MICHAEL H. PRICE: Jiggs & Maggie Go to the Movies, and Vice Versa
George McManus (1884-1954), once a household name via his long-running domestic-shenanigans comic strip Bringing Up Father, stands as a practical embodiment of the comics’ industry’s cinematic possibilities. The last of his comics-into-movies adaptations, Jiggs and Maggie Out West (Monogram Pictures; 1950), came to hand recently during the excavation process for a fifth volume of novelist John Wooley’s and my Forgotten Horrors film-book series.
What? Bringing Up Father’s Jiggs and Maggie in a horror and/or Western movie? Well, not precisely so – but close enough to fit the Forgotten Horrors agenda. The books’ greater point all along has been that of isolating the weirdness in a range of motion pictures beyond the narrowly defined genres of horror and science-fantasy. And more peculiar than William Beaudine’s Jiggs and Maggie Out West, they don’t hardly come.
Born in St. Louis to Irish parents, McManus registered early in the last century as a newspaper cartoonist capable of finding a resonant absurdity in everyday domestic life, and of veering into dreamlike fantasy in the manner of Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland. With McCay, during the 1910s, McManus began exploring the finer possibilities of cartoon-movie animation: It is McManus, in a live-action prologue to the 1914 animation-charged Gertie the Dinosaur, who stakes a wager with McCay about the challenges of bringing a prehistoric beast to a semblance of lifelike motion. McManus’ larger filmography dates from 1913, as source-author, animator, and occasional actor.
Monogram Pictures’ formal Jiggs and Maggie series spans only 1946 -1950, but the funnypapers’ Bringing Up Father – a broadly parodic but subtly satiric study of an Irish-immigrant workingman, Jiggs, and his social-climbing wife, Maggie – had become fodder for the movie business many years beforehand.
The Monogram series stars Scots-born Joe Yule (surname streamlined from Ewell) as Jiggs. Yule had been a headliner in burlesque and vaudeville but found his career eclipsed by the success of his son, Mickey Rooney, as a kid star. Rooney’s career found its traction in 1927 with the Mickey McGuire slapstick series, as derived from the comics of Kentuckian Fontaine Fox.
Yule retrenched in Hollywood during the waning 1930s and made fresher marks of his own as a character man and bit-parts player – specializing in Irish-immigrant types. Toward the end, Yule settled in as the crowd-pleasing star of Monogram’s Jiggs and Maggie series, with the kindred-soul participation of George McManus.
The earlier Monogrammers, starting with Bringing Up Father in 1946, are scarcely more than situation-comedy prototypes, though hardly without their broad-stroke charms. Yule is most winning in the born-to-play role of Jiggs, a striving sort who longs for the company of his old-time gang of hard-drinking laborers and lollygaggers. Renie Riano likewise fits the role of the temperamental Maggie. Modest production values and uninspired pacing (by the prolific Beaudine, of the traffic-cop school of screen directing) merely come with the Monogram turf.
Jiggs and Maggie Out West pulls a doubled-up genre-switch with a ghost-story premise in a frontier setting. (The Forgotten Horrors Rule for artificial resuscitation of a flagging franchise: Just Add Monsters.) Maggie, determined to prove herself the rightful heir to a fortune, finally gets a break with word of a legacy awaiting her in a ramshackle settlement. In a swell touch of in-joke self-consciousness, the town is called Gower Gulch – after the Hollywood locale most commonly identified with Monogram’s “Poverty Row” class of independent studios.
A visit from the ghost of her grandfather prompts Maggie to pack up the household and head for Gower Gulch, where all concerned run afoul of a family feud with one Snake Bite Carter (Jim Bannon) and his half-brother, Bob Carter (Riley Hill), anchoring the opposing sides. At stake is the MacGillicuddy Gold Mine, which Maggie supposedly stands to inherit. Following another ghostly apparition, the absurdities peak with Maggie’s abduction by Snake Bite, who takes her to a meeting with George McManus – playing himself, more or less, in a detour into rubber-reality narrative sense.
The awareness of the film, by the film, was a commonplace at such nothing-to-lose studios as Monogram and Producers Releasing Corp. The June 16 installment of this column covers one such picture, PRC’s How Doooo You Do!!! (1945). Monogram’s Sam Katzman indulged in such self-referential nonsense with the likes of Voodoo Man (1944) and The Ape Man (1943) – both once credited by Stan Lee as an inspiration for a recurring gimmick at the mid-century’s proto-Marvel Comics: the comic-book story about a comic-book writer whose outlandish ideas spring to waking life.
Anyhow, McManus assures Jiggs and Maggie Out West of an irreversible tangent into the bizarre: McManus (as the real-world artist responsible for the situation), explains to Maggie (as his indignant brainchild) that he had transplanted her and Jiggs to this desolate locale merely to see how they might react. Maggie reacts, all right – with one of her customary tantrums.
Whereupon the picture ends. And so does the series. Joe Yule died at 65 in March of 1950. Jiggs and Maggie Out West was released the following month.
The Monogram series contains these pictures in addition to Out West: Bringing Up Father (1946), Jiggs and Maggie in Society (1947), Jiggs and Maggie in Court (1948), and Jiggs and Maggie in Jackpot Jitters (1949). The directors, by turns, are Bill Beaudine and Edward F. Cline.
The Forgotten Horrors books of Prowler and Fishhead co-author Michael H. Price are available from Midnight Marquee Press at www.midmar.com. Price’s new-movie commentaries can be found at www.fortworthbusinesspress.com.