Frank Mott, Miss Mizzou, & Mort Walker


IMAGE: An inscribed personal photo of Milton Caniff sent to Dean Frank Mott made it to the front page of the Columbia Missourian on October 10th, 1952. Used with permission of the Columbia Missourian.

In the Miss Mizzou book I tell of how Milton Caniff was invited to speak at MU Journalism Week by MU Dean Frank Mott in 1949. Caniff visited during the conference which eventually led to the creation of Miss Mizzou. If it hadn’t have been for Frank Mott, there would have been no Miss Mizzou.

Recently I was reminded that Caniff wasn’t the only cartoonist who interacted with Frank Mott. Mort Walker, the creator of Beetle Bailey went to school at Mizzou and also had a run in with Mott as a student.

This “run in” took form of an argument that developed when it came to Mott’s attention that Walker had not taken his “History and Principles of Journalism” course and therefore could not graduate from the MU Journalism School. Apparently when the dust had settled, Mott had booted Walker out of the Journalism School. You can hear Mort Walker tell the story in this video.

Everything eventually worked out though. Walker got his degree from MU in 1948 with a BA in humanities and went on to become one of the biggest comic strip success stories of the century. Walker’s expulsion from the Journalism School became a bit of campus legend, but at least in one case the legend was a bit garbled; in 1965, a student writing for the “Williams House Word” suggested Milton Caniff faced “expulsion” from the MU Journalism School, when it was actually Mort Walker.

Miss Mizzou & the Korean War


IMAGE: Steve Canyon daily comic strip, October 16, 1950– Copyright 2015 the Milton Caniff Estate. Steve Canyon tells Reed Kimberly that he’s rejoined the military because of the Korean conflict.

Steve Canyon” started out in 1947 as a “post-World War II” comic strip. The protagonist Steve Canyon was a pilot in the war, but went into the civilian sector to deliver packages by air. A lot of the early story-lines in the strip mentioned his military connections from the war and how his current civilian life contrasted with his years in the service. The World War II years of Caniff’s previous strip “Terry and the Pirates” had won him a dedicated audience interested in military matters and the Steve Canyon strip made a nod to this where it could. When the Korean War started in 1950, Caniff felt it appropriate to get Steve Canyon back into military life, so the character re-enlisted. The strip stayed a military strip for the rest of its run until 1988.

During World War II, Caniff had created the comic strip “Male Call” with the character Miss Lace. The strip was exclusively made for servicemen overseas and fit right in with the pin-up girl culture that was becoming popular with that audience. Perhaps the introduction of Miss Mizzou in 1952 could also be seen as carrying on the legacy of Miss Lace for the servicemen involved with the Korean conflict? Many drawings of Miss Mizzou have somewhat of a “pin-up” look to them so this may have been the case.

It must be said that the images of Miss Mizzou that have a “pin-up” look stand in contrast to how Miss Mizzou was drawn in the comic strip most of the time. Suggestive Miss Mizzou images occasionally made it into newspapers or magazines to promote the comic strip, but within the borders of the comic strip, the character was drawn quite conservatively. This demure character image was probably a calculated move by Caniff to satisfy censors so they would ignore the risqué dialog he would occasionally give to the character. R.C. Harvey has written about this technique Caniff used at various points in his strip.

Miss Mizzou wasn’t the only cartoon character tied to Mid-Missouri and the Korean War. Columbia, Missouri native Bill Hume (1916–2009) was stationed in Japan during the Korean War and drew a series of cartoons featuring a Japanese woman he named Babysan. Politically incorrect by today’s standards, the character would speak in broken English and pose in suggestive outfits. Hume returned to Columbia, Missouri after the war and put out several books with the character. R.C. Harvey has written an essay about Hume that has appeared in the recent book “Insider Histories of Cartooning.” (Miss Mizzou is briefly mentioned in the essay as well.)

Miss Mizzou, Bild Lilli, & Barbie


IMAGE: Bild tabloid Kiosk in Germany, 2008. Photo via R/DV/RS on flickr. Some rights reserved.

In the Miss Mizzou book I mention that in the summer of 1958 there were two Miss Mizzou dolls that went to a prototype phase that never went into mass production. One was a paper doll, and the other was a doll similar to a Barbie. The prototype Miss Mizzou doll actually preceded the Barbie doll by a year though; Barbie appeared for the first time in 1959. What you might not know is that Barbie herself had her origins in newspaper comics, just like the Miss Mizzou doll. Let me explain further.

Back in 1952, artist Reinhard Beuthien created a single panel cartoon called Lilli for the tabloid “Bild-Zeitung” in Hamburg, Germany. The cartoon reportedly started out as a fill in cartoon on June 24, 1952, the first issue of the paper. The Lilli character was an independent blonde woman who was employed as a secretary at a newspaper. The cartoon presented humorous takes on various subjects, but the primary appeal of strip was the suggestive visuals and dialogue aimed at a men’s audience.

In 1953 the “Bild-Zeitung” tabloid decided to create a doll based on the character and enlisted Max Weissbrodt from the toy company O&M Hausser to bring the drawings to life. The Bild Lilli doll went on sale in 1955 and was initially marketed to adults as a sexy novelty toy, but eventually she became popular with children.

Ruth Handler of the Mattel toy company had wanted to create doll with adult features that she suspected might fill a consumer interest for children. Handler came across the Bild Lilli doll while on vacation in Switzerland & Austria during 1956. She returned to America and reworked the doll, which debuted in March of 1959 under the Mattel brand as Barbie. The doll became popular and Mattel bought out the rights to the Bild Lilli doll in 1964.

