Friday, June 19, 2015

From Air to Wax: Remembering Logan Fleming

Ed Note: Readers of Vintage Air may have, from time to time, noted that the Archive enlists the assistance of my brother and fellow historian Eric Radecki to dig up and procure aviation related antiques and photographs – it helps that he and his wife own the Vonrad Trading Post, an antiques and collectables business, with locations both online and traditional a “brick and mortar” affair at the Hanford Antique Emporium located in Hanford California. Today's story is not only resourced by Eric, but for the first time written by him as well.

Every collector, dealer, historian, or archivist’s dream is to stumble across a treasure trove or horde of items belonging to one single person, and even better when that person can be identified or recognized by the public. While obscure stories and people are always interesting to dig up and research, it is truly fascinating to find something previously unknown which belonged to a public or notable figure. Such is the case with today’s post.

Fleming's original “Stateside” dog tags, private purchase 
sterling silver ID bracelet, and ID fob from Long Beach AAF.  
This trove was found in a typical Army-issue WWII footlocker purchased at the Long Beach antiques show, in the shadow of the old McDonnell Douglas hangar, which is rather ironic, as you'll see in a minute. Contained inside was the discarded bits and pieces of a US Army Air Force Sergeant who served in WWII. At first, the name Logan Mills Fleming didn't mean anything to me, and was merely another long forgotten name from a different time. Many pieces of uniforms, insignia and paperwork were stuffed into the footlocker, and of course, photographs. While not all too interesting or historic in nature, these were filed away as the rest of the contents were inventoried.

What really caught my attention and triggered this story, however, were a few rather high-quality hand drawn cartoons, the kind that you don't see anymore, the kind that graced the wartime pages of such magazines as Yank, Life, Look, and the Saturday Evening Post, as well as many other publications of the time. These cartoons were pen and ink on paper and looked to be mostly unfinished. There was even a rejection letter from Yank Magazine for what I can only assume to be a cartoon submitted to the editors for consideration. The quality of the cartoons in the trove and the rejection letter led to a cursory internet search of Logan Fleming, to see if his cartoons had ever actually been published.
An original, unpublished Fleming cartoon
Short and sweet rejection letter!
As it turned out, Fleming was not to be a cartoonist, and that part of his brilliant artistic career may have faded, but following the war years with (presumably) the use of the GI Bill, Logan attended the short lived Jepson Art Institute in Los Angeles, which was open from 1945 to 1953. A commercial artist's living was made by Logan as he found employment with Pacific Outdoor Advertising, one of the Los Angeles area's largest billboard advertising firms at the time. In 1962 Fleming sought out a new career as art director and sculptor/designer for the now-defunct (but nevertheless famous) Movieland Wax Museum, located just north of Knotts Berry Farm on Beach Avenue in Buena Park California. The Wax museum closed on October 31, 2005 after 43 years and over 10 million visitors. Logan had worked the wax for over twenty years sculpting countless celebrity likenesses, and many of his works live on today at other Wax museums and private collections, since most of the inventory was sold at auction in 2006.

Members of the 556th AAF Base Unit, 6th Ferrying Group Air Transport Command pose for a group photo with C-47B 43-16371 (c/n 20837), presumably at Long Beach AAF. Logan standing to the right of the propeller blade wearing an A-2 flight jacket and brimmed visor cap. Of interest is the woman, presumably a squadron civilian secretary as she is not wearing a Woman's Service Corps uniform.

US Army Air Force C-47 B s/n 43-16371, presumably taken at 
Long Beach Army Air Field circa 1945. This aircraft shows the 
Military Air Transport insignia on its nose and an unknown 
crewman posing for a “Kilroy” impersonation.  The C-47 was 
involved in a couple of postwar indications of incidents, one on 
October 18, 1952 and another on Jun 22, 1953 at White River 
Junction , VT flown by Nathaniel H. Lebish, while based at 
Mitchell AFB, NY   
Logan was born at Seaside Hospital in Long Beach, CA on September 25 1923 to Albert and Ethel Fleming, and on January 18, 1943 he joined the US Army Air Force and served until February, 8 1946, when he was separated at Camp Beale, CA. Fleming served as a Flight Traffic Clerk with the Military Air Transport Command. He was assigned to the 556th AAF Base Unit, 6th Ferrying Group Air Transport Command, Long Beach Army Air Field.

