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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #198

This is the one-hundred and ninety-eighth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and ninety-seven.

This week is a special theme week. The theme? BEFORE the Golden Age of Comics!

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: A popular comic strip character was co-opted by a peanut butter company.

STATUS: True

If you’re in the United States, when you hear the word “Skippy,” I am sure that you, like most other folks, would think of the popular brand of peanut butter (although I guess some folks would think of the Family Ties character). However, during the early 20th Century, if you heard the word “Skippy,” you would definitely think of Percy Crosby’s massively popular comic strip of the same name.

Percy Crosby was born in Brooklyn in 1891. He left school as a teenager to begin working in the newspaper industry. After a tour of duty in World War I, he returned to the States and continued his career in publishing, working as a cartoonist at a number of newspapers and magazines.

In the early 1920s, he debuted a character in the pages of Life Magazine (before the magazine became known for its photographs) named Skippy.

After a little while, Crosby debuted Skippy as a comic strip and it was soon nationally syndicated. In a rarity for the time, Crosby retained the copyright on the character. In 1925, he registered Skippy as a national trademark, saying simply “for publication use.”

Skippy was all about the misadventures of a young boy named Skippy Skinner. It was sort of a mix of Tom Sawyer, Buster Brown (a major influence, I have to imagine) and Peanuts (speaking of influences, Crosby likely influenced Schulz).

At the height of Skippy’s popularity in the early 30s, Crosby was making over $2,000 a week from the syndicated strip.

Here are some samples of the strip…

In 1931, Crosby licensed the rights to Skippy to a major motion picture called, appropriately enough, Skippy.

The film launched the career of young Jackie Cooper, who became one of the most famous child stars of the era. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay (written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who later won the Award for All About Eve. Mankiewicz’s older brother won the Award for Citizen Kane), Best Lead Actor for Cooper and Best Director, for Norman Taurog, who actually WON the Award!

Crosby was very aware of how much money he could make licensing Skippy, and he did so frequently, for almost everything imaginable…

Card games…

Coloring books…

Comic books (this giveaway comic is worth a ton nowadays)…

Ice cream…

Songs…

Children’s ties…

even Westinghouse lamps!!!

There were so many licenses that Crosby actually set up a corporation, Skippy, Inc. in 1932 to handle all of the licenses. At the same time, Skippy, Inc. also pursued claims against all the various companies that attempted to use the name Skippy withOUT a licenses.

We take a break from this story to introduce the next player in this story, Joseph Rosefield.

Joseph Rosefield was an entrepreneur in the food business who developed a process that revolutionized peanut butter forever. Peanut butter had been around for years, but the problem was that the peanut oil would separate from the peanuts and the whole thing would spoil. That would happen fairly quickly, making the product somewhat of a luxury. In 1922, Rosefield came up with the idea to hydrogenate the peanut oil. This keep the oil from separating from the peanuts, and viola, suddenly you had a peanut butter that could stay fresh for MONTHS (heck, probably even a year or so).

In 1923, Rosefield licensed his process to Swift & Company, who had begun making E.K. Pond brand peanut butter in 1920. In 1928, Swift re-named E.K. Pond Peter Pan peanut butter.

It was a big success.

So take those two things in mind – the peanut butter was a success and it was really popular under the name of a children’s character.

So therefore, in 1933, Rosefield decided to start his OWN peanut butter company, and he named his brand of peanut butter Skippy, and sought a registered trademark on the name.

Here comes the conflict!!

Crosby’s lawyers push to invalidate Rosefield’s registration, and succeed in doing so.

However, Rosefield keeps producing Skippy peanut butter, and during World War II, they were forced to put the peanut butter in glass jars because of tin shortages. It was at this time that Rosefield came up with the idea that all peanut butter companies use now – the “wide mouth” top of the jar.

Around here, peanut butter sales boomed, particularly post-World War II.

Now while peanut butter sales were booming, Crosby and Skippy were in a bit of a funk. Crosby was not a fan of President Roosevelt, and often used the strip to take shots at the President. As the 40s went on, the strip became less popular (I dunno if that has to do with Crosby making it more political) and the strip ended in 1945.

Crosby sunk into alcoholism and in 1948, he attempted suicide. He spent the rest of his life locked up in an mental institution. While this was going on, in 1947, Rosefield’s company secured a federal trademark on the name Skippy for Peanut Butter.

