Denny O’Neil – Comic Writer for Social Awareness

Writer for Batman & Iron-man

We have lose a voice for social issues in comics as longtime comic book writer and editor Dennis O’Neil has taken his Final Taxi.

The world will remember O’Neil’s writing for DC Comics’ “Batman” from 1986 to 2000 where he took a prankster villain “Joker” and turn him into a darker, twisted soul. Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix borrowed heavily from O’Neil’s version for their film portrayal of this complicated individual.   O’Neil introduced the villain Ra’s Al Ghul who would be seen later in the Batman movies as well as the ‘Arrow’ TV series.  While working with DC Comics he also wrote and created, along with artist Steve Ditko, the bizarre hero ‘The Creeper’ who has remained one of my favorite characters.

O’Neil also worked at Marvel Comics on such series as “Spider-Man,” “Doctor Strange,” “X-Men” and “Iron Man”. On “Iron Man” he had the hero (Tony Stark) relapse into alcoholism. Much of O’Neil’s work on this plot thread was based on experiences with alcoholics he knew

One of O’Neil most award winning and note worthy writing endeavors was  his run on “Green Lantern-Green Arrow.”  During this time Green Arrow became a vocal leftist, criticizing the “law and order over all” attitudes of his fellow superheroes. The two heroes of the book take to the road looking for social justice instead of fighting ‘super-villains.’  The ‘ Hard-Traveling Heroes’ raised issues that had rarely been touched on in mainstream comics.  Long before the Black Live Matter movement  is a memorable moment in which a Black man confronts Green Lantern, asking why he cares more for the plight of aliens than that of his fellow Americans, especially those who are black.

Another famous plotline was when it was revealed that Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy had become addicted to heroin. This was strong stuff for comic of the early 1970’s.2869520-the_question_poster

It was Dennis O’Neil’s writing for DC Comic’s ‘The Question’ that was my favorite book by him. ‘The Question’ was created by artist Steve Ditko, who also created Spider-Man, and is based on his political anti-hero “Mr. A”.  O’Neil took the character back to those political roots.  The Question is a reporter in Hub City, which has become corrupt. Street gangs and the mob rule the city and the government is run by them, resulting in complete lawlessness.  He is a man with a faceless skin mask, with no powers and no heroes to help him clean up this city.

O’Neil’s run tackled many social issues and injustices rarely addressed in comics.

Dennis O’Neil retired in 2000, after garnering numerous industry awards, and leaving a legacy of some of the greatest heroes and villains of all time. He was 81.

Jeff Burson – Writer
Lesa Rosato Burson – Editor

Comic Book Artist Ernie Colón

Legendary comic book creator, artist, and writer Ernie Colón has taken his final taxi. Colón had worked at DC, Marvel, Harvey Comics, Valiant, and other companies over his 60 year career in comics. He was 88.colon

Colón’s first credited work appeared in 1967’s Wham-O Giant Comics, but he was known to have previously worked for Harvey Comics – the comic book company that did Casper the Friendly Ghost, Richie Rich, and Wendy the Good Little Witch. He later moved to Warren Publishing, working on their Vampirella, Creepy and Eerie titles. At DC Comics, he worked on Superman, Wonder Woman and the Legion of Super Heroes while also co-creating Arak, Son of Thunder and Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld. Colón’s work for Marvel included stints on Star Wars Droids book, the Conan franchise, Damage Control and the Black Widow. On a side note he worked with Golden Key comics in the 60’s on Doctor Solar and returned to that character in the 90’ then under Valiant Comics
Ernie Colón was 88.

-Jeff & Lesa Burson  —

Swiss Miss Instant Cocoa Inventor- Charles Sanna

How many times on a cold evening have you wrapped your chilly hands around a steaming mug of hot chocolate to warm your bones? It’s one of my favorite winter treats, especially with a shot of peppermint schnaps. It’s easy to boil the water and add a package of Swiss Miss to the cup.  Nothing could be simpler. This is all thank to Charles A. Sanna who, in 1961, invented Swiss Miss Instant Cocoa. Sanna took his Final Taxi at the age of 101.

