DAUNTLESS DURHAM OF THE U.S.A.Medium: Newspaper comics
Appearing in: The Hearst papers
First Appeared: 1913
Creator: Harry Hershfeld
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Cartoonist Harry Hershfeld was one of the early giants of the newspaper cartoon field. His two most famous strips were Abie the Agent, which ran for decades and is credited with opening the comics up to sympathetic treatment of minorities; and Desperate Desmond, whose name still resonates in the public mind when we think of those old-fashioned melodrama villains. Dauntless Durham of the U.S.A. served as
a bridge between the two. Desmond was still active as its major villain, and it was the speech pattern of an incidental Durham character that inspired Hershfeld to create Abie.
Durham's series, which begen during January, 1913, was a replay of Desmond's, which had ended a few months earlier. Both featured the classic hero/love interest/villain triangle as shown in stage productions of the 18th and 19th centuries and movie serials of the early 20th, but with a shift of protagonist — Desmond was the bad guy and Durham the good one. Durham began in The New York Journal, a Hearst paper, and appeared in other Hearst papers nationwide.
As the Dauntless Durham strip opened, the three main characters were Durham, Katrina, and Lord Havaglass. Durham, whose first name as far as the readers knew was Dauntless, was as stalwart and heroic as they come. He'd started supporting his family when his age was still in single digits, but managed to get through college anyway. Katrina was rightful heir to the throne of Bulrania but, her family having been deposed by the evil Rupert of Rinderbrust, was working as a waitress, unaware of her royal birth. Havaglass, assisted by his man Watkins, was accustomed to getting his way. Knowing Katrina's origins, Havaglass had ulterior motives for desiring her hand in marriage; while Durham, who loved her for her own sake, was her chaste champion.
Durham and Havaglass clashed over and over (but always politely and fairly), with the helpless Katrina as their prize. But Havaglass apparently didn't capture the readers' interest, and a couple of months into the series, was written out — when last seen, he was too busy being ruler of Mexico to worry about trivialities like Bulrania. But no sooner had Durham and Katrina ditched him than they fell afoul of Desperate Desmond, and the chase was back on. (Desmond, whose major comic strip forbear was Hairbreadth Harry's Relentless Rudolph, was idle because his former antaonist and love interest, Claude Eclaire and the fair Rosamond, had eluded him by marrying.) Desmond served as villain for the rest of the strip's run, i.e., until several weeks into 1914. At its conclusion, Dauntless and Katrina followed Claude and Rosamond into matrimony.
It was while adventuring with Desmond that Durham met a cannibal chief named Gomgatz. Hershfeld used Yiddish, which wasn't as familiar to newspaper readers of the 19-teens as it is to today's television watchers, as the basis for Gomgatz's comic speech patterns. That made such a hit, he built his next star, Abie the Agent, comics' first overtly Jewish character, around his Yiddish style of speech.
Despite Durham's connections to Hershfeld's more famous creations, the strip has mostly been forgotten. Its one presence in the modern world is that, like Ed Whelan's Minute Movies, George Herriman's Baron Bean and several other contemporaries, it was reprinted in the 1980s. The entire run can be had in a hardcover edition from Hyperion Press.