Garth in Hollywood
Writer: Peter O’Donnell
Artist: Steve Dowling/John Allard
Published: 15/6/53 – 14/11/53 (M141 – M272)
Number of Episodes: 132
Returned from Krull, Garth is invited by Lumiere to join him on an archaeological dig for dinosaur remains in the Mohave Desert in North America. They meet up with Dr. Jones, the leader of the party who discovered the remains. Staying in a hotel in Los Angeles, the expedition travels by jeep to the desert where a mobile laboratory has been set up.
However, Garth soon becomes bored, and in need of action and exercise. He sets off for a long run towards a river several miles away, to have a swim before returning. Halfway to the river, Garth enters a gully where he sees a strange scene.
A man wearing animal skins is being menaced by a weird monster – a seven-headed hydra. Snatching up a partial tree trunk as a club, Garth runs to help him – only to discover he has blundered onto a film set, and the ‘hydra’ is a mechanical construction of rubber tubing and compressed air.
The director and producer, one ‘J.G.’ Schick, is shooting a movie of The Labours of Hercules. Rick Hallam, the conceited actor playing Hercules, advances angrily on Garth, only for the ‘hydra’ suddenly to run out of control when a stop-valve is jammed. Hallam is embroiled in the thick constricting rubber coils and in danger of serious injury. Garth wades in with his club to smash the mechanism.
Hallam lies stunned, and Garth effortlessly picks him up and carries him over to the film crew. His casual feat of strength is duly noted by Linda, J.G’s cynical young secretary. Hallam quickly comes round, only to discover that he has a badly sprained ankle. A medic determines that he will be out of action for at least two weeks, threatening the tight production schedule.
J.G. suddenly has the brainwave of casting Garth as Hercules, replacing the injured Hallam. Garth is reluctant to get involved, but when Linda points out that the role of Hercules involves lots of action, and that Garth’s intervention threatens to escalate the costs of the production if it is delayed, Garth agrees to take the role. Hence, we arrive at “Garth in Hollywood”.
O’Donnell second story was taking Garth in an unexpected and unwelcome direction. Earlier, the strip had settled into a strong science fictional and fantastic streak – but here was a “straight” adventure story with romance and soap opera strands, without fantasy or fantastic elements. One wonders whether he had been so instructed by the Mirror’s strips editor, or whether it was his own idea. We may never know, but it might well have been the latter, as John Allard has recorded that O’Donnell told him that before scripting Garth, he had been selling romantic fiction to the women’s journals.
On its own terms, it was a good enough story, with well-delineated characters. Most characters in the “Krull” story had been mainly cyphers and stereotypes; here the principals had considerable depth – with one unfortunate exception. There was a sub-plot involving a stereotype black servant character, “old Neb”, who unfairly loses his job, and to whom Garth secretly donates his salary for making the film. Today, Neb’s broad-dialect dialogue and gratitude to Garth is frankly cringe-making: “When ah found marse Garth had sent the money, ah come right long to tell him thank you! Yes, sir!”
The central characters are Linda, the hard-bitten and cynical secretary to the movie director, and ex-girlfriend of the swollen-headed actor, Rick Hallam. Because of Garth, both Linda and Hallam go on a ‘journey’ which reforms their characters, leaving them as better people, and, of course reunited as a couple. Garth himself emerges as having a good sense of humour and an innate shrewdness regarding human nature. Freeman’s Garth had always had these characteristics, and O’Donnell adroitly managed to slip into Garth’s skin. He would go on to make the character his own.
But clearly “Hollywood” was not Garth’s home turf, and solving other people’s romantic and personal problems was not his main raison d’etre. Dowling and Allard’s new higher standard of artwork was wasted on too many indoor scenes and utterly mundane, human interest events. Dowling was only able to make it visually interesting because of his years of working on his other Mirror domestic soap opera strips, Ruggles and Belinda.
After its promising beginning, the story dragged at times because of too many non-action panels. Fortunately, however, O’Donnell redeemed himself as the story built to a climax.
The last scene of the film to be shot requires a controlled explosion to divert the river, causing it to flow into an old disused bed along a gully. The rocky walls of the gully are spotted with caves leading into tunnels in the rock. With great ingenuity, O’Donnell’s plot places Linda and Hallam alone in the gully, and unsuspecting of the explosion about to take place. They are caught up by crashing waves as the diverted river rushes down upon them. They are swept up and deposited far inside one of the sloping cave tunnels, and trapped on a ledge above the rising water level.
The air in the cave had prevented the water flooding right to the roof – but the air is gradually escaping, leaking out through cracks and crevices.
In the film camp, they are aware of what has happened, but there are only two frogman suits available to effect an underwater rescue, and one is damaged. Wearing the good one and carrying the other, Garth dives into the diverted river, and swims up into upwardly sloping flooded tunnel. On reaching Linda and Hallam, Garth takes off his suit, and orders Hallam to don it. He gives the second ‘suspect’ suit to Linda. Garth tells Hallam that if the air supply in Linda’s suit should fail, he must then tow her to the surface as quickly as possible. Once she is safe, the plan is for Hallam to return to Garth, bringing the second suit with him.
On their underwater swim back, Linda’s suit does fail, but the alert Hallam manages to get her safely to the surface, where a boat is waiting. But in doing so, Hallam accidently damages his own breathing apparatus on a sharp spur of rock. Both suits are now unusable, and Garth cannot now be rescued!
Back in the cave, as time goes by and the water continues to rise, Garth realises that something has gone wrong. He will have to try and swim out himself – an impossible task to hold his breath long enough for the long journey down the flooded tunnel. And made even more difficult by the air in his own lungs creating a buoyancy making it difficult to swim against the water pressure.
Garth solves the problem in an ingenious manner: using his great strength he snaps off a big chunk of a stalactite from the cave’s roof! Clutching its great weight, Garth is able to descend through the tunnel at a much greater speed than he could have swum. His brilliant stratagem works perfectly, and the film crew in the boat are amazed and relieved when Garth surfaces.
Linda and Hallam announce their intention to marry, and Garth moves on without waiting for the premiere of his film – his career in Hollywood at an end.
This dynamic final sequence augured well for the quality of O’Donnell’s future scripts, and Dowling and Allard’s artwork in these closing action scenes was superb.
Synopsis by Philip Harbottle
In a feature encompassing the entire history of the much-loved strip, Garth writer Philip Harbottle pays tribute to artist and editor John Allard, who worked at the Mirror for over 50 years, outlining his huge contribution to Garth‘s enduring success
Strip dates given are those of their original appearance in the British newspaper the Daily Mirror, first compiled by Geoffrey Wren and Ann Holmes and updated by Ant Jones and Philip Harbottle
Garth © REACH/ Daily Mirror