Sanna was born in 1917 from a family of Italian immigrants. He joined the Navy in 1941 and oversaw the construction of submarines at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii during World War II.  After the war he worked at the family business, Sanna Dairy Engineers, and become a Chief Engineer for the miss

It was during this time he spent evenings at home in the family kitchen developing the recipe for “Swiss Miss” hot cocoa with his five children as taste testers. After making a successful instant hot chocolate, Sanna and his company did not know how to market it. The original instant hot cocoa product first appeared as an onboard beverage for airline passengers. Only after it became popular on airlines did it land on grocery store aisles.

“Swiss Misses” were a part of marketing the product early on. Around 1963, costumers could buy “genuine Swiss Miss” dolls by sending in three dollars and a boxtop to the company.

The Aztecs believed that cocoa, and therefore chocolate, came from the gods and incorporated chocolate beverages into many of their religious ceremonies. Aztecs believed that chocolate can grant mortals wisdom from Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of learning.  Although many argue that the spread of instant hot chocolate was a step back for drinking chocolate, it did help make history decades later. A dog sled team travelling across Antarctica is reported to have consumed 2,070 packets of Swiss Miss during their expedition. Thank you, Charles Sanna.


Jeff Burson – Writer
Lesa Burson – Editor

Brazil & Soap Comic Actress – Katherine Helmond

katherine-helmondKatherine Helmond, who starred in the controversial TV show ‘Soap’, played a cosmetic surgery-addicted mother in ‘Brazil, and portrayed a man-crazy mother on TV’s ‘Who’s the Boss?’ took her Final Taxi this week at age 89.

I fell in love with Katherine Helmond when I watched her on ‘Soap’, the televised “story of two sisters — Jessica Tate and Mary Campbell.” The wealthy Jessica, played by Helmond, had a philandering husband (Robert Mandan) and a sarcastic servant named Benson (Robert Guillaume). Benson was a spin-off show on which Helmond showed up.

I was not able to watch ‘Soap’ for the first couple of years because in 1977 I lived in a state that blocked the show. It was considered morally reprehensible because it had a gay character on it – something unheard of today.

In 1982, on ‘Who’s the Boss?’, Helmond played the randy mother of  divorced advertising executive Angela (Judith Light), who employs a retired St. Louis Cardinals second baseman (Tony Danza) as a live-in housekeeper.

Helmond appeared in three films by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam — as Mrs. Ogre, the seafaring cannibal in ‘Time Bandits’ (1981), as Jonathan Pryce’s wealthy cosmetic surgery-addicted mother in ‘Brazil’ (1985) whose face was famously filmed encased in plastic wrap,  and as a hotel clerk in ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ (1998).

I always had a crush on Katherine Helmond. I loved her for all the kooky characters she portrayed while maintaining a breath of innocence about her. For example take the scene in ‘Soap” which  Helmond finds out her nephew Jodie ( played by Billy Crystal )  is gay.
“You know, Jodie, when we young, there were no such thing as homosexuals,” says Helmond as Jessica

“Yes, there were, Aunt Jessica,” Crystal’s character replied. “Homosexuals go way back in history.”

Ms. Helmond: “Who?”

Crystal: “Alexander the Great was gay; Plato was gay.”

Ms. Helmond: “Plato?”

As Crystal nodded, Helmond said, in an alarmed voice: “Mickey Mouse’s dog was gay?”

Comic genius!

Writer- Jeff Burson;  Editor – Lesa Burson

Q: I Dream of…. ‘Blank’ — A: Bill Daily

dailyOne of my favorite game shows has always been MATCH GAME. I loved all the panelists and their wacky answers to the questions. One who was on the show for many years, since his first appearance in 1973, was Bill Daily. Daily was better known as the actor who starred as Major Roger Healey in the TV series, “I Dream of Jeannie.”  Daily has taken his Final Taxi.

