Friday, July 18, 2014

Long Sam Lucas, Artist of Negro Minstrelsy

[1] The man in the photograph is Sam Lucas; sheet music cover 1901.
by John Adcock

“Jazz music evolved in this manner: spiritual, coon songs, ragtime, syncopation and jazz.” — J. Rosamond Johnson

THE DEAN. The Dean of Negro comedians was Sam Lucas, who was born Samuel Mildmay, a free man, in Washington Court House, Ohio on August 7, 1848. His parents were former slaves from Virginia. He had a “rich Virginia accent” picked up from his parents, emancipated southern Negroes who had moved to Ohio after the Civil War. For five years he crossed the fields at night to learn how to read and write from a kindly neighbor lady.

Lucas worked as a farmhand until he was 19 years old. He learned to play the guitar and took up the barber trade in Cincinnati, Ohio. He fought on the Union side during the Civil War. His first job as an entertainer was with Hamilton’s Colored Quadrille Band as a guitarist and caller. In 1869 he taught school in New Orleans for a few months before moving to St. Louis where he joined Lew Johnson’s Plantation Melodists as middle man and balladist. In 1873 he was entertaining customers at a barbershop in St. Louis before joining up with the passing Callender’s Georgia Minstrels troupe that July. Lucas sang in a quartette, provided comedy, and began to write songs. In one skit he caught “an imaginary fly high up on a piece of stage scenery.”

First he crouched against the painted wall. Then he stealthily rose and rose, and kept on rising, opening up joint after joint as if he were made of telescopes. Higher and higher he stretched, till his audience thought he would never stop. And when he finally did reach his utmost extension, standing on tiptoe of his long feet, with his long arm and his long fingers almost up to the real stage flies, he looked as if he could tickle a giraffe under the chin. Sam Lucas fly catching is a tradition of stage funny business.
In 1874 Lucas joined the Hyer Sisters in the musical comedy ‘Out of Bondage,’ the first musical show ever put on by a colored organization. In 1875 he was performing his famous song ‘Carve Dat Possum’ at the Robinson Hall on Broadway alongside the comedian Billy Kersands. Now he began working as a singer and dancer in Vaudeville and starred in a blood-and-thunder play called ‘The Black Diamonds of Molly McGuires’ which he described as the first time a Negro starred in a melodrama “surrounded by a white cast.” It was said of Lucas that he was initiated into a white Masonic Lodge before they revised their Constitution.

Sam Lucas wrote ‘Carve Dat Possum,’ ‘Daffney Do You Love Me,’ ‘Dar’s a Lock on De Chicken Coop Door,’ ‘Dem Silver Slippers,’ ‘Every Day’ll Be Sunday By and By,’ ‘I’m Grant and I’ve Travelled Round the World,’  ‘Ol’ Nicker-Demus, De Ruler Ob De Jews,’ and ‘We Ought to Be Thankful for That.’ One 1885 song, ‘De Coon Dat Had De Razor,’ a great grand-daddy to ‘Bully of the Town,’ was written by Prof. W.F. Quown with music by Sam Lucas. 

[2] Sheet music cover, 1876.
Sam Lucas’s song ‘Carve Dat Possum’ had a long life. The white Peerless Quartette with Harry C. Browne recorded it in 1917 and Uncle Dave Macon recorded the song in New York in 1927. The song has survived as a traditional folk and string band song in country music.

De possum meat am good to eat,
Carve him to de heart;
You’ll always find him good and sweet,
Carve him to de heart;
My dog did bark, and I went to see,
Carve him to de heart;
And dar was a possum up dat tree,
Carve him to de heart.

Other songs Lucas wrote which survived were ‘Turnip Greens’ (recorded by Bo Carter in 1928), and ‘My Grandfather’s Clock.’ Unfortunately black performers of ragtime songs seem rarely to have made it to 78’s. Other than George W. Johnson, whose songs were more traditional plantation melodies the only black artists to record that I know of were Bert Williams and George Walker.

“I suppose the most famous song I ever sang was ‘My Grandfather’s Clock.’ And it’s the song I didn’t get credit for either. I don’t believe the true story of that song is known to most people. It was written when I was with the Hyers Sisters and this was how it happened. I was there in New York and went around one day to see a man named Henry C. Work, the man that wrote ‘Wake Nicodemus!’ Just as I was about to leave he pulled out a paper and said: “here, Sam; here’s the first verse for a song. I wrote this one but I can’t seem to make anything more out of it. Maybe you can.” It was the first verse of ‘My Grandfather’s Clock.’
My grandfather’s clock was too tall for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor,
It was taller by half than the old man himself,
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more,
It was bought on the morn of the day he was born,
And was always his treasure and pride,
But it stopped short never to go again,
When the old man died.
“I read it and took it away with me, but I didn’t do anything with it for some time. Then one morning when we were out on the road I got up from the breakfast table at the hotel where we were stopping and as I turned around there in the corner stood a regular grandfather’s clock just like the one in the verse Mr. Work had given me.”
And right here, if you happen to be at Sam Lucas’s home, he will step out into the dining room where a tall clock occupies one corner and show you just how he stood on that long ago morning, his hand resting on the table while he looked the old timepiece over and imagined its story. He wrote the two other verses – one telling how the clock was the old man’s servant: it never wasted time, there was never a frown on its face, its hands never hung by its side and all that it asked at the end of the week was to be wound up for another seven days’ work. The last verse was the one that described the old man’s death.
“You know,” says Sam, “that folks are superstitious when a clock strikes more than it ought to. They think it’s a bad sign, somebody goin’ to die. So I wrote about the alarm ringin’ when it had been dumb for ninety years. An’ the neighbors all said jest what they would have said if they’d been the neighbors I had known: they said death was comin’ to that house. An’ the clock struck twenty four – that meant the whole round of a life, you see – and then it stopped. And the old man died. Remember the chorus?
Ninety years without slumbering,
Tick, tock! Tick, tock!
His life seconds numbering,
Tick, tock! Tick, tock!
But it stopped – short – never to go again,
When the old man died.
“I always loved that chorus” and Sam picks up a guitar and sings it softly, delicately, lovingly. “Yes, I wrote that and I wrote the music. I mean I made it up. Yes, just exactly as it goes. I took the song back to Mr. Work and he published it as his but with my picture on the front of it, a picture of me standin’ with my elbow on a big grandfather’s clock. No, I never got a cent for it, except that I had a big success singin’ it before anybody else did. The royalties Mr. Work received from that song amounted to thousands of dollars.” – Long Sam Lucas, Artist of Negro Minstrelsy, in NY Sun, October 22, 1911

