The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1925 Page 1 of 2

Dirty Work at the Cross-roads

November 28, 1925

Cock fighting has been illegal in Canada since 1870, but still happens even now.

A Murder a Day – and Proud of It

By Gregory Clark, September 19, 1925.

It Isn’t Safe to Be a Civilian In Chicago; And It Isn’t Safe to Be a Policeman – Here Is The Great Crime City of The World – The Killings May Be Cruel or Tragic But They Frequently Have Comic-Opera Sequels

A murder a day keeps the angels away.

There are no angels in Chicago. For they have a murder a day.

Of course, it doesn’t run on a daily schedule. Some days there won’t be a murder all day. But then they make up the next day by having two or three.

A whole day will go by without a single murder. Then the Chicago papers have a peculiar bare, dumb look. Everybody sits around in a sort of hush.

But all is well. The following morning, the usual cheery world is rackety once more with news of murder.

Chicago is proud of its murder. Of course, there are those amongst the three and half million people in greater Chicago who protest that they are pained by the city’s crime record. But you will find all sorts of people in a city of that size.

You take the average taxi driver or young business man or the lady who sits at a desk on each floor of the hotel, and they will tell you first about the murder record and second about the Boulevarde.

“Chicago, you know,” says any one of them, “has a murder a day. Oh, yes! That’s more than the whole of Britain put together. Have you been on Michigan Boulevarde yet? No? Well, to-day ain’t so windy, but you take a walk along there on a windy day! My….!”

Here are the figures announced by the Chicago police for the three most popular forms of crime for the past few years. The figures are stated to be absolutely accurate. As a matter of fact, in order to get the figures right, the police hadn’t the time to capture even half the criminals involved. But the figures are right, you understand. Ab-so-lute-ly.

1919 1920 1921 1922 1923 1924

Murder 330 194 190 228 270 347

Burglary 6,108 5,495 4,774 4,301 3,019 2,155

Robbery 2,912 2,782 2,658 2,007 1,402 1,799

This year, so far, there have been 262 murders to date, which brings it out exactly right, a murder a day, including Sundays and holidays.

Now, you will observe from the above table that while burglary has fallen fearfully, from 6,000 to only 2,000 in six years, and robbery – which means hold-up – has been appreciably reduced, murder, on the contrary, has showed a steady increase. Murder is obviously Chicago’s pet crime. Take away their burglaries. They can do without their hold-ups. But spare them their murders. Woodman, woodman!

“There is rarely anything poetical or mysterious about Chicago murders. They are what the police call open-and-shut. A husband tires of his wife. What will he do with her? Why, shoot her. A wife grows weary of her husband, he is such a mutt. What will she do? Why, shoot him. It is far quicker than divorce, and cheaper, too.

There is the case of a man who shot his wife and married again the next day. After the police had been hunting for him for two weeks. he came back from his honeymoon and gave himself up. The trial lasted fifteen months, owing to the fact that he was a traveler and had to be on the road a great deal of the time. A lot of the witnesses went away, and those that were left had forgotten most of the facts, having got them mixed up with other murder cases they had witnessed or read of. So that finally, the judges who were trying the case failed to re-elected in the big elections, and the new judges, not knowing the first year of the case, dismissed the matter from their minds, as they wished to begin their careers with a clean sheet.

The Reward of Faith

Think of that second wife, receiving her husband back to her arms freed of all stain! Her heroism rewarded. And it was really clever of her to have gone on all that time without shooting him, until he was cleared. Now she is free to do as she likes, of course.

Jesting about murder is unseemly. But Chiago and her crime situation has reached the jesting stage. It is hard not to be jocular about Chicago’s police and judges, her crime and criminals, her social condition as a whole.

To a high police official, we put this question:

“What is the explanation of Chicago’s crime record?”

His answer:

“Politics.”

The police are appointed and controlled by the elected city officials. The judges are elected for a short term of six years. The prosecuting attorney, the clerk of the court, everybody, is elected.

Nobody can hope to be elected without the support of the bosses. Countless hundreds of good men have run for all these offices on a ticket of reform, refusing the support of the bosses. None of them ever won.

The men who chase the criminals, who catch them; the men who try the criminals, who prosecute them; all are elected. To keep their Jobs, they have to pay attention to the requirements of the bosses who virtually elected them.