After appearing in several TV shows in the 1960’s Daily wound up co-starring with Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman in the popular NBC comedy “I Dream of Jeannie. “ For five seasons he played Hagman’s best friend who was always wrangling a way to steal or use Jeannie’s magic power to his advantage. After “Jeannie” Daily appeared as Bob Newhart’s pilot neighbor Howard Borden on “The Bob Newhart Show”.  His character would frequently stop into Newhart’s apartment to borrow things, mooch a meal and leave his son. Some will remember Daily as psychiatrist Dr. Larry Dykstra on 1986’s “ALF.”

After that series ended, Daily acted frequently on TV until the late 1990s, including recurring roles in “Aloha Paradise” (1981), “Small & Frye” (1983), “Starting from Scratch” (1988-1989), and an “I Dream of Jeannie” reunion special or two.

Bill Daily was 91

So Long Mom! Freaky Friday Actress – Barbara Harris

You might say the ’body swapping’ plot in movies has been around for a while. The most popular aspect of this plotline is when an older person swaps with a younger teen. We have seen this in films like 18 Again! (1988) with Georges Burns, Like Father Like Son (1987) with Dudley Moore,  Vice Versa (1988) with Fred Savage and my favorite, the original Freaky Friday (1977) with Jodie Foster.  Freaky Friday has been made 3 times. In it a mother and daughter swap bodies on a crucial day for both. The mothers in the remakes were Jamie Lee Curtis and Shelly Long.  Of course the 1977 version, for me, has the best mom. It was played by actress Barbara Harris.  Unfortunately, Harris has lost her battle with cancer at 83.

A few years after seeing Harris in Freaky Friday I would see her again in a role where her acting abilities really grabbed my attention. She was in the Disney film The North Avenue Irregulars (1979).  In this comedy Harris leads a group of women from a parish’s Ladies Sodality that is fighting a mob of gambling gangsters.  I think what stood out in both roles is Harris’s portrayal of a woman who is forced to take a stand, and who finds the courage – despite her vulnerability.MSDNOAV EC002
Earlier roles for her include Plaza Suite (1971) where she played the love interest of Walter Matthau, Alfred Hitchcock’s Family Plot (1976) where she played a fake psychic and in Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975) where she’s the one who has the final, calming song in the film. Later she acted in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979), and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988).

In 1997’s Grosse Pointe Blank, Barbara Harris’ final role was that of a mom once more, this time to hit man John Cusack.

Writer: Jeff Burson
                                                                                                             Editor: Lesa Burson

The Hero Maker – Steve Ditko

ditko-league-of-a-merica (1)Mr. A. The Creeper. Blue Beetle. Capt. Atom.  Dr. Strange. Thunder Agents. The Question… and someone named Spider-man. These are a few of the comic book characters that were created or drawn by the artist, STEVE DITKO.  All of them touched my life in many ways and I have Mr. Ditko to thank for his genius in fleshing them out.
His most famous creation was a joint venture between him and Marvel’s head, Stan Lee. Borrowing from The Fly (MLJ Comics) and the pulp hero The Spider, Ditko drew The Amazing Spider-Man. Of course, later I noticed some similarities to a hero name Spider Queen, who shot webs to capture criminals.  Spider-Man made his debut in 1961 in Amazing Fantasy No. 15, and the character’s popularity led to his own title, The Amazing Spider-Man, which Mr. Ditko penciled, inked and largely plotted between 1963 and 1966.
Mr. Ditko helped develop other Marvel superheroes, including Iron Man and the Hulk. Probably his best-known besides Spider-Man was Dr. Strange, a “master of the mystic arts,” who first appeared in 1963.
question.jpgAfter leaving Marvel, Ditko created Mr. A, a black-and-white comic aimed at adults and unconstrained by the Comics Code. Mr. A, attired in a white suit and conservative hat, was named after “A is A,” the idea in Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” that there is one unassailable truth, one reality, and only white (good) and black (evil) forces in society. Unlike mainstream superheroes, he killed criminals. For Charlton Comic Mr. Ditko created the Question, also in a suit and hat but devoid of facial features but.The Question followed the Comic Code.
In 1968 Mr. Ditko joined DC, where he created, among other characters, the Hawk and the Dove, super powered brothers of opposing moral dispositions, and the Creeper, a crime fighter with a maniacal laugh.
Ditko was inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 1994. In Sam Raimi’s Hollywood feature “Spider-Man,” in 2002, the opening credits read, “Based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.”
Steve Ditko was one of my favorite comic book creators. He has taken his final taxi at the age of 90.

