Sunday, April 02, 2006

 

Time for a Return to Gasoline Alley

The progressive comic strip, "Gasoline Alley," created by Frank King in 1919 -- and still running original strips today (now by Jim Scancarelli) -- was made into a quickie B-movie of the same name (and a sequel, Corky of Gasoline Alley) both in 1951, no doubt to cash in on the comic-to-screen success of Blondie. At the time, the strip had already been running in papers for 32 years. Today, the strip has been in continuous daily circulation for 87 years! It's time for a new adaptation to be made -- one that could now encompass the trials and tribulations of four generations of a family that spans the entire 20th Century. When it came along, "Gasoline Alley" was the first strip in which the characters actually aged (as well as got married, became pregnant, and passed away). The strip, which originally focused on a group of garage mechanics, hit its stride on Valentine's Day 1921, when the main character, a bachelor named Walt Wallet finds a baby boy left on his doorstep. The wife-less Wallet decides to keep the baby (nearly unheard of in 1921), which he names Skeezix, and raises alone, until he eventually gets married to Phyllis and has children of his own (Judy and Corky). Skeezix, coming along when he did, became part of the generation to grow up during the Great Depression and fight in World War II. Wallet's attempts to raise Skeezix created a great deal of interest in the strip, which, at its height, reached millions of readers a day. The 1951 film adaptations, both written and directed by Edward Bernds, were clearly an attempt to create a franchise, and had little interest in exploring the scope of the strip up to that point. Rather, the films zoned in on the young adult characters in the strip, namely Skeezix's younger brother Corky, and his newlywed bride. Today, with central character Walt Wallet now more than 100 years old, and his wife Phyllis recently passed on, a filmmaker could take what has become a sizeable family in the Wallets, and create an epic motion picture of small town life in 20th Century America. Afterall, the Wallet clan, and its connections to the small, family-run service station that gives the strip its name, are the essence of working class Americans. Their dreams are our dreams, and their adventures are our adventures. It could be a great film, tailor made for the talents of a Ron Howard, whose fictional boyhood town of Mayberry (and its colorful cast of characters) owe more than a bit to the folks at "Gasoline Alley."

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