If you're a "Blondie" fan, then you know from the last panel of yesterday's comic strip that a historic anniversary was celebrated -- 50 years of Dagwood and Blondie.
Everything went right for Dagwood. He was promised an undisturbed bath by Blondie. He did not crash into Mr. Beasley, the mailman; did not have to run for his bus, made it to the time clock five minutes early. He was complimented by his boss, Mr. Dithers, who has the combined personalities of Ebenezer Scrooge and Simon Legree. Dithers gave him a raise, a promotion, a $100 bonus and the day off. The miserable door-to-door salesman gave him a free sample. Blondie gave him the night off to play poker in the garage with Herb Woodley and his cronies, where he caught a royal flush. And if there were room in the panels, he might have gotten a decent meal from that sloppy short-order cook.
In the last panel, Blondie sits up alone in bed and says, "After 50 years of this comic strip, he deserves a day like this."
The strip, a compilation of day-to-day occurrences in America's suburbia, originated in the mind of Murat "Chic" Young, a Chicago cartoonist, and first appeared on Sept. 8, 1930. King Features syndicated the strip and by the time of Young's death in 1973, Blondie appeared in 1,632 newspapers in 60 countries.
But then 300 papers dropped the strip and the next year another 200 canceled. "These were tense times," Young's son, Dean, now 42, recalled the other day. Dean Young now writes the strip, which is drawn by Jim Raymond. "We had a world-wide strip that had become an integral part of the lives of tens of millions of people. Eventually, we got them all back and picked up 200 more." Today the strip appears in 1,800 newspapers and is read by more than 150 million people.
Dean thinks the transition was successful because "I tried to write the strip my own way, doing the stuff that I thought was funny, instead of trying to write what I thought my father would have thought was funny."
Believe it or not, Dagwood originally was a playboy. He was turned into Everyday Frustrated Man by a railroad tycoon father who cut him from his will when he married the cheap, gold-digging flapper Blondie Boopadoop. Blondie was the central figure in the early strips, hence they were named for her.
Before the marriage, Blondie dated a lot and one of her dates was Dagwood.
"My father began to like this character who kept popping up and Dagwood came alive," Dean said. "He was sort of a character then and it carried into marriage."
A callow playboy and heir to the fortune of his father, J. Bolling Bumstead, Dagwood fell in love and proposed marriage. His parents were against it, and the spoiled Dagwood went on a hunger strike that lasted 28 days, seven hours, eight minutes and 22 seconds.
They were married on Feb. 13, 1933, Dagwood was disinherited and the parents were quietly retired from the strip.
America was in depression and flappers went out of style along with playboys, so "Chic" Young, on advice from Joseph V. Connolly, then general manager of King Features, moved the Bumsteads into the mainstream of the hard-pressed American family.
Through the years the Bumsteads never changed -- they live in some nondescript suburb, they've never owned a car.
Their concerns -- making ends meet, raising a family -- are easily shared.
Daisy, the dog, was the first member of the family, with Dagwood and Blondie's first child, Baby Dumpling -- more formally, Alexander -- coming along on April 15, 1934.
Actually, Alexander would be 46 years old but Young, who allowed growth to reach the teen years, stopped it there, realizing that he was going to grow right out of the strip.
Later in 1934, the Dionne quintuplets were born and the world was taken with the five little girls, as were the Bumsteads.
Shortly after, Daisey gave birth to five puppies, each named after a Dionne quint, except for the sole male, called Elmer.
Alexander's baby sister, Cookie, was born on April 11, 1941; at the time, a strip showed Dagwood wheeling her in a carriage, followed by Blondie, Alexander, Daisy and the puppies, right into the local draft board, where he pleaded for an exemption from the military service saying, "My family needs me."
The Bumsteads had not named Cookie and King Features ran a contest offering $100 to anyone coming up with the best name.
Letters poured in, 431,275 in all, with a Cleveland woman winning the prize.
Blondie has always been the perfect straight person for Dagwood's antics, assisting him through some of the most troublesome escapades one could encounter: His nightly sleeps or daily naps are constantly interrupted, meals are taken on the run, he has never finished a bath alone.
Dagwood has never been a trendsetter and still wears the soft hat, bow tie, black baggy suit and nondescript shoes.
The array of characters he wades through each day seems to change, starting with Beasley, the mailman, who is either kissed goodbye on some mornings or most of the time just bowled over, or the scrumpy-looking door-to-door salesman, who always gets the upper hand.
Dagwood has trouble at the butcher's, trouble on the bus with the driver, trouble with the lovable Elmo, the neighborhood brat, whose philosophy always seems to put Dagwood down.
The first of the "Blondie" series in the movies started in 1939, starring Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake; the film cost $95,000 and grossed $9 million. Between 1937 to 1947, 33 more followed.
A radio and then a television series followed, and a cornucopia of "Blondie" dolls, bubblegum, hair tonic, soap and other items were put on the market.
There is a Broadway musical in the future.
Dean Young still works on the west coast of Florida in the studio where he once worked with his father. He and Jim Raymond will continue to put out six dailies and a Sunday strip, so readers can continue watching Dagwood prepare one of his midnight specials. Maybe it has something to do with his early hunger strike, but he can never seem to get enough to eat.
The sandwich concoction, a challenge to human ingenuity, assures Dagwood his place in history.