I know, I know. Calm down. We’ll get back to the ancient jokes one day, I promise. Maybe next Monday will do. But I have this postcard I listed for sale, and I was so impressed at the hoops it made me jump through, I wanted to get it all down on paper as an example of what pop culture can do to a person.
Mabel Lucie Attwell, was an artist who became famous for pictures of cute children (which she claimed were based on her own daughter; NO ONE is that cute.) By the 1920s, she was popular enough that her name was being highlighted on the cards for sale, so you knew you were getting the REAL Mabel Lucie Attwell. Her drawings stayed popular through two World Wars, and were still in demand—on postcards, calendars, dishes, dolls, and what have you—when she died in the 1960s, and her daughter took over the licensing. Mabel Lucie Attwell was, and remains in the world of postcard collecting, a VBD (Very big Deal.)
But this one includes not just the names of the publisher (Valentine) and the artist, but also promotes the fact that the character being spanked is named Snookums, and that this is one of a series of Snookums cards being illustrated by Mabel Lucie Attwell. Very nice: so the kid’s name is Snookums, a fairly standard stock name for a small child in pop culture. THIS Snookums, however, with a trademarked hairstyle (kinda stolen from the Kewpies, but hair is hair) appears on the card courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Well, that was mildly interesting. And as I could not read the date on the postmark, which is a nice thing to know when selling the postcard (if the post office said it was mailed in 1930, it is unlikely to be a facsimile printed in 2019). So I looked up the career of Snookums in motion pictures.
The fund of bygone media, YouTube, does NOT have any of the THIRTY motion pictures about Snookums, live action comedies involving a baby with that exceedingly annoying hairdo. The movies focused on Sunny Jim McKean, as Snookums starting at the age of about eighteen months. Snookums grew up as Sunny Jim did, and both Snookums and Sunny Jim made the transition to Talkies. At the age of six, however, he retired, perhaps because he or someone at Stern Brothers, who made the films which were then distributed by Universal, decided he was getting too old for baby roles. His subsequent story is no more cheerful than that of most child stars, as he died of an infection when he was eight.
But with that depressing note we do NOT say goodbye to Snookums. The movies were actually a licensed spin-ioff of a popular comic strip, which began in 1904 as The Newlyweds, and, after a few years, became The newlyweds and Their Darling Child Snookums. (Or and Their Only Child or and Snookums. Titles of comic strips were less stable in those days.) The title raises my eyebrows, but I suppose if you’d been reading the strip, the first family-based comic strip, since 1904, you were wondering already how many years the couple could go on being Newlyweds. (I suppose their last name could have been Newlywed.) The stri[p was an early hit for George Mcmanus, a prolific and skillful comic strip artist who tossed off comic strips left and right (Another series of his, Let George Do It, was spun off into a film series, too, and one of the actors who played George also played Snookums’s father in several of THOSE pictures.)
George McManus made his biggest hit, however, with a tale of ethnic diversity and social upheaval with Bringing Up Father, which was being made into silent movies a good ten years before Snookums, and whose leading stars, Maggie and Jiggs, have their own history in American culture. But that’s a whole nother story.
I have not yet delved into several further lines of research suggested by this saga. Why “Snookums” as a kid’s name? Is he related at all to Fanny Brice’s Baby Snooks? Did the makers of Force Cereal object to a kid using the name of their advertising mascot, Sunny Jim? (Mickey Rooney’s original movie name was the object of a lawsuit from another comic strip.) And about that hairdo: Snookums was in comics pages before Rose O’Neill drew her Kewpies, but, really, neither of them indulged quite so consistently in gravity-defying hair. But if we keep digging into pop culture, we’ll be demanding popcorn Pop-Tarts. Let’s all go listen to Mozart for a while.