UNCLE TOM. In 1876 Sam became the first black actor to portray ‘Uncle Tom’ on the stage, for C.H. Smith’s Double Uncle Tom’s Cabin Company, first in Cincinnati then in Boston. Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe witnessed the performance in her home town and wrote Lucas praising his performance. The next few years made a “fine-feathered bird” out of Lucas. “You never saw such clothes as I had on!” The colored preachers, however, called him “the debbil” and warned their congregations against attending his shows.

[3]  Photograph of Sam Lucas c.1891.
He remained with the company until 1879 then toured heading a white cast with the Boston Stock Company. He remained in Boston until 1899, starring in stage dramas and working alone.

In 1891 ‘The Creole Show’ opened with Sam Lucas, Fred Piper, Bill Jackson, Irving Jones and a chorus of “attractive Negro girls.” Alain Locke wrote that this groundbreaking musical show was a “break with minstrelsy” which led to the ragtime songs of Ernest Hogan, Cole and Johnson, and Williams and Walker, as well as the blues of W.C. Handy, Bessie Smith, Clara Smith, and contemporary jazz.

Lucas married Miss Carrie Melville of Providence, Rhode Island and the two appeared as a musical act in vaudeville. They spent the next three years with Sam T. Jack’s Creole Company (song writer Irving Jones was also a cast member) then spent six years in London, England where Queen Victoria presented him with a large diamond ring. Returning to America they starred in Al G. Fields “Darkest American” company. Lucas played ‘Silas Green’ in Cole and Johnson’s ‘A Trip to Coontown.’

As Negro music and musicians began moving away from minstrelsy about 1895 Sam Lucas moved with the times by performing popular ragtime songs along with black songwriters Gussie L. Davis (‘I’ve Been Hoodoo’d’), Ernest Hogan (‘All Coons Look Alike to Me’), Bert Williams, George Walker (‘She’s Getting More Like the White Folks Everyday’), Ada Overton Walker (‘Miss Hannah From Savanna’), Irving Jones (‘St. Patrick’s Day is a Bad Day For Coons’), Bob Cole and Billy Johnson (‘I Wonder What is That Coon’s Game’) and the Canadian born Shelton Brooks (‘Darktown Strutter’s Ball’).

[4] Sam Lucas, 1911 publicity photo.
LAST JOB. Lucas’s last job as an actor was starring as ‘Uncle Tom’ in the 1914 World Film Corporation motion picture ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’ Sam Lucas died January 10, 1916, and his funeral was overflowing with mourners, so much so that a police presence was required to control the crowd. James Reese Europe’s famous Hellfighters band played a final ‘My Grandfather’s Clock’ for the appreciative crowd. His remains were interred in the soldier’s plot at New York’s Cypress Hills Cemetery. He was survived by a daughter, the well-known pianist for the Negro Player’s Orchestra, Marie Lucas.

Further reading:  
Staging Race, Black Performers in Turn of the Century America, by Karen Sotiropoulos, Harvard University Press, 2006

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Smilin’ Jack

[1] Smilin’ Jack No. 8, Dell Comics, 1949.
by John Adcock

We have found in our business that our techniques are very effective for bringing about certain moral lessons and giving information and making education more widespread (…) I would say right offhand that cartoonists are not forced by editors or publishers to draw any certain way. If they don’t want to draw the way the publisher or editor wants them to, they can get out of that business.

[2] Smilin’ Jack No. 4, Dell Comics, 1948.
We have about 300 members of our society, each one of whom is very proud of the traditions and I think small nobility of our craft. We would hesitate, any one of us, to draw anything we would not bring into our home.” — Walt Kelly, President of the National Cartoonists Society, in Hearings before the Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency [Comic Books], April 21, 22, and June 4, 1954.

[3] Vancouver Sun supplement, September 17, 1960.
We believe good material outsells bad. We believe people, even juveniles, are fundamentally decent. We believe, as parents and as onetime children ourselves, that most young people are instinctively attracted to that which is wholesome.” — Statement of the National Cartoonists Society read before Hearings before the Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency [Comic Books], April 21, 22, and June 4, 1954.

[4] Smilin’ Jack No. 8.
Someone forgot to read the rules to Zack Mosley who “was way before his time in drawing provocative females. The women in ‘Smilin’ Jack’s’ life tended to be well-endowed beauties who were obviously braless” (“Smilin’ Jack” Lives – But In Retirement, June 9, 1981).