In the late 50s, Corn Products Company (later Bestfoods) bought Rosefield’s company. In 2000, Bestfoods was purchased by and is now part of the vast Unilever multi-national corporation/empire.

When Crosby died, his daughter, Joan Crosby Tibbetts, became the head of his estate, and she has basically spent the rest of her life trying to put right what she feels went wrong with her father.

Up until this point, besides a small settlement in the late 1970s, Tibbetts has been unsuccessful, mostly for the following two points:

1. The courts are unsure of whether Crosby’s Skippy trademark really protected him from the use of the term for a peanut butter product.

and

2. Crosby and Skippy, Inc. did nothing about it for about two decades, while the company/ies behind Skippy spent millions of dollars producing and advertising the product – the legal notion of laches has been applied to this case (the notion being “you can’t sleep on your claim for decades without losing it”).

That’s currently the legal situation.

Now if you ask me?

I think both points are strong legal arguments, and heck, they’re most likely absolutely correct, particularly the whole “doing nothing for decades” one.

That said, come on, it’s pretty obvious that Skippy peanut butter was trying to co-opt Crosby’s character.

It doesn’t get much clearer than looking at this comparison between a 1931 Skippy candy bar and the 1933 Skippy peanut butter can…

Come on, you can’t tell me that they were not trying to cash in on Skippy’s popularity as a brand name.

Still, whether you believe that or not, the fact remains that this case has gone as far as it can (Tibbetts took it all the way to the Supreme Court), so it is what it is.

If you would like to read more about Tibbetts’ tireless, decades-long fight for her what she feels her father and his estate deserve, check out her website here, skippy.com.

I really admire Mrs. Tibbetts, but be forewarned that she goes on about some other ideas on the site that are a bit more far-fetched (some conspiracy theories abound). Still, it’s an amazing resource for what was an American icon for years.

Thanks to Mrs. Tibbetts for her efforts and all the great pictures and scans she has available on her site, skippy.com!

Thanks to Roadside Pictures’ photostream for the beautiful picture of a vintage Skippy peanut butter tin. And thanks to “Miss Peanut Butter” for the Peter Pan lid picture.

COMIC LEGEND: Bluto was changed to Brutus in the 1960s Popeye animated series because Bluto was owned by the company that did the previous Popeye animated series.

STATUS: As it turns out, False

This is technically about an event that occurred during the Silver Age, but it’s about a character from the 1930s, so it still counts, consarnit!!

Popeye, the break-out star from Elzie Crisler Segar’s classic Thimble Theatre comic strip, was developed by Fleischer Studios as a cartoon serial series to debut in 1933. The Studio asked Segar if he could help them by introducing a recurring villain for Popeye to fight.

Segar then introduced “Bluto the Terrible” in 1932.

Bluto popped up in the Fleischer cartoons and he then became a major sensation as Popeye’s famous arch-rival.

Fast-forward to the late 1950s, and Fleischer Studios (now known as Famous Studios) were finished with the Popeye serials.

King Feature Syndicate decided that they would then make cartoons of Popeye of their own.

When it came to Bluto, however, since Segar had created the character for Fleischer, King Features figured that Paramount (who now owned Famous/Fleischer) had the rights to the character, so they introduced a “new” character named Brutus, who was like Bluto, but fatter and, well, named Brutus (the voice actor, Jackson Beck, was even the same).

However, after the fact they realized that no, since Segar introduced the character first in the comic strip, King Features owned the character themselves! So they introduced a “new” character for no reason!

He’s been back to Bluto ever since! But for a whole generation of kids, there’s that big confusion over what exactly is the difference between Bluto and Brutus!

COMIC LEGEND: An early comic book pioneer was the cover artist for Gone With the Wind!

STATUS: True

George Carlson was born in 1887, and sadly, there is not a lot known of his early career, as the first time he really seemed to pop on to the collective radar was in the 1920s, when he must have already been in his 30s. You really have to wonder what he was doing in the 1910s.

In any event, he worked as an illustrator for a number of children’s books, and also worked on what would easily be termed a direct precursor to comic books, children’s “magazines” that were filled with comic stories.

