Thursday 19 January 2012

Movies, Comics, and Songs – Oh My!

Today I’m going to briefly feature a few Richards who are awesome, but about whom I don’t know a whole lot. My lack of knowledge should not keep them from getting the love!

First up: Richard White. This past weekend I went to see Beauty and the Beast in 3-D (it was awesome!) and therefore got to enjoy the mellifluous singing of this Broadway actor. Richard voiced Gaston, the douche-y guy who wants to force Belle to marry him. As the song “Gaston” says, “no one takes cheap shots like Gaston” (or “persecutes harmless crackpots like Gaston”). So, yeah, Dick voiced the movie’s major dick.

As a fun side note, when my cousin and I looked Richard White up on IMDB, there was a message board post proclaiming, “He’s my uncle!” As you might have guessed, it was from a niece or nephew of Richard’s offering to answer any questions. It also appears (based on perusal of said message boards) that Richard White just might be a minister as well. Who knew.

The voice of a Dick. [Image from]

Moving on to the world of comics. A few years ago, I went to an exhibit on golden age (1940s) comic books at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. I distinctly remembered that one of the Batman artists was from Fremont, Ohio, which excited me because I live rather near there. I couldn’t remember the artist’s name, so imagine my delight when I discovered this artist was none other than Richard “Dick” Sprang (1915-2000).

Sprang started penciling Batman stories in 1941 and later illustrated covers as well. He principally worked on Detective Comics, Batman, and World’s Finest Comics. He did most of his work in World’s Finest Comics in the late 1950s and early 1960s, drawing the Batman and Superman team-ups. Because of that, he also did some art for the Superman group of comics (which included Superman, as well as comics about Supes’ girlfriend Lois Lane and his buddy Jimmy Olsen). Dick drew the first appearance of the Riddler (Detective Comics #140 from October 1948).

Three fun facts about Dick Sprang: he had terrible vision (20/400) which kept him out of military service during World War II, despite being drafted twice. He taught his wife Laura how to do comic book lettering (which I assume means write the words in the speech bubbles), and she subsequent lettered much of his artwork (under the gender neutral pen-name “Pat Gordon”). She even did freelance work for the government and Hollywood. What a team! Dick (and Laura/Pat) also got to work from home! Although DC was (and probably still is) based in New York City, from 1946 on Dick lived in Arizona and Utah. He continued to work for DC until 1961 (coming back for special occasions in 1987 and 1990). How awesome would it be to draw superheroes in your pajamas all day – and get paid for it?! Not bad for a kid from Fremont.

Also, Dick Sprang was kind of hot, in a clean-cut 1940s sort of way. As evidence see this 1945 photograph taken from Batman: The Sunday Classics 1943-1946.

Pow! Bang!

Finally, a song. “Open the Door, Richard” was originally recorded by Jack McVea in 1946. The song was based on a vaudeville routine, in which a half-drunk man comes home and wants Richard to open the door and let him inside for the night. According to Wikipedia, the “spoken dialog makes humorous references to negative aspects of urban African-American life, including poverty and police brutality.”

The song, considered a novelty R & B work, was recorded by several artists and proved to be quite popular. So popular, in fact, that the music charts of January, February, and March 1947 seem saturated with Richard and his door. Below is a quick list of when five different versions of “Open the Door, Richard” first hit the Billboard Best Seller chart.

-31 January 1947 the version by Dusty Fletcher, which stayed on for five weeks and 
                peaked at number 3

-7 February 1947 the version by Count Basie, which stayed on for four weeks and peaked 
                  at number 1

-14 February 1947 two versions entered the chart:
            -the original version by Jack McVea, which stayed on for two weeks and peaked 
                                at number 7
            -a version by The Three Flames, which stayed on for three weeks and peaked at 
                                 number 4

-7 March 1947 the version by Louis Jordan, which stayed on two weeks and peaked at 
                      number 7

That means the week of 14 February 1947, four different versions of “Open the Door, Richard” were simultaneously on the Billboard Best Seller chart. Was everyone getting this recording for Valentine’s Day?

The song title has seeped into the wider culture, with Looney Tunes and numerous old-timey comedians making puns on the title. Apparently, one could even purchase hats, t-shirts, and jeans that referenced the song.

To enjoy the song for yourself, please check out the following You Tube links:

*Louis Jordan version, complete with pictures of famous Richards (truly diggity dank!):

*A banned version from Walter Brown and Tiny Grimes Sextet:

Further investigating:

Richard White on IMDB:

Batman: The Sunday Classics 1943-1946 (New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2007), 22-3. This is a reprint of the 1990 version published by Kitchen Sink Press.

            This entry borrows heavily from: RJ Smith, “Richard Speaks! Chasing a Tune from the Chitlin Circuit to the Mormon Tabernacle,” in Eric Weisbard, ed., This is Pop (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 75-89.

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