Welcome to the four hundred and twenty-fourth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and twenty-three. This week, seriously, was Superman giving away radioactive secrets during World War II? Did Bob Kane actually swipe Todd McFarlane?! And did a cartoonist really coin the phrase “What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar”?
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
COMIC LEGEND: Did the U.S. Government tell the Superman radio show to quit using kryptonite on the show during World War II?
STATUS: I’m Going With True
I have written in the past about how the U.S. Government informed the writers of the Superman comic book and the Superman comic strip that they should not be doing any stories about nuclear weapons, in part because they did not want the American public to think that nuclear power was something that you would see in a comic book, ya know?
Heck, this topic was even the title of my book, Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed
However, in his recent book, Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, Glen Weldon uncovered ANOTHER example of U.S. government censorship at the time. This time it was on the Superman RADIO show!
You see, the government did not like the usage of kryptonite on the program, for pretty much the same reasons they didn’t want to see nuclear power treated like a joke in the comics (in this instance, ANY usage in a comic would be considered “treating it like a joke”). Discussion about radioactive elements, even ones as fantastical as kryptonite, was just seen as too sensitive for public consumption. So the Adventures of Superman radio show held off on using kryptonite on the show for the rest of the war (I am unsure of when exactly during the war the government told them to quit it). Kryptonite popped up again on the radio show in September of 1945 (here it is from an old Superman comic book).
Thanks to Glen Weldon for the awesome new information! Be sure to check his book out – lots of cool stuff in there.
Check out some Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed!
Did Joe Walsh Use Morse Code to Sneak Hidden Messages Into Some Songs?
On the next page, did Bob Kane seriously swipe Todd McFarlane?!
STATUS: I’m Going With True
Bob Kane, as likely all of you know by now, was not exactly the world’s most prolific artist from the 1950s onward. The Batman comic books attributed to him were actually drawn by his ghosts, most notably Sheldon Moldoff.
So things got kind of weird in the late 1980s when the Batman film was coming out and suddenly there was a lot of demand for Bob Kane to produce some artwork to tie in with the film.
When Kane co-created Batman back in the late 1930s, comic artists often swiped poses and designs from the most popular comic artists of the time. In the late 1930s, that mostly meant a TON of Hal Foster swipes, as Foster was THE guy for action comics (Alex Raymond became a popular guy to swipe, as well).
As I have detailed in an old Comic Book Legends Revealed, Kane was no different and swiped heavily (you can check out the swipes here).
Kane took that same approach when doing some “drawing” in the late 1980s. You almost have to give him some credit for being aware of who the “hot” comic book artist was at the time, which would be Todd McFarlane, as Kane proceeded to pretty blatantly swipe Todd McFarlane’s work. Here is a piece that Kane drew that also appeared on some promotional items for the Batman film…
And here is a then-recent panel by Todd McFarlane…
Is that 100% proof? Of course not, but it is pretty darn close. Close enough for me to give it a true. It also did not help that Kane, at the time, referred to McFarlane in interviews as one of his “ghosts” for some reason.
McFarlane handled the situation with some sardonic humor, as seen on this cover of Amazing Heroes soon after the controversy…
Thanks to reader Jacob for the suggestion and thanks to Bob Hughes for the Kane/McFarlane comparison (do note that there’s a decent chance that it was not Kane who did the swiping, but a third party artist hired by Kane to do the drawing).
Check out the latest edition of my weekly Movie/TV Legends Revealed Column at Spinoff Online: Was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory produced as basically a giant ad for candy?
On the next page, was a famous one-liner from a U.S. Vice President really from a comic strip?
COMIC LEGEND: The term “What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar” was actually coined by a cartoonist, not Vice President Thomas R. Marshall.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
Reader Elliot wrote to me awhile back to ask:
I recently read in *Veeps* by Kelter and Shellabarger that Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall’s famous quotation about “What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar” originated from the strip *Abe Martin of Brown Country*. True? I can’t really find it anywhere else.
Thomas Riley Marshall, Woodrow Wilson’s Vice President, is likely one of the country’s least remembered Vice Presidents. Sadly enough, he really IS best remembered only for a one-liner he once delivered in response to Senator Joseph Bristow listing the country’s needs. Marshall retorted, “What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar.”
That’s pretty much his legacy. A great one-liner.
But was it even his own?
Elliot refers to Abe Martin, who was an extremely popular character created by cartoonist Kin Hubbard in the early 20th Century (1904 until Hubbard’s death in 1930).
Abe Martin was a down-to-Earth character with homespun wisdom.
Here are a few of his classic quotes:
“Don’t knock th’ weather. Nine-tenths o’ th’ people couldn’ start a conversation if it didn’ change once in a while.”
“Flattery won’t hurt you if you don’t swallow it.”
“Nobody ever forgets where he buried the hatchet.”
“Nobody can be as agreeable as an uninvited guest.”
Funny stuff. Here are two of his comics…
So the charge is that it was Hubbard who came up with the quote in one of his strips circa 1905 and not Marshall in the 1910s. And there’s definitely something to be said for that, as Hubbard DID, indeed, make many comments about “good cigars,” although I don’t think Abe Martin ever said the EXACT phrase in any of the comics. Still, Marshall was the governor of Indiana and Hubbard was from Indiana, it seems logical that Marshall would have been influenced by Hubbard. In addition, Abe Martin WAS associated enough with the line that a company even used Abe Martin to sell…five cent cigars! Here’s a cigar wrapper…
So Hubbard had a decent case when it came down to who came up with the line.
HOWEVER, the issue is moot since the phrase predated BOTH men.
As Jeffrey Graf of Indiana University notes:
The remark, however, appears well before 1905. The Yale Book of Quotations cites the Hartford Courant of September 22, 1875: “What this country really needs is a good five cent cigar – New York Mail. Other earlier sources include The New Orleans Times of September 25, 1875 which reads under the headline “Personalities”: The Danbury News isn’t a dead journal yet by any means, but continues, at intervals, to hit the nail on the head with astonishing force and precision. It says: What this country really needs is a good five cent cigar. The Saturday Evening Post of October 16, 1875 under “Facetiae” reports: The Danbury News says: “What this country really needs is a good five cent cigar.” It is safe to wager ten to one that the editor’s wife enertains an entirely different opinion.
Sooo…yeah, NEITHER guy came up with it.
Thanks to Elliot for the question and thanks to Jeffrey Graf for the definitive answer! Check out Jeffrey’s paper on the topic here for more information.
Check out some classic Comic Book Legends Revealed related to other comic strips that DID inspire parts of our culture!
What comic strip led to the nickname of the Clash’s drummer?
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. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!
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See you all next week!