The affair was probably inspired as much in reproval of Hearst as in endorsement of the guest of honor.

The date was fixed for April 22, 1928. It coincided with the annual convention of the American Newspaper Publishers’ Association. Several hundred members of that organization attended the banquet, which was given at the Astor Hotel. It is gratifying to recall how widely representative was the list of committees. They included Louis Wiley of the New York Times; Howard Davis of the New York Herald-Tribune; Keats Speed, managing editor of the New York Sun; Julian Mason, managing editor of the New York Post; Herbert Bayard Swope, managing editor of the New York World; Victor Ridder, publisher of the Journal of Commerce; Paul Block, owner of the Paul Block chain of newspapers; Otto H. Kahn, the financier; David Belasco, Daniel Frohman, Sir Harry Lauder, Paul Whiteman, Jack Dempsey, Lionel Atwill and Arthur Brisbane.

A glimpse five years ahead would have given a turn of rare whimsicality to the sumptuous function at the Astor Hotel. It would have shown the unusual fate of the much-vaunted medal about which Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler discoursed to the 1,500 banqueters. The facts were told in the introductory paragraph of a story in the New York Times of January 2, 1933. It read: “M. Koenigsberg, former head of a group of Hearst news and feature services, has sent back to Ambassador Claudel his decoration as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, because the French Government defaulted in its debt payments to the United States, it was disclosed last night. . .”

Two statements explained my action. One was contained in a formal communication to the French Ambassador. The other I was persuaded by my dear friend, United States Senator Copeland, to speak into a newsreel microphone. It read as follows:

I am told that I am the only person who ever returned the Cross of the Legion of Honor to France. That is a regrettable distinction.

Consider that it was the dream of my boyhood to win that decoration. Consider that its acceptance entailed the severance of a professional relationship covering a quarter of a century. Then consider the wrench of giving that decoration back.

My action has been referred to as a protest. That isn’t altogether accurate. After all, what would the protest of a private individual mean to a French parliament that decided an international debt covenant was merely a scrap of paper?

I intended my action as the sorrowful recognition of a cultural catastrophe. Our civilization must stand or fall on the principle that covenants are sacred. When repudiation sets that principle aside, we would better take to the jungle.

The Legion of Honor derives its existence from the Government of France. When that government dishonored itself, the taint was attached to the emblem of the Legion. I have merely returned a tainted emblem.

Let’s have a practical illustration. Suppose you were given a letter of recommendation by an eminent person. Suppose that after you had received the letter, the writer flagrantly disgraced himself. What would you do with the letter? Certainly, you wouldn’t present it. You might hide it. I’m not good at hiding things. You might destroy it. I don’t like to destroy things. You might return it. That’s what I did.

The many sympathetic messages that came after my withdrawal from the Hearst organization may be traced in part, at least, to memories of a singularly pleasant institution. That was the series of Larks which each April for nine years drew the enthusiastic presence of editors and publishers from every state in the union. They were invitation affairs. But their fame became so great that large bribes were held out for cards of admission. As much as $200 was offered for one in 1927. So many outsiders tried to crash that it was necessary to station at each door representatives of King Features Syndicate to whom every visiting editor and publisher was known.

The piece de resistance of each party was an all-star theatrical performance that ran uninterruptedly for not less than six hours. “The Broadway Shows beyond the reach of Broadway” was the description given these entertainments by the late Sam H. Harris, who provided much of the talent. “None of them,” he added, “has ever been equaled by any single performance of which I have heard.”

The annual spring convention in New York of the American Newspaper Publishers’ Association, which always included meetings of the Associated Press and other professional groups, had been declining in interest and attendance. The advisability of suspending these meetings or transferring them to other dates or places was being urged. It was then that King Features Syndicate conceived and presented its first Lark. After the third, more editors and publishers appeared regularly as guests at the King Features Syndicate Larks than had constituted the complete attendance at any one convention for several preceding years.

All the parties were given in the Friars Club, which maintained its own building on West 48th Street near Broadway. It contained a fully equipped stage in a banquet room which seated approximately 490 guests. The name of the club-house was The Monastery. This, together with the title of the club, drove home the ostensibly inviolate rule - and boast - that no woman could cross its threshold.