Here is a sample of some of his work from this era…

In the late 1930s, after getting a break the previous year, Carlson probably had some of the most productive years of his career when he became the illustrator of the popular Uncle Wiggly children’s books by Howard R. Garis

Those are some great looking books!

In 1942, Carlson was involved in the Golden Age of comics in the pages of Jingle Jangle Comics.

He was a regular in the comic for many years.

His work was astonishingly good.

Here are four sample pages from Jingle Jangle Comics #5…

WOW, right?

Oh, yeah, and in 1937, there was this unknown author who was publishing her first novel. Carlson was hired to produce the dust jacket for the book.

Five months later and a million copies of the book sold, Margaret Mitchell was a star, Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler were icons and George Carlson’s work was seen by more people than he could ever imagine.

Here’s a detail of the cover…

Can you even imagine the notion of gaining this fame and success at the age of 49?

Well, “success” is a bit strong here, as it was not like he made money off of the sales, and besides the Uncle Wiggly books, it is unclear if doing the cover for one of the most successful novels of all-time really helped Carlson all that much.

Still, it’s pretty neat to think of a comic book artist being the cover artist for Gone with the Wind.

Carlson passed away in 1962.

Thanks to Sherm Cohen for his amazing comic book history site, Cartoon Snap, and specifically for the Jingle Jangle scans. You can see the rest of the Jingle Jangle story at Cohen’s site here. Thanks to Gasoline Alley Vintage Books for the Uncle Wiggly cover scans. Thanks to goofbutton.com for the early George Carlson scans (they have more of them up here). Finally, thanks to Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr., for a neat bio of Carlson (with some cool illustrations – be sure to check it out) here.

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comic Book Database for this week’s covers!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is cronb01@aol.com.

As you know by now, Plume Books (a division of Penguin Books) is publishing a collection of my Comic Book Legends Revealed columns (half expanded “best of”/half new stuff) and it is due out on April 28th.

Here is the cover by artist Mickey Duzyj. I think he did a very nice job (click to enlarge)…

If you’d like to pre-order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…

Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed

See you next week!

62 Comments

Actually, here in the UK, first thing I thought of was “Skippy-The Bush Kangaroo!”

Hey, that was a fun one, this week! I’m curious, though, how Peter Pan could be used. Wouldn’t that have still been under copyright? (I may be mixing up my trademarks.) Something about the estate of the author of the story having the proceeds go to a children’s hospital, I think?

Cheers,

B

Thanks for the kind words, Brian.

And yeah, you’re mixing up trademark and copyright.

Peter Pan was acceptable under the same basic trademark principle of “you can use the name for something like Peanut Butter, just not as a play, or whatever”.

There’s also a bus line called Peter Pan that began in the first half of the 20th Century.

Do note that all of these things came around before “trademark dilution” became part of trademark law. So if Peter Pan peanut butter were to debut NOW, it’d be interesting to see what would happen, especially because trademark dilution has become even MORE important nowadays (as laws have sprung up offering more and more protection to the “big names”).

For the record, the Life in which ‘Skippy’ debuted was a general interest magazine published from 1883-1936. Its only connection to the slick magazine of the same name is that Time publisher Henry R. Luce bought the rights to the name after it went tits up for his magazine of photojournalism.

Also, ‘Skippy’ was one of the strip reprints featured in the early issues of All-American Comics, the comic that later gave us the original Green Lantern and Atom.

Simon DelMonte

March 13, 2009 at 8:46 am

Now I’m wondering how there is a peanut butter called Peter Pan. Surely when it was introduced, the copyright was still in effect in the US, and it’s widely known how zealous the children’s hosptial that holds those rights can be.

See Comment #3, Simon.

But to summarize the point – back when Peter Pan peanut butter began, there was less protection afforded to “famous” names, trademark-wise (which is different from copyright).

Jeezum crow, that Skippy legend is fascinating, just getting bigger and crazier as you wrote on. Awesome.

Also, that Pie-Faced Prince looks reeeally familiar. Methinks it was in the Smithsonian Book of Comic Book Comics? I don’t have my copy handy…

Great column. Besides my comic book fandom, I’ve always been a history buff, so the articles that combine the two are always a hit with me. Especially these really old subjects. It’s interesting to see info on these kinds of popular characters that didn’t really make their way into the modern world, like Skippy. Meanwhile, Popeye’s kept more or less popular all this time.

