Thursday, October 21, 2010

75 Years Ago Today: Sidney Smith Dies in Automobile Crash

Sidney Smith, is perhaps better remembered today for his big time syndicate contract rather than his comic strip.

Above graphic via Michael Sporn's Splog.

Mr. Smith signed the biggest syndicate contract to date -- a one million dollar deal for his then popular comic strip THE GUMPS --making him the richest syndicated cartoonist in the country.

THE GUMPS was, like LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE, MOON MULLINS and GASOLINE ALLEY, a soap opera comic strip. Publisher of The Chicago Tribune, Captain Joseph M. Patterson, had a big hand in the strip's genesis (as he had for many newspaper strips, like the ones above), handing the concept of this domestic family humor strip to OLD DOC YAK cartoonist Sidney Smith for development. The term "gumps" is slang for a fool; a name revisited year later, in an ironic statement, for the FORREST GUMP movie.

The strip inspired a popular radio series, movies and merchandising.

As Don Markstein writes in his Toonpedia entry on THE GUMPS:

In 1922, Smith signed a highly publicized million-dollar contract — $100,000 per year for ten years, a vast sum in those days and a pretty good hunk of change even today. And it only went up from there — in '35, he signed a new contract, giving him $150,000 a year. It was on the way home from signing the latter that he wrecked his brand-new Rolls-Royce, killing himself in the process.
He died 75 years ago today* in an automobile accident near Harvard, Illinois. He was driving to his farm at Shirland. He was 58 years old.

His assistant, Gus Edson, took over the strip, continuing it another 24 years, until 1959. (Factoid: one of Edson's assistants was then-cartoonist (now actor) Martin Landau.)

Some of these images are from THE GUMPS Wikipedia page.

Related: Michael Sporn has some dailies, so you can really get the flavor of the storytelling:

*Hmm. In writing this, I'm seeing conflicting reports; without access to actual obituary, the date of Mr. Smith's death may be October 21st, 20th or 29th, depending on the source.

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