Bell Syndicate

The Bell Syndicate, launched in 1916 by editor-publisher John Neville Wheeler, was an American syndicate that distributed columns, fiction, feature articles and comic strips to newspapers for decades. It was located in New York City at 247 West 43rd Street and later at 229 West 43rd Street. It also reprinted comic strips in book form.[1]

Bell Syndicate
Bell Syndicate-North American Newspaper Alliance
Bell-McClure Syndicate
IndustryPrint syndication
Fateabsorbed into United Feature Syndicate
PredecessorWheeler Syndicate
FounderJohn Neville Wheeler
Headquarters229 West 43rd Street, ,
Area served
United States
Key people
  • John Neville Wheeler (1916–1966)
  • Kathleen Caesar (editor)
  • Henry M. Snevily (president)
  • Joseph P. Agnelli (executive VP & GM)
  • Muriel Agnelli a.k.a. Muriel Nissen (columnist)
  • Louis Ruppel (President & Editor, 1952–c. 1958)
Productscolumns, fiction, feature articles, and comic strips
OwnersNorth American Newspaper Alliance (1930–1966)
Koster-Dana (1966–1972)
United Features Syndicate (1972)
SubsidiariesMetropolitan Newspaper Service (1920–1930)
Associated Newspapers (1930–c. 1966)
McClure Syndicate (1952–1972)


Antecedent: the Wheeler Syndicate

In 1913, while working as a sportswriter for the New York Herald, Wheeler formed the Wheeler Syndicate to specialize in distribution of sports features to newspapers in the United States and Canada. That same year his Wheeler Syndicate contracted with pioneering comic strip artist Bud Fisher and cartoonist Fontaine Fox to begin distributing their work.[2] Journalist Richard Harding Davis was sent to Belgium as war correspondent and reported on early battlefield actions, as the Wheeler Syndicate became a comprehensive news collection and distribution operation. In 1916, the Wheeler Syndicate was purchased by S. S. McClure's McClure Syndicate, the oldest and largest news and feature syndicate in America. (Years later, Wheeler's company would in turn acquire the McClure Newspaper Syndicate.)

Foundation of the Bell Syndicate

Immediately upon the sale of his Wheeler Syndicate, John Neville Wheeler founded the Bell Syndicate, which soon attracted Fisher, Fox, and other cartoonists.

Ring Lardner began writing a sports column for Bell in 1919.

Mergers and acquisitions

In the spring of 1920, the Bell Syndicate acquired the Metropolitan Newspaper Service (MNS), continuing to operate it as a separate division.[3] MNS launched such strips as William Conselman's Good Time Guy and Ella Cinders, and the Tarzan comic strip. In March 1930, United Feature Syndicate acquired MNS and its strips from the Bell Syndicate.[4][5]

In 1924, Wheeler became executive editor of Liberty magazine, and served in that capacity while continuing to run the Bell Syndicate.

In 1930, Wheeler became general manager of North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA), established in 1922 by 50 major newspapers in the United States and Canada which absorbed Bell, both continuing to operate individually under joint ownership as the Bell Syndicate-North American Newspaper Alliance. That same year, Bell acquired Associated Newspapers, founded by S. S. McClure's cousin Henry Herbert McClure. Keeping Associated Newspapers as a division, at that point the company became the Bell-McClure Syndicate.[6]

In 1933, just as the concept of "comic books" was getting off the ground, Eastern Color Printing published Funnies on Parade, which reprinted in color several comic strips licensed from the Bell-McClure Syndicate, the Ledger Syndicate, and the McNaught Syndicate,[7] including the Bell Syndicate & Associated Newspaper strips Mutt and Jeff, Cicero, S'Matter, Pop, Honeybunch's Hubby, Holly of Hollywood, and Keeping Up with the Joneses. Eastern Color neither sold this periodical nor made it available on newsstands, but rather sent it out free as a promotional item to consumers who mailed in coupons clipped from Procter & Gamble soap and toiletries products. The company printed 10,000 copies, and it was a great success.[8][9]

