Monday, April 11, 2011

Happy birthday, Dale Messick!

One hundred and five years ago on this date in South Bend, IN, Dahlia Messick was born—and from her early childhood, her interest in writing and drawing was so great that she chose to pursue both as her career path by attending Chicago’s Ray Commercial Art School.  She left the school after getting work at a greeting card company in the Windy City, but quit after her boss cut her pay.  This may not have been the smartest move to make during the Great Depression but after moving to New York City in 1933, she found work at another greeting card firm that paid her the princely sum of $50 a week.

Dahlia had a desire to become a comic strip artist—and even though there were a few female artists in that business it was for the most part an all-male preserve.  She hit upon the idea of changing her name to “Dale” in order to sneak past the editors’ bias and after a series of strips that she submitted proved unsuccessful she created one about a female newspaper reporter.  The character of “Brenda Starr,” named after a 1930s socialite (and drawn to look like silver screen siren Rita Hayworth), was a globetrotting member of the fourth estate who glamorous adventures were in no related to the real-life nine-to-five grind of women in the same ink-stained profession…something Messick dismissed by saying: “…if I made Brenda’s life like theirs, nobody would read it.”  Brenda Starr, Reporter originally started appearing in the Chicago Tribune as a comic book supplement provided in Tribune’s Sunday edition but soon graduated to regular Sunday strip status, with a daily version appearing in 1945.

Messick drew Brenda Starr for nearly forty years, finally retiring her pen in 1980 (though she continued to script the strip until 1982) to allow a number of other artists carry on with Brenda’s adventures until the Tribune retired the strip in January of this year.  At the height of its fame, Brenda Starr, Reporter appeared in nearly 250 newspapers but toward the end of the strip’s run it had dwindled down to about 35.  (The Savannah News-Press may have been one of these papers; I know that when I was still living there you could find Brenda and her cohorts in the section of the paper where people announce they’re no longer responsible for their debts and the like.)  Brenda’s creator left this world for a better one in 2005 at the age of 98; Dale had tried to start another successful strip after leaving Starr but was never able to recapture lightning in a bottle (she did do a feature entitled Granny Glamour, which appeared in a local Oakmont, CA magazine, but she surrendered that strip when she suffered a stroke in 1998 and could no longer hold a pen).

But as the saying goes: “When God closes a door, he opens a window”—Brenda Starr may have said farewell to the funny papers on January 2, 2011 but fans of the strip might be interested in checking out a new DVD release from VCI: the 1945 Columbia serial Brenda Starr, Reporter.  Considered for many years to be lost (Columbia’s rights to the character had expired and the Tribune stupidly destroyed most of the remaining prints), the chapter play’s nitrate negative turned up in the archives of the Library of Congress but was already in a state of deterioration; according to the Brenda Starr page of VCI’s blog “they were too late to save parts of chapters 3 and 4; the soundtrack is missing on half of one chapter and the picture is missing on half of the other chapter.”  Nevertheless, the company was able to salvage the remaining material and do a none-too-shabby restoration on what remains (with the help of film preservationist Fred Shay) to allow cliffhanger fans a chance to see this rarity (it was released on March 1 of this same year).  I bought a copy from DVD Pacific and I hope to be able to sit down with it when I’m not as busy, busy…busy! preoccupied with other pressing matters…but I encourage you to seek this DVD out on your own, and to help with your decision here are some enthusiastic reviews from classic movie maven Leonard Maltin and’s John J. Puccio.

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Fuzzy Q. Jones said...

Love your Blog Ivan Fuzzy

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Thanks for encouraging my behavior, pardner!

Marilyn said...

I met the gracious Ms. Messick at the flagship Marshall Field's store. She was there doing promotion for the new Brenda Starr doll. I asked her if I could have an autograph on one of the comic strip frames she was drawing, and she said if I bought the doll, I could. I did not buy the doll because I couldn't afford it. I regret that decision now.

Lovely tribute, Ivan, of a "starr" fading from memory.