A Collection in
Special Collections and Archives, James Branch Cabell
Collection Number M 147
Virginia Commonwealth University, James Branch Cabell LibrarySpecial Collections and Archives
James Branch Cabell Library
Virginia Commonwealth University
Richmond, Virginia 23284-2003
Phone: (804) 828-1108
Fax: (804) 828-0151
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Funding: Web version of the finding aid funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Processed by: B. Pittman and Heather Foster
Collection is open without restrictions.
Box/folder, Billy Debeck Collection, M 147, Special Collections and Archives, James Branch Cabell Library, Virginia Commonwealth University
The collection was given to the Department by Mr. DeBeck's Richmond secretary, Mrs. Addison C. Armstrong Jr.
Collection processed in August 1990. Finding Aid revised in June 2000.
William Morgan "Billy" DeBeck was born in Chicago, Illinois on 15 April 1890. He briefly attended the Academy of Fine Arts before leaving to pursue a career in cartooning. Supposedly, DeBeck had intended to work as a comic artist until he had earned enough money to finance a career in fine arts. He spent several years bouncing around various Midwestern newspapers, drawing political cartoons, sports cartoons, and comic strips, until he was fired from his Pittsburgh job in 1914. He sold correspondence courses for the next several years.
DeBeck returned to cartooning in 1916, landing a job with the Chicago Herald where he started the panel cartoon, Married Life. William Randolph Hearst attempted to hire him away to work for the Chicago Examiner; however, DeBeck declined the offer. Shortly afterwards, Hearst purchased the Herald and merged it with the Examiner. There is some debate among historians of journalism as to whether or not Hearst did it just to obtain the services of DeBeck.
Take Barney Google, For Instance made its debut in the sports pages as a strip about a hen-pecked husband who was obsessed with the much anticipated Dempsey-Willard boxing match in July, 1919. The strip proved popular enough that it was eventually syndicated by King Features. It remained a domestic strip until 1922 when DeBeck introduced Spark Plug, a two-year-old race horse whose meager frame was covered in a horse blanket. DeBeck changed the format from a daily gag to a comedy continuity. The horse became so beloved by readers that the name of the strip was changed to Barney Google and Spark Plug.
DeBeck introduced yet another new character to the strip in 1934. Barney Google inherited an estate in North Carolina, and in June of that year he arrived at a ramshackle cabin in the heart of hillbilly country and immediately became enmeshed in a romantic triangle that resulted in a huge wedding where a local by the name of Snuffy Smith and his wife, Lowizie, were guests. As the 1930s drew to a close, the strip's name was changed once more to Barney Google and Snuffy Smith to reflect the increasing popularity of the cantankerous hillbilly.
He lived in Paris for two years after his 1927 marriage, before settling in alternating residences in Great Neck (Long Island), New York and Palm Beach, Florida.
After DeBeck's death from cancer on 11 November 1942, his longtime assistant, Fred Lasswell, took over the strip. Barney Google was eventually fazed out in favor of a daily hillbilly gag. The name was changed to simply Snuffy Smith, reflecting the new direction of the strip.
Source: The Encyclopedia of American Comics. Ron Goulart, ed. New York: Facts On File, 1990.
The collection consists of Mr. DeBeck's library of 121 books, many with notes and sketches by the artist were transferred to book collection. A green door that has artwork by DeBeck depicting Barney Google and his racehorse, Spark Plug is currently on display in the lobby area of Special Collections. A first day cover U.S. postage stamp of Barney Google was added in 2003. A second first day U.S. postage stamp was added in 2006.
Materials arranged in alphabetical order.