An April 1933 article in Fortune described the "Big Four" American syndicates as United Feature Syndicate, King Features Syndicate, the Chicago Tribune Syndicate, and the Bell-McClure Syndicate.[10]

The Bell Syndicate-North American Newspaper Alliance acquired the McClure Newspaper Syndicate in September 1952 — making it the second McClure-family-owned syndicate to be acquired by Bell — with Louis Ruppel installed as president and editor.[11]

The syndicate's greatest success with comic strips was in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. The company had some strips in syndication through the 1950s but the only ones to have success into the 1960s were Uncle Nugent's Funland, Hambone's Meditations and Joe and Asbestos.

In 1966, operations were sold to the publishing and media company Koster-Dana, and by 1970 the syndicate was no longer distributing comic strips.

Final years

In 1972, United Features Syndicate acquired NANA / Bell-McClure and absorbed them into its syndication operations.[12]

Bell Syndicate / Bell-McClure Syndicate strips and panels

Key people, writers, and columnists

Henry M. Snevily was the firm's president. Kathleen Caesar was the Bell Syndicate's editor. Film critic Mordaunt Hall was a Bell copy editor, and he also contributed articles.

Late in life, after moving over from the Ledger Syndicate, Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer wrote the Dorothy Dix advice column, which ran in 160 newspapers, until her 1951 death, when Muriel Agnelli took over the column. In 20 newspapers it appeared under the byline "Muriel Nissen," Agnelli's maiden name. Born in Manhattan, Muriel Agnelli attended Hunter College and also studied journalism and psychology at Columbia University. After marrying Joseph P. Agnelli in 1929, she began editing Bell's four-page children's tabloid, The Sunshine Club, and she later wrote a column about postage stamps and stamp collecting. Joseph Angelli was the Bell Syndicate's executive vice-president and general manager.

The syndicate also distributed James J. Montague's column More Truth than Poetry, as well as many other articles and light fiction pieces, from about 1924 until his death in 1941. The liberal Washington columnist Doris Fleeson wrote a daily Bell political column from 1945 to 1954.[31] Drew Pearson's Washington-Merry-Go-Round column (moving over from United Features Syndicate in 1944) was carried in 600 newspapers until Pearson's death in 1969.[32]