What this leads to, you are not asked to guess. In 1923, there were 270 murders in Chicago. There were 135 persons tried for murder, of which 56 were sentenced to the penitentiary and 9 were sentenced to death. Of the nine, one was hanged! Seventy of those tried were acquitted.

Life, you might say, is sacred in Chicago.

One life paid for 270 lives!

If this extraordinary ratio holds good in murder, what must, the harvest be in mere property crime such as burglary and told-up? Chicago, however, seems to care more for property than for life. Because it has been the stricter application of the law in cases of burglary and hold-up that has caused the decrease in these crimes in the past five years.

The real trouble for criminals started in Chicago in 1917. One day an express company’s truck, with two armed guards aboard besides the driver, pulled up at a big munitions plant with the payroll of $9,000.

A touring car was halted at the entrance. As the express motor paused at the door, bandits in the other car fired sawed-off shot guns, killing the guards and driver, and decamped with the cash payroll. There was no hold-up. Just a flat killing.

Chicago went up in the air. This was too much. At the Chicago Association of Commerce the big business men of the city got mad. If nobody else would look out for the life and property of the city, they would. So they formed a committee of their own members to see what could be done.

The first president of this committee was Edwin W. Sims, Canadian born, a prominent lawyer and ex-judge.

In 1920, after a couple of years of discussion, this body took a charter in the state as the Chicago Crime Commission, with Colonel Henry Barrett Chamberlin, one of the original promoters of the idea, as its operating director. He was a former newspaper editor and owner, a lawyer, soldier and what not. He had a thorough knowledge of Chicago’s problem.

The first year the crime commission got busy. There were eighteen hangings in Chicago. The murder rate fell from 330 in 1919 to 194 in 1920 and 190 in 1921.

10,000 Professional Criminals

The crime commission’s method was very simple. They simply made an independent Investigation of every case, of each adjournment, and, with the power of the Association of Commerce back of them, brought the facts to notice. In the offices of the commission are files covering every crime committed in Chicago since 1920, with a record of every criminal, and of the disposition of every case. There are upward of 200,000 files in this collection.

Colonel Chamberlin, the director, says that there are about ten thousand professional criminals of all sorts in Chicago.

“That is less than a third of one per cent of the population. Yet the crime which they commit is out of every proportion with the population. In my opinion, Chicago’s unenviable crime record is due entirely to public indifference. Chicago is a careless city, not a wicked city. The problem is further complicated by the fact that there are twenty-seven nationalities making up the city, most of them creating a large enough colony to make a separate problem in itself. There are more Poles, for example, in Chicago than in any city in Poland.

“Each of these groups has brought its own social customs, its passions and habits with it. What means their police in Europe had of dealing with them the Chicago police do not know, and in any case would not likely be free to employ. They are a free people here, and freedom has its price.

“The cure of the evil,” says Colonel Cham. berlin, “lies in the administration of justice. Justice is a simple thing, intelligible to all races. But the laws of this state are in a sad state of antiquation. They need to be rewritten and revised. As they stand now, there is a loophole in every paragraph, every phrase. The law of precedent has piled up mountain high. In the state of Illinois, we are using English law, for example, that has been rejected in England for hundreds of years.”

The comical plight of the States, having got rid of the King of England but bound in a hundred ways by the will of remote kings and barons, is one that amuses Colonel Chamberlin.

“We put a bill for the revision of our criminal laws before our legislators last year, but it was thrown out by the people.”

The absurdity of the situation is shown by the bail bond system. Murderers can get bail.

Louis Bernstein, whose business was professional bondsmen for criminals, owned a building worth $25,000. On It he had a mortgage of $11,500. He had a half interest in the equity, which gave him $6,750 worth of property. With the state, his credit should have been half of that, or $3,375. Between August and February of one year Bernstein was accepted on bail bonds for offenders totaling $269,500!

And every bond was solemnly drawn on that $3,375 worth of property.

This is a sample of the loopholes and the looseness of administration of United States law which practically invites people to be crooks. It is too easy. The secret of the matter was that Bernstein controlled a big vote in the part of the city where he lived. A score of others could be quoted from Chicago records. But Bernstein’s $269,000 is the best one.

