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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Melville B. Raymond’s 1905 “Buster Brown” Musical, Part 1

What would April Fools’ Month be, without its chief prankster, Buster Brown? Buster’s creator, Richard Felton Outcault, turned Buster into one of the earliest mega-merchandised comics characters. Today’s posting is extracted from one of the rarer Buster Brown giveaway comics (and one still not found in the Overstreet listings — I discovered its existence years after ending my involvement with their “Platinum Age” (i.e., Hearst-Era) and Victorian Age comics sections).

Above is the front cover of a 1905 promotional giveaway, I’ll label “Mr. Melville B. Raymond’s Buster Brown”. Raymond was the author/producer/promoter of “Buster Brown” stage musicals, which played first in New York City, and eventually had four touring companies.

From its expensive production values (over-sized 16-page magazine, with eight color pages — six of which reprint Sunday section Buster Brown comic strip stories by Outcault; with the remainding pages filled with photos from the play — I at first glance thought this was a souvenir pamphlet that would have been sold at shows. But reading it, one can see that it is promoting upcoming shows, and would have been a giveaway item, in advance (distributed??? not sure how — I’d guess minimally this would have been free for the taking at theaters where the Buster Brown play would be coming. The pamphlet (which has the dimensions of songsheets of the day, and is printed on paper found in the better Buster Brown collections from Stokes), reprints clips from reviews, dated the last week of January 1905, and the first week of February 1905, so we know that February 1905 is the earliest it could have possibly been printed. The bottom of the front cover is hand-stamped “Sep 4 – 1905″ and “MIDDLETOWN, NY”, which tells us multiple things: 1) Most obviously, my copy was used to promote a September 4th, 1905 showing of the play, in Middletown, NY; 2) sets the publication date of the pamphlet as definitively 1905; and 3) shows that Raymond printed up a bunch of these, without the dates/locations of shows, then simply hand-stamped copies with that information, as needed.

Click on the above & below pictures, to view the pages in detail, and better read their texts.

Beneath, scanned from the pamphlet, which reprinted them from the New York Herald Sunday Funnies, we have “Buster Brown — Photographer” &amp “Buster Brown, He Puts Tobasco Sauce on the Lion’s Lunch”.

Below, scenes from the Raymond’s “Buster Brown” play. In 1906, Outcault sued Raymond, for precisely what, I don’t know. Raymond had created a new Buster Brown play, plus has been involved in an Edison Films short version of Buster. Either one (or both) might have triggered his falling out with Outcault (I speculate).

Doug Wheeler

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