Lady Bountiful by Gene Carr
Lady Bountiful (8 January 1905)

Gene Carr was an American comics artist who created various short-lived cartoons and comic strip at the start of the 20th century. His best known and longest-running series was 'Lady Bountiful' (1902-1929), which is historically important for being the first comic strip in which a female character plays a starring role.

Bearville by Gene Carr

Eugene Gilroy "Gene" Carr was born in 1881 in New York City. His father worked at the local police department. Carr is an unusual case of a boy who enjoyed drawing from an early age, never had any artistic schooling and, despite all odds, instantly found a job as a newspaper cartoonist after finishing school. At age 15 he published his first illustrations in the local New York magazine Recorder. His luck ended there, because the magazine in question disestablished itself soon after. Carr joined another local newspaper but was fired. Realizing a change of environment might be welcome the young artist moved to Philadelphia, where he was invited for a job interview at the Philadelphia Times, only to find out that this newspaper too didn't exist anymore. Carr returned to his home city and this time finally found a stable vocation at The New York Herald, The New York World, The New York Evening Journal and the Times in Philadelphia, as well as syndicates like King Features, McClure and the obscure Van Tine. Carr's earliest cartoon feature was 'Bearville' (also known as 'Bear Land', 1901), which appeared in William Randolph Hearst's New York Evening Journal between 19 April and 7 May 1901. Obviously inspired by James Swinnerton's 'The Little Bears', it featured cute bears doing cute human stuff.

Lady Bountiful
Lady Bountiful

On 2 October 1901 Carr created what would become his signature series: 'Lady Bountiful' (1901-1905, 1915-1919, 1926-1928). The name 'Lady Bountiful' was lifted from George Farquhar's play 'The Beaux' Stratagem' (1707). Just like her theatrical counterpart Carr's 'Lady Bountiful' was a rich, well-mannered woman who used her wealth to help and adopt poor street children. The character was modelled after Carr's older sister Irene. The series was originally a filler comic in the Sunday funnies of the Hearst papers. It goes down in history as the first comic to star a female character, nearly four years before Winsor McCay created 'Hungry Henrietta' in the States and Émile-Joseph Pinchon created 'Bécassine' (1905) in France. 'Lady Bountiful' was popular enough at the time to be adapted into a stage play in 1902, written by Robert Davis, with music by Louis Gottschalk and Jean Schwartz and starring Mamie Gilroy in the title role. Carr illustrated the cover of the lyric sheet. Another well-known actress who played Lady Bountiful was Lillian Russell. The comic strip was also adapted into a silent film in 1903.

In 1903 Carr was hired away by Joseph Pulitzer and appeared in The New York World, where 'Lady Bountiful' at least received a full page rather than being muffled away as filler. The series nevertheless only lasted until 1905. But the humanitarian female was far from forgotten. She had cameos in Carr's other series and by 28 February 1915 her comic strip made a complete comeback, which lasted until 1919. 'Lady Bountiful' was revived a final time through Philadelphia's Ledger syndicate between 28 November 1926 and 1929. This version also came with a topper, 'Daredevil'.

Mister Al Most (15 September 1912)
Mister Al Most (15 September 1912)