Needed: A Dictator

Some people say that criminals commit crimes in order to get away from Chicago. Chicago has hundreds of miles of cobblestone roads. Chicago has more smells than a Chinese village. Chicago has streets of houses in which people live that would not be tolerated by the Toronto health department even as stables. It has a beautiful side and a horrible side. On the way out to some of the nicest residential regions to be found on earth, Los Angeles included, you have to pass over an open drain of raw sewage as big as a river. It has a Catholic church to every square mile of city, with churches of the other forty-two denominations in proportion. But its traffic policemen bawl you out like Thames bargemen. You are likely to be spat on out of any of the handsome giant office building windows. You rent an apartment for one year; then you move out because the bedbugs have moved in.

Not a mile from its main centre you will see a pedlar shoving a rattle-trap cart and screaming:

“ZzZbissaouto!! Szchickzts!”

He is calling fruit or vegetables in one of the twenty-seven languages of the great mid-American metropolis.

It is a city to get away from, yet three and a half millions live there in pride.

Whether it is the political corruption or the indifference of the people that is the major cause of Chicago’s Gilbert and Sullivan opera plot, there is little likelihood of improvement in the lifetime of those present. In one of the municipal offices, two men were being interviewed on the subject.

“What we need,” said one, “is a benevolent despot. We ought to pick a man famous for his wisdom and character, and appoint him dictator for a time …”

“Excuse me,” broke in the other official. “But who would appoint him – the Republicans or the Democrats?”

And the circle closes.

The manager of one of Chicago’s great hotels has his opinion of crime:

“The real trouble with Chicago is that nobody gives a darn about anybody else so long as nobody interferes with him. Now, that crime you read about is all confined to the criminal classes. They don’t come up and disturb the decent people. So leave ’em alone. Let them kill each other. It is purely local.”

That appears to be the attitude of Chicago towards a murder a day.

In a theatre, the manager came in front of the curtain and announced:

“Ladies and gentlemen – there have been a number of reports of pickpockets in this theatre. Will you kindly watch your pockets and purses. The theatre cannot be responsible for any losses occurring in this manner.”

The audience, was so little impressed by this extraordinary announcement that it did not turn its head to look at its neighbors.

Chicago has roughly six thousand men on its police force. A very large number of these are employed as traffic police, and wear a khaki uniform to distinguish them from the regular police who wear blue. In the downtown district and in those regions where crime flourishes, detectives in large automobiles patrol small areas constantly day and night. They are called the “flying squad.”

In plain clothes, leaning back as comfortably as their large guns will let them, smoking cigars, these detectives roll along. eyeing the people on the sidewalks, stopping to investigate everything out of the ordinary.

The Terrible Newsboy

Following one of these cars for some distance, in a taxi, we came to a large crowd on the sidewalk, peering into an alley. Two large detectives leaped out of the car ahead, and charged the crowd like rugby players.

“What is it?” we asked our taxi driver.

“Oh, I dunno; a broker committed suicide or a girl has shot her sweetie, I suppose.”

Presently the two huge detectives came out of the mob, dragging a small boy with them. We asked some one what the trouble was.

“A newsboy using profane language,” said he.

Chicago has its thrills. We followed around in the vain hope of seeing that day’s murder. But we had to leave the flying squad talking and laughing interminably with a couple of girls at the least busy corner of their patrol area.

That day’s murder took place. It was duly chronicled in the evening papers.

In three years twenty-one policemen were shot and killed by thugs, and ninety-six persons were shot and killed by the police in the enforcement of law and order. These ninety-six were not included in the murders of those years.

The causes of the shooting of civilians by policemen as given in the police reports are illuminating: “Attempted to escape from police officer; failed to stop auto on command; resisted arrest; made move as if to draw gun when found hiding; refused to halt on order; stray bullet while dispersing gamblers.”

It isn’t safe to be a civilian in Chicago. And it isn’t safe to be a policeman. The best thing to be is a casual visitor, in the day time.

Michael Heinan, aged 17, was shot and killed by Thomas Chap, a bartender. Chap defended his action, saying that Heinan had scratched matches on the new bar and had kicked his dog. (This is on record). Chap was released on $10,000 bail, being a well known and responsible citizen.

Eight and one-half years later the Crime Commission, mulling over ancient documents, discovered this case, which had never come up to trial!

They brought it to trial. The jury dismissed Chap, on the ground that the case was so old!

“It is an axiom,” says Colonel Chamberlin, “that cases delayed one year come fifty per cent closer to acquittal. And our laws are so involved the delays in getting a case to trial are inevitable.

