by Jimmm Kelly
THE THREE STOOGES No. 1 (September ’53), art by Norman Maurer.
artists and models
[Charles Clarence Beck] had been working on a magazine about movie stars when the job to design a cast of comic characters was assigned to him.
With the movie job fresh in his mind, he began the task of translating Bill Parker’s story into graphic form. He chose film star Fred MacMurray as the model for Captain Thunder, giving him the same wavy hair, bone structure and cleft chin. Thunder’s costume–the waist sash, the short over-the shoulder cape, the military jacket flap, the boots and tight pants–were inspired by a drawing he had recently done to illustrate a costume in the light operetta, THE STUDENT PRINCE. The lightning bolt across the chest added the comic hero touch.
–Jim Steranko, THE STERANKO HISTORY OF COMICS 2 (’72), p. 11.
Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, DOUBLE INDEMNITY (’44); Captain Marvel and Billy Batson, FAMOUS FIRST EDITION F-4 (October-November ’74) [WHIZ COMICS No. 2 (February ’40)]
Of course, Captain Thunder’s name was changed to Marvel and WHIZ COMICS No. 1 (originally FLASH COMICS) was never published except as an ashcan issue.
Curiously, as Beck’s Big Red Cheese started to fill out, he no longer resembled the slim MacMurray as much as he looked like Mario Lanza. And it happens that Lanza recorded the vocals for the ’54 movie version of THE STUDENT PRINCE–which he was supposed to star in, but that’s a whole other story.
As illustrated in the ’55 movie, ARTISTS AND MODELS [a wonderful send-up of the comic book industry] starring Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Dorothy Malone and Shirley MacLaine, it turns out that many comic artists are apt to use real people for their models.
In what seems like a case of art imitating life imitating art, in DETECTIVE COMICS 328 (June ’64), artist Carmine Infantino made a few alterations to Sue Dibny’s look [Sue is the wife of the Elongated Man, for those that don’t know this vital fact].
This was explained, by editor Schwartz, in the Batman’s Hot-Line lettercolumn for DETECTIVE 333 (November ’64):
Because Carmine Infantino feels that Sue Dibny is a pixy-type, he’s re-styled her hair-do–and appearance–in the manner of a similar cinema type, Shirley MacLaine.
Shirley MacLaine (circa ’64) and Sue Dibny in DETECTIVE COMICS 340 (June ’65)
four colour errors
It was a matter of undoubtable fact on our block that when it came to comics they either got it right or they got it wrong. This was one criteria of judgement that could not be challenged, because it was clearly laid down how each character should look in any given comic and when they got it wrong you could see it as plain as the nose on your face.
For cartoon characters this was obvious. You just had to check against the cartoons in the movies, on the TV or in the Sunday pages, where the authentic version of the character could be found. Colour? check. Shape? check. Size? check.
For live movies and TV, judgement could be even harsher. The artist had to capture the exact likeness of the actor and if said artist did not, then the art was no good. It seemed to us the main job of the artist was to copy details and since they had the movie or the television show to look at, there was no excuse for missing these details.
We might have disagreed on a lot of other things like what was funny or what was exciting, but on this rule of authenticity there was little disagreement because it could always be checked. Even if there was a dispute–no I think they got Cinderella’s gown right–your big sister could always show you plain as day--look, see, the colour is wrong! And you had to admit it. She was right. They got it wrong.
My sister’s concern about the colour of the ball gown is not a trivial matter. It’s central to the story in the Disney movie. The pink gown is what Cinderella designs for herself–and what is torn by the wicked step-sisters. The silver-blue ball gown, the gift of the Fairy Godmother, exists in contrast to the pink gown. This is a major visual element of the animated story. No wonder my sister was so vexed by the error–as she continues to be to this day.
