Working Winnie (1926) brings the 1920s sensation from the funny papers -- Winnie Winkle -- to the big screen. It's a short movie, about 24 minutes, and was the first in a series of ten live-action adventures of our heroine. She was that other modern sensation of the 1920s; not the flapper, but the "working girl." It was one of the very first pop culture hits to feature a single working woman.
The strip by Martin Branner, who also co-wrote the script for this movie, was called Winnie Winkle the Breadwinner, because she was the sole support of her parents and younger brother, Perry. The strip began in 1920 and was an immediate hit, chugging along through the decades and finally discontinued by the newspaper publishing syndicate in 1996, when it was deemed that Winnie was no longer relatable to modern women. Hogwash. Winnie was a favorite of mine from childhood, when she was still working, though by the 1970s the strip was more of a continuing story like a soap opera and not comic gags.
In her 76 years, one of the longest-running comic strips in U.S. publishing history, Winnie had been through a lot. Lots of jobs, lots of leering bosses, a marriage to Bill Wright, who later got lost in the Amazon jungle while Winnie was pregnant with twins (boy and girl twins, my favorite kind), raising her children as a single mother, and finally founding her own fashion design company before they pulled the plug on our heroine. At least they had the decency to bring Bill back out of the jungle and reunite them. Actually, Winnie, in true independent woman fashion, went to the jungle and brought him back herself. Through it all, she kept her single surname.
Winnie was a favorite of my mother's as well. We discussed the strip's progress daily. My mother was one of the most intellectual people I'd ever met, and a great reader of much heavier material, but she had a sentimental fondness for the comic strips of her childhood, especially the ones that accompanied her into adulthood. She was a dedicated newspaper reader, and I suppose that the funnies were her gateway drug to the world of print news, and were for a lot of children back then.
Today, I find reading comics in newspapers a struggle because in many papers they tend to be printed much smaller than they used to be. It's not much of a pleasure anymore. When the strips are larger, one is able to appreciate the artwork more, as well as being able to just read the words. You can lose yourself in a nice big 2 1/2 x 9 1/2 inch strip, or even a 2 x 6 1/2, as they were by the 1970s. Strips had a lot more detailed background back then as well, which would probably not transfer well today on a much smaller space. Terry and the Pirates, now that was a joy to behold, its fine detail beautifully showcased in a larger format.
Working Winnie is a simple plot full of action, as the silent flickers were. It stars Ethelyn Gibson as Winnie. Miss Gibson was married to Billy West, who was the producer of this film, and starred in lots of comedies himself, including not a few with Oliver Hardy. He appeared in a huge number of movies from the teens right through the 1920s, but by the 1930s was relegated to uncredited bit parts, and he retired in 1935.
Here's Billy West as the silent World War I Medal of Honor winner in Joan Blondell's musical number "My Forgotten Man" from Gold Diggers of 1933, which we covered here.
Winnie suffers the indignity of running to catch a trolley, ripping a man's pants off when she can't get a grip on something as she tries to board. She gets another trolley, packed like sardines. At work, a sandwich she has left in her desk drawer has ants all over it, which get onto her hand and onto her body, and when she jumps, wiggles and shimmies, her co-workers think she is dancing and they clap along. Her grumpy boss and her hoped-for suitor suffer the same fate.
The trolley is so packed on the way home, she has to crawl on the floor and down the steps, landing head-first in the street.
Invited to a swank dinner party that evening, her frumpy parents, mischievous little brother and his roughneck gang, all do their best to embarrass her.
The movie is available here on the Internet Archive site. It's quite muddy, but there are a few laugh-out-loud moments, but don't expect much of a story line. For that, you had to read the funnies. And then discuss them with your mother.
Yesterday, May 5th, was Cartoonist's Day. In the spirit of the festivities, here's a nod to my favorite cartoonist, my twin brother John. His collection of delightfully sweet and silly cartoons is available on Amazon, in print or eBook: Arte Acher's Falling Circus.
Next week, we'll have another look at a movie based on a comic strip - Gasoline Alley (1951).
Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Memories in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century. Her newspaper column on classic films, Silver Screen, Golden Memories is syndicated nationally. Her new book, a collection of posts from this blog - Hollywood Fights Fascism - is available here on Amazon.