See also


  1. ^ Ben Webster's Career or Bound to Win, 1927, in a four-panel horizontal format.
  2. ^ Drawgerpedia: Bud Fisher
  3. ^ "Feature Services Merged: Bell Syndicate Takes Over Metropolitan Newspaper Service," Editor and Publisher (April 3, 1920).
  4. ^ "United Feature Syndicate Buys Metropolitan Service From Elser: Both Firms Will Retain Separate Identities, With Elser Remaining as Vice-President — Monte Bourjaily to Direct Both Organizations," Editor & Publisher (March 15, 1930). Archived at "News of Yore 1930: Another Syndicate Gobbled," Stripper's Guide (May 4, 2010).
  5. ^ Booker, M. Keith. "United Feature Syndicate," in Comics through Time: A History of Icons, Idols, and Ideas (ABC-CLIO, 2014), p. 399.
  6. ^ Saunders, David. "SAMUEL S. McCLURE (1857-1949)," Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists. Accessed Nov. 1, 2018.
  7. ^ "Funnies on Parade," Grand Comics Database. Accessed Oct. 29, 2018.
  8. ^ Brown, Mitchell."The 100 Greatest Comic Books of the 20th Century: Funnies on Parade". Archived from the original on 2003-02-24. Retrieved 2003-02-24.
  9. ^ Goulart, Ron (2004). Comic Book Encyclopedia. New York: Harper Entertainment. ISBN 978-0060538163.
  10. ^ Jeet Heer, "Crane's Great Gamble", in Roy Crane, Buz Sawyer: 1, The War in the Pacific. Seattle, Wash.: Fantagraphics Books, 2011. ISBN 9781606993620
  11. ^ Knoll, Erwin. "McClure Syndicate Sold to Bell-NANA". Editor & Publisher (September 6, 1952).
  12. ^ Astor, Dave. "Goldberg To Retire From United Media," Editor & Publisher (December 17, 2001): "The executive joined United in 1972 when it bought Bell McClure Syndicate and North American Newspaper Alliance, where Goldberg was president."
  13. ^ "Original Beauregard! strip by Jack Davis, 1963," The Bristol Board (Dec. 30, 2016).
  14. ^ Maurice Horn, Women in the Comics, New York : Chelsea House, 1977. (p. 48, 70)
  15. ^ Ben Webster's Career at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived 2015-03-20 at WebCite from the original on March 20, 2015.
  16. ^ Holtz, Allan. "Ink-Slinger Profiles: C.A. Voight," Stripper's Guide (October 22, 2013).
  17. ^ "1962 Timeline: July 23. A Bullwinkle newspaper strip by Al Kilgore, based on the animated series, makes its debut." American Comic Book Chronicles: 1960–64 by John Wells. TwoMorrows Publishing, 2012, Page 77.
  18. ^ Ron Goulart, The Encyclopedia of American Comics. New York : Facts on File,1990 (p.124)
  19. ^ Bell Syndicate, Sunday color supplement, The San Bernardino Daily Sun, San Bernardino, California, Sunday 17 June 1945, Volume 51, page 22.
  20. ^ a b c d Ron Goulart,The Funnies: 100 Years of American Comic Strips (Holbrook, Mass.: Adams Publishing, 1995). ISBN 094473524X, pp. 87-88, 104, 106, 124, 200.
  21. ^ "Stripper's Guide Obscurity of the Day:Gentlemen Prefer Blondes". Retrieved Aug 29, 2015.
  22. ^ Holtz, Allan. "Obscurity of the Day: Honeybunch's Hubby," Stripper's Guide (September 16, 2013).
  23. ^ Stephen D. Becker, Comic Art in America. New York : Simon and Schuster, 1959 (p. 235).
  24. ^ Kling entry, Lambiek's Comiclopedia. Accessed Nov. 4, 2018.
  25. ^ Robert C. Harvey,The Art of the Funnies. Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, 1994. (p. 69, 103). ISBN 0585214212
  26. ^ Phil Hardy at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on April 16, 2012.
  27. ^ Tack Knight entry, Who's Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999. Accessed Nov. 1, 2018.
  28. ^ Hubert H. Crawford, Crawford's Encyclopedia of Comic Books. Jonathan David Publishers, 1978 (p. 408).
  29. ^ Maurice Horn, The World Encyclopedia of Comics. New York : Chelsea House, 1976. (p. 638)
  30. ^ "Nueva" to "Nukunuku," Michigan State University Libraries Special Collections Division: Reading Room Index to the Comic Art Collection. Accessed Jan. 1, 2019.
  31. ^ Riley, Sam G. Biographical Dictionary of American Newspaper Columnists, Greenwood, 1995.
  32. ^ "Drew Pearson's Washington Merry-Go-Round," American University Digital Research Archive. Accessed Nov. 1, 2018.

External links

Further reading

  • Wheeler, John Neville. I've Got News for You, 1961.
Associated Newspapers (U.S.)

Associated Newspapers, Inc. was a print syndication service of columns and comic strips that was in operation from 1912 to c. 1966. The syndicate was originally a cooperative of four newspapers: The New York Globe, the Chicago Daily News, The Boston Globe, and the Philadelphia Bulletin. Associated Newspapers was led by Henry Herbert McClure (1874-1938), a cousin of S. S. McClure, founder of the McClure Syndicate, the first American newspaper syndicate. In 1930, Associated Newspapers was acquired by and became a subsidiary of the Bell Syndicate. The syndiate's most successful, long-running strip was Gladys Parker's Mopsy.

C. M. Payne

Charles M. Payne (1873–1964) was an American cartoonist best known for his popular long-running comic strip S'Matter, Pop? He signed his work C. M. Payne and also adopted the nickname Popsy.

