Fritzi Ritz was an American comic strip created in 1922 by Larry Whittington. It eventually evolved into the popular Nancy by Ernie Bushmiller.
Distributed by United Feature Syndicate, Fritzi Ritz began October 9, 1922, in the New York Evening World. When Whittington left in 1925, 20-year-old Bushmiller stepped in as his replacement, modeling Fritzi after his fiance, Abby Bohnet, whom he married in 1930. In 1931, when the Evening World and the New York Telegram merged, Fritzi Ritz was one of the strips lost in the shuffle, but it returned January 10, 1932, in the New York Daily Mirror.
At least for the first decade or so, Fritzi Ritz was a silly, frivolous flapper, whose main concerns were men, clothes, cosmetics and money. This is a far cry from her more familiar image as Nancy’s level-headed, responsible guardian).
In one 1920s strip, she says she is 19 years of age. In later decades, she appears to be in her late twenties or early thirties. The December 3, 1930, strip finds Fritzi stating she was born in New York. She worked as an actress. Her boss, Mr. Blobbs, a short plump man with glasses, was a nice guy, although sometimes cheap. Blobbs’ last appearance was in May 1932.
On January 2, 1933, Nancy, Fritzi’s niece, appeared as a house guest and eventually overtook the strip. During the 1930s, it is mentioned at least twice that Fritzi and Nancy live in New York City, though it is uncertain whether that means Manhattan or another borough. It is mentioned during the 1935 continuity when Nancy runs away from home and winds up at an Indian reservation. After that period, their city of residence is never mentioned again.
By 1938, Sluggo Smith had been added and the daily was renamed Nancy with Fritzi becoming a guardian and parental figure for Nancy. With these changes, Fritzi’s portrayal in the main strip was, therefore, more authoritative as she took on her responsibilities as parent and disciplinarian. In her own Sunday strip (which continued for several years after the daily strip’s name change), she maintained more of her original fun-natured spirit.
The Fritzi Ritz daily strip began Monday, October 9, 1922. In the early strips, Fritzi lived with her father and her Aunt Evelyn (who would eventually be retconned into her mother), with her Father being the most commonly seen. Fritzi began working at Star Studios in February 1923. Most of the 1920s gags took place at work, either in the studio or on location shooting at the beach, the mountains, in the country or at a farm. In 1925, Larry Whittington left the strip to create another, Mazie the Model. In May of that year, Bushmiller took over the strip, and Fritzi began dating a regular boyfriend, usually Wally. Most of the Fritzi Ritz daily strips from the 1920s, including her debut year can be found in the Syracuse Herald newspaper at newspaperarchive.com.
By 1927, her mother disappeared completely, though her father appeared until the mid-1930s. The gags taking place at work seemed to diminish by the early 1930s, and the strip took place more around the house and neighborhood. During the 1931-32 period, Fritzi’s cousin James appeared. He was about ten years old and usually had a mean scowl on his face. Bushmiller was attempting to pair Fritzi with a child, but James did not catch on. It may have been James’ bad attitude that did him in, though some cantankerous, mean characters have been popular in strips. He struck gold when he tried again, introducing Nancy in January 1933. James disappeared once Nancy was introduced.
Judging by very extensive examination of Fritzi Ritz dailies at newspaperarchive.com, Nancy made her first appearance in the January 2, 1933, daily strip as a house guest, despite other sources stating both August and December 1933. There was never a sequence of episodes exploring Fritzi’s adoption of Nancy or what happened to Nancy’s parents; she just seemed to appear as Fritzi’s niece and gradually was seen more and more often throughout the 1930s. An examination of the very first week of Nancy’s appearance in January 1933 has Nancy addressing Fritzi like a sister, not “Aunt” Fritzi. However, very quickly Nancy shows her respect to her aunt. Sluggo Smith is introduced in the dailies in January 1938 and at first Fritzi does not get along with him, venting at Nancy over his uncouth manners. Gradually she warms to him and there is never any friction between the two characters after that; in fact, there are not very many scenes involving just Fritzi and Sluggo in the Sunday Nancy comics or the dailies.