“On top of the technical assets to the criminal in the complexity of our laws, there has been another thing to blame, I think, in the production of this situation we find ourselves in. And that is, there has been too much mollycoddling of the criminal, of the less than one-third of one per cent of our population which is criminal. Suppose we pause in our sentimental consideration of the condition of jails and spend some time and energy in safeguarding the law-abiding citizen and the property he has acquired by honest toil!”

The best men in Chicago want their laws rewritten and revised, want the police and judicial system remodelled to take it out of political grasp, want the United States brought up to date from the time they threw kings over board. They want to get rid of King John and the barons.

But what Chicago wants is not what its best men want, necessarily. The big city still lifts its gigantic towers and colossal smells to the marvelling sky. They still sell the Wrigley building to visitors from Canada and the sticks. And they provide their one-a-day.


Editor’s Note: Even at the time, people were fascinated with the prohibition-era crime of Chicago, and its mobsters like Al Capone.

The Baseball Season Officially Opens

May 2, 1925

This is one of the first times “Life’s Little Comedies” was referred to as “Birdseye Center”.

Paul Whiteman was one of the most popular dance band leaders in the 1920s and 1930s.

“The Guest is Always Right”

November 14, 1925

These are a series of illustrations by Jim accompanying a story by Peter Patterson, about running a summer resort. The subtitle called it “An Adventure in the Great Open Spaces, Running a Summer Resort – Being a Combination Mayor, Street Cleaner, Social Secretary and Children’s Guide – Only the Honeymooners Seemed Satisfied With Anything and Everything.”

November 14, 1925
November 14, 1925

Life’s Little Tragedies

October 3, 1925

This comic is in the period of transition from “Life’s Little Comedies” to “Birdseye Center”. It is also unusual as Jim wrote in a copyright statement next to his signature.

It Had Its Baptism – Half a Million Men Were Its Godfather

By Greg Clark, July 11, 1925

Therefore The Maple Leaf, Borne Through Blood and Death, Has The Right to Its Place On The Flag of Canada – And The Spearhead That Foch Spoke About! – Here Is The Stuff of Which Flags Are Made and Tradition Is Perpetuated

Moved and seconded that the Canadian flag be the Union Jack with the Maple Leaf in gold emblazoned in the midst and the flag then mounted on a staff with a spear-head.

Fifty-seven thousand Canadian men lie on sundry half-forgotten hillsides of France and the low country with the maple leaf in brass on their breasts, though they be dust, enduring still.

Half a million Canadian men, with the maple leaf bright on their foreheads and on the collars, for four years made themselves known and marked in all of Britain, France, Belgium; in parts of the East, Saloniki, Egypt, Russia; and known, too, to every German.

In the Strand, on Princess street, Grafton street, the Rue da la Paix. Fifth avenue, the crowds would come alert and nudge one another when a plain figure in khaki, distinguishable from the hordes of brown only by brass maple leaves on brow and breast, went by.

“There!” they would say. “A Canadian! The fortress of Vimy – the quagmire of Passchendaele – the great spear-head of Amiens – the wolf pack that went with such a vengeful cry out from Arras, to Cambrai, Valenciennes, to Mons! A Canadian!”

We were known in every city and every village of more than half of Europe by a symbol, the maple leaf. Our clothes differed in no way from those of the British army, in which we served as a distinct corps. The Australian you could recognize a block away. We had only the little brass leaf. So we kept it very bright. There is no denying it: we were intensely proud of that small symbol. Men’s eyes, lighting on it, snapped swiftly to our faces. And we, conscious, stared back: conscious of fifty-seven thousand comrades left behind, on unfailing storied ground, near Ypres, on the Somme, on a certain impregnable ridge, in marshes by Passchendaele, and far and wide over a mighty battlefield of a hundred days, the hundred days of the spear-head, the days when we led the whole pack.

So the maple leaf, whatever shortcomings as a national emblem it might have had ten years ago, has no shortcomings now. It is hallowed and sanctified. Hall a million men went forth to give it meaning. Fifty-seven thousand men – and oh, that is many men! – wear it in their lonely graves.

If Canada’s performance in the world war has any meaning, national, international, imperialistic, political, then the maple leaf is important exactly in proportion to the importance of Canada’s entry on to the world stage.

