Thursday, August 02, 2007

Newspaper Reprints: Tillie the Toiler

Russ Westover's working girl creation, Tillie the Toiler is our next reprint title. Tillie appeared once in the first series and 5 times in the second series.

Russell Channing Westover was born in Los Angeles on August 3, 1886. His family were merchants, his father owned a haberdashery (a store that sold men's shirts, ties, hats and accessories) and employed Russ as a boy to work the counter wrapping packages. Russ would decorate the paper with his comic drawings. Eventually his father tired off such antics and fired him. Westover then found work with the Southern Pacific Railroad as a clerk. He continued his cartooning by decorating the employees pay envelopes. This amused the railroad as much as his father and Russ was once again looking for work.

Instead he attended the Hopkins Art Institute of California. By his own account his education ended after four months when his instructor informed him: "Young man, the drawing of Caesar is good, but that caricature you made of me on the border is terrible".

Westover's first newspaper job was on the San Francisco Bulletin. One of his first assignments was to visit the City Morgue and sketch a drowning victim. The place was so dark that Westover was spooked and left, later turning in a drawing of an imaginary person. He moved on to the Chronicle and later to the Post where he drew a baseball strip called Daffy Dan. In 1913 the Post folded when it was taken over by the San Francisco Call. Westover was let go. He was also recently married so he took off for New York looking for a job.

He found a job with the New York Herald drawing a Sunday strip titled Betty. He soon added a second strip, Fat Chance. After five years on the job, the Herald merged with the Tribune and Russ was once more left out of the new paper. This time he began to freelance cartoons for the popular magazines. Life, Colliers and Judge carried his work.

It was the early 1920s and Russ began to put together a strip featuring the popular flapper character. Originally called Rose of the Office the title was changed to Tillie the Toiler and submitted to King Features which bought the strip. Tillie first appeared as a Sunday on January 3, 1921 with the daily beginning on October 10 1922.

The strip followed the social whirl and office activities of Tillie Jones, an attractive brunette and her co-workers and friends. Tillie was variously employed as a secretary, stenographer and part-time model in the fashion salon owned by J.P. Simpkins. Much of the story revolved around the relationship between Tillie and co-worker Clarence 'Mac' MacDougall. Mac was a diminutive, jealous and combative suitor. Drawn with a bulb nose and bad haircut Mac was frequently in Tillie's company and often the object of her affection, nevertheless she was quite fickle and would drop him as soon as a handsome beau appeared on the scene. And they frequently did.

Westover had many assistants over the years. Among them were Alex Raymond, Charles 'Doc' Winner, Martin Sheridan and Westover's youngest son Alden. Westover was chronically late delivering the strip to King and they eventually replaced him with writer Bill Kavanagh and artist Bob Gustafson in the early 1950s. The strip finally ended in March 1959.

Russ Westover died in San Rafael California on March 5, 1966.

Tillie's first issue in Series I is number 15. A 68 pager it contains reprints. Update will follow once my good friend Henry Peters gets his copy scanned.

The second issue appears in Series II, issue number 8 is another 68 pager and reprints strips from 1937 and 1938.

Pictured on the cover is Tillie and Mac. As usual in this gag Mac's romantic overtures go astray. The fun starts on the inside front cover as a Sunday strip has Mac and Tillie at a ritzy night club. The usual good looking guy, Ted drops by the table and Tillie is off for a dance. Mac gets steamed and leaves with the intention of sticking Ted with the check. Meanwhile, Ted's fiance Ida makes him leave Tillie and return to their table. Tillie is stuck with the check and in the final panel wakes Mac at home and demands he get back there immediately.

There really is no story continuity here, all the gags are contained within the Sundays being reprinted. There are the running gags of the strip, Tillie is fickle, Mac is jealous, Tillie can't cook, Mrs Jones likes Mac and fellow workers Wally plagues Mac with practical jokes and insults which prompt Mac to respond in kind and Glenny is a naive young office boy that Tillie takes under her wing to protect and tutor in matters of the heart.

In the example to the right, Mac and Wally make a bet as to who will take Tillie to the dance. As usual Wally cheats and gets to Tillie first. The gag is when Mac catches up and reveals how Wally cheated.

In this example, Tillie shows her true heart and Mac reaps the benefits.

Tillie returns in issue 22, another 68 pager. This time reprints are from 1937, 1938, 1939 and 1940.

Once again we are presented with Sunday strips and there is still no story continuity. In addition to the usual antics, there are several strips where Mac's dancing is mocked and his dislike for Jitterbugging is the central gag.

The example at left reflects Mac's feelings about Modern Dance Trends.

This final example from issue 22 reflects the relationship of Tillie and Glenny.

The next appearance is issue 55. Now down to 52 pages this issue reprints strips from 1940, 1942, 1943 and 1944.

On this Cover Tillie and mac are in uniform and naturally Tillie is fawned over by two handsome officers as poor enlisted man Mac can only look on.

The cover reflects the majority of the issue contents. Tillie in her effort to do her Patriotic Duty joins the WAACs.

Once again the book features Sunday strips and there is little continuity other than Tillie is in the Service. Most gags again center around men and fashion, this time with a tilt toward Army life.

