Monday, August 6, 2012

I was a Teenage Comic Book

Teenage dreams
You will be a rare bird indeed if you remember Betty Betz. You almost certainly had to have a much older sister or much younger aunt. Before Dick Clark, Betty Betz was the first Eternal Teenager. She was a chronicler of teenage life from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950's. Her lively cast of doodled characters appeared in seven books (a cookbook, party books and a tome on manners) as well as on the necessary teenage accessories of the time— scrapbooks, autograph books, phonograph record boxes and jewelry cases.

Betty visiting... Hawaii
A journalism major at Sarah Lawrence, she won an award from Mademoiselle magazine in 1941 and spent a year as a fashion copy editor at Harper's Bazaar. She pioneered the first newspaper advice column expressly for teenagers, syndicated in 61 Hearst newspaers. She was one of the first female television hosts and traveled around the country promoting world peace and good clean fun among teens. Oh, and Betty also managed to be a war correspondent for Hearst in Korea. She "retired" in 1956 after marrying a wealthy businessman with an interest in race horses and died as Betty McMahon in Bermuda in 2010.
Some of the books plus the one-and-only comic
The teenage life she so charmingly drew was actually inhabited by my nine years older sister, who filled one of the Betty-branded scrapbooks with mementos. As an eight-year-old in 1950 I was hardly a teenager, but I did buy (as it turns out) the one and only Betty Betz comic book, published by Dell, "Dollface and her Gang". It was ten cents. When I tell you I read that comic to death, you have only to see it today, looking more like the Dead Sea Scrolls in its shredded state, newsprint pages dissolving from all that activity. At one point I color xeroxed what was left as I understood what would happen to my "Dollface" eventually.

Dollface (left) and Bunbrain take dancing lessons to meet the men of their dreams

Now what, you might wonder, does this infatuation with Betty Betz' creations have to do with my love affair with fashion? Let's put it this way: early on I tried to dress like a comic book. I was so enamored by the characters she drew that I adopted, as best I could, the teenage styles she pictured. Those included: ballet slippers, bobby socks and loafers, tweed skirts with cinch belts, a peter pan collar peeking from under a pullover sweater augmented by a string of pearls, ribbon chokers, flowered full skirts, blouses with off-the-shoulder flounced necklines, rolled-up dungarees and men's shirts. I never could find Bunbrain's drawstring leather pouch purse. Talk about art imitating life? This was life imitating art!

By my own teenage years, the look du jour was more Francoise Hardy than Betty Betz. I bought French "Elle" as often as I could. At $5.00 a pop ($42 in today's money) that was not often.

Flash forward sixty years or so. After extensive trawling, I found a pristine copy of "Dollface and her Gang" on ebay. Evidently it had been resting, Sleeping Beauty-like, in a news agent's warehouse. There will be another fashion statement while reading this copy: I'll be wearing gloves.


  1. I've never heard of Betty Betz, but what a great story! I love that you still have your poor decrepit copy, and that you found a new one!

  2. Glad you enjoyed the story, Sheila. Amazing how much stuff is out there to know about.