When, at the Somme, we became a corps, and when, at Vimy, we got a commander of our own blood and bone, and the pride of our performance cost us no man knows what in life and death, we began to notice things. When we entered a soldiers’ hostel in the Strand, there over the central place hung all the flags of the British nations – the southern cross of Australia (and they with their distinctive, rakish uniform to boot!) – the flag of Africa, of India, even – and nothing for Canada save an ordinary marine ensign in error – we began to wish for something, too, of our own, that would symbolize the long miles between us and our home land, and the long generations far from the comfort and safety of these isles.

In the big canteens, back of the lines, again the flags of all the British nations, in each case the Union Jack with the marks of still further and greater unions on it – but nothing for Canada.

In the zone of battle a regiment goes by, columns of transport, of guns, and there, fluttering, the stars of Australia, and our guns bare and hard with never a shred of meaningful bunting on them, though their voices had as much meaning as any guns that faced the east.

The Meaning of Tradition

The Union Jack symbolizes the union of British races which founded the empire. The flags of the other nations that are growing up upon that foundation are, in every case, the Union Jack with certain further marks upon it to symbolize still further union and still wider empire. If Canada has been waiting for the right occasion to add her mark of union and of empire to the Union Jack, it has come. The maple leaf in gold emblazoned on the heart of the Union Jack.

The birth of a flag usually coincides with wars and conquests. Poetry and tradition are woven into it, if possible. Every old regiment in the world has certain honors and customs which it cherishes above all things. The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, for example, as a unit, salutes nobody but the King. That special privilege dates to the day King William’s horse ran away with him at a certain battle, and charging away from the firing line carried his majesty with great indignity through and scattered the King’s Own, which was marching to the fray. Recovering control of his steed, the king rode back and jokingly chided the colonel for not saluting the king as he passed; and he said: “From now on, this regiment salutes nobody but the king.”

And so it is. Another regiment drinks the king’s health standing with one foot on the mess table. Another breaks the glasses when the toast is drunk. The army and the navy are full of customs and special etiquette based on some treasured incident or precedent or privilege accorded in olden time.

Canada has just such a priceless incident to treasure if she has the imagination. Flags that have no tradition and symbolism in their weave are not flags but bunting.

After the great advance of the Canadian Corps at Amiens, when, with the crack French Tenth Army on their right and the Australians on their left, they thrust a great point into the German defenses towards Roy, Generalissimo Foch, the supreme commander, said: “The Canadians are the spear head of the allies.”

This is the stuff of which flags are made. If Caesar had said to one of his legions: “You are the spear-head of my army,” they would have passed those words to the ages, would have emblazoned spear-heads on their cuirasses and have worn spear-heads on their helmets. If a modern king had said those words to one of his regiments it would have been taken and treasured in symbolic form for all time.

Why not take the magnificent and historic compliment of the supreme commander of all the armies of the allies for a legend?

Let it be laid down officially as flag etiquette that in remembrance of Foch’s words, the Canadian flag, born out of that great conflict, be unfurled always and only on a staff with a spear head!

In every land, wherever the Union Jack of Canada be flung to the breeze, it must be on a staff with a gilded spear head, as part and parcel of the symbol. A hundred years from now, when other flags are flying, with whatever tradition their colors and devices portray, the Canadian flag shall fly on its spear-headed staff to remind all men and inspire our children with the historic statement of Foch on the occasion of Canada’s first appearance on the stage of the world as an entity and as a whole.

Here we have the material of tradition. There is this consolation. If we do not grasp it, probably our children will.

At the Olympic meet at Wembley last year, it was suggested by the British committee that all the empire contestants, in the great parade of all nations before the opening of the contests, be grouped together behind the Union Jack. The United States had hundreds of athletes in their section of the procession. Britain thought how fine and significant it would be to place the contestants from Canada, Australia, Africa, India and every corner of the empire in one grand and overwhelming battalion. The committees of the dominions thought differently. They decided definitely to march each behind its own flag in proper alphabetical order, in amongst all the other nations.

Canada Entitled to a Symbol

And they were right. The effect was this: A the procession of athletes of all nations, starting with A and passing through the alphabet, went by, nation by nation. And every few moments a British flag went by. Not one British flag but a score were in that great parade. One by one, the flags of the world went by the international throng, and first Australia with a splendid regiment of men carried the Union Jack and its marks of union and empire by. Then some more nations, and the British Isles went past, a great showing behind the Union Jack. Still more nations of the world, and then Canada. So the nations went past, one by one, and at the beginning and at the end came the flag of Britain with the escutcheons of her sons added. How Infinitely more imposing – this recurrence of Britain throughout that review of the nations -than had all the dominions followed under the one flag, the British committee realized fully as the moment passed.

