That Time Alex Toth almost went to Hollywood

A lobby card for the film How to Murder Your Wife

How to Murder Your Wife is a 1965 American black comedy starring Jack Lemmon, Virna Lisi, and Terry-Thomas, which many comic fans will know for the comic strip actually drawn by Mel Keefer, whose credits included war features for Charlton and Dell, and who drew newspaper comic strips such as “Perry Mason”, “Dragnet”, “Mac Divot” and “Rick O’Shay”… but did you know it was it was the legendary Alex Toth who was first hired to create the strips?

One of Mel Keefer’s strips created for How to Murder Your Wife
Stanley Ford (Jack Lemmon) at his desk in How to Murder Your Wife

In the film, Jack Lemmon plays Stanley Ford, a newspaper cartoonist enjoying the comforts of a well-to-do and happy bachelorhood, who is married to “Mrs. Ford” after getting drunk at a bachelor party.

As the film progresses, despite his new married life proving popular inspiration for his comic strip, suffice to say, Stanley gets his deserved comeuppance for not being an ideal husband… but I won’t spoil the plot for those of you who haven’t seen it.

One of Alex Toth’s strips used to promote How to Murder Your Wife

Originally, Alex Toth, today regarded as one of American comicdom’s most influential artists, was to have been the “stunt cartoonist” for Lemmon. Toth actually drew thirteen episodes of “Steve Bentley, Secret Agent“, which were used as part of the publicity campaign leading up to the premiere. The strips featured in the Hollywood Reporter and elsewhere.

Some of Alex Toth’s strips used to promote How to Murder Your Wife

Comics writer and archivist Mark Evanier has previously noted that : “they hired the great Alex Toth and his first assignment, which he did, was to whip up several newspaper-style strips that ran in the Hollywood trade papers to announce various signings and the upcoming commencement of filming.

“Toth was also supposed to ‘stunt double’ Lemmon’s drawing hand for some shots in the film until someone noticed a teensy problem: Lemmon was right-handed and Toth was a lefty. Alex also began arguing with the producers over something-or-other (Alex was always arguing over something-or-other) and he walked off the project. His replacement was Mel Keefer, who did all the artwork in the film and played Jack Lemmon’s drawing hand.”

All the strips drawn by Toth are reprinted full size in Alex Toth: Genius Illustrated, the second of IDW’s Toth trilogy.

Although Toth’s strips don’t feature in the film, comics archivist Paul Duncan pointed out last year that it did feature on t-shirts worn by the cast, including Jack Lemmon.

The film’s cartoon connections don’t stop with Keefer and Toth. Cartoonist Kin Platt was sent to the set by the LA Times to make a few sketches!

WEB LINKS

There’s an article on featuring screenshots of all the strips featured in the film here on this Spanish blog

The Official Alex Toth web site: www.tothfans.com

How to Murder Your Wife is available in various formats from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

Alex Toth: Genius Illustrated is available from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link) | ISBN 978-1613770245

Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell continue their comprehensive review of the life and art of Alex Toth in Genius, Illustrated. Covering the years from the 1960s to Toth’s poignant death in 2006, this oversized book features artwork and complete stories from Toth’s latter-day work at Warren, DC Comics, Red Circle, Marvel, and his own creator-owner properties… plus samples of his animation work for Hanna-Barbera, Ruby-Spears, and others-as well as sketchbook pages, doodles, advertising art, and other rarities provided through the cooperation of Toth’s family and his legion of fans. Two of Toth’s best stories are reproduced complete from the original artwork: ‘Burma Skies’ and ‘White Devil… Yellow Devil.’ A full-length text biography also charts the path from Toth’s increasingly reclusive lifestyle to his touching re-connection to the world in his final years.

• Sadly, Mel Keefer’s official web site is long gone, although it was partly captured by the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. There is a short biography of his career on Lambiek

With thanks to Jerry Paris and Lew Stringer for sending me down this rabbit hole last year (I must have gotten distracted by lockdown and never properly wrote this up!), and Paul Duncan and others for additional information

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



Categories: Comics, downthetubes News, Film, Other Worlds, US Comics

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1 reply

  1. Just reading the book at the moment, excellent book, the strips her are one of many high lights, thay are so alive with energy in such a small format.

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