Whit Ellsworth cover

Whitney Ellsworth was associate-editor of D.C. Comics for many decades and oversaw various of their superhero publications in that function. He was actively involved as scriptwriter, producer and/or creative consultant for various radio-, film- and TV adaptations of 'Superman' and 'Batman'. Ellsworth also drew a few comics himself, though mostly as an assistant-penciller and inker. His sole self-created comic was the gag series 'Little Linda' (1935-1938).

Whitney Ellsworth was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1908. He learned cartooning through a correspondence course at the YMCA in Brooklyn and in the 1920s became A.D. Carter's assistant-penciller and -inker on the 'Just Kids' newspaper comic. He also helped Chic Young with 'Dumb Dora' and assisted Russ Westover with 'Tillie the Toiler' in the early 1930s, while being one of many anonymous cartoonists to draw entries to the daily single-panel comic 'Embarrassing Moments' (1923-1932). Between 1931 and 1934 he drew several cartoons for The Newark Star-Eagle/Ledger and illustrated various pulp novel magazines.

Ellsworth's big break came when he joined Wheeler-Nicholson Inc., a company found in 1923 by publisher Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson to distribute his own books. In 1934 he had established a comics publication division, National Allied Publications (nowadays better known as DC Comics), of which Ellsworth became assistant-editor. During his early years with the company, he wrote and drew several smaller features himself. The adventure feature 'Little Linda' (1935-1938) and the gag strip 'Billy the Kid' (1935-1936) were his few regular features, and ran in Wheeler-Nicholson's More Fun Comics, New Fun and New Comics. Linda was a little girl obviously modelled after Harold Gray's 'Little Orphan Annie', while Billy was a typical street kid. Other comic book artwork were features like 'Laughing at Life' for New Adventure Comics (1937) and an occasional filler cartoon or illustration.

By 1936 he had worked his way up to become associate editor and - from 1938 on - editorial director. In this function Ellsworth oversaw production of the flagship titles Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Batman, Detective Comics and Superman. He was involved in the launch of such features as like Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's 'Superman', Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily's 'Spectre', Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman's 'Dr. Fate', Bob Kane's 'Batman', William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter's 'Wonder Woman' and Mort Weisinger and George Papp's 'The Green Arrow'. For the animation company of Columbia Pictures Ellsworth also oversaw comic book adaptations of their cartoon series, like 'The Fox and The Crow', which were created by Frank Tashlin, but written by Cecil Beard and Alpine Harper and drawn by Jim Davis.

Little Linda (More Fun Comics #8)

Ellsworth not just edited comics, he also wrote some of their scripts. He contributed scripts for features like 'Slam Bradley', 'Genius Jones', 'Speed Saunders' and 'Starman', while co-creating 'Congo Bill' ('Congorilla') with George Papp in 1940. Ellsworth was an anonymous scriptwriter for the 'Superman' newspaper comic during the 1940s, and was the original writer of the 'Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder' (1966-1974) comic, drawn by Sheldon Moldoff and Joe Giella. He was succeeded by E. Nelson Bridwell after four years. He furthermore made cover layouts for top titles like 'Batman' and 'Detective Comics' during the first half of the 1940s.

Ellsworth was actively involved in media adaptations of some of DC's franchises. In 1948 he scripted and produced the film serial 'Superman' by Columbia Pictures, which was the first live-action movie adaptation of the character. Like most movie serials at the time it was a low-budget affair. Whenever Superman flew these sequences were animated by Columbia's cartoon department, rather than use real-life special effects. Stock footage was recycled endlessly. Nevertheless it was a financial success and effectively paved the way for more film adaptations DC Comics creations, such as 'Atom Man vs. Superman' (1950), 'Superman and the Mole Man' (1951) and the TV series 'The Adventures of Superman' (1952-1958), all based on Ellsworth's scripts. He also penned storylines for the radio serial 'The Adventures of Superman' (1940-1951), the film serials 'Batman' (1943) and 'Batman and Robin' (1949) and was a consultant for the legendary campy 'Batman' (1966-1968) TV series.

Such was Ellsworth's authority at the time that he was able to prevent a copyright trial in 1939. Murray Leinster, creator of a pulp hero named 'Black Bat', accused Bob Kane of having plagiarized his character to create 'Batman'. Ellsworth had once worked for the publishing company of 'Black Bat' and thus he had enough connections there to calm everybody down and let both series continue on good terms.

In 1970 Ellsworth retired and left DC Comics. He died of a heart attack at his Westlake, California, home on 7 September 1980. He was posthumously named as one of the honorees by DC Comics in the company's 50th anniversary publication 'Fifty Who Made DC Great' (1985).

Billy the Kid (More Fun Comics #24)

Series and books by Whitney Ellsworth in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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