But the flag the Canadians bore that day was not an official flag. Nor did it strike instant recognition by some symbol already known and respected from the eyes of the beholders from all parts of the world.

The objection raised to the use of the Union Jack with a device laid in the midst of it is that governors-general, lieutenant-governors’ and governors’ flags, from olden time, are the Union Jack with the coat of arms of the colonies they govern set in the middle. In the case of the Union Jack with the gold maple leaf emblazoned boldly in the centre, there can be no confusion with the governor-general’s flag, since his is the Jack with the Canadian coat of arms in the centre. The gold maple leaf without inscription of any sort laid in the heart of the Union Jack could have only one meaning, either here or in most of the countries of the world.

Artists must come into the discussion when the subject is a matter of color and form such as a flag. And the Group of Seven, intensest of all Canadian artists, might be expected to have some thought on the question of a Canadian flag.

“It is merely a question of time until we have a flag of our own in Canada,” said Lawren Harris, of the Group of Seven. “Canada is entitled to a symbol, because Canada is already as entity. The idea of the maple leaf, simply emblazoned, without scroll or legend, on the heart of the Union Jack appeals to me immensely. And the conception of the spear head appeals to me even more. For it is sentimental symbols of that sort which the inarticulate mass of people may take for their means of expression of the love of their country, above all others.”

And if there is any means by which Canada’s exploit in the world war can be preserved and brought to the notice and remembrance of all nations of the world could there be a more picturesque and romantic one than that flag etiquette should demand that flag to be flown only on a staff with spear head?


Editor’s Notes: This rather flowery article from 1925 was part of a movement for a distinct Canadian flag that developed after the First World War. Greg uses the term “ordinary marine ensign in error” to describe the use of the Red Ensign, Canada’s unofficial flag.

Ferdinand Foch was Supreme Allied Commander during the First World War.

Greg mentions the “Olympic meet at Wembley last year”. I believe he mixing up the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 held in Wembley, England, and the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. Maybe the committee met at the Exhibition before the Olympics.

The Group of Seven were a famous group of Canadian painters.

The illustration behind the photos were by Jim.

The Light of Other Days Shines on The Dumbells

By Greg Clark, June 6, 1925

It was a full house.

The curtain was up. The theatre was filled with the music of a clever orchestra. It was a performance of the “Dumbells,” in their sixty-second week in Toronto.

A smartly-dressed chorus came out and then Marjorie appeared, long, lissome, with the old

remembered stride, so queenly, so graceful. And all of a sudden the scene faded. The solid walls of the Royal Alexandra melted away. The strains to orchestra grew fainter, fainter.

And by all that is queer we were all at once in a dirty old grey marquee, its side walls drooping sadly, and tall poles staggering into the gloom above, and a stage before us lighted with oil lamps shaded with home-made tin reflectors.

We were in the midst of a strange audience. It smelt strongly of wool and sweat and tobacco. It was bent forward tensely on its benches. It made not a sound.

Yet on this little ill-lighted stage before us, as on that Royal Alex stage which had so mysteriously disappeared a moment ago, on this narrow, shallow stage, there stood Marjorie!

In the shadows of one corner of the stage was a piano, and the pianist’s back was to us. A candle in a whiskey bottle gave light to his fingers.

What was he playing? “Hello, My Dearie!”

And there was Marjorie, swaying and leaning towards us, singing,

“… I’m lonesome for you;

I want you near me –

 Yes, honest, I do…”

Not as gorgeous a Marjorie as we had a moment before on the stage that faded. Not such stylish clothes. Not so lighted up with footlights to show the delicate blossom on her cheeks and the lovely red bow of her lips. A big picture hat, a pink dress to set off her blonde beauty. And a parasol.

But a lovelier Marjorie than the one that the Royal Alexandra had been showing. Look how this audience cats her up, drinks her in! Did ever an artist have such an audience? Pipes and cigarets are held suspended. Heads are hunched forward. Eyes stare hungrily at this vision in the half light. She sings to the end in a clear soprano with a delicious break in it. She backs bowing to the burlap wings. The grey old tent trembles and bellies to the tumult of applause that crashes out. The khaki audience yells and claps and whistles and stands up.

