Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Newspaper Reprints: Smitty

Smitty appeared in Series I with one issue continuing in Series II with 5 more issues reprinting syndicate material and 7 issues of his own title. Smitty and Herby returned in 1958 for one more issue in Series II, this time with new material.

Smitty chronicles the life of an office boy and his employer Mr Bailey as well as the adventures of his younger brother Herby. Creator Walter Berndt draws upon real life experience as his career began as an office boy on the New York Journal. Berndt quit High School after six months and in 1916 at the Journal he began an association with cartoonist Thomas A. Dorgan. He stated that this is how he learned to draw - from assisting TAD. Berndt began drawing a gag panel around 1918 called Then The Fun Began as well as filling in for Dorgan on Mondays with a Sports Cartoon.

Walter left the Journal and signed on with the Bell Syndicate to produce a daily strip called That's Different. The strip was a failure and Berndt and Bell parted ways. He next joined the New York World where he created the daily strip Bill The Office Boy. After two weeks he was fired from the World for as he put it "the way I addressed the boss".

That very same day Berndt visited Captain Joseph Patterson at the New York Daily News and showed him the strip. Patterson liked it and signed him to a contract with the stipulation that he change the boy's name. Berndt picked up a phone book, opened it at random and saw the name Smith and Smitty was born. Beginning in 1922 Smitty continued until Berndt retired 52 years later in 1974. Berndt was 80 when he died in 1979.

The Long Island Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society honored him by naming their group The Berndt Toast Gang.
Series 1 Issue 10

This issue has not been located so more information will be forthcoming in the future. See the list for missing issues. If you can provide a copy for scanning (or scan it yourself) get in touch with me.

Series II Issue 6

This is also a missing issue. Got one to lend?

Series II Issue 32 is a 60 page issue and reprints strips from 1937, 38 and 40. Beginning on the inside front cover, Smitty gets his friend Stanley hired by Mr Bailey. Stanley is supposed to be Smitty's assistant but shirks all work and brown noses Mr Bailey constantly. Stanley is out for Smitty's job and is constantly running him down to Mr Bailey and sabotaging Smitty's work. Not content to just stab Smitty, he is stealing others ideas as seen in this page.

Stanley finally succeeds in his dirty work. Smitty is reassigned to the shipping department and he takes his place assisting Mr Bailey. Smitty has been fooled by Stanley all this time, not knowing that it was Stanley's doing that got him transferred. The other men in the Company try to put Smitty wise and he begins to catch Stanley in lies. With Herby's help, Smitty comes up with a plan to expose Stanley and get his job back.

Herby is hidden in a file cabinet where he uses his skill with the slingshot to pop Stanley at the right moment causing him to drop Mr Bailey's lunch on him. Stanley catches Herby and sits him on the desk where the intercom is accidentally turned on. The entire building hears Stanley admit he's a crook. Smitty hears Stanley smack Herby and rushes to the rescue chasing Stanley out of the building. Mr Bailey has also heard the confession and gives Smitty his old job back.

After a short sequence where Smitty trades in his Short pants for Long Pants we meet George the Indian Guide from the North Woods. What's That? You don't understand short/long pants? Ok youngster, here's the deal. Many years ago, boys wore shorts. Men wore pants. It was a sign of reaching manhood when a boy traded in his short pants for long. Now back to the narrative.

George is in town to ask Mr Bailey for a job. On the spot Mr Bailey doesn't know what to do, George is only familiar with the outdoor life. Smitty has the answer, put him in charge of Mr Baileys new penthouse. It seems Mr Bailey has put in trees, flowers and a little brook on the roof of his building, 36 floors above the street.

Later George gets a telegram from home that his Suzette has had a baby boy. As George heads for home we find out that Suzette is his mule.

Mr Bailey decides he and Smitty should catch an airplane and fly to the North Woods. Since George is taking the train they expect to arrive before him and play a joke by putting the baby mule into a crib as well as bring other baby gifts. After a good laugh Smitty takes off in a canoe and looses his paddle in the rapids. After drifting off overnight Smitty is found by a group of Indians and taken to their camp. Meanwhile George and Mr Bailey set off in search of Smitty.