[5] Smilin’ Jack No. 2, Dell Comics, 1949.
ZACH MOSLEY was born in Hickory, Oklahoma in December 1906 and moved to Chicago when he was 19. He studied under Casey Orr, editorial cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune, while taking courses at the Chicago Art Institute. In 1929 Mosley was an assistant on the Buck Rogers and Skyroads strips. He submitted his own comic, On the Wing, to Captain Joe Patterson of the Chicago Tribune/New York News Syndicate. The strip was accepted and the name changed to The Adventures of Smilin’ Jack, running from October 1, 1933, until April 1, 1973. Smilin’ Jack was very popular from the start, eventually running to 300 subscribers, millions of readers, in the United States, Canada and Australia.

[6] Smilin’ Jack No. 8.
The drawing was crude but the characters were memorable and the women, referred to as “l’il de-icers” regularly lost their skirts and dignity throughout the run. Spanking scenes were so commonplace that they were hotly anticipated by male readers. Smilin’ Jack believed women belonged in the kitchen and regularly slapped them around. The women were violent as well, blacking the eyes of men and cat-fighting with their rivals. Mosley once judged a “Miss De-Icer of 1949” beauty contest which was open to “any unmarried girl between 18 and 30 years.”

[7] Smilin’ Jack No. 8, Dell Comics, 1949.
“Nearly everyone knows that Mosley’s daughter and wife are the basis for Jack’s daughter, Jill, and wife, Sable, but when I asked him if either one of them ever complained about things that Jill or Sable did in the comics, he replied, “Sometimes they look at me funny.””Cartoonist Mosley Draws Characters He Admires, December 1, 1969

[8] Zach Mosley and his first wife Betty Adcock flying a Cessna 170, 1953.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

“Songs of a Certain Description”

[1] “Everyday Scenes, in the Flash Circles,” illustration prefacing Duncombe’s Edition; Modern Flash Dictionary, written “by George Kent, Historian to the Prize Ring”, from an old catalog (N.D.)

The Duncombes of Holborn 
by Robert J. Kirkpatrick

IN the first half of the 19th century the name of John Duncombe was associated with the publication of dramas and one-act plays (with over 600 titles recorded as being issued between around 1821-52), music and songs. The imprint of John Duncombe (or J. Duncombe) and Edward Duncombe also appeared on a number of periodicals, penny-part serials, books and pamphlets, and the name of Duncombe was also linked with several cases of libel and obscenity. Yet, despite the extent of the Duncombe family’s publishing activities, and the notoriety associated with the name, very little has been written about them before. Teasing out the family history is complicated by the fact that, like several other publishers from that era, the name of John Duncombe covered both father and son.

John Duncombe senior was born around 1764. Nothing seems to be known about his background and early life, or about his wife, Sarah (born around 1767).  They had six children: John (b.1792), Elizabeth (b.1795), Sarah (b.1799), Edward (b.1802), Erasmus (b.1804, d.1805), and Emily (b.1807, d.1808). Between around 1799 and 1805 the family lived at 32 Cursitor Street, Chancery Lane, London, before moving to 9 and 10 Middle Row, Holborn.

In 1811, John Duncombe is listed in Holden’s Annual Directory as a cabinet maker at 9 Middle Row. In 1819, a John Duncombe is listed as a bookseller and stationer at 19 Little Queen Street; in 1822 as a bookseller at 10 Little Queen Street, and in 1823 a bookseller at 19 Little Queen Street. Three years prior to this, in August 1820, John Duncombe senior fell through a trapdoor in a linen draper’s shop and suffered a compound fracture of his leg, subsequently spending six months in St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. Two years later, he was still walking with crutches, and was unable to work, with his business, that of a newsvendor and bookseller, being carried on by his wife and an assistant. This was all revealed in the Times on 15 November 1822, when it reported the court hearing at which Duncombe sued for damages, being awarded £50 plus costs. His son was a witness, but gave no indication as to his profession at that time.

Whether or not John Duncombe the elder was ever a publisher, and if he was, what he published is not clear. His will, drawn up on 24 February 1831, stated that he was a “bookseller and newsagent” at Middle Row, Holborn. It is, therefore, quite likely that most, if not all, of the publications carrying the J. Duncombe imprint were issued by his son.

[2] Title page of Duncombe’s Edition; Modern Flash Dictionary.
John Duncombe the younger was born on 13 September 1791 in Burnham, Buckinghamshire, and baptised at St. Clement Dane’s, Westminster, on 5 November 1792. Nothing is known about his early life, other than that he married Deborah Haines at the parish church of St. George, Bloomsbury, on 8 August 1814. He set up in business in his late teens — one of his first publications was The Minstrel, or Songster’s Miscellany, published from Middle Row in 1811-12. Numerous other song collections, individual songs, dramas and the occasional pamphlet followed. But in August 1824, then operating out of 19 Little Queen Street, Holborn, he was declared bankrupt, the petitioning creditor being none other than his father (Law Advertiser, August 1824). This may have led to his father offering a helping hand and taking him under his wing, a possibility borne out by John Duncombe the younger’s second bankruptcy, in May 1827, with the London Gazette (8 May 1827) describing him as “formerly of Little Queen Street, Holborn, and late of 12 Bateman’s Buildings, Soho Square, foreman to John Duncombe the elder, of Little Queen Street, aforesaid, bookseller and printer.”

Despite this second bankruptcy, John Duncombe the younger was soon back in business, this time apparently estranged from his father. In 1826, he had launched the weekly periodical Portfolio of Amusement and Instruction. In the issue dated 27 December 1828, the last page carried an advertisement for several J. Duncombe publications (including The Adelphi Songster, The Man of Pleasure’s Song Book, Secret Amours of the French Chief, The New London Rambler's Magazine, and The Private Life and Amours of Lord Byron), with a notice at the end to the effect that “J. Duncombe, at 19 Little Queen Street, Holborn, has no connection in trade with any other Publisher of the same name.”

