Saturday, October 6, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1920

The Transition

The Milwaukee Journal was one paper running "Little Stories for Bedtime" that picked up Burgess's new series (though it continued to use the title "Little Stories for Bedtime" despite the new official title, "Burgess Bedtime Stories.")  On Monday, February 16, there was no story. Instead, the Journal ran the following notice:
Beginning Tuesday Peter Rabbit and his comrades of Green Forest will appear in a new series of adventures, by Thornton W. Burgess, in which Reddy Fox, Hooty the Owl and others will help to keep life moving for Peter and his wife.
The New York Tribune, meanwhile, bought a large ad in the New York Globe, informing the Globe's readers where they could find new Burgess stories.

 photo tribunead_zps987a98cd.jpg
New York Globe, February 16, 1920
On Tuesday, February 17, the new series was unveiled, with an illustration by Harrison Cady spanning two columns and drawn in a style much closer to Cady's book illustrations than his former newspaper bedtime story work.

The Stories

Illustrations for "The Careless of Peter Rabbit" (February 17, 1920)  and  "Peter looks for a way to escape" (February 18,  1920)
February 17 to March 13. A game of wits between Peter Rabbit and Reddy Fox leads to Peter being trapped in a hollow log. Will he be able to escape this time?
Illustration for "Johnny Chuck is Cross" (March 16, 1920)
March 15 to April 6. Johnny Chuck wakes up from his long sleep, fights off a dog, avoids getting caught (thanks to Jimmy Skunk) by Old Man Coyote, makes a new home with Polly Chuck, and they are not fooled by Reddy Fox's charm. 
Illustration for "Blacky the Crow has hard work to believe his eyes" (April 15, 1920)
April 7 to April 24. Mrs. Jimmy Skunk finds a new home and kicks Jimmy out. Left to wander, Jimmy gets caught in a steel trap. Farmer Brown's boy sets him free. Meanwhile, we learn the reason for Jimmy's expulsion--a new family of skunk children, paraded in front of Farmer Brown's boy.
Illustration for "A queer little plowman" (June 1, 1920)
April 26 to June 27. Mother Nature teaches Peter Rabbit and friends about North American mammals. Reprinted in The Burgess Book of Animals for Children.
Ilustration for "Jerry Muskrat pays a debt" (July 1, 1920)
June 28 to July 15. Peter Rabbit and Jerry Muskrat play tricks on Old Man Coyote.
Illustration for "How Peter Rabbit was humbled" (July 17, 1920)
July 16 to July 20. Nimbleheels humbles Peter Rabbit by his display of jumping skill, but is later grateful to Peter for warning him about Reddy Fox. 
Illustration for "Peter is much relieved" (July 24, 1920)
July 21 to September 20. The Rabbit family has six new children. One, "The Willful Little Rabbit," runs away and learns about a variety of dangers until he is caught and kept for a while by Farmer Brown's boy.
Illustration for "Farmer Brown's boy goes back" (September 30, 1920)
September 21 to October 30. Buster Bear and Farmer Brown's boy compete for honey. After suffering a series of indignities, Buster Bear shows Whitefoot the Wood Mouse and Chatterer the Red Squirrel that he's a dangerous predator.
Illustration for "The real Chatterer" (November 26, 1920)
November 1 to December 25. A new character, Rusty the Fox Squirrel, arrives in the Green Forest, to the dismay of Chatterer the Red Squirrel. When a squirrel hunter shoots Rusty, Farmer Brown's boy shows up to confront the hunter (with his own gun!) and nurse Rusty back to health. After a snow fall, Rusty has an encounter with a hungry Reddy Fox and is envious of Mrs. Grouse's snow plunging ability.
Illustration for "How Christmas was made merry" (December 25, 1920)
December 25. Farmer Brown's Boy feeds the birds and animals for Christmas.
Illustration for "Peter dreams of briars" (December 31, 1920)
December 26 to December 31. Peter Rabbit and Prickly Porky share a hollow log during a snow storm. Continued in 1921.


The new series returned to basics, beginning with Burgess's core predator/prey scenario (Reddy Fox vs Peter Rabbit) and following that with an extended story featuring Burgess's very first published protagonist, Johnny Chuck. Indeed, in the first year of Burgess Bedtime Stories there was a fair amount of repeating from earlier years, as if Burgess was introducing his characters and scenarios to a new audience of readers: Peter Rabbit had another new family (along with a disobedient son who got himself lost) [not unlike the "Little Pete" tale from August 1913], Farmer Brown's Boy and Buster Bear competed for honey [compare with August, 1916], and Nimbleheels continued to jump higher than Peter Rabbit [see July 1918].

In 1920 Burgess introduced a new enduring character, Rusty the Fox Squirrel, even though fox squirrels are not technically native to Massachusetts. (The Rusty story, told as a single extended narrative, could easily have been published in book form). This was the key anti-hunting story of the year, the hunter trying to poach squirrels on Brown family land.

On April 26, Burgess interrupted his animal stories to begin serializing what would become The Burgess Book of Animals for Children. As in his 1919 serialization of The Burgess Bird Book for Children, these stories were told in a different style than his regular bedtime stories; this time "Mother Nature," usually restricted to appearances in Burgess's fables, took responsibility for schooling the animals about North American mammal species. On June 28, the animal stories abruptly resumed even though the book serialization was unfinished (the previewed story for that date, "Nimbleheels Jumps into School," never ran). This suggests that some editorial force had intervened to nudge Burgess Bedtime Stories back to real bedtime stories.

The publication of Harrison Cady's long running Sunday comic strip, Peter Rabbit, began in August, 1920. According to O Rare Harrison Cady, Burgess was initially proposed as the strip's writer, but Cady, who had a wealth of reusable material from his earlier "Jolly Jumpers" strip, kept the writing role for himself. During the first few months of the strip, Cady used Burgess character names (Danny Meadow Mouse, Buster Bear et al) for Peter Rabbit's friends. This would eventually stop. Burgess's Peter Rabbit and Harrison Cady's Peter Rabbit, while drawn the same, were entirely different characters.

Farmer Brown's Boy

The character of Farmer Brown's boy maintained his central role in Burgess's stories, rescuing Jimmy Skunk from a trap (and meeting Jimmy's new family), rescuing Peter Rabbit's disobedient son from a dog, and rescuing Rusty the Fox Squirrel from a squirrel hunter. Indeed, in the squirrel hunter episode, Farmer Brown's boy might be perceived as going a little too far in his defense of animals, threatening the squirrel hunter with the squirrel hunter's OWN GUN.

No comments:

Post a Comment