This is a typical example, Tillie is home on leave and encounters a couple of girlfriends. One is a WAVE and one is trying to decide what branch to enlist in. Naturally, the deciding factor is what uniform she will look best in. However, the punchline revolves around meeting a handsome Marine and being a woman - the good looking guy trumps fashion.

The final half of the issue finds Tillie back home and working as a Recruiter. Finally a bit of continuity. But it's slight, a continuing series of gags over Tillie's efforts. Mac gets back into the picture. Despite his being in uniform on the cover he's spent the war guarding the home fires. At the left we find Mac doing his part to help Tillie with recruiting.

Tillie 89 is a 36 pager and reprints dailies from 1941. This issue has a storyline.

As seen at left the story begins on the inside cover as Mr Simpkins announces that he's selling the shop and getting out of the business. As consolation he takes the staff to dinner at a night club with a South American theme. An accidental conk on the head convinces him that opening a shop in South America is the thing to do. The artist responsible for his inspiration is Senor Romero and he will assist in the opening of the operation. Tillie, Mac and Wally encourage the idea and hoist Mr Simpkins up and are parading him about when he conks his head again on a light fixture. Simpkins now rejects his inspiration and is back to selling out.

As they are all returning from the club in Simpkin's car, the gang attempts to talk him out of selling and pursuing the South America shop when Simpkins clips the rear of a car. The car's driver is the shop buyer who cancels the deal on the spot. Simpkins is still angry the next day and is about to fire everyone, when Tillie points out the newspaper article that showed that the potential buyer was actually a crook. Simpkins changes his mind and agrees to the South American plan.

Romero is engaged to assist in the plan. Meanwhile he begins to get telegrams, phone calls and visitors all telling him he needs to return home, that his Father is ill and requires his return. Romero refuses as he has verified that his father is well and it's all just a plot to get him back in South America. It is later accidentally revealed that the seemingly poor Romero is actually Felipe Ordonez. His father is one of the riches mine owners in South America.

A romance has begun to bud between Tillie and Ordonez. Wally and Mac team up to try to break it up but their efforts only make the lovers more determined and they decide to marry. Mac disguised as a cab driver takes them into the country instead. Every marriage license they pick up is destroyed by Mac and Wally.

After a mishap in a canoe it is discovered that Felipe has measles and is quarantined. Mac sends Tillie a fake letter from Felipe to arrange a meeting which Mac keeps. Tillie realizes the trick, leaves Mac and boards a bus where she sees Felipe in the company of beautiful South American woman. Felipe sees Tillie and tells her it is his sister but he cannot introduce them. Tillie is hurt and breaks off the engagement.

Meanwhile Mac has met the sister and discovers that she came to the States to try to break Felipe's engagement and get him to return home. Tillie overhears this. In another farce scene she is telling Wally off when Felipe overhears and mistakes her comments as being directed at him and leaves. Tillie is unable to follow to explain.

A romance has now begun between Mac and Felipe's sister, Blanca. The tables are reversed, Felipe wishes to return to South America and Blanca doesn't want to go. Following the standard previously established, Mac and Tillie are having an argument when Tillie slips and falls hitting her head. Blanca misinterprets the situation and thinking Mac has hit Tillie leaves. Mac and Tillie hop into the car and head for the airport where they drive out onto the field and block Felipe and Blanca's plane from leaving. They explain the misunderstand but are arrested. Felipe and Blanca arrive in court and back Tillie and Mac. The Judge declaring all the world loves a lover dismisses the charges but forbids them from riding in a motor vehicle in the city.

Forced to walk and ride bicycles Mac and Tillie find themselves in strange circumstances that put them in a bad light. What makes this worse is Father Ordonez has now arrived to find out first hand what is going on and witnesses the events. This naturally makes him even more opposed to the romances. The lovers spite everyone and vow to marry. Felipe is disinherited, Mac's temper gets him fired from the shop, Felipe's fashion drawing accidentally features a wealthy patron's image which offends her. She storms out and Felipe is now fired as well.

All the lovers are commiserating at a casino when the owner spots Felipe and Blanca dancing hot South American numbers and hires them as a dance team for the club. An ankle injury forces Felipe out of the act. He is replaced by a Senor Manuel Alvarez. Mac is soon replaced in Blanca's affections by the new dance partner. As the issue comes to an end, Tillie has also realized that Felipe is also in love with another but he hasn't realized it. Manuel and Blanca and Felipe and Dolores fianlly realize their true feeling for each other due to Mac and Tillie's scheme and fly off to South America, leaving Tillie and Mac back together.

The final reprint issue is number 106. The page count has been increased back to 52 pages as this issue returns to reprinting the Sunday strips from 1939 and 1940.

Like the other Sunday reprints there is no continuity, just the standard gags and situations we've seen in all the prior issues. What makes it so unusual is that you quickly start to think that these sure are familiar looking. It's not that the themes are being repeated. It's that most of the strips in this issue were previously printed in issue 22. Although I've seen strips in the series printed in other anthology tiles like Super and Popular and they also appear in the McKay titles like Magic and Ace. This is the first issue that I've realized that these strips were printed in a prior issue. We'll see this happen more frequently when we get to the Disney titles.

Reference: Comics and Their Creators, Martin Sheridan, Hale,Cushman and Flint 1942; 100 Years of American Newspaper Comics, Maurice Horn ed., Random House 1996; Internet Movie Database,