The Post Office Directory for 1827 lists the two John Duncombe’s as a Book and Music Seller at 19 Little Queen Street, and as a Bookseller, Publisher and Newsvendor at 9 Middle Row. This appears to be the first appearance of a John Duncombe as a bookseller at this address. A year later, they are listed as a Bookseller and Publisher at 19 Little Queen Street and a Bookseller and Newsman at 9 Middle Row. In 1829 they are both listed simply as Booksellers at both addresses.

[3] Memoirs of the Life, Public and Private Adventures, of Madame Vestris, 1826.
John Duncombe the younger also used the name of M. Metford at his Little Queen Street and Middle Row addresses, and J. Turner at 50 Holywell Street. (See Henry Spencer Ashbee, Index Librorum Prohibitorum, 1877.) Amongst the publications carrying the Metford imprint were a number of song books and pornographic titles such as The Mysteries of Venus, or Lessons of Love; and The English Rogue, or the Life, Adventures and Intrigues of Meritou Lairoon, a fashionable extravagant Libertine.

John Duncombe the elder died in April 1831, and was buried in the churchyard of St. Andrew’s, Holborn, on 18 April 1831. In his will he left everything to his wife Sarah (who was also an executor), with the proviso that she should not dispose of any part of her inheritance without the approval of his other executor, his son-in-law Charles Dear. He left nothing to his son John, nor to his other children (National Archives, ref. PROB 11/1792/367).

[Charles Dear had married Sarah (born on 23 July 179 at Cursitor Street), on 24 November 1818 at St. Pancras Parish Chapel, with her father and son (then shown as living in Little Queen Street) providing a £200 marriage bond, as Sarah was only 19 years old at the time. Charles later became a picture dealer.]

If John Duncombe the younger had become estranged from his father, then any family rift had been healed by that time of his mother’s death. Sarah Duncombe drew up her will on 22 August 1833 and left her estate to be divided equally between her four children – John, Edward, Sarah and Elizabeth. She died a day or so later, and was buried in St. Andrew’s, Holborn, on 29 August 1833, with probate subsequently granted to John and her son-in-law Charles Dear.

In 1833, the Post Office Directory shows John Duncombe still operating out of 19 Little Queen Street, with S. Duncombe (i.e. Sarah) operating as a bookseller out of 9 Middle Row, having taken over her late husband’s business. Rather confusingly, though, in 1835, 1836 and 1837, this business was recorded at 10 Middle Row, with the occupier named as John Duncombe. John Duncombe the younger was listed at 19 Little Queen Street in 1835 and 1836, but not in 1837 – indeed, the name of John Duncombe then disappears from the Post Office Directory until 1843, when John Duncombe & Co. is listed as Bookseller etc. at 10 Middle Row. He is still there in 1847, but by 1851 his name has disappeared.

[4] Madame Vestris, 1826.
John Duncombe the younger established a thriving business as a publisher of songs, dramas etc., as well as dabbling in what turned out to be dangerous waters. In September 1819 he was the subject of a writ issued on behalf of the Prince Regent, which described Duncombe as a “malicious, seditious and ill-disposed person” and accused him of “unlawfully devising and intending to raise and excite discontent and disaffection in the minds of the liege subjects of our Lord the King…” This related to an issue (no. 5) of The Republican, a periodical printed by R. Carlile of 55 Fleet Street which contained A Letter to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent. (Carlile was also the subject of legal action, Duncombe being prosecuted for selling the periodical, and later issues of The Republican were referred to the Attorney and Solicitor General with a view to prosecution for blasphemy. National Archives, ref. TS 11/43.)

In November 1826 Duncombe was taken to court by the actress Lucia Elizabeth Vestris for libeling her in his penny-part serial The Adventures and Amours of Madame Vestris. He had ignored a warning issued by her solicitors after the appearance of the first two numbers, so legal action was taken to suppress further publication (Morning Post, 27 November 1826).

A month later, Duncombe was back in court accused of pirating a song the copyright of which was owned by J. Willis, a music seller in St. James’s Street, who was awarded £200 damages (Times, 8 December 1826).

In November 1829 John Duncombe appeared in court again, alongside his brother Edward, charged with selling and publishing indecent publications (described in the Morning Chronicle as being “publications of a grossly indecent description and immoral tendency”). The titles of these were not read out in court or reported, but both Edward and John contended that they were simply reprints of works which had been published and sold in Britain for many years, and they were unaware that by selling them they were committing an offence. It was alleged that John Duncombe had been put on notice by the Society for Suppression of Vice in 1826, but he denied all knowledge of this. He also told the court that he had a wife and family (in fact, as far as is known he only had one child, Sarah Anne, born in 1822), and medical evidence was submitted that he was in poor health. He also supplied several affidavits attesting to his morality, integrity and honesty. Despite all of this, he was sentenced to six months in prison (at Coldbath Fields, Clerkenwell), fined £50, and bound over with sureties totalling £400 (Times, 20 November 1829).

[5] Madame Vestris, 1826.
In February 1837 John Duncombe found himself in court again, although this time as a victim. Henry Skinner, a former employee who had been sacked for “bad conduct,” was charged with stealing a ream of paper, 500 copies of The Comic Magazine, and five sheets of stereotyped plates from Duncombe’s British Theatre series – he was sentenced to seven years transportation. Also in the dock were James Newton and Thomas Grove, two of Duncombe’s employees, charged with theft. A large quantity of books had disappeared from his Middle Row premises, and had been traced to the Drury Lane premises of a pork butcher, who had clearly been buying stolen books for some time. Newton was also charged with selling books as waste paper to a Hatton Garden trader. He was sentenced to transportation, with Grove sentenced to a term in prison (Times, 12 February 1837).

