Fritzi Ritz. Artist: Ernie Bushmiller.

FRITZI RITZ

Original Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: United Feature Syndicate
First Appeared: 1922
Creator: Larry Whittington
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Comic strips about pretty girls were all the vogue in the 1920s, following the creative success of Cliff Sterrett's Polly & Her Pals. Of Boots & Her Buddies,

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Beautiful Babs and all the rest, only two — Blondie and Fritzi Ritz — are still seen. Both achieved their durability by becoming domestic, but Fritzi paid an additional price for longevity — she's now a mere bit player in the strip where she was once the star.

Fritzi debuted on October 9, 1922, in The New York Evening World. It was syndicated by United Feature (Li'l Abner, Broncho Bill). Her creator, Larry Whittington, was not one of comics' more stellar cartoonists — in fact, creating Fritzi is the only noteworthy thing he ever did in the field, and her success had little to do with his efforts. In 1925, he quit Fritzi Ritz to create a new pretty girl strip for King Features Syndicate. His replacement was 20-year-old Ernie Bushmiller, whose previous job at The World's art department had been to sweep its floors..

Rube Goldberg started out the same way, cleaning up in a newspaper's art department. The theory was that a young artist was likely to pick up professional techniques by hanging around established pros — and in Bushmiller's case, like Goldberg's, it worked. In Bushmiller's hands, Fritzi Ritz rose to phenomenal success, a rare instance of a replacement cartoonist turning out more successful than a strip's creator.

Incidentally, Bushmiller's version of Fritzi was modeled after his fiance, Abby Bohnet, whom he married in 1930.

When, in 1931, The Evening World merged with The New York Telegram, most of its strips were dropped. Fritzi was only briefly homeless, however, as she was picked up by The New York Mirror on Jan. 10, 1932. She achieved national distribution through United Feature Syndicate, which also handled Tarzan, The Captain & the Kids and many other well-known strips.

Bushmiller introduced several new characters — for example, Phil Fumble, who hung around for years as Fritzi's steady boyfriend. Before Phil, i.e., during the Flapper Era of the 1920s, she'd had an endless succession of not-very-serious beaux. But the most important of Bushmiller's new characters was Fritzi's 7-year-old niece, Nancy, who came to live with her in 1933. Within a few years, Nancy was the star of the strip, and "Aunt Fritzi" merely a parent-like authority figure — the position she retains today.

Fritzi's retreat from fame was gradual. Even as late as 1958, Dell Comics was still publishing a comic book with her as the title character. But it was made up of strip reprints, mostly from the '30s. In newspapers, she'd long been relegated to secondary status. For the past half-dozen decades or so, Fritzi has functioned merely as her niece's supporting character.

If this seems like an ignominious fate, consider that of the strip Larry Whittington left her for. Nowadays, how many people have even heard of Mazie the Model?

— DDM

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Text ©2001-07 Donald D. Markstein. Art © United Feature Syndicate.