SF in all the Wrong Places -- Minute Moviesby(c) 2017, Arthur L. Lortie
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Ed Wheelan
Back when I was young(er) and dumb(er), I used to blame the spike in science fiction stories that appeared in comic strips in the mid-1930’s on the success of the FLASH GORDON serials and H G Wells’ return to the field that made him famous with the film version of THINGS TO COME, Both of which hit theaters in 1936.

But, of course, I was wrong. I focused on films because I thought they had a larger effect on the general public than comics. But the story from Ed Wheelan's MINUTE MOVIES that I’m about to share ran in 1935, appearing right there on the comics page alongside strips that normally just reflected ordinary life and suddenly took a turn for the bizarre -- like THE BUNGLE FAMILY’s trip through time, Ritt and Gray’s THE TIME TOP and a few others that ventured into AMAZING STORIES territory.

So perhaps it was BUCK ROGERS’ ubiquitous marketing and / or Alex Raymond’s FLASH GORDON that were to blame all along!

MINUTE MOVIES debuted January 31, 1917. Originally just a series of interconnected strips, it soon became bannered as MIDGET MOVIES before adopting its more familiar title. It had a unique format in that it occupied the standard space usually allotted to the strips of its time – which was perhaps twice the real estate as today’s much abused products – but was usually horizontally halved so the reader ended up with twice as much story each day. It's success spawned a host of lesser imitators.

The strip attempted to mimic the movie experience with an eclectic mix of newsreels, coming attractions, cartoons and interviews that accompanied the main features. The strip presented original stories or adapted classics like TREASURE ISLAND, HAMLET and IVANHOE, or fairy tales or parodies of famous literary figures like SHERLOCK HOLMES.

And once -- and only once -- it ventured off into a story directly swiped from BUCK ROGERS, apparently inspired by the recent discovery of the once (and future?) planet Pluto. So perhaps Percival Lowell can share a small portion of the blame.

PLANET PLANS ran July 20 to September 21, 1935. plus an early teaser and a special strip introducing a unique group of guest stars.

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There was also a quick thank you to the midgets immediately following the adventure.

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The story itself is pure 1930's Space Opera, with warring planets (Pluto, Saturn and Venus) only minutes apart by spaceship, pitting power hungry invaders against a peace loving kingdom, complete with winsome damsels in distress.
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Most MINUTE MOVIE stories featured the same recurring cast of “stars”. In Wheelan's imaginary universe, the strip sometimes functioned as a fan magazine and peeked at the backgrounds or off screen lives of its actors. Reading strips with an approach like this help explain why preteens like Federico Fellini and Al Williamson, reading imported reprints in Italy and Columbia, thought BUCK ROGERS and FLASH GORDON, respectively, were real people.

Since most current comic strip fans have probably only read one or two MINUTE MOVIE stories, I'll share the cast biographies that Whelan presented occasionally and over the space of a dozen years.

The MINUTE MOVIES entourage and their films were said to be managed and produced by Wheelan through his MINUTE MOVIE STUDIOS, which also housed his radio station WMMS. In the call sign system in use at that time the "W" prefix meant the station - M(inute) M(ovie) S(tudios) -- was located in the central United States. A real WMMS, broadcasting from Cleveland, Ohio, was founded in 1974 and still operates today.

The "world's greatest motion picture director" and creative force behind all the stories was the multitalented former actor Arthur G Hokum, who was also WMMS's announcer. Hokum would resign to accept a position at Parafine Pictures to direct their new baby star, Diana Diapers. He would go on to write his oft-requested memoirs, "That's How Hokum Was Born". It revealed Art was born shortly after midnight on July 4, 1895 to Hiram and Hannah in Bunkport, Maine (an obvious reference to Kennebunkport).

Hokum's resignation. coupled with an electrician's strike, forced the Earth-1 version of Ed Wheelan to close the studio on May 13, 1936, though the strip lasted until November 28th, according to Allan Holtz's American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Reference Guide. I have strips that run through February 13, 1937, but these later strips may have been intended to run under the title ROY MCCOY and the newspapers opted for the more familiar title.

His 'trick hat' mentioned below is a combination cap and fedora with a detachable brim that was "the envy of all the worthwhile directors of Follywood".
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Though not appearing in PLANET PLANS, child actor Herbert Honey deserves a mention.