In 1896, Payne was employed at the Pittsburgh Post. Coon Hollow Folks, his first comic strip, was followed by Bear Creek Folks, Scary William and Yennie Yonson. He created Honeybunch's Hubby (originally titled Mr. Mush), for the New York World, and in 1911, he drew Peter Pumpkin for The Philadelphia Inquirer. His 1910 strip, Nippy's Pop, was later retitled S'Matter, Pop? Initially carried by the Bell Syndicate, it ran from 1911 to 1940. During the 1920s, S'Matter, Pop? was a Sunday strip in the New York World, followed by decades as a daily strip in The Sun. In the early 1930s, S'Matter, Pop and Honeybunch's Hubby (which returned from a 20-year hiatus) spent times alternating as the main strip and the topper strip.

Traveling with his wife and two daughters, Payne spent the summer of 1915 in Los Angeles and Southern California, where he planned an automobile trip to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Diego.He was a member of the Southern California Camera Club, and in 1920, he exhibited photographs he had taken at remote locations in the Arizona desert.In 1964, Payne died in poverty.

Comic strip syndication

A comic strip syndicate functions as an agent for cartoonists and comic strip creators, placing the cartoons and strips in as many newspapers as possible on behalf of the artist. A syndicate can annually receive thousands of submissions, from which only two or three might be selected for representation. In some cases, the work will be owned by the syndicate as opposed to the creator. The Guinness World Record for the world's most syndicated strip belongs to Jim Davis' Garfield, which at that point (2002) appeared in 2,570 newspapers, with 263 million readers worldwide.Syndication peaked in the mid-1930s with 130 syndicates offering 1,600 features to more than 13,700 newspapers. As of 2017, the leading strip syndicates are Andrews McMeel Syndication, King Features Syndicate, and Creators Syndicate, with the Tribune Content Agency and The Washington Post Writers Group also in the running. Andrews McMeel syndicates more than 150 comic strips and news features. Andrews McMeel also owns and operates GoComics, a website featuring comic strips currently syndicated by Andrews McMeel, as well as discontinued titles such as Calvin and Hobbes, The Boondocks, and Bloom County; webcomics such as Pibgorn and Kliban; plus a selection of syndicated comic strips from Creators Syndicate and Tribune Content Agency. King Features syndicates 150 comic strips, newspaper columns, editorial cartoons, puzzles and games to nearly 5,000 newspapers worldwide. Creators syndicates close to 60 strips and 20 editorial cartoonists.

Don Winslow of the Navy (comic strip)

Don Winslow of the Navy was an American comic strip created by Frank Victor Martinek and distributed mostly by the Bell Syndicate from 1934 to 1955. The title character was a spy-chasing lieutenant commander in Naval intelligence. The comic strip led to a radio adventure serial that began in 1937, as well as film serials that began in 1942. Original comic book stories also appeared in Fawcett Comics titles starting in 1943.

Flyin' Jenny

Flyin' Jenny was an aviation adventure comic strip created by illustrator Russell Keaton and distributed to newspapers by Bell Syndicate from 1939–1946.

Hambone's Meditations

Hambone's Meditations was a comic strip produced from 1916 to 1968, and syndicated initially by the McClure Newspaper Syndicate and later by the Bell Syndicate. Produced by two generations of the Alley family, the one-panel cartoon originated with the Memphis, Tennessee, newspaper The Commercial Appeal, where it ran on the front page. The title character was a stereotypical African-American man with wide eyes and exaggerated large lips. He dispensed folk wisdom in caricatured dialect.

Hazel Carter

Hazel Carter (née Blauser ; 1894 – July 12, 1918), was a stowaway and writer from Douglas, Arizona. During World War I, she stowed away on a ship to France to stay with her soldier husband, Corporal John J. Carter. Later, she wrote about her experience for the Bell Syndicate.

