Welcome to the three hundredth and thirty-fifth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, learn the bizarre story of the Wall Street insider who made hundreds of thousands of dollars through hidden tips within Bringing Up Father comic strips…or did he? Plus, legends about Brother Power, the Geek and the Green Hornet!
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and thirty-four.
COMIC LEGEND: George McManus was involved in a stock trading scheme where he would alert the others through hints in the dialogue of his comic strip, Bringing Up Father.
STATUS: False (but the truth is nearly as crazy)
Reader Anthony Durrant wrote in a couple of months to suggest the following:
I remember reading awhile back that the cartoonist George McManus, who drew BRINGING UP FATHER, was a participant in a fraudulent stock trading scheme. His job in the scheme was to alert the other participants to which stocks were on the rise through his strip, which he did by incorporating them into the dialogue of the characters. The persons involved in the scam then learned of the advances on the stock market through the strip, which they were able to decode through a special viewer.
That is not exactly the truth, but it forms the bare bones of an amazingly bizarre stock market scandal of the late 1940s.
You see, Frederick N. Goldsmith was one of the most successful stock market forecasters on Wall Street. For nearly 50 years, he worked in the stock market giving advice to investors. He had made up to $39,000 in a single year writing forecasts for the markets. He had upwards of 200 subscribers paying him $25 a month for his predictions!
That was all well and good until 1948 when the New York State Attorney General’s office began investigating claims of how Goldsmith was making the predictions. As it turned out, we was using the comic strip Bringing Up Father!!! And that’s not even the WEIRDEST part of the story!
I’ve written about Bringing Up Father before in this column, but as a refresher on it, the basic concept behind George McManus’ popular strip, Bringing Up Father (known mostly as Maggie and Jiggs, after the main characters) is that an Irish guy from the streets named Jiggs comes into a whole lot of money. So this guy without “refined” taste is now quite rich, but he refuses to give up his old haunts and habits (which does not please his wife, Maggie, who wants the social status being rich is supposed to give you). It’s a charming comic strip that lasted until 2000, a remarkable run for a comic (McManus did the strip until his death in 1954).
You see, when Goldsmith would advertise his services, he would claim that he had “inside” information. As it turned out, though, in 1916, a spiritualist had put him in touch with the ghost of famed Wall Street financier James R. Keene. The ghost of Keene told him that “insiders” rigged the market and in recent years they revealed the truth using a code that appeared in Bringing Up Father.
Goldsmith remarked, “It took me an awfully long time to break the code, but once I did, it was simple to predict the market with 90 to 95% accuracy.”
For an example, Goldsmith took a Maggie & Jiggs strip of May 1947.
The first frame showed Jiggs with his right hand in his pocket. Explained Analyst Goldsmith: “A signal to buy.” Two rings of smoke were coming from Jiggs’s cigar (“The market will go up in the second hour of trading”). In the second frame, Maggie is saying: “I don’t see why you can’t get your name in the paper, too” (“Buy International Paper”). In the last frame, Jiggs’s cigar smoke is still rising, indicating a steady market at the close.
Goldsmith felt that there was nothing wrong with what he was doing (even noting that the ghost of JP Morgan had come to him recently to tell him he was doing fine). However, the court decided that he could no longer work as a forecaster. It was less his methods and more the fact that he never told people about them that distressed the judge (plenty of his clients testified on his behalf, including one fellow who said that Goldsmith’s tips netted him $150,000 in profit!).
McManus (64 years old at the time) noted to reporters that if he had insider tips, he wouldn’t be bothering to still draw cartoons. McManus, notably, actually lost essentially his entire fortune in the 1929 stock market crash (he slowly built it back up before he died).
How awesome is that story?
Thanks to Anthony Durrant for the suggestion and thanks to Time Magazine for the scoop!
Check out the latest TV Urban Legends Revealed to learn whether Viacom actually got sued over how they handled the Star Trek franchise! Plus, legends about I Love Lucy and the strange way an ER character was saved from death! (the link works this time!)
COMIC LEGEND: DC once canceled a comic book because Mort Weisinger hated it.