FOUR COLOR 272 (April ’50); FOUR COLOR 786 (March ’57); CINDERELLA No.1 (August ’65). Cover art by Dan Gormley
The error was not just in her Gold Key funny book–that my sister bought after seeing the movie when Disney re-released it to the theatres in June of ’65. It was the practice for all Disney animated movies to be re-released for a limited run–at which time Western Publishing (Dell or Gold Key) would reprint their adaptations of these movies. The colouring error was perpetrated first in Dell’s FOUR COLOR 272 (April ’50) and again n 786 (March ’57), prior to the Gold Key repint in CINDERELLA No. 1 (August ’65).
The notorious pink ball gown in FOUR COLOR 272 (April ’50) and 786 (March ’57). Art by Dan Gormely. Colour by the Western Publishing Production Shop.
How such a disaster could have happened seems inexplicable. My current theory is that Dell must have begun work on comics like these well before the movie was ready for release. They must have worked from scripts and still shots to anticipate what the movie would look like, so the comic could come out even before the theatrical premiere. CINDERELLA the movie was released in select cities late in the month of February ’50, before going in wide-release in North America the followng month, while FOUR COLOR 272 went on sale on (or about) February 2 ’50.
What is confounding is that they never tried to change the colours for subsequent reprints, when they had the finished movie in front of them. To a little kid that was an insult–you’d think they would have understood better what really mattered to their audience of readers.
cinderella leaving the ball–
It shows just how ubiquitous funny books were for about thirty years in the mid-20th century that it was routine for any TV show or movie to be adapted in comic book or comic strip form. There was also a regular syndicated Sunday feature from Disney called WALT DISNEY’S TREASURY OF CLASSIC TALES. The title isn’t really accurate, as the classic tales were usually whatever movie Disney had come out with at the time. The series ran from July 13 ’52 to February 15 ’87, although it didn’t appear in our local newspaper for that long. In fact–well, I’ll get to that later.
It seemed like the natural flow was from other media into comics, not the other way around. It was expected that funny books followed the model set for them rather than setting the model for other media. Of course, this was a faulty assumption, but kids always try to apply simple rules to the real world. And it’s frustrating when the real world breaks those rules.
When it came to TARZAN OF THE APES, Gold Key presented more than one model. There were some issues based on the Ron Ely TV series–which I didn’t find too pleasing because they seemed to be less fantastic–and also the artist didn’t do a very good job of capturing the likeness of the actor. In any case with so many other models of Tarzan from the big screen, Ely lacked the bona fides to be the real Tarzan. So I trusted the TARZAN that appeared in our Sunday funnies–by Russ Manning. The Gold Key issues of TARZAN that featured Manning’s work seemed to be the real deal.
Clockwise: TARZAN 171 (September ’67), photo cover of Ron Ely, inside art by Alberto Giolitti; TARZAN 173 (December ’67), cover painting by George Wilson, inside art by Russ Manning; TARZAN Sunday (October 27 ’68), art by Manning [reprinted in TARZAN: THE COMPETE RUSS MANNING NEWSPAPER STRIPS Vol. 1 (1967 – 1969)
Colour errors were a frequent source of consternation. Even though we had a black and white TV and many movies had been made in black and white, you still pretty much could guess what colour someone’s hair ought to be. I never understood why some people were coloured with yellow skin. People with every kind of skin colour lived in our neighbourhood and nobody had this skin colour. Even worse were some groups of people who were coloured purple–I was totally confused about that.
It was really weird in GREEN HORNET No. 2 (May ’67). Kato had orange coloured skin (not exactly correct but still within the ballpark of natural skin tones) but he interacted with yellow-hued people in Chinatown.
Dan Spiegle was a very good artist, yet his renditions of the actors from the GREEN HORNET TV show were not spot on. Bruce Lee (Kato) looked nothing like Bruce Lee.
Mike Grell later borrowed Bruce Lee’s appearance for Karate Kid in the Legion of Super-Heroes. The Karate Kid, aka Val Armorr, first appeared to be a white teen with martial arts skills. Gradually he was made to look more Asian and it was revealed that he was half Japanese, half Caucasian American. Bruce Lee, of course, was Chinese American (one quarter Caucasian), not Japanese.
Photo cover and inside front and back cover pages for GREEN HORNET No. 1 (February ’67); inside art by Dan Spiegle for GREEN HORNET No. 2 and 1 (May ’67 and February ’67).