The Larks changed all that. They brought into the building the stars of the revues, musical comedies, dramas, vaudeville, grand opera and night clubs, a list of whom would be a roll-call of the foremost headliners in these fields throughout the period. To organize one of these shows required three months of intensive application. In these preparations were engaged King Features Syndicate staff members who knew their Broadway from the inside. In addition, professional directors were employed with stage managers and “stunt men.”

Apr 22 1925
Every year at least one spectacular novelty was produced. An instance was a sudden shower of especially edited and printed tabloid newspapers. When the startled guests looked up to the ceiling, there was nothing to solve the phenomenon. Not one of the five hundred newspapermen knew how this was done. And they still do not know. The paraphernalia of illusion were created and supervised by Houdini, the immortal magician. They were constructed by a crew of expert workmen.

None of the spectators was more completely bamboozled by this conjuring trick than Arthur Brisbane. It should be borne in mind that Brisbane’s “Today” column was widely regarded as the last word in popularized erudition. His corrugated brow had served as the model for an artist’s conception of “The Thinking Machine.” Seated beside me on the dais, he listened intently to my explanation that “the chief event of the evening—demonstration of how material substances are deliverable by radio—must be put off for a few moments because of a delay in bringing the mass transformers into unison with the atomic coherers.” Brisbane accepted this in all seriousness. When, a minute later, the rain of tabloids descended, he turned to me with a look of eagerness. “How did you do that?” he asked. “You know, I’ve always believed in the theory of atomic coherence.” I didn’t answer. It would have been most unkind to disillusion Arthur.

A historic Lark stunt was the presentation of the first talking picture ever exhibited outside of a laboratory. This was an address by President Coolidge made on the rear lawn of the White House by special arrangement. It was engineered by Jack Lait— then the Sunday editor of King Features Syndicate—with Dr. Lee DeForest, inventor of basic parts of the sound-picture process. DeForest himself turned the crank. Two truckloads of equipment had been driven from New York to Washington overnight to record the President’s voice.

With my announcement as toastmaster, “You will now be addressed by the President of the United States,” the lights were blacked out. Suddenly on a screen the President was seen and heard to speak. The sophisticated guests were dumfounded. They thought it was another sample of Houdini magic. That was on the evening of April 21, 1925. The event was recounted in press association dispatches that appeared the next day under top heads in newspapers throughout the country. The stories described “the first actual demonstration of the phono-film” as a notable scientific achievement. They included the speech of the President of the United States to the guests of King Features Syndicate.

To enlist the personnel required for the production of these entertainments the utmost influence and pressure were needed. No amount of money conveniently translatable into figures could have bought this talent or assembled these celebrities on the same bill for a paid performance. As will be seen, the task did not end with the borrowing of players to give their time and routine service, as is done in the Broadway “benefits.” For each Lark everything in every show was original, created for it by writers, directors and composers. Out of this material grew many famous vaudeville acts, sketches and one entire revue, Spice, which broke Broadway records and ran for three years throughout America.

Such men as David Belasco (who turned down an offer of $5,000 to speak on the radio for five minutes that night) not only staged these skits but made personal appearances in them and with them. At one Lark, Caruso drew charcoal cartoons while he sang without accompaniment. George M. Cohan directed, wrote and performed for the parties. Large casts of stars played especially written burlesques of their own scenes. On the nights of the King Features Syndicate shows, all Broadway was disrupted. Frequently professional schedules were altered to permit members of the company to appear in the Lark at the Friars Club.

On one occasion Lillian Leitzel, the stellar aerialist of the Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey Circus, did her wrist spin over the heads of the guests suspended from the center of the ceiling. The roof was not constructed to stand such strains. So an engineer was engaged to reconstruct it—for an act that occupied four and a half minutes.

