JIGGS & MAGGIE
All Photographs and Copy are Coryright MEL BIRNKRANT
Some of the imagery is Copyright The Walt Disney Company
THE MEL BIRNKRANT COLLECTION
A Guided Tour of
George McManus created “Bringing Up Father,” generally referred to as “Jiggs and Maggie,” in 1913. Jiggs was an Irish emigrant who came into wealth by winning the Sweepstakes. In spite of that, he still preferred the company of his old gang of rough working class friends. His social-climbing wife, Maggie, on the other hand, hoped to rise in High Society. Her unending efforts to thwart Jigg's attempts to hang out with the boys, down at Dinty Moore’s, were often implemented by a rolling pin.
McManus’s Early strips were rich in Art Nouveau and Art Deco elegance. The wood carving, above, done in the era, captures a bit of that. This element was all but gone form Bringing up Father when I encountered the strip, years later, as a kid. And after McManus’s death in 1954, the sheer delight of its design, largely disappeared. The story and characters continued, in other artist's hands, until Bringing Up Father’s 87 year run came to an end in 2000.
Bringing up Father was syndicated internationally by King Features. It immediately soared to national popularity, and the products it generated were surprising in their quantity, considering the adult nature of its theme, an ongoing domestic squabble. But Jigs and Maggie won over kids and adults, alike, and generated a lot of merchandise; much of which can be seen in the showcase, below.
In 1904, nine years before Jiggs and Maggie, McManus had created the first American family strip, “The Newlyweds.” It featured a young couple and their baby “Snookums.” Snookums gained a certain popularity, and images of him soon appeared in the form of toys, dolls and decorative novelties. A selection of those artifacts share this “George McManus Showcase,” along with Jiggs and Maggie.
Beginning in the center, we discover two fabulous wood carvings of Jiggs and Maggie. Clearly, they were a labor of love, created in the era, by an unknown carver, who admired the characters greatly. So much of the essence of the strip itself is here, from the rolling pin, held delicately in Maggie’s hand, to little Fifi, Maggie’s dog, led on a gold chain by Jiggs. The seated figures, on either side of Fifi, are porcelain containers, made in Germany, as were most of the objects in this case.
Hovering above their heads, is an object that I like a lot, an effigy of Jiggs carved from a coconut. The red hair is not added on; it is shredded from the shell, itself. To the left, are the Schoenhut Jiggs and Maggie dolls in their original presentation box. The paper masks on the walls are Einson Freeman giveaways. There were three of these in the Bringing Up Father set. Dinty Morre, on the left, is especially hard to get. In the very corner, next to him, is a fabulous Jiggs container made out of wood. Inside it hide a dozen or more tiny figures of many of the popular Comic Characters. They, too, are carved of wood. Then there are two stuffed velvet dogs, who may, or may not, be Fifi.
As a pair of Swiss jointed Bucherer dolls look on, a crowd of bisque and china figurines gather to admire an exceedingly rare toy. One that is, quite possibly, the only example known. There is a windup car, that, as early tin toys go, has become iconic. It is a toy in all respects identical to this, called “Jiggs in His Jazz Car.” But, this vehicle, according to its copyright date, preceded Jiggs in his Jazz Car by a year. The difference is in what is written on the trunk. Where the words "in his Jazz Car" would, ordinarily appear, it says “GOODBYE MAGGIE”, here! This is the "Goodbye Maggie Car!"
In the photo above, you’ll also see a delicate pair of figurines, made in Japan. They display a sensitivity that is not often seen in objects crafted in the West. Note the gentle folds of Maggie’s silken dress and the pattern, subtle, yet complex, painted with finesse. Jigs raises his crystal glass, in a toast to Maggie’s elegance.
To the right of the big case is a charming figurine of Jiggs and Maggie embracing. The ever-present rolling pin is resting against Jigg's chest. Next to that is a complex and beautifully crafted doll of Jiggs. Here also is the hand held version of the tin toy of Jiggs and Maggie battling, which I removed so you could better see the following photo of Snookum’s domain.
It seems, the public never tired of seeing Snookum’s funny face. Among this gathering are three inkwells, an ashtray, an eggcup, a flask, and other assorted figurines, many of which have nodding heads. Balanced on a fulcrum, they are intended to keep moving. In the background, is an elegant tin lithographed container that features scenes of the Newlyweds family life. In the far corner, is an early Snookums doll, and a very early painted tin windup of Snookums that is extremely ugly! Whoops! Sorry, I mean: what an adorable baby!
One category of objects that, through no fault of its own, has fallen from a state of grace to indirectly be banished from America, forever, and, along with novelty ashtrays and fancy table lighters, will never see the light of day again, is Smoking Stands! In their heyday smoking stands, especially those that were homemade, were a popular home workshop project. And many of the designs depicted Comic Characters. They were often based on patterns that appeared, for just that purpose, in magazines and newspapers.
During the Depression smoking stands became a kind of cottage industry. And some enterprising craftsmen virtually manufactured them at home, as a means of self-expression, or just to make ends meet. Anyone who collected these, in the early flea market daze, could always count on one thing: No matter how nice the one you liked enough to purchase was, today, a better one would always come along, tomorrow. Thus, after my first outburst of exuberance, I learned to be more cautious, and tried to choose designs, so well done that they would not become prematurely obsolete. The only pair of Jiggs and Maggie Smoking Stands, which I have not seen outdone, so far, are these. In spite of the fact that they are primitive, they, nonetheless, possess a certain style and elegance.
This page turned out to be more work than I imagined. I have one final photograph remaining, the main showcase, seen from a different angle. I like these low angled compositions. Although, they do not display every single item clearly, they are more dramatic, and feel more like being there in person. So I will add this final photo, as a means of summing it all up, and then, call it a day. Tomorrow, I will move on to Andy Gump.
Here is another home crafts project, done with such skill and taste that it transcends the commonplace. With the exception of the Bakelite handles, every aspect of this object was hand made. The image was impeccably wood burned into the tray, then skillfully painted. And the images were also hand painted on the glasses. The imagery on the tray echoes the touches of Art Deco that characterized McManus’s early days. And the image of Jiggs bears an eerie resemblance to the photograph of George McManus, himself, attired as Jiggs, that appears on Wikipedia, today.
I can’t look at this extraordinary creation without vividly recalling the uproar my acquisition of it raised. At a flea market, there is no tougher competition than a husband and wife team, both running through the field with equal intensity, looking for the same stuff as me. As one of the major Brimfield markets was opening I waited politely and patiently as the wife of one such team, who had raced to a potentially good booth, seconds ahead of me, carefully examined everything. When she was finally leaving, I asked her if she was finished looking. She answered to the affirmative, without thanking me for waiting, and began walking away. From some 30 feet away, she glanced back to see me calmly walking over to the station wagon and picking up this tray which had been sitting on the rack, in plain view, all along. She came running back, hysterical! And created an illogical scene. And when the dealer brought out the matching set of glasses, adding insult to injury, she “lost it” completely. It took all day for her husband to calm her down again. After which, we all went out to eat.
Jiggs and Maggie, like many of the early Comic Characters, appeared on the stage. This large poster that decorates the hallway is advertising the first production. It was simply called “Bringing Up Father” and opened on Broadway in 1914. There were several additional stage productions in the years that followed, “Bringing Up Father in Florida”, “Bringing Up Father Abroad,” etc. One of the last in 1925, was not successful. Apparently, the story was interrupted by acts from vaudeville.