The great thing about GOLD KEY and DELL was that most of their funnies based on live action shows had photographic covers–and sometimes publicity stills inside the comic. Drawings and paintings on covers were all right, but it was much better to have an actual photo. This was a universally held opinion. DC rarely used photographs on their covers, even for comics based on live action shows or celebrities (like Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope)–it was hard to understand why they didn’t, as the photo covers gave Gold Key and Dell a higher prestige.
One of my favourite action heroes in ’67 was Zorro, played by Guy Williams. I was oblivious to the fact that the ZORRO TV episodes running in the late afternoon, which I rushed home from school to watch, were in fact re-runs of the Disney series that had run years earlier (’57 – ’61). The episodes were not shown in chronological order so it was hard to follow why sometimes Zorro was at odds with Sergeant Garcia and sometimes assisting him.
ZORRO No.8 (December ’67): back and front cover; inside front cover and first page.
Gold Key was reprinting Zorro stories that had been published five to ten years before by Dell–again a fact that I didn’t realize at the time–and they likewise published these stories out of sequence. Some issues of the comic adapted stories from the TV series and some of those were drawn by Alex Toth while others were by Warren Tufts or Mel Keefer. I didn’t care, as all of the artists did a great job of capturing the likenesses of Don Diego and Garcia. However, for some reason Bernardo did not always look like Bernardo—actor Gene Sheldon.
Bernardo looked like Bernardo sometimes, but not other times: ZORRO No. 3 (August ’66) art by Warren Tufts. ZORRO No. 9 (March ’68) art by Alex Toth.
As far as I knew, there were only three Stooges: Larry, Moe and Curly. That’s how it always was. The Stooges appeared on the large and the small screen and in comics and there was always just three of them–the one with the Beatles mop-top, the one with the frizzy hair, and the one with the close-shaved head. I never picked up on the fact that Curly and Curly Joe were two different guys.
As for Shemp and Joe Besser–who were those guys?
It turns out that Curly, Shemp and Curly Joe all appeared in the funny books. I’m not sure about Joe Besser–but I doubt it. Curly Howard was in the first two THREE STOOGES funnies published by Jubilee (an imprint of St. John)–in ’49. Shemp Howard was in the later seven issue run of THREE STOOGES from St. John–in ’53 and ’54. And Curly Joe DeRita? Curly Joe appeared in all the Dell and Gold Key Stooges comics.
The Stooges owed most of their funny book successes (or flops) to the one and only Norman Maurer. Who happened to be Moe Howard’s son-in-law–but this wasn’t a case of a guy marrying a gal so he could sponge off her father.
Maurer had a good head on his shoulders and used his wits to the advantage of the Stooges.
For more on THE THREE STOOGES and Norman Maurer see the extra: Our Man Norman.
FOUR COLOR 1043 (October-December ’59), art by Peter Alvarado and Tony DiPaola–Larry, Moe and Curly Joe.
as seen on television
My sisters debated over who was cuter–Doctor Kildare or Ben Casey–and ultimately came to the conclusion that Kildare was dreamy, but Casey had a dark intensity about him. I liked Doctor Zorba (Sam Jaffe)–who resembled Larry Howard. But Ben Casey (Vince Edwards) freaked me out, because he had such hairy arms–frequently on display. He was like an ape.
Vince Edwards as Ben Casey, back cover of BEN CASEY No. 1 (June-July ’62).
Neal Adams did a realistic BEN CASEY for the syndicated newspaper strip (January 20 ’64) [reprinted in THE MENOMONEE FALLS GAZETTE Vol. 3, No. 105 (December 17 ’73)]; however Gene Colan captured the man-ape’s arm-hair the best in the Dell comic book–BEN CASEY No. 8 (November ’63 – January ’64).
