Tillie the Toiler was a newspaper comic strip created by cartoonist Russ Westover who initially worked on his concept of a flapper character in a strip he titled Rose of the Office. With a title change, it sold to King Features Syndicate which carried the strip from 1921 to 1959.
The daily strip began on Monday, January 3, 1921, followed by the Sunday page on October 10, 1922. For the Sunday page, Westover also did a topper strip, Van Swaggers, beginning in 1926, and he later did another topper, Aunt Min, in the 1930s.
Westover retired in 1951 with his assistant Bob Gustafson then doing most of the writing and drawing. After Westover departed completely three years later, Gustafson's signature appeared on the strip beginning October 4, 1954. The daily strip ended March 7, 1959, with the last Sunday eight days later on March 15.
Characters and story
Stylish working girl Tillie was employed as a stenographer, secretary and part-time model. An attractive brunette, she had no problem finding men to escort her around town. Comics historian Don Markstein described the story situations:
- Tillie (last name Jones) toiled for a fashionable women's wear company run by clothing mogul J. Simpkins. Or usually did, anyway—she'd occasionally quit or be fired, as the plotline, which ran at breakneck pace and didn't always make perfect sense, required. During World War II, in fact, she even joined the U.S. Army. But she always came back to Simpkins. Mostly, she worked in his office, but she also did a little modeling. Whatever she did and wherever she went, however, she was impeccably dressed in the very latest styles. (Except when she was in the army, of course.) This helped her in the pursuit of charming and often wealthy young men, who came and went at an alarming rate, providing grist for the story mill. She did, however, have one steady male associate, Clarence "Mac" MacDougall, a short, bulb-nosed co-worker who loved her persistently even though she returned little of the feeling.
Cupples & Leon collected the strips into book form in 1925, followed by seven other books in that series. Dell Comics reprinted the strip in 14 issues between 1941 and 1949. Tillie the Toiler and the Masquerading Duchess was a novel published by Whitman in 1943.
The comic strip inspired two films of the same name. Tillie the Toiler (1927), a silent film with Marion Davies in the title role, was reviewed in The New York Times:
- Tillie's toil consists of putting one piece of paper into a typewriter, after which she concentrates her efforts on capturing the attention of a millionaire named Pennington Fish, familiarly known as "Penny" Fish. Tillie is introduced as being beautiful but dumb. She is, however, quite aware of the susceptibilities of the male sex when it comes to a dainty figure and a pretty face. It is set forth in one of the subtitles that she wears two pairs of garters—"one pair to hold up her stockings and the other pair to hold up traffic."... Hobart Henley does exceedingly well in his direction of this fluffy subject. Ralph Spence, the title writer, is on the alert most of the time... Tillie's innocence is described as having taken years to acquire, and a greedy character is introduced as a "banana peel on the doorstep of progress." Tillie is first seen where she has some cigarette ash in her eye, and as men observe the ocular demonstration made by Tillie they take it for a wink. So it is not long before half a dozen men from all walks of life are following her as she trots along to Simpkins's office, where her humble hero, Mac, pores over figures. And it is this Mac, played by Matt Moore, who, while he has his misgivings concerning Tillie's affair with Fish, eventually succeeds in winning the audacious little flirt. Mr. Moore is sympathetic as Mac. Harry Crocker makes the most of the part of Fish. George K. Arthur, who was teamed with Karl Dane in "The Rookies," is delightful as the young poseur, Whipple.
Art direction for the 1927 film was conducted by David Townsend.
Kay Harris portrayed Tillie in Tillie the Toiler (1941). Tillie Jones' last name was changed to Tompkins in the 1941 film.
To read 1936-37 Tillie the Toiler Sunday pages, go to Steve Cottle's I Love Comix Archive.