Currently, I’m enjoying a 1945 serial, Brenda Starr, Reporter, starring Joan Woodbury, on DVD. The serial is made up of thirteen twenty-minute episodes for screening at cinemas and each episode ends in a cliffhanger, to tempt the cinema-goers back the following week.
Brenda Starr started life as a comic strip, the creation of Dale Messick. The comic strip first appeared on 30th June 1940 and was syndicated by the Chicago Tribune. Initially, the strip was relegated to a comic book supplement within the Chicago Sunday Tribune, but by 1945 it was running daily and attracting a loyal following. This following increased during the 1950s, the comic strip’s heyday, when Brenda Starr appeared in over two hundred newspapers.
Brenda Starr was based on a 1930s debutante, Brenda Frazier, and movie actress Rita Hayworth. Inevitably, the comic strip incensed the narrow-minded guardians of public decency on the grounds that it was drawn by a woman and, gasp-horror, Brenda sometimes revealed her cleavage or her naval. This was too much for the censors who promptly reached for the smelling salts and removed the offending body parts.
The serial I’m currently watching was the first cinematic attempt to depict Brenda Starr. A TV movie starring Jill St John was released in 1976 and a film starring Brooke Shields and Timothy Dalton was released in 1992. Unfortunately, the latter was not a commercial or critical success.
The 1945 serial is of its time and displays its comic book origins. Nevertheless, if taken in the right manner it provides a great deal of entertainment. The writing and performances are sold, and filming is up to standard. With a sympathetic writer and production crew Brenda Starr could well be a hit today, though any modern version would do well to pay tribute to the series’ mid-twentieth century origins.