The Bodyguard debuted on May 2, 1948. Taking a page from the Captain Easy playbook, our hero Ben Friday was an adventurer in the employ of a rich eccentric. Officially Ben is a bodyguard as opposed to Easy’s job description of troubleshooter, but the upshot is the same – derring-do and adventure all over the globe.
The strip was written by Lawrence Lariar, better known as a gag cartoonist and editor of the long-running Best Cartoons Of series of books, with excellent art provided by John Spranger.
Apparently the Herald-Tribune Syndicate wasn’t having much luck marketing ol’ Ben, so they decided to rock the boat a little. On March 7 1949 the feature added a daily strip. When that didn’t help matters, they changed the title to Ben Friday (on 7/11/49) and the bodyguard role was bounced. Now Ben was free to adventure without those tedious bodyguard duties.
But apparently the strip was still not selling, so the next step was to bounce Ben off the strip entirely via the matrimonial kiss of death. Our new head of operations was an Indian prince, a character that Friday had bumped into several times earlier in the strip’s term. In October 1950 the strip was retitled Bantam Prince, and the adventure began to take a back seat to comedy.
With the subject turning to comedy, the excellent realistic art on this feature by John Spranger seemed a bit out of place, and Spranger was probably glad to dump the assignment in June 1951. Spranger wasn’t gone from the Herald-Tribune’s syndicate books for long, though – he returned three months later doing the art chores on The Saint, a strip that also never became a syndication cash cow but at least held its own.
Replacing Spranger on Bantam Prince was that master of bigfoot slapstick comedy, Carl Pfeufer. Oh, you say that Pfeufer was a great adventure strip cartoonist? Well, obviously that didn’t stop the Herald-Tribune from wasting his considerable talents on this dead man walkin’. Pfeufer gamely stuck with this problem child to the end on February 28 1954.
One additional note. Maurice Horn in 100 Years Of American Newspaper Comics calls this strip the Herald-Tribune’s first foray into adventure strips. Not so. Their first adventure strip was Jeff Crockett which began on March 8 1948, two months before The Bodyguard.
Yet another note. While it is an uncommon thing for a mainstream strip to change titles, The Bodyguard by no means holds the record by going through a mere three. I know of one that went through seven (well, five major changes and two minor ones). Can you name the strip and all the titles? Or, for some real serious brownie points, can you come up with one that went through more? And no, the story titles from Walt Disney’s Treasury of Classic Tales don’t count!
Last note, I promise. Tomorrow I’m going to see a spring training game in Bradenton (dear wife’s team against mine – Pirates vs. Rays). I have a long-standing tradition of getting a sunburn the shade of a well-polished fire engine when I go to spring training, so I may be in no shape to blog for a few days. Tune in to see if I finally end my streak of daily posts going all the way back to November. Almost as exciting as Joltin’ Joe’s streak back in ’41, eh?