When Mort Walker attended the University of Missouri in the 1940s, the favorite campus hangout was The Shack. The origins of this restaurant went back to 1921 when Chandler Davis and his family sold sandwiches out of their car across from Jesse Hall.
The Shack was known for its low ceilings, dark interior, piecemeal construction and leaky roof. Students flocked to The Shack to enjoy the famous “Shackburger,” a frosty beverage, and to carve their initials into the wooden interior.
The MU humor magazine, Showme, was also known to hold their staff meetings at the establishment. Here is a photo of Mort (far left) with the Showme staff at The Shack in 1947.
Mort memorialized The Shack in this Beetle Bailey strip published on September 14, 1950.
This is what The Shack looked like in the 1960s.
The Shack closed on May 18, 1984 and the building was destroyed by fire on Halloween night in 1988.
In 2007, the University of Missouri began construction on a new Student Center near the location of the original restaurant. Incorporated into this facility is “Mort’s Place,” a games and grill area, and “The Shack,” a programming and lounge center. There is a wall with large blow-ups of early Beetle Bailey strips.
In this Sunday page from 1994, Beetle paid a visit to his old campus hangout.
Stay tooned for more Beetle Bailey history.
– Brian Walker
The early Beetle Bailey strips were set at Rockview University, which closely resembled Mort Walker’s alma mater, the University of Missouri. Here is an aerial view of the quad at Rockview from a strip dated November 7, 1950.
The University of Missouri campus looks like this today.
The Columns at Francis Quadrangle are all that remain from a fire that destroyed the original Academic Hall on Jan. 9, 1892.
During the second week of the strip, Beetle and his girlfriend Buzz attended a pep rally and a football game at Rockview. Beetle’s buddy Sweatsock was a player on the team.
Memorial Stadium, the original University of Missouri football facility, was dedicated on October 2, 1926 to 112 alumni and students who lost their lives in World War I.
In 1927, a group of freshman students, using leftover rocks from the original construction of Memorial Stadium, built an “M” in the north end zone.
This is what the renamed Farout Field looked like after it was renovated in 2012.
Future posts will share more about the early history of Beetle Bailey so stay tooned.
– Brian Walker
This King Features sales brochure announced the launch of Beetle Bailey.
The first strip ran in twelve newspapers on September 4, 1950. Here is the first week of strips in the order that they were published. Compare these to Mort’s original selection in the previous post.
Mort decided to use a large cast of characters in Beetle Bailey right from the beginning (see the strip dated 9/8/50 above). Beetle lived together with his buddies – Freshman, Bitter Bill, Diamond Jim, Sweatsock and Plato. Buzz was Beetle’s first girlfriend. On a few occasions, a bearded, pipe-smoking professor made an appearance as well as Beetle’s parents.
Mort was ecstatic that he finally had a syndicated strip. “Now life was great!” he thought. “I dreamt and fantasized that I would no longer need to commute to my editor job, stand in the rain at the bus stop and jostle in the subway. But I realized that now I needed discipline if my career as a cartoonist would be successful – to get up in the morning and go to work at the drawing board, to constantly let the ideas flow in a never-ceasing stream. Certainly it would be tough, I could depend only on myself.”
After six months the number of subscribers had risen to only twenty-five and King Features began to think about cancelling Beetle Bailey. At this time, syndicates were convinced that a strip needed to be published in about a hundred papers to be profitable.
“I suppose the college theme wasn’t that popular,” Mort admitted, “because most young people didn’t go to college at that time. Many of them started to work at an early age, and only about 5% pursued higher education.”
Stay tooned to see how Mort saved his sinking strip.
– Brian Walker