At the time of the 1841 census, John Duncombe the younger was living at 11 Middle Row, described as a bookseller, with his wife Deborah, his daughter Sarah, then aged 22 and working as his assistant, and his niece Caroline Bartlett. Deborah died six years later and was buried, on 14 February 1847, in St. Andrew’s, Holborn.

A year after this, Duncombe married Ann Allen at Tottenham Parish Church. She was a widow, born Ann Drakeford in St. Pancras in 1800, and had married George Allen in 1822 – his date of death is not known. In 1851, Duncombe was living at 17 Holborn, this time describing himself as a music seller, living with Ann, his niece Sophia Drakeford, and a 20 year-old female servant.

He retired in 1852, his business being bought by Thomas Lacy, a former actor, playwright and theatrical manager who had turned to bookselling in the mid-1840s, operating out of Wellington Street, Covent Garden, and who became particularly well-known for his series of Lacy’s Acting Editions of Plays (1848-73), which comprised 1,485 individual titles.

John Duncombe the younger died in October 1853 and was buried in St. Andrew’s, Holborn on 30 October of that year.

In his will, drawn up in April 1848 (National Archives, PROB 11/2180/373), he left his entire personal estate to his daughter, Sarah, who, in 1842, had married Frederick Moon. Moon, born in 1821 in Holborn, was a business partner of John Duncombe, with several publications – largely dramas, music and songs – appearing under the imprint of Duncombe & Moon.  Moon subsequently died in 1849. It is not clear what happened to Duncombe’s wife Ann – in the 1861 census, an Ann Duncombe, a widow, is living at an address in Bloomsbury and shown as a “Proprietor of houses.” It is not known when and where she died.

[6] Madame Vestris, 1826.
Despite his brushes with the law, John Duncombe maintained a position as a major publisher of plays, melodramas, songs and music, an activity that spanned his entire publishing career from around 1811 to 1852. Amongst his drama productions were Duncombe’s New Acting Drama (1821-25), Duncombe’s British Theatre (1825-52), and Duncombe’s Minor Theatre (1834). Duncombe was especially notable for publishing scripts that had not been published elsewhere, buying up copyrights specifically for his collections. This proved to be an invaluable leg-up for new writers – the first play by Douglas Jerrold, for example (More Frightened than Hurt) was the first in Duncombe’s New Acting Drama series.

His songs and music publications included Duncombe’s Music; Duncombe’s Piano Forte Music; The Musical Casket, or Melodies for the Million; The Adelphi Songster; The Choice Songster; The Vocal Magazine; British Melodies, or Lyric Repository; The London Singers Magazine; and The London Vocalist.  These were supplemented by somewhat racier material such as Duncombe’s Drolleries; A Bawdy Song Book, and The Man of Pleasures Song Book.

He also issued a handful of penny-part serials and penny bloods, including Lives and Adventures of the Most Remarkable Highwaymen, Footpads, Notorious Robbers, and Other Daring Adventurers (1832); Lives and Adventures of Notorious Pirates and their crews, gallant Sea Fights, battles etc. (1833); and Perils of the Ocean, an interesting collection of Terrific Shipwrecks, and other disasters at Sea (1833).

Amongst his more controversial works were Details of a Demirep, or Life and Adventures of the celebrated Lady Barrymore; The Great Illegitimate!! Public and Private Life of that celebrated actress Miss Bland; The Secret Memoirs of Harriet Pumpkin (a salacious account of the life of Harriet Mellon, subsequently Mrs Coutts and the Duchess of St. Albans – of which most of the copies were bought up and destroyed); The Bower of Bliss, or The Loves of Alonzo and Angioline; The Private Life and Amours of Lord Byron; The Mysteries of Venus, or Lessons of Love; and Amatory Poems and Songs of the Earl of Rochester.

In some cases it is not clear which of his publications were the subject of prosecution, although some sources say that amongst these was Fanny Hill.

He also published a handful of short-lived periodicals, including Punch in London (1832) and Peeping Tom, or Notes of London Life (1841).

John Duncombe was, for a brief period, associated with his brother Edward, whose experiences as a publisher were equally as controversial.

Edward Duncombe was born on 30 January 1802 and baptized at St. Clement Dane’s, Westminster, on 7 March 1802. He married Ann Harry (born in Devonport, Devon, in 1802) at St. George’s Church, Hanover Square, on 22 August 1826, with whom he had three children: Edward (b.1827, d.1828), Charlotte (b.1828, d.1829), and Edward Harry (b.1831).

[7] Madame Vestris, 1826.
He appears to have set up in business as a publisher on his own around 1822, with the periodical The Mirror of the Stage, or New Dramatic Censor (1822-24), followed by The New Theatrical Inquisitor (1824). He also issued a few dramas, the earliest being King Richard III: Travestie, a Burlesque, Operatic, Mock Terrific Tragedy in Two Acts (1823), and the occasional song book, such as Duncombe’s New Comic Songster.

More notoriously, he published several pamphlets, such as The Life, Amours and Intrigues of Miss Paton, commonly called Lady Lennox, now Mrs Wood; The Life and Exploits of Ikey Solomons, swindler, forger, fencer, and Brothel-keeper; and The Trial at Full Length of Edw. Gibbon Wakefield, William Wakefield and Mrs Frances Wakefield, for a conspiracy, and the abduction of Miss Turner, etc.; and the occasional periodical such as The Ramblers Magazine, or annals of gallantry, amatory tales and adventures, memoirs of the most celebrated women of pleasure, etc. (1827), and Horn Tales, or the Art of Cuckoldom made easy.

