Obscurity of the Day: Elza Poppin

The zany comedy team of Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson began a successful vaudeville career in the 1920s, parleyed that into a string of successful Hollywood films in the 1930s, and then set Broadway records in 1938 with their madcap stage show Hellzapoppin. Known in their heyday as the biggest competition for the Marx Brothers, the screwball duo had about the same career arc as their better-remembered rivals. The 1940s brought a string of lackluster films and a television show in 1949 fell flat. The 1950s found them in Las Vegas, where they both died in the early 60s.

One of the more obscure souvenirs of their career was a comic strip supposedly penned by them and named after their hit Broadway show. The H-E-double hockey sticks was considered too risque for the comics page, so the strip was instead titled Elza Poppin. To explain the name change, a goofy girl character was featured by that name.

It’s pretty doubtful that Olsen and Johnson ever penned a gag for the feature, but their names were enough to put the strip in a pretty respectable list of papers. However, as their fame quickly waned after the Broadway show and a 1941 film version didn’t do the show justice, the circulation of the strip plunged. Starting on June 19 1939, the strip gets harder and harder to find after the release of the movie in 1941. Amazingly enough, it held on through April 29 1944, though by then it was only being run by a few papers, like the New Rochelle Standard-Star.

You’ll find some good material on the Olsen & Johnson team at this website, and here at Wikipedia. An interesting discussion on Hellzapoppin can be found on this blog.

Tomorrow we’ll have a few more samples and discuss the cartoonists who worked on the strip.

2 comments on “Obscurity of the Day: Elza Poppin

  1. Charlie; Im sure we’ll get the lowdown on Swan tomorrow, but yes, he is the Salesman Sam artist.

    I seem to recall that Elza Poppin reprints ran in FAMOUS FUNNIES, right?

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