Occasionally, Fritzi’s rich Uncle Zack appeared, though he only lasted a few years in the mid-1930s. Oddly, it was rare for Fritzi’s father and her boss to appear together; also rare for her father and uncle to appear together as well. Apparently Bushmiller believed Fritzi needed only one male father figure at a time.
It should be mentioned that Bushmiller’s dailies during the mid to late 1930s and early 1940s involved a lot of continuity stories as opposed to the gag-a-day format it is known for today. There is a lot of sight humor but the strip is much wordier with elements involving mystery, pathos, and melodramatic aspects that are almost completely missing from the current version, but were almost non-existent during the 1950s, 60s and 70s version of the strip. In one 1939 daily sequence, it appears as if Fritzi may be getting married.
The “Fritzi Ritz” Sunday page began October 6, 1929. In late 1931 or by the latest, Sunday, January 3, 1932, Phil Fumble was added as a separate Sunday, approximately 1/4 of the full page. Nancy, who first appeared in the Fritzi dailies in January 1933, appeared sporadically in the Fritzi Ritz Sundays as well. Sometime around the middle of 1933 the “Phil Fumble” Sunday and the “Fritzi Ritz” Sunday were reformatted so each took up one half of a full Sunday page. Through the 1930s, Nancy began to overtake Fritzi’s world and in late 1938, Nancy began as a separate Sunday, and Phil Fumble, losing his own strip, began appearing in the Fritzi Ritz Sundays. This was the first time Phil and Fritzi teamed up. Fritzi’s previous boyfriend, Wally, disappeared completely. Thus, Wally and Phil Fumble never fought over Fritzi’s affections.
Around January 24, 1938, Sluggo Smith made his first appearance in the dailies, fighting with an older boy who has thrown a snowball at Nancy, and through 1938, Nancy and Sluggo were often in the Fritzi Ritz Sundays. Proving the pair’s popularity, it was not unusual to find Fritzi Ritz Sundays in 1938 to only have Nancy and Sluggo in the episode with Fritzi nowhere to be seen.
Phil Fumble did not appear in any of the dailies. Only rarely were Nancy and Phil seen together; Phil and Sluggo almost never appeared together. Phil did join Nancy and Sluggo in new comic book stories or comic book cover gags. Some of the comic book covers, especially in the 1940s, were done by Bushmiller himself. As the 1950s progressed, Bushmiller ceased drawing any comic book covers for St. John Publishing, Dell and Gold Key Comics comic books.
From late 1938 on, Phil Fumble appeared only in the Fritzi Ritz Sundays as Fritzi’s sole boyfriend until the Fritzi Ritz page ended in 1968. Bushmiller ceased drawing the Sundays in the late 1940s. Later Fritzi Sundays were drawn by various ghost artists, such as Bernard “Dib” Dibble and Al Plastino. Non-Bushmiller Fritzi Sunday artwork was less detailed than Bushmiller’s style when compared to the mid-1930s/1940s style. Dibble’s style was different from Bushmiller’s, as evident in Fritzi Sundays of the 1950s. Fritzi and Phil never married.
15 pages/strips Fritzi Ritz 1934
30 pages/strips Fritzi Ritz 1936
21 pages/strips Fritzi Ritz 1937
50 pages/strips Fritzi Ritz 1940
13 pages/strips Fritzi Ritz 1941
13 pages/strips Fritzi Ritz 1942
24 pages/strips Fritzi Ritz 1944
17 pages/strips Fritzi Ritz 1946
44 pages/strips Fritzi Ritz 1949
48 pages/strips Fritzi Ritz 1950
38 pages/strips Fritzi Ritz 1951
31 strips 1939
20 strips 1943
7 strips various