I’ll admit that I’m also keeping an eye out for a subject I suggested to you a while back, Brian, but these will hold me over until then! :)

Yeah, Bill, it was in the Smithsonian Book.

I know Harlan Ellison is a huge George Carlson fan. Isn’t his work there amazing?

… the reason why he’s awesome, by the way, is that he was an extremely popular children’s character– who is an elderly rabbit with rheumatism! Seriously! Every two pages, they have to mention his rheumatism. How awesome is that?

More importantly, however, is the tone– the sustained yet effortless whimsy, gentleness, and sense of invention– it’s like Garis is making up the story as he goes along, just to entertain YOU, like he’s telling you and only you the story. It’s amazing children’s literature.

My grampa had those Uncle Wiggley books at his house when I was a kid. They were so cool.

The current reprint books of Segar’s Popeye strips are amazing. The strips are great, and the presentation is great too. And, it’s pretty darn cheap for an oversized hardcover, half of which is in color. There’s 3 volumes out so far, I believe. Definitely worth checking out.

You really outdid yourself with this column, Brian. This stuff is just fascinating.

Wow, another creator from the 1930s getting the shaft. We’ve been told about Siegel & Schuster for many years, I’m wondering how many others got a raw deal? Or would the correct question be, who didn’t?

Thanks for this week’s article. It was absolutely fascinating!

I wonder how much of an influence George Carlson was on Dr. Seuss? Both artists seem to have a certain fluidity about them, especially in Carlson’s cover art.

Tom Fitzpatrick

March 13, 2009 at 10:37 am

How does one have time to do all the blogs you do and still do the enormous amount of background research?

That just boggles the mind?

Maybe that’s a Legend article in itself?

Great stuff. I reckon Peter Pan is a better name, as it has the ‘stays fresh forever’ connotation.

Brian, thanks for another great column. Like Blackjack, the first thing I think of when I hear Skippy is the bush kangaroo – but that urban legend’s a fascinating story.

And the Brutus/Bluto thing confused the life out of me when I was a kid so thanks for finally putting my mind at ease!

This was a great column.

Man, that Crosby guy, there should be a play or musical about him or something. He was raking in money, right through the Depression no less. And yet his story ends with alcoholism, a suicide attempt and(!!!) institutionalization.

Dang.

Ellison did a wonderful write up of Carlson in “All In Color For A Dime”–a great book of comics history and analysis edited by Richard Lupoff and Don Thompson of “Comics Buyer’s Guide” fame that is unfortunately long out of print–and even threw in a reprint of a Jingle Jangle Tales story. Love or hate Ellison, once you read pretty much any Uncle Wiggily, you can really see the influence on his non-fiction writing style.

“Comic Book Legends Revealed” has long been one of my favorite things on the intertubes, Brian, but I agree with Bradley, you really outdid yourself this week. This is one of the best columns in a long time.

Great piece! Just wanted to add that decades after he played Skippy, Jackie Cooper went on to play Perry White in the first Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movie, bringing his connection to comic books full circle!

So I reread the article a few times to see if I missed a mention of it…but doesn’t George Carlson’s work look intriguingly close to the art style used on the Dr. Seuss picture books? Is there some connection there?

Two corrections/clarification:

1) The Life magazine you cite is NOT the same as the photojournalism magazine we are more familiar with. Luce bought the rights to the name of the original, but his version was not meant to be a continuation. Take a look at the last issue of the original and Luce’s first – BIG difference.

2) The “lamp” you’re referring to is actually a light bulb, lamp being a synonym for bulb at the time.

I remember Uncle Wiggily from when I was quite young and visiting my great-aunt’s place. She had the Uncle Wiggily board game, I believe, and maybe some of the books. Wow, hadn’t thought about that in YEARS.

pete Rosengarten

March 13, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Wow, this was exceptionally well researched and was facinating. The first segment on Skippy alone would make a great thesis paper on popular culture and the economy.

“He was a regular in the comic for many years.”

Just a clarification- his work appeared in all 42 issues, spanning from January ’42 to December ’49, illustrating the covers of the first six. Pie Face Prince of Pretzelburg and Jingle Jangle Tales were his two strips, and they usually both appeared in every issue, although that was not always the case. Sometimes only one or the other would appear.

