Obscurity of the Day: Phil

In the realm of syndicated features they just don’t get much more obscure than this. Phil was distributed by the CV Newspaper Service. Not familiar with that outfit? Not surprising. The CV stands for Cornelius Vanderbilt IV. Corny was the Bohemian descendant of the shipping and railroad tycoon, one of the richest men in America. He rejected his family’s staunchly conservative values and struck out on his own as a newspaperman. He started a small chain of papers in the early 1920s, a group of liberal muckraking tabloids in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami.

The attractive tabloids were frozen out from newsstand and street corner distribution by the big players in those cities, and they barely managed to limp along for a few years. Vanderbilt had trouble securing the use of syndicated comics (he probably couldn’t have afforded them anyway) so he created his own syndicate. The syndicate’s features were offered generally, but I’ve never seen any of them appear outside the pages of Vanderbilt’s own papers. Unfortunately the disdain for Vanderbilt’s newspapers was even exhibited by libraries, and only his San Francisco paper even got microfilmed — the papers are incredibly rare today and for all intents and purposes lost to history.

The lighthearted, goofball adventures of Phil were penned by Charles Gordon Saxton. All I could find out about Saxton beyond this credit is that he wrote the scripts for a few minor Hollywood films in the late 1920s and early ’30s, and that he did one of our mystery strips in the 1950s, a phantom feature called Mr. Skootch.

In the San Francisco Daily Herald, Phil ran from December 10 1923 to February 9 1924. It may have lasted a bit longer in Vanderbilt’s other papers.

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