Welcome to the two-hundred and fifty-fifth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous two hundred and fifty-four.
Comic Book Legends Revealed is part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com. I’d especially recommend you check out this installment of Music Legends Revealed to learn what tragedy inspired the song “Hey Man, Nice Shot” and just what sort of twisted band name Stone Temple Pilots tried to use before they went with their current name.
Also, starting this past Tuesday, you can read Sports Legends from me at the LA Times’ website! Check out the first one here.
COMIC LEGEND: The teddy bear was inspired by a famous CK Berryman cartoon that appeared in the Washington Post on November 16, 1902.
STATUS: False Enough for a False, for an interesting reason
In November of 1902, the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, an avid hunter, went on a bear-hunting trip while he was in Mississippi to give an opinion over a border dispute. The trip was covered with much interest by the nation (well, at least by the nation’s newspapers, as he had a large amount of reporters following him).
The trip was nearing its close and most of the hunters had managed to bag a bear, but not the President.
Figuring that it would look good for the President to kill a bear, Roosevelt’s aides found a young black bear and after a long, hard pursuit of the bear with hounds, and after clubbing the bear nearly to death, Roosevelt’s aides managed to tie the bear to a tree and then informed the President that here, here was a bear that you can kill!
Roosevelt was disgusted at the unsportsmanlike nature of the notion, and refused to shoot the bear (although he did tell his men to put the animal out of its misery).
The news of Roosevelt’s decision made its way back to Washington DC, and Clifford “CK” Berryman (who I featured in the Stars of Political Cartooning here) produced a cartoon that would become famous all throughout the United States, being reprinted in many newspapers.
Titled “Drawing the line in Mississippi” (a play of words on the border dispute Roosevelt was there for), the November 16, 1902 cartoon depicts Roosevelt choosing not to shoot a cute little bear…
That cute little bear would be come to be a trademark of Berryman’s, and he would work it into most of his cartoons about Roosevelt for the rest of Roosevelt’s presidency (and even after Roosevelt finished his time as President)….
The cartoon apparently inspired a candy shop owned by Morris Michtom (who would often make little stuffed animals with his wife to sell in the store) to begin selling a stuffed bear toy (after receiving permission from Roosevelt) as “Teddy’s Bear,” which, of course, became known as a Teddy Bear and soon become one of the most popular toys in the world. This led Michtom to form Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, a company that still exists today (here is a “Teddy Bear” from 1903)…
(there’s debate over whether the popularity of these bears necessarily came from Roosevelt, or if there was just a bit of a zeitgeist with stuffed animals during the early 20th Century, as a German stuffed animal company ALSO began to push stuffed bear toys at around the same time, without being influenced by Roosevelt – but that’s really neither here nor there)
But here’s the twist in the whole endeavor.
That cartoon by Berryman?
NOT actually the cartoon he drew in the Washington Post originally!
Despite it being referred to as such by many different sources, here is the ACTUAL cartoon Berryman originally drew…
As you can see, it is the same basic concept, but it was a quick, very rough drawing, NOT the detailed piece that is shown all the time.
Clearly, when there appeared to be interest in his original from other newspapers, Berryman decided to completely re-draw the entire cartoon, including coming up with an entirely different look for the bear, going from a normal looking bear to a cute, cuddly bear. And it is that re-drawn cartoon that became syndicated all over the country. And it was that re-drawn cartoon that inspired the “teddy bear.”
So if you ever see the “cute little bear” cartoon passed off as the original (and you’ll see it often if you look for it), you now know better!
COMIC LEGEND: A bad translation in a Danish adaptation of an issue of Marvel’s Star Wars led to a rather risque (and bizarre) piece of dialogue…
I mentioned that one of the notable aspects of their run was the introduction of some characters that stuck around in the Star Wars Universe long after Simonson and Michelinie were off of the book (one character is even still being used!!).
One of these characters was the interesting little creature known as Plif…
As you know, Star Wars is very popular all across the globe, so it’s only natural that the comic book adaptations would ALSO be popular, and they were.
They were translated into all sorts of different languages, including Danish.
However, in one issue of Star Wars, a Danish translation led to a rather interesting piece of dialogue.
In Star Wars #77, Chanteuse to the Stars (called such because Leia, while hiding from Imperials, has to impersonate a lounge singer), Mary Jo Duffy, Ron Frenz and Tom Palmer give us an issue where Leia, Luke and Plif are on the planet of the Zeltrons, humanoid-esque aliens who sometimes give off pheromones that make them appear even more attractive than they are (and they’re already quite attractive). Their planet is sort of a resort world.
While there, Luke and Plif (who is pretending to be an alien ambassador with Luke as his assistant) are accompanied by some Zeltrons.
In one panel, a Zeltron asks…
In the Danish translation, though, that line (which I suppose is SOMEwhat sexualized) is translated as…
which means “Can I please take you to bed with me?”
Man, the Danes don’t mess around!
Thanks to Wookepedia for the information!
COMIC LEGEND: Modesy Blaise’s Willie Garvin was based on Michael Caine – BEFORE Caine was a star!
It’s very typical for comic book and comic strip artists to base their characters on famous celebrities, especially movie stars.
Heck, Rags Morales had a whole list of references at the back of the collection for Identity Crisis where he detailed which celebrity he used for which character’s face.
So it’s perfectly normal.
What’s not so normal is basing a character on a celebrity BEFORE the person was a celebrity!
And yet that’s exactly what happened in the case of Modesty Blaise’s partner, Willie Garvin.
Modesty Blaise, by Peter O’Donnell and Jim Holdaway, is about is about a retired thief who is called out of retirement by Sir Gerald Tarrant (and Tarrant’s assistant, Jack Fraser) to stop an assassination ring. She calls up her old compatriot, Willie Garvin, and when that case ends, the two continue to work with Sir Gerald, as Modesty could not resist the taste of the action-filled life again.
The daily strip debuted in the Evening Standard in early 1963.
As cool as Blaise is, and she is very cool, Willie Garvin pretty much steals the show when he appears in strips – he’s a charismatic and conniving fellow who we know is also extremely loyal to Blaise.
Here he is in a few early strips, from 1963…
If he looks familiar to you, he should, as O’Donnell and Holdaway based him on world-famous actor, Michael Caine…
However, when O’Donnell came up with the idea of basing Garvin on Caine, Caine had not yet actually become a “star.”
I mean, don’t get me wrong, Caine was a working actor, but he had not yet starred in a film (he had some uncredited roles in a couple of small films, though) nor had he any lead roles on any television series. He was mostly known for about a dozen small TV roles in the late 1950s and early 1960s, plus some small theater work in Horsham, Sussex.
In 1964, though, he got a role as a soldier in the smash hit, Zulu…
And practically overnight he was a movie sensation.
He followed up Zulu with the lead roles in two other big hits, The Ipcress Files (1965)…
and Alfie (1966)…
which also netted him the first of his FOUR Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (he never won Best Actor, but he has won both Best Supporting Actor Oscars that he’s been nominated for).
Interestingly enough, though, even though O’Donnell envisioned Garvin as Caine (and Caine really fits Garvin to a tee), Caine never played Garvin in any media.
Caine’s former flatmate, though, did, as Terence Stamp played Willie Garvin in the 1966 film adaptation of Modesty Blaise…
Can you imagine how trippy it must be to use some unknown actor as the basis for a character and then see that actor become one of the most famous actors in the world?
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you likely know by now, last April my book finally came out!
Here is the cover by artist Mickey Duzyj. I think he did a very nice job (click to enlarge)…
If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…
See you all next week!