This is the second in a series (of indefinite length and regularity) of pieces giving you the cultural context behind certain comic book characters/behaviors. You know, the sort of then-topical references that have faded into the “foggy ruins of time.”
It’s basically like Meta-Messages, except that this is about references in old comics that have nothing to do with other comics, but rather the popular culture of the time. To wit, twenty years from now, a college senior watching episodes of Seinfeld will likely miss a lot of the then-topical pop culture humor (like the very specific references in “The Understudy” to the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding scandal). Here is an archive of all the Foggy Ruins of Time installments so far.
Today we look at the sitcom heritage of Iron Man’s secretary, Pepper Potts!
Along with Tony Stark’s chauffeur/bodyguard, Happy Hogan, Virginia “Pepper” Potts made her debut in 1963’s Tales of Suspense #45, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Don Heck.
(note that Tony calls her “Kitty” in the above panel – he called her Pepper just a page earlier in the issue and she’s Pepper on the cover of the issue, so likely it’s a pet name or else Stan Lee just made a typo)
Pepper, the loyal secretary who has a crush on her womanizing boss, was specifically modeled after a 1950’s sitcom character.
Don Heck modeled her after Ann B. Davis’ character of Schultzy from the Bob Cummings Show…
The Bob Cummings Show was an acclaimed sitcom that ran for five years in the late 1950s. And before she played Alice on the Brady Bunch, Davis played Schultzy, the secretary of Bob Cummings’ womanizing photographer character (also called Bob). For the last four years of the show, both Cummings and Davis were nominated for Emmy Awards each year, with Davis winning the Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy award in 1958 and 1959!
The show was later syndicated as Love That Bob…
Davis then went on to appear as the housekeeper Alice on the popular family sitcom, The Brady Bunch.
For whatever reason, someone (Lee, perhaps?) decided that Heck’s design on Pepper was TOO Schultzy, so just five issues after she debuted, in Tales of Suspense #50, Pepper got a makeover…
And that’s how she has looked, more or less, ever since.
Thanks to Andy Mangels’ Iron Man: Beneath the Armor for the information about Heck modeling Pepper after Schultzy!
EDITED TO ADD: Our condolences to the friends and family of Ann B. Davis, who passed away on June 1, 2014.