Real-Life Horror #5: High-rise Terrors
. When I worked at TV Guide in the early 1960s, I was on the 28th floor of the Sperry-Rand Building (at 1290 Sixth Avenue). The CBS building had just been constructed across the street. It was nicknamed Black Rock because the building was clad in unpolished Canadian black granite. One day I looked out the window and saw a small crack in the granite on the 27th floor. Some days later, I noticed it had widened. Just when I was beginning to wonder if I should report my observations, a scaffold was lowered, and three guys in suits and ties nervously climbed out a window, making a scary transfer to the scaffold. Later, a huge metal bolt was put in the crack, maybe to keep granite from falling to the street. Exactly how the final repair was accomplished I never knew. Years later, I learned that certain sidewalks in Manhattan have temporary coverings not because construction is underway but because pieces of buildings are falling off.
There were only three offices on the 28th floor: TV Guide, Martin Ransohoff Productions and Jac Holzman's Elektra Records, with its subsidiaries Nonesuch Records and Nonesuch Films. One day I asked Holzman what films Nonesuch Films had made, and he said, "Nonesuch." When some kind of construction work was going on inside Elektra, I heard an odd sound, turned and saw a drill coming through the wall toward my head. I backed away.
Around the corner from the elevators was a door that obviously did not lead to Ransohoff, Elektra or TV Guide. I became curious, and one day I turned the doorknob, realized it was unlocked, opened the door and gasped in amazement.
The door opened into a gigantic airshaft about 30 feet across. I stepped out onto a tiny platform with a waist-high railing. With one hand I clutched the railing. I was standing inside the airshaft, and I took care not to let the door close behind me, keeping my other hand on the doorknob. What if it closed... and then locked? In retrospect, the situation looked like it could have been a scene from Die Hard. Wind swirled as I looked up toward the top of the building and down into darkness. There was nothing to see but other small platforms off in the distance. I stepped back inside and closed the door.
Every so often I recalled the moment of standing on that tiny ledge inside the immense interior. It had been like stepping into an alternate world from the brightly lit hallway. No one else ever seemed interested in the door, even when I described what I had seen. When the coffee cart rolled from the elevator, we stood in line in the hallway, and I would glance at the door, knowing the world beyond. I was haunted by that memory, and a month later, I opened the door again. This time was different. The wind was much stronger. Holding the door, I stepped out with only one foot. The intensity of the wind was such that I wondered if I could be suddenly sucked into the airshaft. With that fearful thought, I quickly stepped back into the hallway and never opened the door again.
Wood Chips #39: Roger Brand
Kim Deitch's recent very moving writing about Roger Brand has stirred a lot of comments, with people posting their own memories of Roger. It all brings back those long ago days and nights of creative jaunts at drawing boards all over Manhattan. You can read Kim's memoir and the remarkable comments it triggered here.
This prompted me to recall my own meeting with Roger when he drew one of my scripts for Jungle Jim #22 (February 1969), following my layouts. This was actually written by completing a script someone else at the Wood Studio had started and then abandoned. The four Jungle Jim stories I wrote for Wally Wood were penciled by Roger, Tom Palmer, Steve Ditko and (in a later issue) Pat Boyette. Of the four, this one is the weakest. The convoluted plot elements barely hang together, but Roger's considerable drawing skills keep the story from totally collapsing. I like the coloring effect of the pure white beam. Wally Wood inked, along with Roger, me and others in a group inking session at the Wood Studio in 1967. Bill Yoshida did the lettering.
Chad Grothkopf (1914-2005) created the first television animated cartoon, the eight-minute Willie the Worm (1938), seen in a single frame at bottom. He created DC's Johnny Quick and Fawcett's Hoppy, the Marvel Bunny (1942), and he drew the Howdy Doody comic strip from 1950 to 1953. The Kean in the credit box is Edward Kean, who died last year in Michigan. Kean wrote 2000 episodes of the Howdy Doody TV series, created the show's theme song and coined the word "Kowabunga".
Irving Phillips' The Strange World of Mr. Mum ran from 1958 to 1974. It was a daily panel which added a Sunday strip in 1960. As I recall, Mort Walker told Virgil Partch he could get him a syndicated gig. VIP told Walker he was doing fine with gag cartoons in magazines. When the magazine markets began to dry up, Partch in 1960 prepared his cartoons as a newspaper feature, but the syndicate said, "We just bought this Mr. Mum, and one surreal cartoon is enough. Sorry." So instead of doing the type of imaginative cartoons that made him one of the leading 1940s cartoonists, Partch syndicated the suburban backyard Big George.
Ray Smith, host of The Jazz Decades, tells his life story. Smith died February 26, 2010 at the age of 87. He first produced The Jazz Decades in 1958 for WKOX in Framingham, Massachusetts. He joined WGBH Boston in 1972 and over the next 38 years, he produced more than 1900 programs. Some can be heard here.
Wood Chips #38: The comic strip Christmas party and the real-life Andy Gump
Wally Wood documented "The Comic Strip Characters Christmas Party" in Mad #68 (January 1962). Rex Morgan M.D. tells Dick Tracy about surgery on chinless Andy Gump. Morgan refers to the entire Gump family, a curious gag line since the others, apart from Andy, did have chins.
Ironically, there was a real-life Andy Gump who had surgery. This was Andy Wheat, born in 1890 in Bay St, Louis, Mississippi. He had an infected tooth that led to the removal of his entire lower jaw. After cartoonist Sidney Smith met Wheat through his brother, Dr. Thomas Smith, a dentist in Bloomington, Illinois, he decided to use Wheat as the basis for a comic strip character. Wheat was 27 when The Gumps debuted in newspapers in 1917. Later, he legally changed his name to Andy Gump. Note that he is dressed like Andy Gump in the photo below.
The word "gump" was introduced by James Russell Lowell in The Biglow Papers (1848).