This week’s column blew me away because in a very, very, minor way, it involved me. Sort of.

Back in the eighties I was finishing up high-school and working on establishing a career in cartooning.
My father, who was a Maytag repairman, went to Mrs. Tibbet’s house to work on her washing machine. During the course of his visit, he and Mrs. Tibbets struck up a conversation about her father, the Skippy comic strips, and the peanut butter controversy. My Dad mentioned that I was an aspiring cartoonist during their conversation and Mrs. Tibbets told my father that she was in the midst of a legal battle to get the rights to Skippy back so that she could begin publishing a new series of Skippy strips. She told my Dad that she was looking for an artist and gave him some Xerox samples of her father’s artwork and a plastic bucket replica of the tin in your column for me to practice drawing the characters. She wanted me to send them back to her when I had gotten the hang of drawing in her father’s style. She made it all sound as if a new series of strips was going to happen very soon. My Dad brought the stuff home and showed it to me but I was more into Frank Miller and John Byrne than a strip from the 1930′s that I had never heard of before so I turned it down and returned her material. For years I watched for a new Skippy strip but I never heard another word about Skippy until now. Thanks for the interesting column.

Uncle Wiggly? I know it was a simpler time but still … that sounds dirty to me. Uncle Wiggly and the Peppermint BJ. That kinda thing. Sorry to foul the Golden Age with my dirty mind.

And I remember Peter Pan Peanut Butter, well into the ’70′s. Great to know about Skippy! And Jackie Cooper, who is also one of the reasons for child labour laws in film ‘n’ tv, because his parents stole all his money. A big reason, to be sure.

In the late 90′s I was fortunate enough (because of my work at that time) to get to spend the day with Charles Schulz at his studio (and the hockey rink across the street).

While we discussed many things that day (artwork, hockey, art techniques) we also talked about comic strips, specifically the old strips from the 30′s and 40′s. I remember him fondly talking about Crosby’s Skippy.

It was obviously a favorite of his as a child so you’re mentioning it as an influence of Schulz and to a later extent, Peanuts, is correct Brian.

Wow, most of that art will give me nightmares for weeks.

I wish I ate Skippy peanut butter, just so I could boycott it.

That story really pissed me off. Are there Skippy collections out there? I’m about to check Amazon.com to see, but if anyone here knows please mention it in the comments section as well. Thx.

BEST. “LEGENDS”. INSTALLMENT. EVER.

Seriously, with the slight exception of the Popeye one (which I thought was common knowledge, but as you’ve proven time and again here – what one eprson thinks is wide-spread fact usually is unknown to many others) – this was a fascinating and deeply researched love-note to your series as well as to the infancy of the comics medium.

My hat is doffed!

Now to go see what brand of Peanut Butter I usually buy (If it’s SKIPPY – I’m going to hate myself).

~P~

Everything should be improved by Hydrgenation

George Carlson’s stuff reminds me a tad of Basil Wolverton’s stuff. Everything’s a bit out of kilter and it has a manic energy. It’s somewhat pleasing to look at, but it also is somewhat disturbing.
At least it is to me……

I was one of those confused with the Bluto / Brutus thing. I’m from Colombia, so I watched a lot of those cartoons, and in some of them the characther is Bluto, in some others is Brutus, I thought it was a translation error, but now, finally I know the truth.

Thanks a lot Brian, very informative.

Peace.

Good stuff! That Skippy strip was pretty funny.

One question: when did Crosby die?

And one observation: pretty impressive that Crosby was able to get his name included in just about every licensing arrangement. Just about every picture you provide includes the phrase “permission of Percy Crosby”. Considering the typical history of creator rights, that’s mighty impressive.

I immediately thought of Skippy the bush-kangaroo and thought the Carlson art looked like Dr. Seuss, so nothing original there from me.
But always thought ‘Bluto’ was changed to ‘Brutus’ because of Disney’s ‘Pluto’ …so I learned something new!

But more importantly…. Was Superman a spy???

How cute is that cover for Uncle Wiggily Learns to Dance?