According to his Army separation Qualification Record, his duty description was: “Made up manifests for passengers, worked stop stick to arrive at proper weight and balance of plane, filled out weight and balance form, kept track of priority of cargo, acted as steward to passengers in flight, also acted as alert crew to airplane at times, filled out log of airplane, and ties down cargo." In addition, he also spent time working at Douglas Aircraft's Long Beach plant where he produced blue prints, and as well worked on the B-17 final assembly line, installing oxygen equipment. It seems that while Fleming was destined to never leave the US during the war, his service, along with many other veterans who never deployed to foreign shores, was vital to the war effort.

Flemming passed away in December, 2011 in Long Beach at the well-lived age of 88. He was survived by his wife, three children and two grandchildren. If any family members happen upon this blog post, drop us a line via the comments below...we'd love to hear more about the life of Logan. It seems quite fitting that this man was born and died in Long Beach, served at Long Beach AAF and worked in the Douglas Factory. And his trunk full of memories was rescued in Long Beach as well. It certainly is a small world, sometimes!

More info and reading about Logan Fleming:

  • A biography written by Suzan Sumner Ferry entitled The Day the Stars Stood Still on Logan Flemings life and accomplishments as a wax artist is available on Amazon.
  • A good video outlining Logan's work at the Museum can be found here on YouTube.
  • A general documentary on the Museum is here.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Teenie Weenies and their Silver Trimotor Adventure

It's not everyday that the world of vintage children's books, Sunday comics and aviation history collide, but today, the 101st anniversary of the debut of the Teenie Weenies, is one such day.

The Teenie Weenies are all-but-forgotten in busy 21st century America, where Facebook memes have replaced Sunday morning newspaper comics as childhood entertainment fare. But 75 years ago, they were household names, everyone knew the characters, and children all over America looked forward to the next Sunday morning comic adventure of these miniature people who lived in a town built out of old food containers safely hidden under a rose bush in the garden.

Created in 1914 (they made their publishing debut on June 14th of that year in the Chicago Tribune) by children's writer and illustrator William Donahey, the adventures of the Teenie Weenies populated kids' books, school readers and of course the Sunday comics until Donahey's passing in 1970. In 1924, though, the Tribune discontinued the comic series for a time, and with Donahey still needing to make a living, and with their popularity and the nature of their architecture, it was a natural progression for him to license the characters for commercial promotions and advertising.
One of the companies to quickly take advantage of the opportunity was Reid, Murdoch and Company, owners of the Monarch Foods brand. Many of the "buildings" in the Teenie Weenies' town were recycled food containers, so it was a perfect branding opportunity for Monarch Foods - if a bunch of delightful, family-friendly miniature people are going to make a soup can their new home, why shouldn't it be a Monarch soup can?

Meanwhile, Monarch's ad men, ever in the quest of building brand recognition and popularity, realized that the best way to build brand recognition was to find a way to bring the people to you, and in the process expose them to the wonders of your product line. The trick, then, was to attract the people in droves. And what better way than with an airplane? A year earlier, Lindbergh had electrified America with his trans-Atlantic flight, and his subsequent national tour had drawn throngs of people out to the local airfield (or merely farmer's field) to see his plane. Likewise, shows like the Inman Brothers' Flying Circus attracted huge crowds of people. The airplane was the perfect magnet to draw the people in to hear how wonderful Monarch's food line was.

So Reid, Murdoch & Co. picked up the 48th Ford 4-AT Tri-Motor (NC-7863) off of the assembly line, and named it the Independence, in a nod to all the independent grocery stores in the midwest that Monarch distributed to. Instead of the normal plush passenger interior, they built a custom "showroom" where their canned and packaged foods were neatly lined up for display (presumably they were secured in place for flight ops!). When the plane would arrive in a town, a wooden platform would be set up next to the fuselage so that the curious could peer in through the cabin windows at the food.

With the popularity of the comic and the success of Monarch's magazine advertisement campaign, it was a natural extension to make sure that a couple of live Teenie Weenie characters went along on some of the flights as ambassadors. Two characters, the General (who was the leader of the tiny village, and thus the natural spokesman to sell the public on the wonders of Monarch's foods) and the Police Officer (the symbol of trust and protection), were played by two children in costume, and were also featured in a number of Monarch publicity photos with the Ford, including our old 8x10 press print. The children sometimes actually traveled with the Ford as it visited towns large and small. Given the dates when this took place, it's possible that these two little boys are still around, although they'd likely be in their 80s. If anyone knows anything about who they were and their story, please share via the comments section below!

The advertising gimmick didn't survive the Great Depression, though, and in 1931 Reid, Murdoch & Co. sold the Ford to a gentleman named Vernon Jones, who based it in San Diego. On April 28, 1935, the plane was wrecked in Gadsden, Alabama, and parts were salvaged and used on other Tri-motors.