George McManus: Bringing up Father

Tricked out as Jiggs. You can just tell this is a fun-lovin’ guy

Just a quick shout-out for the great cartoonist George McManus (1884-1954). Best remembered today as the creator of Bringing Up Father a.k.a. Jiggs and Maggie (or Maggie and Jiggs), McManus turned out many other now-forgotten strips prior to the big one, including Alma and OliverSnoozerThe Merry MarceleneReady Money LadiesCheerful CharlieNibsby the Newsboy in Funny FairylandPanhandle Pete and Let George Do It. 

His strip The Newlyweds is said to be the first “family strip”. It debuted in 1904; the popular character of “Baby Snookums” was added in 1907. (Surely Fanny Brice had been inspired by this character!) Let George Do It premiered in 1910.

His monster hit Bringing Up Father ran from 1913 until 2000. This strip was richly influenced by the then-decades-old tradition of the comical stage Irishman of vaudeville and the legitimate stage. Jiggs was a former hod carrier who won the lottery. It’s kind of like the last season of Roseanne! The low-class Jiggs, despite his new silk top hat and tails,  is always sneaking off to the saloon and getting into trouble, embarrassing his more lace curtain class jumping wife Maggie. Gus Hill produced stage versions of the strip on Broadway as early as 1914. But the movies truly increased the strip’s fame.

Famously, shortly before their act broke up, Hearst contacted the Three Keatons to see if they would be willing to star in a screen version of Bringing Up Father. Joe Keaton balked, thinking the movies were beneath them, little dreaming that his son Buster would become one of the cinema’s great masters in just a few short years. Interestingly, because they were a knockabout act, and because of their costumes, a lot of people thought the Keatons were Irish; the surname, however, is Anglo. At any rate, a handful of Maggie and Jiggs shorts were produced in 1920 featuring Johnny Ray, Margaret Cullington and Laura La Plante as the daughter Nora. etc  films. But there was more to come: In 1928, MGM released a feature, starring no less than Marie Dressler and Polly Moran (with J. Farrell McDonald as Jiggs). In 1946, B movie studio Monogram Pictures revived it with Joe Yule (Mickey Rooney’s dad) as Jiggs, Renie Riano as Maggie, and a supporting cast that included Tom Kennedy, Jack Norton and Pat Goldin. It was popular enough to warrant four sequels: Jiggs and Maggie in Society (1948), Jiggs and Maggie in Court (1948), Jiggs and Maggie in Jackpot Jitters (1949), and Jiggs and Maggie Out West (1950).

Some of McManus’s other strips were also made into movies. From 1926 through 1929, there were 37 shorts made of The Newylweds and 40 of Let George Do It, produced by the Stern Brothers. 

McManus was also in vaudeville/ silent film himself, sort of: he was in Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur movie, which toured vaudeville theatres in 1914!

To find out more about the history of vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent film comedy, read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,