First & Last – Smitty (1922-1974) by Walter Berndt

One hundred years ago saw the debut of Smitty by Walter Berndt.

From Don Markstein’s Toonopedia:

[Berndt] sold Bill the Office Boy to The New York World, but didn’t last long there, due to what might euphemistically be called “creative differences” with his boss. But the same strip, presented to Captain Joseph Patterson, editor of The Chicago Tribune became a success — once Patterson had changed its name to the more succinct Smitty, which he’d gotten by flipping through a phone book. The daily strip was launched on November 27, 1922.

The first week of dailies below.

Back to Don Markenstein:

Smitty’s full name was Augustus Smith. He was 13 years old when the strip began, cheerful and energetic. He worked as an office boy for a Mr. Bailey, whose exact sort of business wasn’t important. Mr. Bailey had a stenographer named Ginnie, whom Smitty liked to tease. At home, there were Ma and Pa, and 4-year-old Herby. Smitty’s whole world was full of love and geniality, which was probably a large factor in the strip’s popularity.

A Sunday page was added on February 25, 1923 in The New York Sunday News.

Eventually Smitty started to age.

Smitty grew up enough to marry the girl who had started out older — he and Ginnie tied the knot in the late 1950s. But … that was all the growing Smitty did. He remained a young man as long as the strip lasted.

The daily comic strip ended on October 6, 1973.
By which time Herby had taken over as star, 
with Smitty and Ginny becoming Herby’s custodians.

The penultimate and last dailies below.

The Sunday would go on another eight months, until June 2, 1974,
again with Smitty a supporting character in his eponymous strip.
(Daily and Sunday end dates from The Odessa American.)

When Smitty ended in 1974 Walter Berndt had lasted with the strip for 51 and a half years, at that time a record for a cartoonist staying on one newspaper comic.

Richard Marshall, a News Syndicate editor, remembers Walter:

When I became Associate Editor / Comics of the News Syndicate, it was just after Smitty was retired, in 1973. Walt lived until 1979. The Long Island chapter of the NCS meets in formal honor of Walt, calling itself the “Berndt Toast Society.” Fitting, for its conviviality.

The only people who were not charmed by the warmth and friendliness of Walter Berndt were those who had not met him.

Further reading: Barnacle Press has 400+ Smitty strips from the 1930s.

3 thoughts on “First & Last – Smitty (1922-1974) by Walter Berndt

  1. When I was a wee innocent child, I puzzled over Smitty whenever I saw it. (Every day, mostly.) It was Ginny’s hairstyle that riveted me. I had never seen any woman with hair like that. I was sure that it meant something, but I had no idea what. When I realised that Smitty was (ahem) smitten with Ginny, I developed a strangely uneasy feeling. I felt that Ginny was, in some unknown way, a “bad” character. Evil, perhaps. I worried for Smitty. What was she up to? Looking at the strips now, my fears make no sense. I don’t know what it was about Ginny’s glossy football helmet that set me off. I finally stopped reading Smitty, and actively avoided it, out of fright. Such strange memories to contemplate now.

  2. The Long Island chapter of the National Cartoonists Society, the “Berndt Toast Gang,” will be raising its glasses in memory of its namesake this month. Thank you for the spotlight on the BTG. And here’s Lee Ames talking about how the group got that nickname:

    “When the Long Island group, Creig Flessel, Bill Lignante, Frank Springer, Al Micale and I got together to work for Hanna Barbera in the 1960s, we decided to have a Finnegan’s Bar lunch every last Thursday of the month. During that period, Creig brought Walter Berndt to join us. We fell in love with the cigar-smoking old-timer (look who’s talking!), as he did with us. After a couple of years he passed away and left us grieving. Thereafter, whenever we convened on Thursdays, we’d raise a toast to Walter’s memory. On one such, my big mouth opened and uttered, ‘Fellas, it’s time for the Berndt toast!’ I wasn’t trying to be cute at the time, but I’m not displeased that it stuck and we became the Berndt Toast Gang, one of the largest branches of the National Cartoonists Society.”

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