STATUS: Basically True
In 1968, Joe Simon created a new series drawn by artist Al Bare called The Geek (specifically Brother Power, The Geek).
Edited by Joe Orlando, the book was a clear attempt by DC to cash in on the “hippie movement” in America at the time.
Here is the introduction of the character…
In #2, things get even crazier as the Geek gets involved in a protest at a missile factory…
And ends up in space by the end of the issue (Governor Ronald Reagan makes a cameo!)…
While the book was definitely an attempt to cash in on the hippie movement, it was not exactly like Orlando and Simon were young rebels trying to take on the establishment. Orlando was 41 years old and Simon was 55!
Still, when longtime Superman editor Mort Weisinger saw the comic, he was outraged. He went to DC publisher Jack Liebowitz and explained to him that it was not right for DC Comics to be publishing a comic that glorified the hippie movement and drug culture. Liebowitz ultimately agreed with Weisinger and canceled the comic with issue #2. The sales were not exactly outstanding, so it was not like Liebowitz was canceling a gold mine here, but sales were strong enough to keep the book going.
That was almost like a last hurrah for Weisinger, though, as a power player at DC, as Carmine Infantino (at the time the editorial director at DC) was promoted by Liebowitz to replace Liebowitz as publisher when he retired and the “old guard” was out.
Both Simon and Infantino have told the Weisinger story independently of each other, to Comic Book Artist (here’s Infantino from Comic Book Artist #1, as interviewed by the great Jon B. Cooke, “Mort Weisinger was offended by the book and he went to Leibowitz. At that time he had an awful lot of weight and the book was killed! The first issue did so-so, but the second issue was starting to come up in sales. It was starting to do better but unfortunately we had to kill it off”) and a variety of other comic book magazines, so I think it is fair to say that the story is true.
Mark Evanier wrote in to note that while Weisinger definitely did not like the contents of the book, he likely also saw Joe Simon as a threat, and felt that if the book succeeded, Simon would have been hired on by DC as an editor, so that was another motivation for Weisinger wanting the book killed. Thanks, Mark!
Check out the latest Baseball Urban Legends Revealed to learn whether Vladimir Nabokov worked an actual baseball headline into one of his most famous works. Plus, marvel at the strange Little League World Series game where the two teams both tried to let the other team score! And discover why a baseball umpire threw two TV cameramen out of a game!
COMIC LEGEND: Now’s Green Hornet comic had to make an abrupt change with who their Kato was because of the licensors.
In 1989, NOW Comics debuted a new Green Hornet series, initially written by Ron Fortier. The series tried to place the original Green Hornet into the same universe as the 1960s TV series by suggesting that the TV series featured the sons of the original Green Hornet and the original Kato.
Now the book was going to star the nephew of the second Green Hornet, Paul Reid, and the much younger half-sister of the second Kato (the “Bruce Lee Kato,” as it were).
The new Kato made her debut in Green Hornet #7…
Amazingly enough, the new Kato made an abrupt exit in #10, just THREE issues later!
You see, as it turns out, the licensors decided that they did not want a female Kato, but instead wanted the “Bruce Lee Kato,” so in a quick turnaround, the “Bruce Lee Kato” returns in #13…
The editors of Green Hornet confirmed as much in the letter column of #12, stating:
The Green Hornet is a licensed property, which means that the licensors, not NOW Comics, have the final say over what direction the book takes. They decided to keep Hayashi [the name Fortier came up with for the TV series Kato] as Kato instead of going on with Mishi. However, Mishi will still be a part of the Reid clan’s life.
I certainly don’t begrudge the licensors’ point of view, but man, talk about a weird chain of events. With such a quick turnaround, it almost seemed like the change was never approved in the first place!
Check out the latest Poetry Urban Legends Revealed to learn if Thomas Bowdler actually “bowdlerised” a reference to a bull in Longfellow’s “Wreck of the Hesperus” to “gentleman cow,” we marvel at the brashness of Robert Lowell and discover exactly what really happened to Dorothy Parker’s ashes! (the link works this time!)
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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See you all next week!