James J. Montague

James Jackson Montague (April 16, 1873 – December 16, 1941), often referred to as "Jim" or "Jimmy" Montague, was an American journalist, satirist, and poet. Renowned as a "versifier," Montague is best known for his column "More Truth Than Poetry," which was published in a wide number of newspapers for nearly 25 years.Montague's journalism career began in 1896 at the Portland Oregonian, where he started as a copy boy. He was soon promoted to reporter and eventually took over the column "Slings and Arrows." In 1902 he was hired by William Randolph Hearst to work at the New York American and New York Evening Journal, where he debuted "More Truth Than Poetry." Montague wrote the column six days a week, in addition to articles on topics such as politics, theater and sports. In 1919 he moved to the New York World, which described him as "the most widely circulated poet in the United States." Later in Montague's career, his whimsical pieces were often carried by the Bell Syndicate.

Life's Like That

Life's Like That was a gag panel by Fred Neher which found humor in life's foibles. Spanning five decades, The panel was initially distributed by the Bell Syndicate and later by Consolidated News Features and the United Features Syndicate.

At its peak, Life's Like That was published in 500 newspapers. The Sunday format gave several cartoons a free-floating grouping, with variations, including one arrangement similar to George Lichty's Grin and Bear It, displaying several square-shaped panels with one in a circle.When Neher died at age 98 in Boulder, Colorado in 2001, Owen S. Good wrote in the Rocky Mountain News:

He is survived by pot-bellied businessmen, henpecked husbands, worldly-wise goldfish and babies with thin curlicues of hair, all actors in the everyday comedies he staged on the funny pages.

List of comic strip syndicates

This is a list of comic strip syndicates. Over the years, many syndicates have been acquired and otherwise absorbed by competitors; this list attempts to illustrate that.

McClure Newspaper Syndicate

McClure Newspaper Syndicate, the first American newspaper syndicate, introduced many American and British writers to the masses. Launched in 1884 by publisher Samuel S. McClure, it was the first successful company of its kind. It turned the marketing of comic strips, columns, book serials and other editorial matter into a large industry, and a century later, 300 syndicates were distributing 10,000 features with combined sales of $100 million a year.

Metropolitan Newspaper Service

Metropolitan Newspaper Service (MNS) was a syndication service based in New York City that operated from 1919 to 1932. At first the syndication service of Metropolitan Magazine, it soon became affiliated with the Bell Syndicate, and then was acquired and absorbed into United Feature Syndicate.

A couple of notable, long-running comic strips originated with MNS: Tarzan and Ella Cinders. The service syndicated writers like Margot Asquith, Gertrude Atherton, Joseph Conrad, and Booth Tarkington.

North American Newspaper Alliance

The North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA) was a large newspaper syndicate that flourished between 1922 and 1980. NANA employed some of the most noted writing talents of its time, including Grantland Rice, Joseph Alsop, Michael Stern, Lothrop Stoddard, Dorothy Thompson, George Schuyler, Pauline Frederick, Sheilah Graham Westbrook, Edna Ferber, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway (who famously covered the Spanish Civil War for NANA).

Reg'lar Fellers

Reg'lar Fellers was a long-running newspaper comic strip adapted into a feature film, a radio series on the NBC Red Network, and two animated cartoons. Created by Gene Byrnes (1889–1974), the comic strip offered a humorous look at a gang of suburban children (who nevertheless spoke like New York street kids). Syndicated from 1917 to 1949, Byrnes' strip was collected into several books. Branding also extended to such items as baseball bats and breakfast cereal.

Tailspin Tommy

Tailspin Tommy was an air adventure comic strip about a youthful pilot, "Tailspin" Tommy Tomkins (sometimes spelled Tompkins). Originally illustrated by Hal Forrest and initially distributed by John Neville Wheeler's Bell Syndicate and then by United Feature Syndicate, the strip had a 14-year run from 1928 to 1942.In the wake of Charles Lindbergh's 1927 flight across the Atlantic, the public's fascination with aviation escalated. Tailspin Tommy was the first aviation-based comic strip to appear as a result of this heightened interest. The strip's 1928 launch was followed by others, notably Skyroads, Scorchy Smith, and Flyin' Jenny and The Adventures of Smilin' Jack.