A Great American Hero- Stanley Weston

If you ever yelled the phase “Go Joe!” or “Thunder- Thunder- Thundercats” then someone who helped form part of your childhood has taken their Final Taxi.stanley-weston-th

Stanley Weston, 84 was the inventor of the G.I. Joe “outfitted action figure” and creator of the popular animated series “Thundercats” in the 1980’s.

Weston had served in the Army during the Korean War and soon after discovered a talent for the licensing and merchandising industry. He founded Weston Merchandising.

In 1960 as Mattel introduced Barbie to the public, Weston saw a product-starved market for rough and tumble boys who thus far had been limited to playing with mild mannered Ken. After Weston read through a 23-volume Encyclopaedia Britannica set, seeking inspiration and drawing on his wartime experiences, he made repeated trips to Army-Navy stores in New York looking for ideas. He conceived of the idea of a military action figure and in 1963 sold what would become G.I. Joe to Hasbro. At the time G.I. Joe came with no backstory, no sworn enemy and no specific mission – just a pink scar across his face and a wardrobe of different uniforms. Becoming one of the most enduring toy lines in history, G.I Joe spawned hit TV shows and films as well as a Marvel comic line.

Weston went on to market action figures for the likes of “Charlie’s Angels” star Farrah Fawcett, the World Wrestling Federation and Nintendo characters. In 1967, he signed a 10-year agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association for the likenesses of virtually every ballplayer in the National and American leagues He was also associated with marketing efforts for the TV shows Alf and Welcome Back Kotter, and films like Star Wars.

In the 1980s Weston saw how popular He-man and the Masters of the Universe had became, and approached the Rankin-Bass animation studio with his idea for a sci-fi/ fantasy cartoon called ThunderCats. It became one of the most memorable animated series for generations of kids. Weston’s company also brought Pokemon to the U.S from Japan.

In 1989, he was among the inaugural class for the Licensing Industry Hall of Fame, which includes notables Walt Disney, George Lucas and Jim Henson. Now you know Stanley Weston’s story and as they say “ Knowing is half the battle….”

10 fingers on the fender!- Clifton James

Clifton James, 96, actor who appeared as Sheriff J.W. Pepper in two James Bond films has taken his Final Taxi.
Film credits included “Cool Hand Luke,” “Eight Men Out” and “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” He appeared in two James Bond films opposite Roger Moore: “Live and Let Die” (1973) and “The Man with the Golden Gun” (1974). He portrayed the a Louisiana sheriff, J.W. Pepper . James would play similar Southern lawman in numerous other roles during his career, including “Silver Streak” and “Superman II”

The Tragedy of Audrey Munson, America’s First Supermodel

Taudrey-munson-mourning_victoryhe image of Audrey Munson is still on display in museums from Hartford to San Francisco. A statue of her, America’s first supermodel, presides over Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Mass. She holds a Bible as Evangeline in the Longfellow Memorial in Cambridge, Mass. She was even in mass circulation for decades as the model for the Winged Liberty Head Dime and the Walking Liberty Half Dollar.
She was so ubiquitous in New York she was nicknamed ‘Miss Manhattan.’
Audrey appears atop the Municipal Building, at the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge, on the Pulitzer Fountain in front of the Plaza.
Her fall was as swift and as spectacular as was her rise to fame. By the time the coins bearing her image were taken out of circulation, she was completely forgotten, confined to an insane asylum and then buried in an unmarked grave.