Bonzo by George E. Studdy, TM & © 2016-17 Gresham Licensing, Ltd.
Photos courtesy of R. John Wright
I’ve been thinking a lot about dogs lately. I went to Thanksgiving dinner at my sister’s and shared the festivities with her three Dachshunds, my niece’s terrier, and my nephew’s Maltese. As you can imagine, it was akin to a three-ring circus! The house was overflowing with “adult” people — some heated disagreements popped up, undermining that grown-up status — laughing and frolicking children, and, of course, the energetic pooches. I must say that as a “cat person,” I am always a bit envious that dog folks get to leash up their pets and hit the road with their canine companions. Cats don’t operate that way — they equate a trip in an automobile with a scene right out of “The Godfather” movies. (“Hey, Fluffy, get in the car. I promise nothing will happen to you. But, first, let me shove you into this carrier!”) No one ever survived an invitation-only car ride with a Corleone, so I get where feline fears are coming from.
With dogs on my mind, I started to search around for four-legged mementoes as gifts for all those dog fanciers in my family. Just when I thought I’d discovered every possible ideation of a canine collectible, leave it to the always creative, always innovative, R. John Wright to debut a brand-new (well, to me, new) dog character. The critter’s name is Bonzo, and he was a huge sensation in the 1920s. In fact, before Mickey Mouse conquered the cartoon world, Bonzo was the King of the United Kingdom and a throng of countries around the world.
I’d never heard of Bonzo the dog — I knew about the old Ronald Reagan “Bonzo” movies (where the sidekick was an ape), but the Bonzo canine creation was unfamiliar territory to me. Thank goodness for John and Susan Wright, who are always up for a huge challenge: constructing high-quality workmanship and introducing Americans to hitherto unfamiliar pop icons!
What’s so spectacular about the birth of Bonzo as a Wright creation is that John and Susan immersed themselves in the character’s past significance. It’s like they went back to college and became experts in the field of all things Bonzo and all things Jazz Age. The Wrights don’t just make a piece of art; they examine why it mattered to past generations and then translate it into why it will matter to us!
“From his first appearance in 1922, in ‘The Sketch’ magazine, Bonzo — and the situations his creator, George Studdy, put him in — made him into a comforting everyday ‘man-in-the-street’ symbol, which denounced all forms of pomposity. He drank, gambled, smoked stogies, and had a wicked eye for pretty women,” John explains. “Everyone, no matter what their age, adored the funny little dog with the crinkly face, elephant ears, and big feet. He was the inspiration behind a multitude of licensed merchandise including toys — both cuddly and mechanical — ashtrays, figurines, trinket boxes, car ornaments, puzzles, books, calendars, and a profusion of postcards.”
With their meticulous eye for details — and indefatigable need to research and sift through all available records — the Wrights acquired a host of vintage postcards that depicted the mischievous Bonzo, and also an array of rare books on the history of the illustrated icon. “One world-class collector, Mel Birnkrant, shared his legendary collection of comic characters, including a vast array of vintage Bonzo merchandise. Bonzo’s creator, G. E. Studdy, was an excellent draftsman and it’s obvious that his drawings are based on real-life dogs. So we used his artwork — rather than an actual dog — as our reference point!” John shares.
Bonzo, with all his charisma and unleashed personality, will be making his print debut on an upcoming issue of Teddy Bear & Friends magazine. To spread the news of his arrival, the Wrights are rolling out the proverbial red carpet: “We will be promoting Bonzo on our Social Media outlets including Facebook (the RJW Personal page as well as the Company page and RJW ‘Fan’ page), Instagram, Pinterest, etc. Before we know it, literally tens of thousands of people will have seen him! Look for a short video about Bonzo which will also be posted on the R. John Wright Web site.”
Like real-life dog lovers — I’m thinking of my family members and friends here — one dog is often not enough! I wonder if there will be other Bonzo variations from the Wrights down the line.
“We are not completely sure at this point. However, Bonzo has big blue eyes, and it would be fun to do an open-eye version of him. A smaller-size Bonzo is another possibility as collectors seem to gravitate toward small items these days,” Susan considers.
It might seem premature to already be dreaming up additional Bonzo alternatives when the first one is just in the midst of being unveiled, but that’s the thing about a Wright creation. Once you get a sniff of one, you can’t wait to add the possibility of another to your collectible consciousness.
“Our first Bonzo is five-way jointed — including a ball & socket neck — so he can assume many playful poses. The early plush manufacturers used a combination of printing and sewing to evoke the Bonzo illustrations. Because of our experience sculpting and molding, we are able to bring a heightened third dimension to Bonzo — something that’s never been done before in plush. As you note, the Studdy drawings themselves are filled with personality and we worked hard to capture that in our design,” John tells me.
So, Bonzo is bouncing and raring to go. He’s making his 2017 debut — a tad early in this blog — and collectors everywhere will be going bonkers for Bonzo! I, too, find his playful disposition and naughty antics to be downright appealing. As a decades-old cat woman (my apologies to Eartha Kitt and Julie Newmar), I have fallen for Bonzo’s irascible charms. Guess the old motto is about to be proven wrong — you can teach an old dog (or old dog owner) new tricks!