Brian,
As Percy Crosby’s daughter and president of Skippy, Inc., I thank you for publishing this story about Skippy’s David vs. Goliath battle. I’m sure it would bring a smile to my father if alive today, whose “Skippy” was known as “the comic mask of his creator.” I also appreciated the numerous comments, including that of RAM, who was a young cartoonist years ago when I met his father and gave him our licensed SKIPPY pail, now a rare collector’s item that triggered another lawsuit from the peanut butter company, now Unilever. As a result of your story, Skippy’s web site has received today a large volume of visits that will probably reach another record by midnight. A memorable Friday the 13th, and a tribute to Skippy’s official birthday, March 15, 1923 (the first date of publication in the old “Life” humor magazine.
I note your reference to my story of my father’s life that there are portions portraying me as somewhat of a conspiracy theorist regarding the events that led to Percy Crosby’s incarceration in a mental hospital until his death. However, I can assure you that the facts and law I recounted are correct –especially given the fact that racketeering was epidemic during the Great Depression. Because Crosby took on Al Capone in a 3 month “Skippy” daily strip, shortly after Capone was convicted of tax fraud in 1930, which parody satirized Capone as “Spumone”, that was when a vendetta began to silence his expose of corruption on Wall Street and election fraud. It took years of investigation and legal research for me to realize why my father, during his confinement and denial of due process, had left behind many writings as a clue to follow after his death.
Also, the basis for the successful lawsuit against Rosefield in 1933 in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was the 1934 decision that prohibited Rosefield from seeking to misappropriate Skippy’s entire corporate name, and distinctive logo of the character as a trademark for peanut butter. Rosefield was then bankrupt in California, and desperately needed a famous trade name to sell his then unmarketable patent for peanut butter. That decision became final when Rosefield did not appeal. As evidence of the cover-up, whereby Rosefield was able to infiltrate and take over Crosby’s “Skippy” licensing business, i have documents from their own legal files that were concealed from the court and me when we sued years later.
In such cases, where there is fraudulent intent to ignore a binding court decision and to steal another’s business and good will, it can take years before discovery. Our trademark and unfair competition laws do not allow “laches” (i.e., delay) as a defense to a willful infringer to become unjustly enriched.
Unfortunately, as we’re seeing today in the economic crisis with failed banks, millions laid off, and the likes of Madoff– fraud, corruption and greed can remain hidden for years. My father tried to speak out through his “Skippy” comic, his writings and political cartoons, which did not sit well with certain powerful political interests—as his heirs were to learn after his death.
Thanks again for publishing your story that will help many to understand why there has been so much misinformation about who really owns title to the “Skippy” name. Where evidence is concealed, or destroyed, to prevent the government or a court from seeing the whole picture, it is a difficult task for an individual, small business or whistleblower to stand up against an army of highly paid lawyers. Many lawyers have confirmed from the evidence I provided that a “conspiracy” to destroy Percy Crosby’s art career and “lock him up” did occur. But I could not afford to pay their huge legal fees, nor would the Justice Department investigate the “big boys”. We do have a two tier justice system, one for the rich and the rest can try their best to seek “equal access to justice”

Sincerely,
Joan Crosby Tibbetts

This is off the subject, but I read about those Westinghouse Mazda Lamps once. The name was taken from the Zoroastrian god, because of the association with light. But when a new car company was founded in Japan, the owner supposedly wanted an English name because it would help international sales. So he took one off of a lightbulb, because it was high-technology and an ‘English’ name. It apparently never occured to him the name might be Pahlavi Persian.
I read this some years ago, and I can’t remember where, so I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this story. But it sounds plausible. This is the first time I’ve encountered any mention of the lightbulbs since then, but at least I know now that they were real.

Hard to follow that, but I’ll try. ["Follow" as in be a poster after it, not "follow" as in understand what she wrote.]

I’ve boycotted Skippy for several years, ever since I heard of this situation. Not that I’d purchased much Skippy before, but I make a point not to now. Regardless of the “conspiracy theory” vibe, it is patently true that for whatever reason and in whatever manner, “Skippy” was taken from Crosby.

Though I do wonder why didn’t Skippy the comic character continue? If Skippy the PB was (allegedly) not a trademark dilution on the comic character and therefore presumably vice-versa. I know Crosby himself died, but if the family was that concerned that Skippy PB took “Skippy” from them couldn’t they have hired someone to write & draw more comics?

