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Reginald Richtone

Attempting to claim Reginald Richtone as a gay character who appeared in a Golden Age comic is a reach for a couple reasons. First, Richtone appears in a one page strip in an issue of the My Friend Irma comic book licensed by Atlas from writer-director-producer Cy Howard. Atlas held the license to produce these comics from 1950 to 1954. My Friend Irma started as a CBS radio series and then became an early TV series, two movies, and a popular comic strip.

Secondly, I rely on inferences I think artist Dan DeCarlo made in his depiction and doing so may be more subjective than objective. My doing so won’t be the first time. See profiles for Jasper Dewgood, Anton Previn, and the Anonymous Fashion Guys, Hefty Hannah and Toots Malone, and Felicia the Prison Inmate.

Here are the points on which I’ll make my case. One: Irma mentions her new neighbor is on the stage. To assume that actors are de facto gay or bisexual is itself a stereotype whether we’re talking about today or more than sixty years ago. Even so, we know today that many actors and actresses popular from the 1930s to the 1960s were anything but straight and had sham marriages to protect their privacy. Gas station attendant and sex fixer to the stars of yesteryear Scotty Bowers details this in his book Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars. Bowers also talks about this period in the documentary Scotty And The Secret History Of Hollywood. DeCarlo drew Reginald with a profile that’s reminiscent of actor Errol Flynn who Bowers includes among his clients. While the sexuality of stars was often an open secret among Hollywood studios it’s uncertain that either DeCarlo or Stan Lee who is credited as writer (see below) would have known this.

Two: The manner in which DeCarlo drew Reginald seems coded. His blond hair is finely styled. Eyebrows are arched. He looks a bit smug and self assured, perhaps a reflection of his career though. Then there’s his clothing. He’s wearing a stylish dark suit with a pocket square and a smartly angled hat atop his head. Most importantly with regard to clothing is the scarf/ cravat – most especially the fact that it’s red. Now hear me out. In the book Gay New York: Gender Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890 – 1940 author George Chauncey discusses the importance of red ties, among numerous other topics, as a secret signal used by gay men to alert other gay men during the time period. In Chauncey’s first mention of red ties on page three he writes: “But gay men were highly visible figures in early-twentieth century New York, in part because gay life was more integrated into the everyday life of the city in the pre-war decades than it would be after World War II – in part because so many gay men boldly announced their presence by wearing red ties, bleached hair, and the era’s other insignia of homosexuality.”
In a second reference Chauncey recounts that “[b]y 1916 a Chicago physician had heard that that ‘male perverts in New York…are known as ‘fairies’ and wear a red necktie.’ “

Yes, Richtone is not sporting a tie, but is it inconceivable that red scarves didn’t carry the same significance?

The Comics Code was adopted on October 26th, 1954 which is two to possibly four months before this comic was published. It’s a matter of speculation if the CCA censors would have noticed and objected to any points I’ve laid out just as it’s speculation to wonder if DeCarlo or whomever the colorist may have been had gay men with bleached hair in mind.

Discovering the issue this appeared in took a little work since the cover is missing. It wans’t until the 1960s that the indicia routinely began to appear at the bottom of the first interior page. Before this time the indicia often was printed at the bottom of the inside front cover. One of the longer strips’ story title popped up in a search at the Grand Comics Database to reveal this one page strip appeared in My Friend Irma #46 (cover dated October 1954). That issue’s information was supplied by Tom Lammers and the Atlas/Timely discussion list. Stan Lee wrote most of the stories for this series and Lee is credited with this one pager.

There’s my case to claim Reginald Richtone as a one off gay character in a late Golden Age comic. Here’s a link to check out George Chauncey’s book if your interest is piqued and the entire single page strip is below since you’re unlikely to see it anywhere else. 

All rights reserved the estate of Cy Howard or the copyright’s current owner.

August 30, 2021
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