The True and (Mostly) Untold Story of America’s #1 Teenager
In the days before cable TV, DVDs, and video games, no summer vacation was complete without at least one afternoon (and probably many more) spent leisurely going through a stack of Archie Comics. Yes, they were just fictional characters, but in those days it seemed like Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, Reggie and the rest were as close to us as the actual kids we went to school with.
His misadventures have been entertaining people for nearly eight decades now, but few know the real story behind the creation of this cultural icon.
While talented cartoonist Bob Montana is most often credited with creating Archie Andrews and the gang at Riverdale High (more on that in just a bit), few know that the real inspiration for Archie was actually Mickey Rooney. Rooney had starred as America’s first typical teenager: Andy Hardy in a series of extremely successful M-G-M movies in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.
As mentioned above, Archie’s “parentage” has been a matter of some controversy for years. In addition to Montana, two other people also had a hand in creating one of the most successful pop culture icons of the 20th Century. Comic book publisher John Goldwater claimed the idea to do a strip based on the Andy Hardy films came from him. In addition, journeyman comic book scripter Vic Bloom deserves a nod as the actual writer of the very first Archie comic book story.
It’s doubtful any of these guys knew what a sensation Archie would be when the freckle-faced teen made his debut in Pep Comics # 22, published in the fall of 1941. That book was mainly concerned with the exploits of various super-heroes, then as now, the glamour boys of the comics industry. Archie was a simple 6-page back-up feature, buried way back on page 49 of that particular issue.
Nonetheless, readers quickly made Archie the most popular feature in the magazine. By the winter of 1942, Archie received his own comic book and has been the mainstay of the company ever since.
As you can see from the title page of his very first story, our hero initially didn’t even want to be called “Archie,” preferring the nickname “Chick” Betty was right there with him from the start, moving into Archie’s neighborhood in that first story. Jughead also appears in that first story. But the rest of cast would take some time to get on stage. Veronica moved to Riverdale in Pep Comics # 26. Reggie Mantle, Moose Mason, Pop Tate and the rest would follow.
No matter who created Archie, it is Montana who is most associated with the character. He drew the daily Archie newspaper comic strip from its inception in 1946 until Montana’s passing in 1975.
Montana claimed that most of the characters we all loved were modeled on people he knew during his youth in Massachusetts. He said he based Jughead and Moose on his friends Skinny Linehan and Arnold Daggett. Miss Grundy was inspired by his school librarian Elizabeth Tuck. Betty Cooper was modeled on Montana’s girlfriend in New York and her arch-rival Veronica Lodge was created by combining then-popular movie star Veronica Lake with Boston’s top political family of the day, the Lodges (who gave us Henry Cabot Lodge).
Archie’s runaway success has translated well across all media. There was a long-running radio series in the 1940’s as well as several popular cartoon series beginning in the late 1960’s (admit it, you’re humming “Sugar, Sugar” as you read this).
There was even a made-for-TV movie To Riverdale and Back Again (released on home video with the title Return to Riverdale) in 1990, but live action success in either the movies or as a TV series has eluded Mr. Andrews. Not for lack of trying. There have been pilots for a live action series and various attempts to bring Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica to the big screen.
How many of the titles do you remember and who was your favorite character(s)? We were always rooting for Betty, although Archie definitely seemed to prefer Veronica (despite the fact that, outside of their hair, both girls were drawn exactly alike). Perhaps there’s a message in that!