Wheelan's contemporary Frank King is praised because his characters in GASOLINE ALLEY were allowed to age and grow through the years, which is uncharacteristically realistic for the eternally youthful PETER PAN-ish stars of most comic strips.

Billed as 'the child prodigy of the silver sheet', Herbert joined MINUTE MOVIES at age 5, playing all the needed child roles, including the titular Jack in JACK AND THE BEANSTALK.

As he grew, he cut his youthful mop top for older roles and left for a successful career in vaudeville, both in the United States and abroad..

In 1931, the comic strip Wheelan wanted to create more lavish productions and decided he needed his former child star back to play the teenaged Jim Hawkins in TREASURE ISLAND. Much fanfare accompanied his return to the fold for the amazing sum of a half million dollars.

For point of reference, in 1931, Maurice Chevalier -- whose name was so recognizable that his passport was featured in the Marx Brothers film MONKEY BUSINESS that very same year. -- was earning this salary and was the highest paid actor in the world.

Bearded Archilbald Clubb usually played the more mature roles that needed to be filled, like sea captains or fathers. In PLANET PLANS, he was the brilliant Professor Horace Hooey, creator of the Super-Super Space Rocket he called The Zipper.

Charcoal Burns, playing Hooey's assistant Plato Beans, was the resident "colored character actor" and sometimes song writer. He usually played cooks, drivers, valets, and a host of other secondary roles. If he was too old or male for a role, the 5-year-old Coal Dust or his mother, Mrs. Susie Smoak would get the call. Susie may be the unnamed actress who plays the Crystal Gazer in PLANET.
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Leading lady Lotta Talent, the former Sophonisba Twinkleberry of Indiana, had her screen name chosen by fans in a contest in 1924. which won a lucky MINUTE MOVIE reader $20. She was a McSenate (read as Mack Sennett) Bathing Beauty and comedienne. She starred here as Carrie Carbon.
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Femme fatale Blanche Rouge is known as the best dressed woman in Follywood. Her ambition is to swap roles with Lotta and play the heroine. She doesn't get that chance in PLANET playing the aptly named Vixen from the planet Saturn.
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"Filmdom's fairest flower" was the dainty yet athletic Hazel Deare, assigned roles like CINDERELLA or Ophrlia in HAMLET -- and Princess Fya from Venus.
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Ralph McSneer, "the screen's most villainous villain". plays the evil Venom from Saturn. His other claim to fame is that he was the third bit player hired and appeared in every Wheelan-Hokum production.

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Handsome Richard Wishbone Dare, billed as Dick Dare, plays Prince Emba from Venus, has seniority among the Wheelan cast. Though independently wealthy, he still is addicted to trying to win newspaper contests.
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Paul Vogue was first hired in 1927 to star in THE GREAT AIRMAIL MYSTERY and immediately began receiving hate mail from fans who thought he was planned as a replacement for the popular Dick Dare. Eventually they accepted him as the perfect dark haired compliment to Dare's blonde heroes. In PLANET he plays Spleen from Saturn.
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Will Power became a featured player after years as an extra. He plays Rancor from Saturn,
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Fuller Phun, who eventually received his own strip under his real name Roy McCoy, was the everyman hero of most of the Wheelan stories. Originally just a comedian from Barnsdale, Missouri, he became one of Wheelan's most accomplished actors.. He plays Red Rash, the multi-millionaire playboy who finances Professor Hooey's invention.
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Wheelen would eventually leave comic strips and move to comic books, working primarily for DC and EC comics, recycling many of his plots, jokes and characters.

He basically retold the story and recycled the designs of PLANET PLANS for the one-shot DON FUEL AND THE MYSTERY PLANET in FLASH OMICS #6 (June, 1940).
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And then he tried a third time to emulate BUCK with THE SPACE PIRATES, a COMICS MCCORMICK story, in FAT AND SLAT #4 (Spring 1948) from EC COMICS.
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What's interesting is that he used 3 different methods to present space opera. In MINUTE MOVIES, the big reveal was that the story was a dream, essentially excluding any sequels except after a spicy Mexican meal. In FLASH COMICS, the story was presented as "real" and could have been part of a series. In FAT AND SLAT, our hero begins by reading a fictional comic book story (possibly a DON FUEL entry?) and dreams himself into the adventures.

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You can find all the files at Mediafire

I included the stories from FAT AND SLAT and FLASH COMICS; a photo of Ed Wheelan; 3 MINUTE MOVIE promos; and additional biographies of the Minute Movie actors