The Art of the Funnies: An Aesthetic History

By Robert C. Harvey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Continuity and Syndication The Popularity and Proliferation of Comic Strips

Mary Gold died on April 30, 1929. The public outcry when her death became known was gratifying in both its precipitousness and its volume. Switch- boards at major metropolitan newspapers were clogged for hours. Mail rooms quickly overflowed with letters expressing sympathy and outrage. Her doctors would offer no medical explanation for her death. They merely muttered shamefaced speculations about the vagaries of the human mechanism, and many of her friends consequently concluded that the cause of death was a broken heart--the tragic and tattered end of a labyrinthine love story that should have ended happily.

The body politic had been following the ups and downs of Mary Gold's love life for months. She'd been courted by a young inventor, Tom Carr, but on the eve of their wedding, he'd been arrested for absconding with his backers' money. After a long trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in prison. Mary Gold came to public attention in the sensational aftermath of the trial. Grief-stricken, she nonetheless consented to marry a friend of her family's, a wealthy banker named Henry J. Ausstinn. On the day of the lavish wedding, the ceremony was spectacularly interrupted by Tom Carr's brother, who produced evidence that not only established his brother's innocence but fingered Ausstinn as the man who'd stolen the money and framed Tom. The strain of these events was too much for poor Mary. Her health broken, she took to bed with a high fever, and in a week or so she was dead. The outburst of popular sentiment promptly exploded all across the country.

Public preoccupation with the affairs of private citizens was scarcely novel in the twenties (or in any other period, for that matter). But during that decade, the mass media were coming of age, and newspapers learned to play upon the nation's curiosity with all the skill of a pied piper fingering his flute. Editors seized upon every scandal or sensation that seemed to capture the public fancy and kept it on the front page for weeks. In addition to the daily doings of such luminaries as Waxey Gordon, Al Capone, Legs Diamond, and Dutch Schultz, there was the Fifi Stillman divorce case (in which her husband maintained that their fifth child was illegitimate), the Fatty Arbuckle scandal (featuring the trial of the popular film comedian for accidentally killing a starlet during one of his typical Hollywood orgies), the Hall-Mills murder mystery (the unsolved killing of a pastor and a female member of his choir), and the Sydney-Gray sex-and-homicide epic (in which Ruth Snyder and her lover, a corset salesman, were brought to book for the murder of her husband).

Still, Mary Gold was different. The Mary Gold who died had never lived. She was only a paper doll. A character in a comic strip. Her sole distinc

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