When I first noticed the Bluto/Brutus thing I thought I was remembering wrong; when I heard him called “Brutus” I thought I was misremembering him being called “Bluto” before, and vice versa. There’s a (relatively) recent comic where Bluto meets Brutus – it’s mentioned on Bluto’s wikipedia page.

“Improved by Hydrogenation”

Now we know better–Hydrogenation increases chances of heart attacks, strokes, & other related medical conditions.

@Sgt Rawk,

Jackie Coogan (not Jackie Cooper) was the child star whose parents stole his money and inspired the creation of laws protecting child stars. You might know him as Uncle Fester from the Addams Family.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coogan_Law

Great article – one of your best.

It does seem that if another peanut butter product and a bus line could appropriate a trademarked name back in the day then the courts would have a hard time saying Rosefield could not without opening up a host of other legal challenges. And I’d be interested in knowing how much was “a little settlement”. With due respect to the families involved, it seems to me you shouldn’t accept a settlement and then keep pursuing a claim.

That Skippy story reminds me very much of the Babe Ruth/Baby Ruth candy bar situation.

Peter David once did a Popeye comic that included a bit about Bluto and Brutus. Awesome stuff.

Great, now I’m hungry for peanut butter, despite it being possibly deadly!

LAZtheinfamous

March 15, 2009 at 6:52 am

The Skippy PB vs. Skippy comic reminds me of the Yogi Bera vs. Yogi Bear thing.

Exceptional column this week, Brian! (Not that it isn’t always interesting, but this one was just that much better than usual.)

For any readers living in the U.S. of A., this story about a new law prohibiting the sale or distribution of childrens’ books printed before 1985 (like the Uncle Piggily series mentioned above) means that it’s now going to be almost impossible to find them if you don’t already own them. And what a crime that is!

Response to Sean Murphy (above): With the bus line and peanut butter appropriation, do you mean Peter Pan? It’s possible that because Peter Pan was a Scottish author’s creation, and because the character had perhaps not been used in licensing for food products before, the trademark was open enough for the peanut butter company to take. The bus company was presumably formed after the copyright had lapsed, but might be similarly justified.

Lemmy Spazkowsky

March 15, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Interesting! In reference to the ‘Skippy’ movie – starring Jackie Cooper and written by Joseph Mankiewicz – Jackie Cooper also played Perry White in Superman The Movie, with a screenplay by Tom Mankiewicz, son of Joseph.

Ok, maybe not interesting……

On the whole “Bluto/Brutus” thing . . .

I’m surprised they didn’t have the character called Brutus B. Bluto and be done with it.

Re: Bluto vs Brutus.

I’ve been reading the current Popeye dailies on-line, and I *think* they mentioned in one strip that Bluto and Brutus are twin brothers, but the reason you only see one is because the other is always in prison.

So there’s another Comic Legend to track down.

Weird thing about the dailies and Sundays. The dailies are by one artist or team, and the Sundays by someone else. You can see the difference in the art style.

Clayton Emery

I loved the Uncle Wiggily books as a kid. I had no idea that they were decades old.

You should be advised that I’ve known Ms. Tibbetts for a long time now (we became acquainted after the Washington Post profiled the Skippy story). Believe me when I tell you that she is one of the most persistent, accurate and meticulous people I’ve ever known – both legally and personally. She mentioned that although she appreciates the attention to Skippy some of your “facts and legal conclusions are inaccurate”. As a documentary producer trying to fund this story for years now, two of the facts I find most fascinating are that Percy Crosby was railroaded into bankruptcy by Roosevelt’s IRS investigators and that Crosby spent his later years in Kings Park, NY, as a direct result of that oppression. They lost their beautiful estate in Virginia (just outside DC) and the family fell apart. Certainly not a conspiracy theory. Joan has had many legal successes with this case and still continues the fight. Ask her sometime about the Patent-Trademark office recently invalidating certain information (to her credit) critical to the case. I think you’ll want to do a follow up!

ok…regarding the Bluto/Brutis situation….yeah I know that there isn’t a true “continuity” to the Popeye line but wasn’t there a comic book that sort of fixed this (or at least attempted to)? I believe that in a book that came out just a few years ago it was stated that Bluto AND Brutis were twin brothers or something of that nature.

Great column Brian. I have to agree it’s one of your best.