By ’66, one of the Sunday funny features I followed faithfully (in the Saturday edition of the VANCOUVER SUN) was WALT DISNEY’S TREASURY OF CLASSIC TALES. I had even taken to cutting out these pages and collecting them, so I could read the whole story in one sitting. [Note: I’ve here given the dates when these appeared in our Saturday paper–being Sundays, they were in fact dated a day later. You can find some of these treasuries at DISNY TREASURY (sic)]
LT. ROBIN CRUSOE promotional art and Sunday page from May 14 ’66, VANCOUVER SUN [on microfilm].
I’d really enjoyed WINNIE THE POOH AND THE HONEY TREE, which ran from January 1 ’66 to March 26 ’66 (based on the movie released in February ’66) and when LT. ROBIN CRUSOE, USN began on April 2 ’66, I was well-interested in tha one, too. The movie of the same name starred Dick Van Dyke, in a modern update of the ROBINSON CRUSOE story.
If all had gone according to schedule this story would have wrapped up on June 25 ’66, but when I looked for it on May 21 ’66, it wasn’t there. Well, it was the Victoria Day long weekend, so maybe they skipped it that week. When the next Saturday came–May 28–I looked for it again, but in the place where it would have been was a new Sunday funny: BATMAN.
I didn’t know how to feel. I was happy to have BATMAN but I missed WALT DISNEY’S TREASURY OF CLASSIC TALES–and Dick van Dyke.
The BATMAN in the newspaper was really my first exposure to the funnies version of the Caped Crusader–and there were marked differences between this and the TV BATMAN.
As far as I was concerned, the TV Dynamic Duo were the genuine article. I couldn’t fathom why the artist hadn’t tried to do a better job of capturing the Caped Crusader.
However, I wasn’t completely surprised by this artistic failure, because I’d already gone through it with the BATMAN bubble-gum cards from Topps. Beautiful paintings by Bob Powell and Norman Saunders. yet they portrayed their own alternate version of Batman–more realistic than the funnies, but not in line with the TV show’s Adam West.
When I finally got around to the comic books, there even more versions of Batman to be negotiated [the New Look Batman and the Old Look Batman–as I described in issue 2–THE LAST DAYS OF THE DYNAMIC DUO]. And I won’t even get into all the wildly different versions of Batman on display in the toys, games and other merchandise at the height of Bat-Mania.
Not only was Batman different in every different medium, but other details were differernt. For example: On the TV show, Bruce and Dick used Bat-Poles to slide down to the Batcave. In the bubblegum cards, Bruce and Dick used a secret staircase behind a grandfather clock. In the Sunday funnies, Bruce and Dick used Bat-Ropes. And in the comic books, Bruce and Dick used an elevator [the most practical method]. How come?
BATMAN 188 (December ’66). Cover by Infantino and Giella; interior art by Moldoff and Giella.
I was confounded.
Why couldn’t they get it right?
For more body doubles and doppelgangers, go to the extra page: Another You–Revue
NEXT TIME: Can Com 101
In the ’65 – ’66 TV season, THE SOUP SALES SHOW was running in syndication and locally it was on in the afternoon, just after school. There was always something going on at Soupy’s place and big name stars would drop in unannounced. And, at some point during the half hour, Soupy would get a pie in the face.
Around this time I got this Wonder Book as a present–Wonder Books were quite common and seemed to cover every subject under the sun.
SOUPY SALES AND THE TALKING TURTLE doesn’t have any big stars in it, other than Soupy himsef.
Jean Bethell is a prolific children’s book author. Barney Beagle is probably her most well-known creation–featured in several Wonder Books.
Tony Tallarico is a comic book artist and children’s book illustrator. Among many other things, he drew CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED for Gilberton, NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS for Dell, BOBBY SHERMAN for Charlton, CRAZY for Marvel and VAMPIRELLA for Warren.
This Wonder Book was published around the same time that Tony Tallarico was drawing the short lived (two issues) LOBO for Dell–featuring the first African American character to star in a western genre comic.
As funny book artists go, Tallarico was pretty good at getting the art to look like the person from television or movies. It’s too bad SOUPY SALES AND THE TALKING TURTLE didn’t have any guest stars dropping by, as Tony probably would’ve captured their likeness quite well.