The Life of Our Lord

The Life of Our Lord is a book about the life of Jesus Christ written by English novelist Charles Dickens, for his young children, between 1846 and 1849, at about the time that he was writing David Copperfield. The Life of Our Lord was published in 1934, 64 years after Dickens' death.A Christian, Dickens wrote The Life of Our Lord exclusively for his children, to whom he read it aloud every Christmas. He strictly forbade publication of The Life during his own lifetime and begged his sister-in-law, Georgina Hogarth, to make sure that the Dickens family "would never even hand the manuscript, or a copy of it, to anyone to take out of the house." His handwritten manuscript was passed down to Georgina Hogarth after Dickens's death in 1870. On her death in 1917, it came into the possession of Sir Henry Fielding Dickens, Dickens's last surviving son. The Dickens family continued to read it at every Christmas and, at the author's request, delayed publication until the last of Dickens's children had died.The book begins:

My Dear Children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the History of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him. No one ever lived who was so good, so kind, so gentle, and so sorry for all people who did wrong, or were in any way ill or miserable, as He was.

There then follows a simple account of Jesus's life and teachings, with an occasional touch of Dickens's humour: "You never saw a locust, because they belong to that country near Jerusalem, which is a great way off. So do camels, but I think you have seen a camel. At all events, they are brought over here, sometimes; and if you would like to see one, I will show you one." Occasionally, Victorian attitudes are apparent — Dickens writes that the Jewish Sabbath was Sunday, that Jews were "very ignorant and passionate," and also that "they were very proud, and believed that no people were good but themselves." In the remainder of the book Dickens concentrates on the miracles Jesus performed and on the lessons in charity, forgiveness, and compassion from which Christians can learn.On the death of Sir Henry Fielding Dickens in 1933, his will provided that, if the majority of his family were in favour of publication, The Life of Our Lord should be given to the world. By majority vote, Sir Henry's widow and children decided to publish the book in London. Through Curtis Brown Ltd., London literary agents, Lady Dickens sold world publication rights for The Life of Our Lord to the Daily Mail for $210,000. The first serial rights for North and South America went to United Feature Syndicate Inc., whose General Manager Monte Bourjaily outbid King Features Syndicate, Bell Syndicate, NANA, and NEA. United Features promptly resold The Life of Our Lord to a sufficient number of United States newspapers to avoid giving first publication to a magazine. It was first published, in serial form, in March 1934. In 1934, Simon & Schuster published the first American edition, which became one of the year's biggest bestsellers. In the United Kingdom it was published by Associated Newspapers Ltd, also in 1934.

Dickens's original manuscript was purchased by a group of private collectors and in 1964 was presented to the Free Library of Philadelphia, which has held it ever since.To Begin With, an adaptation of The Life of Our Lord by Jeffrey Hatcher was performed by the author's great great grandson Gerald Charles Dickens in 2015 at the Music Box Theatre in Minneapolis. The play was revived in 2017.

United Feature Syndicate

United Feature Syndicate is a large editorial column and comic strip newspaper syndication service based in the United States and established in 1919. Originally part of E. W. Scripps Company, it was part of United Media (along with the Newspaper Enterprise Association) from 1978 to 2011, and is now a division of Andrews McMeel Syndication. United Features has syndicated many notable comic strips, including Peanuts, Garfield, Li'l Abner, Dilbert, Nancy, and Marmaduke.

Will B. Johnstone

Will B. Johnstone (13 March 1881 –4 February 1944) was an American writer, cartoonist, and lyricist. His writing credits include the Marx Brothers's Broadway revue I'll Say She Is and, with S.J. Perelman, their first two Hollywood films, Monkey Business and Horse Feathers. He also wrote several popular songs, including a version of How Dry I Am.

He created the cartoon character of The Tax Payer wearing only a barrel held up by suspenders. It was a regular feature in the New York World-Telegram. Johnstone also created the comic strip You Know Me Al (distributed by the Bell Syndicate).

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