DIXIE DUGANOriginal Medium: Prose fiction
Published in: Liberty magazine
First Appeared: 1928
Creator: J.P. McEvoy
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Many Americans remember the Dixie Dugan comic strip, at least if they're old enough to have read newspaper comics in the 1960s and earlier. She'd been a steady presence (tho far from a superstar) on the comics
page for generations before finally petering out during that decade. To look at her in those later days, as a tired and old-fashioned comic strip character, you'd never guess she started out as a bright, up-to-date cross-media phenomenon.
Dixie first appeared as the star of Show Girl (no relation), a novel serialized in Liberty magazine in 1928 and published in book form almost immediately afterward. The author was J.P. McEvoy, a newspaperman who also wrote plays and humorous poetry, much like several of his contemporaries, including Don Marquis (archy and mehitabel) and Milt Gross (Count Screwloose of Tooloose).
That same year it became a Broadway musical (opening July 2), with Ruby Keeler as Dixie. It was produced by Flo Ziegfeld, with music by George and Ira Gershwin. Despite the high-power talent, it ran only 111 performances and is best-remembered today for a ballet sequence set to George Gershwin's "An American in Paris". The movie version, released Sept. 23 of the same year by First National Pictures, starred Alice White as Dixie. A sequel, A Show Girl in Hollywood, was released April 20, 1930.
As the title implies, Dixie was a show girl, one of those attractive young women who decorate stage and screen productions and have dreams of one day becoming a star. Naturally, it was full of romance, glamour and all the other elements the public expected of show-biz stories.
The comic strip was a relative latecomer, not appearing until October, 1929, but (like that of Buck Rogers, who also started in prose fiction) it long outlasted her other venues. The artist was John H. Streibel, who had provided illustrations for the magazine serialization of the novel. McEvoy and Streibel had known each other for years, and collaborated on an earlier feature as well, The Potters, which King Features Syndicate had briefly distributed in the mid-1920s. The Show Girl strip (the title of which was quickly changed to Dixie Dugan) was distributed by McNaught Syndicate, which also handled The Bungle Family, The Jackson Twins and many others over the years. A Sunday page was added in 1934, along with its topper, Good Deed Dottie (about a little girl whose daily good deed usually brought catastrophe to the recipient as she walked off, cheerfully saying, "An' that's that fer t'day").
But as the '30s wore on, and her origins as a multimedia star receded into the past, it became necessary to change her focus. The stock market crash (the same month as the comic's beginning) presaged hard times, and the public became less interested in a stage ingenue's frivolous adventures. Dixie gave up her aspirations and worked a variety of jobs to suport herself and her aging parents. Some stories still concerned soap-opera romance, but some were about crime and suspense. The Sunday version kept its gag format, and often starred Dixie's young niece, Imogene.
Dixie had a minor career in Big Little Books (two titles, 1939 and '40) and comic books. In the latter, she was reprinted in the back pages of Famous Funnies (the first modern-style comic book), Feature Funnies (which ran several McNaught strips such as Joe Palooka and Mickey Finn) and Big Shot Comics (another McNaught outlet, but which also featured Skyman, Sparky Watts and other non-McNaught properties). She also had her own title a couple of times — from Columbia Comics (publisher of Big Shot) for six issues, scattered between 1941 and '49, and Prize Comics (Fighting American) for eight issues, 1951-54.
In 1943, Dixie got another shot at the movies. Dixie Dugan, with Lois Andrews (making her first appearance on the screen) in the title role, came out March 12 of that year. This one, produced and released by 20th Century Fox, contained no mention of Dixie's early career in entertainment. It was supposed to kick off a series, but audiences didn't respond very favorably and only one was made.
By this time, McEvoy had turned the writing of the strip over to his son, Renny. Streibel, with several assistants, remained as artist until health forced him to turn it over to them in the early 1960s. He died in 1962. The strip ended four years later.