His early business addresses included 165 Fleet Street (1826), 26 Fleet Market (1827-28), 188 Fleet Street (1828), 1 Vinegar yard, Brydges Street, Covent Garden (1828), and 18 Middle Row, Holborn (1829). Like his brother John he also used another name, that of John Wilson, at 78 Long Acre (see Ashbee). In November 1829 he was sentenced, along with his brother, to six months in prison for selling obscene literature (Times, 20 November 1829).  The prosecution said that Duncombe had published a catalogue containing “49 different books, with amatory titles. Some of these were sold by the defendant himself [at his shop in Middle Row] and others by a woman in the shop, around the window of which great crowds of people were frequently collected.” In his defence, Duncombe claimed, like his brother, that all the publications complained of contained material that had already been published. He added that his wife was about to give birth and was dangerously ill, he had an “aged and infirm father and mother depending on him for support,” and a doctor provided an affidavit to the effect that Duncombe was “of a delicate constitution.”

In December 1835 he was again found guilty of selling several obscene books and prints, although before he was brought to the court for sentencing he found himself in a debtors’ prison. The London Gazette (1 March 1836) revealed that he had, for a time, been in partnership with his father:
Edward Duncombe, formerly of No. 165, Fleet Street, Bookseller, Music-Seller and Newspaper Agent, then of No. 9 Middle Row, Holborn, in Copartnership with John Duncombe the elder, as Printers, Publishers, Music Sellers and Newspaper Agents, trading as Duncombe and Co., then of 18 Middle Row aforesaid, both in Middlesex, Printer, Publisher , Bookseller, Music-Seller, and Newspaper Agent, my wife lodging at No. 4 Waterloo Terrace, Waterloo Road, Surrey, and late of No. 55 Fleet Street, London, trading under the firm of Thomas Mecklam, & Co. as Booksellers, Publishers, and Music-Sellers, and of No. 18 Middle Row, Holborn, aforesaid, Bookseller, Publisher, Music-Seller, and Newspaper Agent, having a private residence at No. 23 Cross Street, Hatton Garden, Holborn, Middlesex.
On 8 May 1836 he was sentenced to six months imprisonment (in Newgate) for the offence for which he had been found guilty the previous December. He was back in court again, charged with the same offence, in January 1843, again in a prosecution initiated by the Society for the Suppression of Vice. By this time he had moved to 78 Long Acre, having taken a weekly tenancy of a shop and living accommodation in around 1839. In 1841 he placed the name “John Wilson & Co.” over the door, although both his landlord and a neighbour testified that they knew no such person. Duncombe was fortunate to escape a guilty verdict as he had only been released from a debtors’ prison two hours before the sale of the offending article, and the magistrate accepted that there was no proof that Duncombe had gone direct from the prison to his shop, and no proof that he had personally sold the article or authorized its sale (Times, 18 January 1843).

In September 1843 he declared himself bankrupt, giving his address (then and for the previous five years) as 78 Long Acre. He was absent from the 1851 census, possibly in prison yet again. His wife was living at 119 Fetter Lane, the head of the household being her widowed mother, Ann Goldwise, a newsvendor; also present was Edward Harry Duncombe, then aged 19 and described as a Newsman.

In December 1853 Duncombe was once again trapped by the Society for the Suppression of Vice into selling one of its representatives an obscene book from his premises at 7 West Street, St. Martin’s Lane — he was subsequently sentenced to two years in prison (Times, 8 December 1853).

No sooner had he been released than he was back in court charged with selling an indecent and obscene book (Times, 17 April 1856). Again it was an agent of the Society for the Suppression of Vice who bought the offending article –
He went to the defendant’s shop in Little St. Andrew’s Street, Seven Dials, and asked for a book of songs of a certain description, which the defendant sold him, and then asked if he wanted any works of an amorous character, as he had some on hand. He at once said he would purchase some books if they suited him; the defendant then produced some books, one of which he handed to the witness and asked two guineas for it. After a little parleying he agreed to take 30 shillings for it, and gave him a catalogue of works of the same nature. It was for selling that book that the defendant was indicted.
His defence counsel told the court that “when this offence was committed the defendant was in a state of the most deplorable and object poverty, or he would not have sold the book.” Despite this, he was later sentenced to six months hard labour (Times, 1 May 1856).

Duncombe was possibly back in prison in 1861, as he was again absent from the census record. His wife Ann was living at 110 Fetter Lane, working as a newsagent, and their son Edward Harry was described as a Music-Seller. But other than Ann appearing as a lodger, out of work, at an address in Westminster in the 1871 census, that appears to be the last we know of Edward Duncombe and his family. His date and place of death, and that of his son, is apparently unrecorded.

John Duncombe the younger left behind him a reputation as a prolific publisher of drama and music, although he was also famous for his frequent brushes with the law and his occasional forays into the dangerous waters of radical politics, scandal and pornography. John’s brother Edward was also notorious for his under-the-counter activities and the selling of pornographic books and prints. The full story of what were almost certainly colourful lives has yet to be told – the foregoing summary is just a starting point.