Smitty goes native and finds a friend his age in the camp as he learns Indian ways. A thief meanwhile has been stealing food. Smitty and his friend track him down only to find it's a bear cub. Smitty wants to keep the bear as a pet but the Indians want to kill it as a menace. When they think that it has bitten a small child they are on the verge when Smitty discovers that a wolf bit the child, the bear then saved the child by killing the wolf. The cub is freed back into the woods.

Mr Bailey and George find Smitty and after some jokes on Mr Bailey they head back home.

The focus of the issue now switches to follow an adventure with Herby. As seen in the page on the left Herby has sold his dog without really meaning to.

Heartbroken Herbie spends every day after school searching for Freckles. He finally finds him behind a big fence in the yard of a wealthy boy. The boy sympathises with Herby but cannot give him back the dog. Herby visits every day and one day notices that Freckles is not in sight. Eventually he discovers that the dog is sick. Convincing the boy that Freckles will recover if he takes him home, the boy relents. But Herby must return Freckles after he recovers. Seeing how well Freckles is doing at Herby's house the boy gives him back the dog.

As our issue comes to an end we make a quick trip back to the office where Mr Bailey is practising his ventriloquist act for his Club show. A couple pages of jokes about voices from unusual objects closes us out.

Series II Issue 65 features Mr Bailey and Smitty on the cover with another outdoor scene. This 52 page issue reprints strips from 1937, 40-41. The issue opens with a Sunday page joke featuring Herby on the inside cover.

On the next page Mr Bailey is entertaining Steve Smart an old friend from the old Home Town. What no one knows is that Smart is a crook and has hidden a pearl necklace in a vase in Mr Bailey's office. Smart is passing himself off as a magician with sleight of hand tricks rather than as a pickpocket and sneak thief. Picked up by the police Smart calls Bailey who is about to bail him out when he learns that Smart really is a crook.

Smart decides to get his revenge by implicating Bailey as his partner in the pearl robbery. Taking the police to the office he produces the necklace from the vase. As Bailey tries to explain Smart disappears.

Mr Bailey is suffering under the strain that everyone thinks he's a crook. Smart meanwhile reads in the paper the the vase he hid the $500 necklace in was worth $10,000. He sneaks back to steal the vase only to discover it was a trap laid for him by the police. Mr Bailey's reputation is restored.

After a quick resumption of the ventriloquism story from the prior issue Mr Bailey gets a phone call from George the Indian Guide. "The Old Fighter", the big fish has returned to the lake. Smitty and Mr Bailey fly off to the North Woods to catch the fish that's eluded Bailey all these years.

We meet another North Woods character, The Old Trapper, who sells Mr Bailey his lucky fishing hat. Must be lucky George says, he's sold it ten times before. After lots of bad fishing luck Mr Bailey has finally hooked The Old Fighter only to have the canoe sink.

The issue now suffers from the trademark bad editing the newspaper strips exhibited in the series, we suddenly return to the office where Mr Bailey has problems he needs to solve but can not concentrate on the answers. A trip to the Florida Beaches will solve it.

As seen in the page on the left Smitty is having a grand time but Mr Bailey can't seem to relax. Eventually he decides a fishing expedition is what he needs. He charters a boat to go out fishing without knowing that the ship is carrying weapons and explosives for Jamaican rebels. What better cover than having a couple of fishermen on deck.

As they arrive in Jamaica a storm blows in and sends the ship towards the rocks. The crew deserts leaving Smitty and Mr Bailey on board. Mr Bailey doesn't know how to sail and decides they need to wreck the boat on the rocks before the storm blows them out to sea. Somehow they manage to keep missing the rocks and eventually beach it on a sand bar. Mr Bailey tosses his cigar which falls into the hold as they leave.

