Thursday, March 4, 2010

Little Stories for Bedtime vs Burgess Bedtime Stories

As Thornton Burgess explained in his autobiography, the newspaper bedtime story was already a common feature before he started writing "Little Stories for Bedtime." The field was already full of competitors, including Howard R. Garis's "Uncle Wiggily" stories. Burgess's success would attract bedtime story writers with a slightly more naturalistic bent, such as "Blanche Silver" and her "Good Night" stories.

As Burgess states ruefully in his autobiography, however, his greatest competitor would be himself. When Burgess had signed his initial contract with Associated Newspapers, he had inadvertently given them perpetual reprint rights to his stories. When contract renewal talks failed in 1919, Associated Newspapers retained the copyright to "Little Stories for Bedtime" while Burgess continued telling new stories in "Burgess Bedtime Stories," now distributed by the New York Tribune syndicate. Associated Newspapers offered their Burgess stories for a deep discount, further eating away the market for the new series.

The Boston Globe appears to have stopped running Burgess stories in September 1919. Instead of simply re-running the old stories, it offered a boldly imitative replacement feature--"Barton Bedtime Stories," starring "Nibble Rabbit."

While the feature's author, John "Barton" Breck, would write enough stories to fill at least one book, "Barton Bedtime Stories" would disappear after a couple of years. The Boston Herald, meanwhile, would run the new Burgess series.

Until the end of Burgess's writing career, thus, there were two Burgess story series in American and Canadian newspapers. "Burgess Bedtime Stories" offered new stories until around 1960 (as Burgess neared retirement he would offer some repeats himself) and "Little Stories for Bedtime" ran the first seven years of Burgess in a continual repeat cycle. During the Great Depression, newspapers looking to economize would often switch to the cheap version of Burgess. Making things even more complicated was the inclusion of "Little Stories" in weekly pre-printed supplements distributed by the Western Newspaper Union to local papers in the 1930s. Adding the fact that newspapers did not always run the feature as scheduled, sometimes running stories up to six months late, on any given day in American and Canadian newspapers one could find half a dozen different Burgess stories.

Next: Harrison Cady

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