Beauty They Craved For

The soldier at the piano strikes a chord. Strikes it again for silence. And from the wings steps jaunty Al Plunkett, wearing an opera hat and a stylish mackintosh. He is the picture of civil elegance. Ah, how sweet to the byes of men doomed forever, it seems to sweating brown wool! Al is smiling his ineffable smile. He twirls his cane at us. He raises his voice in an odd, laughing, suggestive tone and commences his song, “The Wild, Wild Women.”

The audience in lilting and chuckling with him on their benches of hard, narrow wood. The chuckle in Al’s voice increases. The words of the song have the boys leaning forward and nudging their neighbors.

” … ferocious women,

Are making a wild man of me!”

The troops shout and laugh. “Encore! Encore!” Al obliges. Ho sing the last verse and the chorus. He is more elegant and urbane than ever. He is the spirit of all that is free and Independent, and never a bugle nor voice can make a difference in his life, this dark, opera-coated swell.

A brass band hunched down under the front of the tiny little creaky stage plays an entr’acte and the audience lights up and smokes and chatters. Out in the night, far, far away, sounds the bumble and mutter of the distant guns. But in this marquee, the “Dumbells” are making pretense, for a regiment down from the line for a few days, that there is no war, that there is a world of reality, full of beautiful, attractive women and dark, alluring men in high hats, somewhere only around the corner. And the audience talks loud and laughs for fear they might not believe that that far rumble is only the traffic of the streets.

Marjorie comes on again. Amid a riotous cheer. Who could believe that the hard integuments of Ross Hamilton are concealed under those fair garments? Marjorie is not a female impersonator in this old marquee. She is a very real and very great artist. An artist depends so much on his environment, on his locale. Well, this Marjorie, I assure you, this Marjorie, posing and swaying before the starved eyes of a thousand soldiers who have seen nothing beautiful, but only mud and destruction and death for months on end – this tall, beautiful girl parading before them in the lamplight, is a very true artist indeed. For she is touching those nerves in the spirits of men which only artists can touch. She is making them live outside themselves. They are not amused by a female impersonator. They are looking at a beautiful girl with eyes that have seen no beauty in many day.

“Songs My Mother Sang”

Marjorie departs amidst a tumult. A singer whose name we have forgotten, which is a deep shame, comes forth clad in a quaint old-fashioned costume, with a tall wand, and sings for us “The Cornish Floral Dance.” A delicate, fine, artistic song, but the brown, tangled audience drinks it in. It is beautifully rendered. And the hard-boiled audience knows it. They demand an encore. With greater fervor, the fine baritone pictures again the little street and the dancing figures that kiss as they dance along.

Lay figures come out from the drab wings of the stage and set up a sentry box and a brazier. It is not a fake brazier, a stage effect. It is a real brazier, And the coke in it stinks through the marquee. And Al Plunkett, not in his stage clothes, but in his real, everyday clothes, his khaki uniform, comes out in the gloom, with only the brazier fire glowing on his downcast face, and he brings that big marquee full of soldiers to tears. For he sings a sad song: “The Songs My Mother Sang To Me.”

You may have heard sad songs in your life and shed furtive tears. But Al Plunkett, in his homely uniform, bent lonely over that brazier in so familiar an attitude, with his mobile voice breaking pathetically as he hums such old sweet songs as all our mothers sang – the songs of the southland, Alice Ben Bolt, the lullabies, the baby songs – oh, soldiers in the gloom, so still, so still, what Mills bombs are these stuck in your throats, what unmanly wet is this smearing your cheeks, while Al Plunkett wrings your heart to shreds with his tender and crooning voice?

These were mighty artists, I tell you, who could fill a night with such tears and such laughter. For there is a black face comedian, and Mert Plunkett, Captain Plunkett, the stout manager of all this fun in a dirty old tent out in some turnip field of Flanders, Captain Plunkett is the interlocutor of the black men. Then there is an orderly room scene in which ridiculous officers strut and comic lead-swingers cringe in cartoon of the real thing this audience will be facing on the morrow. The pianist with the candle in the bottle shows what he can do besides accompany. He plays a bit of Chopin and the latest hit from London. The fine baritone sings “Roses Are Shining in Picardy,” and here we are in Picardy, and such roses as shine are red, red.