[8] Memoirs of the Life, Public and Private Adventures, of Madame Vestris, 1826.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Wings Winfair and Gulf Funny Weekly

[1] Gulf Funny Weekly, No. 224, August 6, 1937
THE MAN who started the comic book business wishes now he hadn’t. Harry I. Wildenberg, now a Tampa cigar manufacturer, deplored the trend of the sensational and crime stories in the so called comic books of today. “I think they are pretty awful,” Wildenberg said, “They leave no residue of worthwhile knowledge with the young reader. The adult that reads them is beyond saving.” — ‘Wishes He Had Not Started Comic Books,’ in Daytona Beach Morning Journal, April 21, 1950
by John Adcock

WILLIAM J. PAPE, born in Liverpool, England, lived the Horatio Alger story of rising from rags to riches. He went from a $3 a week cub-reporter job on the Passaic Daily News to wealthy publisher of the Waterbury Republican-American (1901). He was also the owner and president — George G. Janosik may have been president in 1933 — of Eastern Color Printing Co., of Waterbury (Conn.) and New York, which printed the color comic supplements for Sunday newspapers in the 1920s.

IN 1929. Eastern Color printed the first newsstand comic books in the United States, in color, in the year 1929.

[2] The Funnies, No. 1, January 1929. The first comic book.

DELL PUBLISHING COMPANY, INC. – George T. Delacorte Jr.’s business – began publishing comic books in 1929. The earliest was The Funnies (subtitle: “Flying – Sports – Adventure”), a dime weekly which carried original art and stories rather than newspaper comic reprints. Printing was done by Eastern Color. It ran from January 16, 1929, to October 16, 1930, a total of 36 issues. Each issue had 16 pages of four color material printed on newsprint. It consisted of comics, stories and columns. The first issue cover featured the beginning of a comic series called Frosty Ayre by Arch (Joe Archibald).

[3] George T. Delacorte Jr. – his signature and passport photo from April 1924
GEORGE T. DELACORTE JR. was born in New York City on June 20, 1893. After graduating from Columbia University in 1913 he went to work for a small publishing company. He founded Dell Publishing Co. in 1921 with an initial investment of $10,000, concentrating on pulp magazines, comic books, and, after the war, paperback books. The humor magazine Ballyhoo made his fortune. He had two wives, two sons and three daughters, and died May 4, 1991, at his home in Manhattan, probably aged 97.

THE FIRST COMIC BOOK. Despite its resemblance to a newspaper comic section I accept The Funnies as the first American comic book and the first to be distributed through newsstands. I am ignoring Victorian predecessors and Cupples & Leon books which I consider a completely different animal to the twentieth-century comic book. It baffles me that comic historians  accepted The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck (1842) as a comic book and for a long time did not extend the same courtesy to The Funnies (1929).

‘THE FUNNIES’ was not an anomaly; it was the beginning of our modern comic book industry. George T. Delacorte Jr. was the parent of the comic book and Eastern Color its midwife.

[4] Gulf Funny Weekly, No. 274, July 22, 1938

COMIC BOOK TRADEMARK. If you’ve ever wondered where the 20th-century term ‘comic book’ originated I can tell you it originated with Eastern Color which first described them in May 1934 in Patent Office records as 
“Comic Booklets Consisting of Comics, Comic Strips, Puzzles, Tricks of Magic, Etc., Published in a Series.”
The first mention of ‘comic booklets’ by Eastern Color was on May 1, 1934, listed under Trademark Applicants. Note how well Delacorte’s The Funnies fits with this initial definition. Progress was short-lived though and the printing of comics independent of newspapers came to a halt — for a while.

[5] Gulf Funny Weekly, No. 223, July 30, 1937
THREE YEARS HENCE, Eastern Color’s sales manager Harry I. Wildenberg approached the Gulf Refining Company to produce a weekly giveaway, titled Gulf Comic Weekly. The Library of Congress Catalog of Copyright Entries gives the date of the first issue as April 28, 1933. The title changed to Gulf Funny Weekly with No. 5, May 26, 1933. The premium comic was produced until May 23, 1941, ending at 422 issues.

EASTERN COLOR’S FOUR-COLOR PRESSES were already geared for processing tabloid size Sunday comic pages, and Gulf Funny Weekly was printed the same size, on both sides, and folded to make four pages. The size was 10.5  by 15 inches. By May 14, 1938, Gulf advertised in the Joplin Globe that via the corporation’s service stations and dealers their Gulf Funny Weekly had “a weekly circulation of 2,700,000.”

[6] Gulf Funny Weekly, No. 205, March 26, 1937
IN ADVERTISING. Harry I. Wildenberg had a long history. He had worked for the Larkin Company in Buffalo, the National Cloak and Suit Company, and the mail order catalogue house of Sears, Roebuck & Co., and in 1913 opened an office in New York for the purpose of developing mail-order accounts. In 1916 Wildenberg was appointed advertising manager at the Daniel Hayes Company, land merchant, of Rock Island, Illinois. Previous to that he had been advertising manager of the Nicholas-Finn Advertising Company of Chicago.

[7] Gulf Funny Weekly, No. 229, September 10, 1937
In September 1918 he was advertising manager of Scott and Scott Inc. in New York. His wife at this time was Lottie Wildenberg. Documents from 1920 show he had two daughters, Ruth and Judith. In 1928 he was with the Prudential Sales Promotion Company, Inc. of Manhattan, New York. Census shows a second wife in 1946 by the name of Joyce Bittner Wildenberg.
Wildenberg said that in 1933 he hit on the scheme of putting old colored comics between covers and selling them to newsstands. At that time he was sales manager for a New York Publishing concern that printed these comics, which were mostly plain funnies. At first he was laughed at, but then he persuaded a soap company to buy them for distribution as premiums for so many soap wrappers. In 1934 they caught on with the newsstands. — ‘Wishes He Had Not Started Comic Books,’ in Daytona Beach Morning Journal, April 21, 1950
[8] Advertising Principles, 1937
WRITER-ARTIST STAN SCHENDEL, an advertising man too, was the editor of Gulf Funny Weekly but it’s not known which advertising agency he worked for. Eastern Color or Gulf may have had an in-house advertising department to produce the comics. In 1936 he was still drawing cartoons advertisements for Gulf. Later, in 1950, Schendel left the copy department of Federal Advertising Inc. for Kudner Agency Inc., both in New York. For Gulf, Stan Schendel wrote and signed a humor comic titled The Uncovered Wagon while Vic Tor contributed Curly and the Kids. ‘Vic Tor’ may have been a pseudonym of Schendel’s. The last page usually featured text columns and a large Gulf advertisement.

