News of Yore: The Origin of Dondi

[from The Cartoonist, Summer 1957]

My search for the perfect collaborator came to a sudden and successful con­clusion on a lovely May morning in 1954, in storybook Heidelberg. How clearly its details pierce the dimming mists of time! I was at breakfast with a diminutive artist, name of Hasen. Casually I remarked on the excellence of our Spiegel Eier. He wept. My in­terest was piqued. “Why do you weep?” I inquired. “Because the Spiegel Eier tastes so good,” he simpered.

That was all. But, it was everything! Here indeed was the understanding heart for which I would have combed the world!

Why should I, famed boulevardier, have such an interest in this sweet, motherly creature? I’m glad you asked that question, Bub. To answer it, I must harken back to the fall of 1952. I was sojourning in the historical Joan of Arc country with travel agents, Posen and Holman. Wherever we went, we were surrounded by hordes of ill-kempt street gamins, the pitiful backwash of war. They pleaded for chocolate and cigarettes.

One small boy attached himself to me.” I could no more elude little Fran­cois than outrun my own shadow. In Paris, however, my break came. While Francois bent over to shag a butt-snipe, I hopped aboard a plane for Naples. Of course, my flight was useless. As I stepped off the runway at Naples air­port, there stood Francois grinning as he chomped happily on a second-hand cud of American gum.

Nino (that was now his name) be­came emboldened. He began to call me “Onkel Gus” and demanded I take him to America.

Now, I must confess I’m not made of iron. I’ve always had a soft spot in my head for kids, and I realized I was be­ginning to weaken. Feverishly I hailed a passing C47 and landed some five hours later in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Yes, you guessed it! There, he was called Kee-Wee, the shoeshine boy. But, now he was my waif!
The die was cast. I became resigned to my responsibility as foster father. Thus began my search for a motherly collaborator who would insure the youngster a happy, gainful life in God’s country.

Leaving Morocco in an old djellaba, I headed for Heidelberg and my fateful breakfast with Irwin Hasen.

Little Heinz was wistfully waiting behind a nearby vat of Steinhager. At my joyful signal, he joined us.

With Hasen, it was love at first sight! He is, as you know, somewhat smaller than a dear little waif. So it was with great difficulty he managed to handle the lad on his knee. (Indeed, for a moment it seemed that Heinz would succeed in dandling Hasen.) But, in spite of our difficulties we were most happy fellows.

Then came our most fateful decision. How were we three going to enter the U. S. on just two passports? The full story can now be told because Dondi (his American name) is a citizen by Act of Congress!

We racked our brains to no avail until Dondi, bright little tyke, came up with the perfect plan. It was simplicity itself!

We disguised Dondi as Hasen. Thus, the boy entered the U. S. on Hasen’s passport. You ask, “How did Hasen get in?” Easy. I casually carried him past the immigration authorities in an old duffle bag.

One more date in the saga of our collaboration fell on September 26, 1955. An important executive named Moe Reilly gave Dondi a job. “How’s he doing?” you ask. Modesty forces me to admit that the kid is getting along so well that Hasen and I are now living the life of Reilly.

In case you care, this is how we col­laborate. I lock myself in a small-type room (you know where). Two days later I stagger out with a whole roll— er, ream of scribbling. These brain squeezings I then boil down into the written material for six daily strips and a Sunday page. Since I can’t typewrite, I prepare two clean longhand copies, one of which I relay to Hasen. He takes it from there (and beautifully!). The other copy goes to editor Moe Reilly.

Once a month Hasen, Moe Reilly and I have food and beverages together to discuss Dondi’s future plights. We en­joy these bacchanalian revels very much because the Syndicate pays for them.

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