The smugglers seeing the boat on the sandbar rush towards it to claim the explosives only to see it blow up before they get there. Thinking Smitty and Mr Bailey were aboard they flee. Meanwhile Smitty and Mr Bailey settle down on the beach to relax and figure out what to do now that they are marooned when they hear an eerie voice calling "stay out of the death pit". Turns out they aren't marooned but are sitting in a sand trap on the Paradise Palm Golf Club.

The scene now shifts back home. Mother Smith is under the weather so Herby takes over as Mom. We get several pages of role reversal as Herby takes on the persona of Mother. Eventually Mom has recovered and Herby returns to being a kid.

Back in the office Smitty decides to try to fill an open sales position. His joy in the new job begins to wear out and he misses his old job with Mr Bailey. Bailey is also missing Smitty. Smitty's work is suffering and as the issue comes to an end the head of the Sales Department fires Smitty, much to the delight of Smitty and Mr Bailey.

Series II Issue 99 returns once more to the North Woods on the cover reflecting Berndt's interest in the outdoors and fishing. Smitty and Mr Bailey look aghast at the Indian in the canoe. We'll meet him shortly inside.

The issue reprints strips from 1941 and like last issue the inside cover features Herby from a Sunday page where his teacher misinterprets why Herby is walking to school with Officer Barney. It's the first day of the School year and she thinks he's one of the bad boys she's been warned about while they are just passing the time. Poor Herby finds himself in the sitting in the corner without knowing why.

As our story opens we find Mr Bailey consumed with a noise only he can hear. "Thump Thumpa Thump". The doctor advises him to head for the North Woods and relax a bit. So off go Smitty and Mr Bailey. Turns out the noise is from Little Moose (our cover Indian). Little Moose is troubled and is sending a message to the Great Dark Spirit. He hasn't trapped any muskrat in many moons and ask the Spirit to send him some muskrat. What he gets instead is Mr bailey who follows the beat to Little Moose's camp. Bailey broods over the black magic calling him and Little Moose's superstition and decides to civilize him. Little Moose accepts the invitation to move into the cabin.

After many false starts and jokes it appears that Mr Bailey's efforts are paying off when "The Old Fighter" is spotted again out in the lake. Both Bailey and Little Moose have been trying to land the big fish for years and a heated rivalry erupts. The fish escapes again and Smitty and Mr Bailey return home.

Our focus now switches to Herby. His new teacher is looking for a place to stay and moves in with the Smith family. This is beginning to have an effect on Herby's friends. Meanwhile a new arrival comes to the door. Herby doesn't realize that his teacher has a boy friend. Herby is saved when they marry and move out.

The scene now shifts back to the office. The Coach of Mr Bailey's College has called upon "Cannonball" Bailey, the Captain of the 1906 Football Team. The Coach would like to get his secret never fail play for the upcoming Big Game. The only problem is Mr Bailey can't remember who it goes. After much effort he finally remembers it, draws it out and gives it to Smitty to deliver to the Coach. The Big Game arrives and the team runs the play at the last moment to score a touchdown and win the game. Mr Bailey watching from the stands is confused, that wasn't the way it was supposed to go. The problem is Smitty delivered the play his sandlot team was going to run. Smitty's team ran Bailey's play only to have it fail.

Mr Bailey has been looking out the window and notices a girl in the building across the street is putting signs in her window, such as Good Morning, Gone for the Day. Hello and so on. Mr Bailey thinks a romance is in the offing and sends Smitty out to have a sign made that says What's your name?. Mr Bailey sees it in the window and finds out that he was looking at the sign shop. The girl was putting the signs in the window to dry.

Smitty gets a letter threatening him with a poke in the nose. He tosses it for the waste basket only to have a fan blow it onto Mr Bailey's desk. Bailey finds the note and now both he and Smitty are worried and trying to figure out who sent them such a note. After much anxiety Mr Bailey finds out that a joker in the office sent the note to Smitty. Mr Bailey gives him a hearty laugh and a return shot.