Carr developed several other features throughout the 1900s, 1910s and early 1920s, though most lasted little more than a few months or a few years at best. He was the original creator of 'The Bad Dream That Made Bill A Better Boy' (1905-1911), which debuted on 13 August 1905 in the St. Louis Dispatch, but was quickly taken over by William Steinigans on 27 August of that same year who'd continue it until 1911. For The New York World he created 'Phyllis' (1903-1906), 'Willie Wise' (1904-1905), 'All the Comforts of Home' (1905, 1907-1908), 'The Prodigal Son' (1906-1907), 'Reddy - Also Caruso' (1907), 'Handy Andy' (1910-1911), 'Home, Sweet Home', 'Mister Al Most' (1911-1912), 'Major Stuff' (1914-1915, which borrowed its mustard heavily from Rudolph Dirks' 'Katzenjammer Kids') and 'Poor Mister W.' (1917-1920). 'Reddy - Also Caruso' revolved around a child, Reddy, and his pet grizzly bear Caruso. Carr's Sunday comic 'Stepbrothers' (1907-1914) and 'Mr. Al Most' were also published in the San Francisco Call. Debuting on 10 December 1911, 'Mr. Al Most' featured a well-meaning simpleton of whom always is taken advantage, and ran until 13 October 1912, halfway an unresolved plotline in which he tries to break an engagement with a woman he doesn't want to marry. 'Poor Mister W.', ran from 8 April 1917 until 28 March 1920 and featured a henpecked cigar-smoking husband and his domineering wife. It was obviously inspired by George McManus' 'Bringing Up Father'. Another comic painfully similar to McManus' work was 'Little Darling', which ran between 12 June 1920 and 6 February 1921 and was the same kind of family comic as 'The Newlyweds'.

Major Stuff (9 June 1912)
Major Stuff (9 June 1912)

Carr's career was temporarily interrupted on 26 July 1908, when he was suspected of having murdered the wealthy horseowner Cameron Cool. As it turned out the accusation was merely a rumor and the cartoonist had a believable alibi, as he was on vacation when the crime took place. The police released him after the widow of the victim stated he wasn't the culprit. In 1917 Carr was drafted to serve his country during the First World War. He would sign up again during the Second World War.

Just Humans by Gene Carr
Just Humans

After World War I, Carr created new series like 'Chub's Big Brother' (1918-1919), 'Little Darling' (1920-1921) and 'Kitty Kildare' (1921-1922) for The New York World. The latter was continued by Larry Whittington during its final week in October 1922. Around 1921 he took over the popular one-panel gag cartoon series 'Metropolitan Movies' in The New York World, previously drawn by artists whose names aren't recorded in history. In 1924 Carr left this paper and started working for the McClure Syndicate. On 23 June 1924 he created 'The Baxter Beasleys' (1924-1925). It revolved around a husband who gets himself into problematic situations by not thinking things through, whereupon his family members occasionally help him out. According to comics historian Allan Holtz it seems to have stopped after 31 January 1925. Also in 1925 Carr created 'Just Humans', a gag cartoon feature comparable to 'Metropolitan Movies' in the sense that it featured slice-of-life social commentary. It presumably ran until 1929.

Johnny Beans (14 May 1937)
Johnny Beans (14 May 1937)

Between 12 December 1927 and 14 April 1928 Carr created 'Little Nell', a dramatic comic which revolved around a young woman who aspires to become a psychoanalyst, but as soon as she arrives in the big city suddenly wants to become a star on the stage. The series featured a lot of tragic events which caused Little Nell to cry uncontrollably. It was syndicated by United Features. King Features distributed Carr's 'Uplifting of Mickey Mooney' feature in 1928. In the second half of the 1930s Carr made his final comics work for the small and obscure Van Tine Syndicate. His feature 'Here 'n' There' again seemed to pick up where 'Just Humans' (±1937-1939) left off. 'Kitty Kelly, the Hollywood Extra' (later 'Kitty Kelly and Nellie Shannon', 1936-1938) was the syndicate's only feature with an ongoing storyline. Carr left it shortly after its launch though, after which it was continued by an unknown artist who signed with "Ro". Gene Carr moved on to create the kids' feature 'Johnny Beans' (April-May 1937).

After World War II, Carr lived in Vermont, and worked as an illustrator/cartoonist. He passed away from a heart attack in his home in Hampole, New Hampshire, in 1959. He was 78 years old.

Gene Carr
Announcement of The Baxter Beasleys from The Palm Beach Post of 29 September 1924, with a caricature by an unknown artist

Ink Slinger profile on the Stripper's Guide

Series and books by Gene Carr in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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