[9] Gulf Funny Weekly, No. 240, pp.2-3, November 26, 1937
STANLEY V. SCHENDEL (the V. may have been for Victor after his paternal grandfather) was born in Manhattan, New York, on August 5, 1901, and died in July 1972 at Greenwood Lake, Orange, New York. His father Simon Schendel was a manufacturer of cigars, married to Rosa (or possibly Rose) L. Fuchs. Stanley had an older sister named Sarah E. Schendel. Somewhere, maybe in the Spanish-American War, Simon had picked up a ‘Major’ title before his name. Stanley Schendel married Louise Amelie Lissauer August 25, 1924, in New York and had three children, all girls; Lucy, Betsy and Nancy. His father-in-law was a well-off New York jeweler, Jerome M. Lissauer.

[10] Gulf Funny Weekly, No. 318
‘WINGS WINFAIR’ was originally credited to Stan Schendel (writer) and the unknown artist Lyndell (although we notice both contain the letters ‘del’). Fred Meagher began drawing Wings Winfair with No. 232 in 1937 and continued until the comic’s 1941 demise. Meagher also did occasional pencils for the educational feature This Wonderful World as did Lyndell. In 1940 Meagher, still working on Gulf Funny Weekly, took on additional work with the Ralston-Purina Tom Mix promotional comic booklets (1941-42). I have already looked previously into his background – HERE.

[11] Gulf Funny Weekly, No. 411
FUNNIES ON PARADE. May 1933’s Funnies on Parade, printed by Eastern Color Printing Co. did not resemble today’s comic book, it was a booklet similar to the newspaper comic supplement, with 8 pages of reprinted newspaper material. Harry I. Wildenberg appears to have had the initial inspiration for proposing the title to Proctor and Gamble who mailed out Funnies on Parade as a premium item. It consisted of 32 pages of previously published Sunday pages of Mutt and Jeff, Hairbreadth Harry, Joe Palooka and others.

[12] Gulf Funny Weekly, No. 233, page 4
MAXWELL CHARLES GAINES was born Maxwell Charles Ginsburg, on June 5, 1894, in New York. His parents, Abraham and Rose Ginsburg, both born in 1869, were emigrants from Russia. Max had three brothers, Benjamin (b.1892), Isidor (b.1896), and William (b.1899). Benjamin and William became pharmacists. All the children were born in New York City. Their father Abraham emigrated from Russia with his family in 1892 and began a new life as a rag picker. Within a few years he was running a small remnants shop. It was noted on census records that Russian immigrants were described as ‘Russian Yiddish’ and Austrian immigrants as ‘Austrian Yiddish.’

[13] ‘Narrative Illustration; The Comics,’ by M.C. Gaines, in Print, Vol. III, No. 2, Summer 1942 
YOUNG MAX GINSBURG was in service since 1917. At that time he was single, living at 371 Maple in Bridgeport, Connecticut and employed by Remington Arms as a machine operator. He was sent to training camp at Plattsburg, NY, and served overseas from November 2, 1916, to January 4, 1919. He was discharged Jun 25, 1919, and gave his address as 1819 Barnes Ave., Bronx, his parents’ residence. Abraham Ginsburg died in September 1917. (His widow, Rose, remarried a furrier named Sam Starkman.)

NAME CHANGE. Based on the birth date of Max’s son, William Maxwell Gaines — later Bill Gaines — March 1, 1922, Max C. Ginsburg probably married his wife, Jessie, about 1920 or 1921. He had changed his name to Max C. Gaines by the time of the 1925 NY State Census. In 1933 he was a salesman for Eastern Color and working under Harry I. Wildenberg.

[14] Famous Funnies; a carnival of comics, front cover, 1933 
TAKING CREDIT. Both Harry I. Wildenberg and M.C. Gaines have been credited (or took credit) for the inspiration for Famous Funnies, the first successful newsstand comic. In 1933 Eastern Color Printing Company had printed Famous Funnies; a carnival of comics with Dell as publisher also handling the distribution. Dell dropped out of the arrangement and Eastern Color resurrected the title as Famous Funnies, No. 1, in July 1934.

The fourth issue of this back-from-the-dead Famous Funnies was issued October 23, 1934. An advertisement for it claimed “a couple of hundred thousand readers.” The editors were Harold A. Moore and Stephen A. Douglas and their comic was distributed through the American News Co. The comic was a success.

[15] The Funnies, No. 4, January 1937
SPLIT. M.C. Gaines broke connections with Eastern Color and moved into a partnership with the McClure Syndicate to publish a one-shot giveaway called Skippy’s Own Book of Comics. By 1938 there were about a dozen comics of reprinted newspaper strips on the newsstands with titles like Popular Comics (Feb 1936), The Funnies (Sept 1936), Tip Top Comics (April 1936), King Comics (April 1936), The Comics Magazine (May 1936), The Comics (March 1937), and Crackajack Funnies (June 1938). The comic books were now an integral part of American life.

[16] Gulf Funny Weekly, No. 233, Oct 8, 1937

Gulf Funny Weekly Scans courtesy Arthur Lortie.
Thanks to Pamela L. for her impeccable research.