The grand finale: Marjorie and Al, a chorus of girls and men, and that was the “Dumbells” as they were in the beginning, away back in grey, dirty old villages of northern France, before they had the money or the artists of other concert parties to make up the show of today. A night full of tears and laughter, of dim lights and such incense as a soldier can send up to his high gods.

They were all great artists those days. They will have to toil hard ever to be a great again.


Editor’s Notes: The “Dumbells” were a vaudeville group formed by soldiers during the first World War. Since it was made up of soldiers, all female roles had to be played by men in drag. They were extremely popular, and launched a Canadian show-business phenomenon that was to last through 12 cross-Canada tours until 1932. As indicated in the article, they engaged in standard vaudeville acts of skits, comedy, singing, and dancing, which also included minstrel black-face acts since those were still acceptable in the early 20th century. Their popularity could also be the result of nostalgia on the part of old soldiers, such as Greg. Their act fizzled out as people grew tired of old war acts, the advent of “talkies” (movies with sound), and the Depression.

The Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto was built in 1907, and still exists today.

From Our Special Representative at Birdseye Center

April 4, 1925

This is one of the earliest appearances of “Pig-Skin” Peters, and during the transition from “Life’s Little Comedies” to “Birdseye Center”. The next week’s comic would be the first time the title would change.

Why Do Golfers Hold Post Mortems?

April 4, 1925

Jim illustrated this article by George Roden. A “Mashie” was a type of golf club still in use at the time, similar to a modern 5 Iron. The Thompson Brothers were five brothers from a family of golfers who all came from the Toronto Golf Club. They all would have been playing at the time of this article.

Hurrying Up

By Greg Clark, December 12, 1925

How many years make a man?

The climb from four years to twenty is long. To a very little boy, when he first thinks of it, it wears the incomprehensibility of infinity.

He goes to bed at night four years, two months and two days old. He wakes the next morning, twelve hours older. It’s tedious.

“When do I get to be a man, dad?” he asks me.

“Well, it is quite a process. First you are a little boy, then you are a little bigger boy, then you are a little bigger, and so on. Presently you go to school…”

“But if I wear my cowboy hat,” he interrupts, “am I a man.”

“No. It is a matter of time, of days, months and years.”

“If I take my medicine, am I a man?”

“Oh, I see? Yes, son, there is more to being a man than years. I see your point.”

“Well, if I have my cowboy hat on and take my medicine, then I’m a man.”

“You’re getting hotter.”

“Anyway,” he says, pressing in earnestly, “if I fall and don’t cry, and I have my cowboy hat on and took my medicine before that, then I am a man?”

“You want to be a man? Don’t you?”

“Yes. Then I can be with you.”

It is statements like this that so often cause daddies to pick up their papers, inexplicably, and retreat to their dens. It seems as if you can’t show daddies your love.

I retreated. Still stinging from that little barb of love. I pretended to myself to be reading. Suddenly the silence downstairs was burst by a crash and a thump. I stepped to the stair-head. The boy, somewhat bent, was staring up with a rueful expression, his cowboy hat cocked over one eye.

“I fell off my bicycle,” he said in a small voice, “and I didn’t cry.”

“Good man!” I said, and returned to my paper.

A moment later, there was another crash and thud downstairs, followed by silence, then the voice, more confident, floated up:

“Dad, I fell off again and I didn’t cry!”

“Be careful, young fellow.”

Hardly had I found my place when there came up another crash, more terrifying than the last. I went to the stairs. He was coming up to me, hurriedly, and holding one knee.

“I fell off again,” he said, climbing, “and I hurt myself and I didn’t cry.”

“But what’s the idea?” I demanded.

“Daddie, you didn’t say ‘good man’.”

“Good man! But you mustn’t tumble about like that.”

He took my hand and followed me to the den, where he climbed aboard me in my chair.

There was almost a swagger in his manner now, his cowboy hat awry.

“If I fall and don’t cry,” he said. “I am a good man, aren’t I?”

“Indeed you are.”

“If I fall all the time and don’t cry, then I will hurry up, won’t I?”

“Hurry up?”

“Hurry up to get to be a man,” he said. “So I will fall a lot of times and soon I’ll be a man?”

We stared long at each other’s colored eyes, shiny eyes.

“Dad,” he whispered presently, “rub my poor knee.”


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