In addition to serving as palatable a dinner as New York cuisine could provide, there was the problem of Prohibition. For this a subterfuge was invented. Now that it can be told, the ruse may be forgiven. There was a law against buying, selling or transporting liquor. There was no law against its possession. A constant resident of the club was William D. Weinberger, its secretary. He was chosen as the “host” to be solemnly thanked on each occasion for “contributing” from his apparently inexhaustible stock of pre-Prohibition scotch, rye and bourbon. In truth, cases of genuine imported liquor were purchased from sources which supplied the flower of Park Avenue and Wall Street. And even then, every bottle was analyzed by chemists before it was accepted.

Each Lark brought with it an individual souvenir. Some especially created were highly prized. One was a glass container in a walking-stick. It supplied an added modicum of the forbidden cheer to take home. A timely significance attached to each favor. Some of the walking-sticks are still treasured. The total expense of each show ran from $14,000 to $25,000. Considered by many a prodigal outlay, it was one of the soundest good-will investments ever known in newspaperdom.

A roster of the players who appeared in these entertainments would run into the thousands. This should give a picture of a typical King Features Syndicate Lark: George M. Cohan and Charlotte Greenwood in a burlesque of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet; Henry Hull and Lenore Ulrich with the entire cast of Lulu Belle in a fifteen-minute strip from that success, followed by Fanny Brice and her brother, Lou, in a burlesque of the act (this travesty became the principal number of a subsequent Broadway revue, Le Maire’s Affairs), Valeska Suratt, El Brendel and Armand Kaliz in a sketch, All Night Long, around which the revue Spice was written, to open the following summer at the Winter Garden; Paul Whiteman with a band of thirty-six (at the time when he was the only famous Broadway conductor), with Ruth Etting and the late Helen Morgan in a musical program individually staged for this Lark; Texas Guinan and her entire company, including George Raft, Joan Crawford, Cecil Cunningham and Betty Compson in a floor show staged by Billy Rose (this took forty minutes, during which Texas Guinan’s million-dollar “booby trap” went without a show); David Belasco doing a part in a parody of his then current success The Bad Man, in which he played “the best damn caballero in all Mexico” with Holbrook Blinn and Judith Anderson supporting him; Weber and Fields, not only appearing for the first time in years since their retirement, but brought together after a feud of years’ standing; Ed Wynn, W. C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Bert Wheeler, Willie and Eugene Howard in a burlesque of the Sextette from Lucia; Mae West singing Frankie and Johnnie, with Harry Richman at the piano; Will Rogers, with special material directly aimed at the newspapermen.

How deeply the guests were impressed by the seeming extravagance of these presentations was shown in the “raves” they sent to their newspapers. An example was a yarn by E. E. Campbell, editor of the Alton (Ill.) Daily Times. Here is an extract from a story published over his signature after attending a King Features Syndicate Lark:

There is a chap in New York named M. Koenigsberg. He used to be in St. Louis. He is now with W. R. Hearst. Most folks think Arthur Brisbane at $52,000 per year is Hearst’s highest-paid man but I was told tonight that William Randolph Hearst pays Koenigsberg $250,000.

He may be worth it. But maybe he spends a part of it. He had five hundred editors as his guests tonight at the club at 110 West 48th Street. . . .

I doubt if any living genius could have called such a company together, even free as it was, except Koenigsberg and maybe that is the reason why he gets five times as much as Brisbane is reported to get. Maybe Koenigsberg has to deduct for expenses. . . .

If Mr. Campbell’s appreciation of the Lark matched his estimate of my salary, King Features Syndicate was well repaid for his entertainment. He might have approached somewhat nearer the actual figures if he had reversed the names. What Editor Campbell put into extravagant phrases, other Lark guests put into an extravagant testimonial. It came as a complete surprise. It was presented by a committee that had moved in secrecy until the appointed evening. The members were Major John S. Cohen, editor of the Atlanta Journal; C. P. J. Mooney, editor of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, and Robert Ewing, publisher of the New Orleans States. That year the King Features Syndicate Lark was interrupted to permit the presentation to me of a suite of antiques. That generous token has been treasured not only in memory of the givers, but as a souvenir of the extraordinary parade of talent which wrote entertainment history on a countrywide newspaper slate.

Chapter 19 Part 2 Next Week   


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