Saturday, May 4, 2013

Rube Goldberg Machines Found in Bobo Baxter and Lala Palooza

Rube Goldberg first created his famous invention cartoons around 1914. They appeared sporadically in his daily newspaper comics, randomly rotating with a host of other series such as Foolish Questions, I'm The Guy, and Father Was Right. In retrospect, Rube's freewheeling approach to comics was nothing short of astonishing. Sadly, most of his output from his best years 1914-1922 remains out of print and unknown to most readers, even fans of Goldberg's.

He drew perhaps 20-30 invention cartoons a year (the exact number remains unknown, and this number is purely a guess). In the 1920s, American comic strips began to change, with a greater emphasis on adventure strips that told longer stories, as with Little Orphan Annie. With continuity on his mind, Rube  -- for the first time -- locked himself into Bobo Baxter, a single daily continuity strip in 1927. Even so, inventions were a prime theme in the strip,which lasted about a year (the strip ran from December 7, 1927 to November 24, 1928). Bobo himself was a backyard inventor who -- inspired by Charles Lindbergh's recent solo trans-Atlantic flight -- developed a flying bicycle (complete with two never-deflating helium balloons). Here's the first strip:

The first episode of Rube Goldberg's first daily continuity strip, Bobo Baxter
December 7, 1927
Even though he was telling a long story in short installments, Rube could not resist the urge to make more cartoon inventions. It is fascinating to see how Rube worked these into his continuity. Here's the seventh Bobo Baxter episode, which features his Rube Goldberg Machine called "An Easy Way to Make Up Your Mind."

Rube Goldberg integrated his invention cartoons into his daily continuity strips
Bobo Baxter, December 14, 1927
The little man in the derby at lower left is Bobo Baxter. Otherwise, there is no element of continuity in this episode -- and it become merely an excuse to show another invention cartoon. Later in the strip's run, Rube became a little smoother at working the inventions into his storyline. He created a mad inventor character and played him off his regular characters.

An early version of Professor Butts in Bobo Baxter by Rube Goldberg
After Bobo Baxter ended, Rube went back to his randomly shifting, a different strip every day approach. In 1929, however, he created a new series, The Inventions of Professor Lucifer G. Butts, A.K. for Collier's magazine. We can see the prototype of Professor Butts in the Bobo Baxter strip above. In fact, Rube even drew the Professor -- who remained unseen in the series named after him -- in a 1928 Collier's story ("It's the Little Things That Matter," which can be read at the bottom of the Rube Goldberg page on this blog)  in which he introduced the character:

Rube Goldberg's first depiction of Professor Lucifer Gorganzola Butts, A.K. in his story
"It's the Little Things That Matter" (Collier's, November 3, 1928)

You can see the lineage of the character from Bobo Baxter -- the appearance is virtually identical.

While the Collier's series ran from 1929-1931, Rube also sprinkled his daily cartoons with inventions. Even though he is known today for his crazy inventions, back in 1937, Rube was famous for his grotesque, surreal cartoons. In fact, in the 1937 Paramount film, Artists and Models, Rube makes a cameo appearance as himself. He is introduced in the following clip at the 2:19 mark by fellow cartoonist Russell Patterson (with whom he founded the National Cartoonist Society) as "the original surrealist."

In 1934, Rube created a new continuity strip, Doc Wright. Oddly, it was a non-humorous soap opera. I have the complete run, and it is devoid of any hint of crazy mechanical contraptions. Small wonder that Rube ditched the strip in less than a year.

His next continuity strip, Lala Palooza (September 14, 1936- December 4, 1937) was stuffed with humor. As with Bobo Baxter, Rube found ways to work his inventions into the strip's continuity. Lala's brother, Vincent, shifted from a lazy layabout to an industrious inventor and began to produce a new contrivance every week. Here's his "Simple Device to Foil Stick-Up Men:"

Rube Goldberg integrates an invention into a 1937 episode of his Lala Palooza daily humor-adventure comic strip

With his steady output of invention cartoons, even using them in his editorial cartoons of 1938-1960, Rube won a place for himself in the collective consciousness as an inventor of nutty machines. In fact, for most people today, his name is synonymous with "complex machine to accomplish a trivial task." A recent poll of people under 30 revealed that most of them know what a "Rube Goldberg" is, but very few indeed realized that the name belonged to an actual person -- a great cartoonist.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for another Rube Goldberg invention cartoon. And don't forget -- be sure to visit the official Rube Goldberg Machine Contest to see the ELEVEN FINALISTS (just announced today!) for the 2013 Online contest. While there, you can vote for your favorite -- the winner will score the coveted "People's Choice" Award!

See Also:

Yours In All Things Great and Screwball,
Paul Tumey

All text copyright 2013 Paul Tumey and may not be used without written permission

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Alla these Goldberg posts are top-quality! More people should read 'em!