The Skippy character was vaguely familiar to me, but I had never heard anything vaguely reminiscent of this whole back story ! Growing up, like most kids, I had a good amount of peanut butter sandwiches, and rarely eat it now. Back in the day so many of these creators really got shafted. Good luck to Ms. Tibbetts with her battle. Truth is stranger than fiction.

This would make a great documentary.

Bluto / Brutus – I thought they changed to Bluto because it sounded less harsh and barbaric than Brutus. Brian taught me something again.

BTW Brian, congrats on your book. I always thought these columns should be collected as a book.

Wow, I learned a lot. Can’t believe I never know Skippy was a comic character.

Great story over all.

Great information on the comic strip SKIPPY, but I have some points of correction regarding this part:

“Joseph Rosefield was an entrepreneur in the food business who developed a process that revolutionized peanut butter forever. Peanut butter had been around for years, but the problem was that the peanut oil would separate from the peanuts and the whole thing would spoil. That would happen fairly quickly, making the product somewhat of a luxury. In 1922, Rosefield came up with the idea to hydrogenate the peanut oil. This keep the oil from separating from the peanuts, and viola, suddenly you had a peanut butter that could stay fresh for MONTHS (heck, probably even a year or so).”

First, the actual process is “partial hydrogenation.” Complete hydrogenation (or “full hydrogenation”) does not produce the harmful trans fats that partial hydrogenation produces. Full hydrogenation produces saturated fats rather than trans fats. While saturated fats are not healthy, trans fats are far worse. Additionally, to fully hydrogenate the oil in peanut butter (or any oil) would result in a product that could not be spread on bread or whatever. Full hydrogenation results in a solid that would be more like the hardness of butter when it comes out of the refrigerator.

The partial hydrogenation process creates a product that is semi-hard (or semi-soft)–like margarine that comes out of the refrigerator (or like partially hydrogenated peanut butter, of course). It creates a product that can easily be spooned out and spread on things.

In baked goods, it creates a product that does not go rancid as quickly as it would if the baked good was made with normal oil that had not gone through the partial hydrogenation process.

Additionally, while Rosefield may have been the first to partially hydrogenate peanut oil for use in peanut butter, he was not “develop the process.” The hydrogenation was developed by a French chemist (Nobel Prize winner Paul Sabatier) in the 1890s. He did not use it on oils, however.

Along came German chemist Wilhelm Normann in the first decade of the 20th century who began to use the hydrogenation process to create solid oils–though I have no idea why.

Finally, in 1909, Procter and Gamble acquire the US rights to Normann’s process and began to partially hydrogenate vegetable oil to create Crisco as a substitute for lard. The process then began to be used to make margarine (the butter substitute) that had previously been made by taking clarified vegetable oil and removing the liquid through a pressurized process and then allowing it to solidify (making it semi-hard). The partial hydrogenation process was cheaper than the liquid removal process and it could be used on non-clarified vegetable oil.

Thus, while Rosefield may have been the first to use the process to create a peanut butter that did not separate, he was not the developer of the process.

Additionally, the reason for creating partially hydrogenated peanut butter was not due to peanut butter going rancid (though it certainly did if kept in a pantry). Back then people did what people nowadays do if they buy “natural peanut butter”–they stir the separated oil back into the solid peanut butter until the peanut butter achieves the semi-soft consistency that is spreadable. They then refrigerate the blended peanut butter–which keeps the oil from separating but still makes the peanut butter spreadable. Refrigerating this “natural peanut butter” also prevents it from going rancid.

The partial hydrogenation of peanut butter was to create a product that did not need to be refrigerated and that did not have to be stirred to blend the oil back into the solid peanut paste.

The name “Mazda” is mentioned in the lyrics of the old song “Glow Worm”, made famous by the Mills Brothers. From the fourth verse:

“You got a cute vest-pocket Mazda
Which you can make both slow and faster”

The rhyme tells us how “Mazda” was pronounced back then – different from the car of today.

I, too, recall something about Bluto and Brutus (or “Brutusk”, as I’s always thinks of him, rip skip skip-a-dee-day) being brothers. Definitely something to track down!

For years I thought I had completely made up his name being Brutus when I was a kid. Thanks for the info!

[...] And also peanut butter. But not with the approval of Percy Crosby. [...]

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