We next find ourselves on Mr Bailey's rooftop garden where he and Smitty grow vegetables which they sell and use the proceeds to buy War Stamps. We next find Herby out to buy War Stamps. The incentive is a kiss from Mary for ever 10 cent stamp purchased. Every time Herby gets close he gets cold feet and runs off. He finally manages to make his purchase as noted in the page at left.

Mr Bailey decides he wants to return to his roots, so he and Smitty are working part time in the Shipping Department.

As the issue ends we get a patriotic message as Smitty gets turned down as too young by the Army and Navy when he tries to enlist.

Series II Issue 138 is the final reprint issue and features material from 1941. Another 52 pager, my copy was scanned from microfiche, so colors are off a bit and resolution is not real sharp. On the familiar North Woods theme cover we find Smitty and Herby hiding in plain sight on the Totem as Mr Bailey and Little Moose search for them.

We open on the inside cover with a crisis, Mr Bailey has been suddenly called out of town. The entire office must rely on Smitty as he knows where Mr Bailey puts everything and also knows what bailey would do in sitautions. Smitty is enjoying his new position as boss and makes the most of it. The fall back to office boy is tough until he remembers his slingshot.

Mr Bailey is suffering from "Logus of the Bogus" or too many business worries. The Doctor advises him that he must become more childlike to relieve himself of worries and therefore he shoudl do everything Smitty does. The juvenile antics fail to improve the situation, indeed they cause more problems. Bailey fires his Doctor and he and Smitty head for the North Woods.

George sends Mr Bailey off to a special spot and he finally has his cares washed away. Feeling better he decides he should try to find Little Moose and pay a visit. Little Moose dislikes Bailey and decides to make him his slave. He cooks up a magic potion but accidentally drinks it himself and finds himself as Bailey's slave. Mr Bailey realizes that Little Moose can take him to The Old Fighter and that he can finally catch him. Little Moose has him hanging by a rope over a ledge when the spell wears off and he drops Bailey into the stream.

Little Moose realized him plan had backfired but he is able to salvage it but telling Bailey he will not lead him out of the deep woods until he carries him on his back. He leads him on a long winding path around camp for a week before Bailey smells bacon cooking and finds his way home.

We shift scene to return home where we find Herby at the beach. He decides he wants to be a life guard and the girls decide he's so cute why not humor him. So Herby is made a life guard. We have series of life guard jokes before we return to Smitty who decides to go to night school to further his education. Eventually Mr Bailey gives him a raise and Smitty quits school.

Mr Bailey is trying to meet with Mr Van Zanny to finalize a contract renewal. Van Zanny keeps putting him off and is getting Bailey's goat. Bailey finally gets the idea to make Smitty legally the President of the Company so that Van Zanny must deal with him. Smitty once again finds himself as the big boss, this time officially and enjoys it. Van Zanny is upset but decides to turn the tables again by negotiating an even better contact with Smitty. Upon completion he and Bailey make their usual trip to the yacht to celebrate the deal.

We now return again to the North Woods where we find George the Guide enjoying his daily trip to Little Moose's camp to watch the little Indian try to sit on the seat cane given to him as a present by Mr Bailey. As usual Little Moose doesn't know how to use it and continues to fall over as he tries to perch himself on top. Finally, having enough he creates a voodoo doll of Mr bailey which he uses to torment him long distance.

Mr Bailey back in the city finds himself beset with sharp pains in the posterier, falling out of bed and other mysterious ills. The Docotors are not able to find anything wrong with him. Finally speaking with an explorer friend at the club he realizes he is the victim of Black Magic and only Little Moose could be doing it.

As the issue comes to an end we find Mr Bailey and Smitty back in the North Woods where they enlist George and get the doll back from Little Moose. They leave him with a portable radio as a gift even though it only recieves static that far north. Little Moose is happy with that.

Berndt's simple drawing style and gentle humor is quite easy on the eyes and reads quickly. Even with the awkward edits made by Dell the stories flow nicely. It's easy to see why Smitty was popular for so long.

Reference: Comics and Their Creators, Martin Sheridan, Hale,Cushman and Flint 1942; Grand Comics Database