Cartoonist Reinhard Beuthien stopped doing the Lili series January 5, 1961, supposedly because the tabloid asked him to marry off the Lilli character. He created two similar characters afterward: Schwabinchen for “Abendzeitung” (which inspired it’s own doll) and Gigi for “Revue.” The Lilli character was revived for a while by the “Bild” tabloid (formerly “Bild-Zeitung”) back in in the late 1980s by cartoonist John M. Burns, and in 2007 by the cartoonist studio of Ully Arndt. Both revivals kept the suggestive undertones of the original, but they both changed the name to Lilly; this was probably done in an effort to avoid rights hassles with Mattel.

The story of Bild Lilli is somewhat similar to Miss Mizzou: Both women were blonde cartoon characters introduced into newspapers in 1952 who eventually inspired dolls to be created. One has to wonder: What would have happened if a Miss Mizzou doll would have got out of the prototype phase? Would the doll have rivaled the sales of Barbie?

Author note: I’m not sure if I got all the facts right on this post or not, but I cobbled it together the best I could. It’s hard to find credible information about the Bild Lilli doll and comic since Mattel controls the rights to the character and little to nothing has been officially published about the doll. You can read more about the rights issues in doll maker Rolf Hausser’s interview or in the book “Barbie and Ruth.”

Marilyn Monroe & Trench Coats


IMAGE: Marilyn Monroe greets the troops during her Korea USO tour, 1954. From USMC Archives on flickr. Some rights reserved. (Monroe is actually wearing army fatigues in this cropped photo.)

One might speculate that since Milton Caniff based Miss Mizzou on Marilyn Monroe, that perhaps he saw a picture of her wearing a trench coat, and that inspired the look of the character. While some trench coat-like items were worn by Monroe before Miss Mizzou’s debut September 5th, 1952, I tend to think the evidence for this theory seems pretty flimsy. Caniff had many reasons for picking a trench coat for the character, but I’m not sure Marilyn Monroe’s fashion sense had much to do with it.

In my mind the closest thing that Monroe wore to a trench coat before 1952 was in a photograph session with Earl Leaf. He set up a session of photographs on May 17, 1950, where she wore what looks like a camel hair coat that looks somewhat similar to a trench coat. The only problem with these photographs being a source of inspiration is that it looks like they went unreleased at the time, and only saw general publication in the 1997 book “Marilyn Monroe: From Beginning to End.”

Post 1952, Monroe did actually wear a trench coat at least once; in the 1960 film “Let’s Make Love,” she dons a trench coat in a scene with Yves Montand. She doesn’t particularly look like Miss Mizzou in that film, but it’s interesting to see that Monroe did eventually dress like the character she inspired.

(Updated 04-22-18: Removed reference to a pinterest board that no longer exists.)

Miss Mizzou & Columbus, Ohio

MAGE: Miss Mizzou makes up her name on the spot in her debut in the Steve Canyon comic strip, September 5th, 1952. Image courtesy of the Columbia Tribune. Copyright 2014 the Milton Caniff Estate.

IMAGE: Miss Mizzou talks about being a waitress in her debut in the Steve Canyon comic strip, September 5th, 1952. Copyright 2015 the Milton Caniff Estate.

Milton Caniff had many influences in creating the character Miss Mizzou. Actress Marilyn Monroe & character model Bek Stiner helped inspire the character visually, while a 1949 visit Caniff made to Columbia, Missouri helped inspire the character’s name & back-story. However, the “waitress” part of her back-story came from Caniff’s days as a student at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. In a 1985 interview, Caniff said the Columbia atmosphere sparked his memory: “It reminded me of when I was in college; there was a gal who was a waitress/night cook in a little diner off campus. All the guys went there. They went ostensibly to eat, but they really went to watch this cute kid.”

The only diner that I’ve found mentioned from Caniff’s college years is “Hennick’s,” a restaurant that was situated at 1824 N. High St. in Columbus, Ohio.

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Oddly enough, this happens to be directly across the street from the present day Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum in Sullivant Hall on the Ohio State University Campus. The library & museum was founded in 1977 due to a gift of artwork and papers of alumnus Milton Caniff, and was relocated to Sullivant Hall in 2013.

Here’s what R.C. Harvey had to say about the “Hennick’s” in Caniff’s “Meanwhile” biography: “Owner Herbert Hennick was everybody’s confidant, an entrepreneur who understood college kids and their problems–including, notably, the financial difficulties that arose because money from home came only once a month, which wasn’t often enough.” Harvey goes on to explain that Caniff once earned a week’s meals by decorating the walls with portraits of campus heroes.

“Hennick’s” later became part of “Terry and the Pirates” lore when Caniff introduced “Dude Hennick” into the comic strip. The character was based on an old friend of Caniff’s named Frank Higgs. As Milton Caniff wrote in 1986: “… Dude was his college nickname, and Hennick came from the name of a prominent eatery located directly across the street from Ohio State. It was the campus hangout and Higgs had been associated with it, like Walter Winchell had been associated with the Stork Club in New York.”

It’s hard to say if “Hennick’s” was the place that Caniff was talking about from his college days in regard to Miss Mizzou, but it’s a definite possibility. For more information on the eatery, the “Columbus Dispatch” has an article with a photo from 1946.