Friday, June 14, 2013

Harry 'A' and the Flying Cadet Mystery

     It was the itch I couldn't scratch. A decade of research resulting in my biographical study of Archer St. John and his publishing company, Archer St. John & The Little Company That Could, left a lingering question floating in its wake. What was St. John's relationship to Harry 'A' Chesler and how did he figure in St. John's entry into comic book publishing? I had resigned myself to never solving this so-called "Flying Cadet Mystery" until recent discoveries answered at least some of my questions.  -- Ken Quattro

     Special thanks go to the Roxbury (New Jersey) Public Library and Sara W. Duke, Curator of Popular and Applied Graphic Art at the Library of Congress, for her invaluable help with my research.


Harry 'A' Chesler, circa age 78
from the SUNDAY JOURNAL (Dec. 19, 1976)

     Harry 'A' Chesler had a long career in sales by the time he entered the comic book game. Early on, this grocer's son wrote sales orders for a wholesale grocery house, purchased space in the Bergen Evening Record and resold it to advertisers, and by the early Twenties, had his own company selling outdoor advertising. He bounced from Philadelphia (where his name acquired the superfluous 'A' while he was employed at the PUBLIC LEDGER) to Chicago and back again to his native New Jersey. Always looking for a new opportunity; always on the make.

NEW YORK TIMES classified ad (April 1. 1923)

    Well into this peripatetic career, Chesler stumbled into comics. On August 15, 1935, he copyrighted, but either never published or limitedly distributed, a tabloid-sized text and comics hybrid publication entitled CHERRIO. Some of the features such as King Kole's Kourt, Lucky Coyne and the Cheerio Minstrels appeared in future Chesler comics. By the next year, Chesler had assembled a staff of artists and writers that was supplying original material to not only the two comics published under his own imprint, STAR and STAR RANGER, but also to competing publishers. He also formed Syndicate Features in an attempt to shop such strips as "Dan Hastings" and revived versions of "Little Nemo" and "Foxy Grandpa" to newspapers.

King Features letter asking to license 
Foxy Grandpa from Chesler
(March 11, 1937)

     While his newspaper strip venture was apparently stillborn and the comic books not sufficiently profitable (resulting in their sale to Frank Temerson and I. W. Ullman's, Ultem Publications), his comic shop survived in various incarnations into the 1950s.
     Early on, Chesler saw the potential of comics as an advertising source. He used his comics to cross-merchandise the probably-never-produced King Kola soft drink (a name he appropriated from a beer brand he once marketed),  the powdery milk-additive, Cocomalt and the George Nagle/Charles Biro "Goobyland" feature with a series of trading cards for Yum Yum Desserts.

STAR COMICS #5 (July-Aug. 1937)
[image retrieved from The Digital Comics Museum
Marble River scan]
Goobyland card that came in packages 
of Yum Yum Desserts products (1938)

     Apparently hoping to cash in on the boom created by the success of Superman and other costumed heroes, Chesler re-entered the publishing business with the formation of Dynamic Publications in 1941.

DYNAMIC COMICS #1 (Oct. 1941) 
back cover house ad featuring the first issues 
of each of the 1941 Chesler comics 
      This brief foray was similarly short-lived and unsuccessful as his earlier effort. Only a handful of issues of SCOOP, PUNCH, DYNAMIC and YANKEE comics were produced before Chesler once again threw in the towel.

One of the lawsuits generated
by Chesler's 1941 publishing venture


      As fate would have it, Chesler's latest publishing disaster ended just about the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Although staggered, the U.S. regained its balance and quickly assumed a wartime footing. Just over five weeks after the attack, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9024, establishing the War Production Board (WPB). The WPB was created to oversee the war procurement and production program, which included the restriction of certain materials crucial to the war effort. Among these was paper.
     "The reason for the increased demand," wrote WPB Chairman J.A. Krug in a report to President Truman in 1945, " directly traceable to increased military needs: Increases of ordnance pulp, used as a substitute for cotton linters in explosives, of waterproof papers for the Army, of photographic papers, of containers, of V-boxes for over-seas shipment. Practically every piece of equipment produced in the United States today is packaged in some manner in a paper or paper product." [pg. 48-49, War Production in 1944, Report of the Chairman of the War Production Board]
    To confront this pressing need, the Printing and Publishing Division of the WPB proposed voluntary restrictions for the various publishing industries (newspaper, magazines and books) applying a formula based upon a percentage of the paper tonnage they individually used in 1941. It soon became apparent that such an honor system was rife with violators and in response, the WPB issued a series of "Limitation Orders" that set quotas for various paper users that went into effect on January 1, 1943.They also established an appeals process for companies that claimed they had need for an increased quota based upon their particular situation.
     Ready to take another shot at comic book publishing and unhappy with his paper allotment, Harry 'A' Chesler appealed.


     "Dynamic Publications, Inc.. published one issue each of two comic magazines in 1942 and then suspended publication because of financial difficulties caused primarily by the fact that its magazines did not sell," so noted Allen E. Norman, Chief of the Magazine and Periodical Section of the WPB in a summary of appeal cases he presented to a Senate committee investigating the state of the national defense program in June, 1944.
     " According to Mr. Chesler," Norman continued, "the newsstand returns on Dynamic Publications were about the worst in the business, only one copy being sold out of every three produced. With two out of every three copies being returned unsold it is not surprising that Dynamic Publications was not a financial success."
      "Mr. Chesler appealed for extra paper to reenter the magazine-publishing business on a scale larger than that which he enjoyed in the days when he was unable to compete successfully in a free market. He admitted that financial difficulties, arising from the unsalability of his magazines, was a prime factor in his discontinuing operation, and listed several other factors as contributing to this
situation, namely, his state of health, disagreements with his distributor, and the drafting of his personnel. Investigation revealed the unsubstantial nature of these claims, since his state of health was sufficient to permit him to earn a fee of $1,500 per month in doing art work for others, and most of the personnel which he mentioned had been drafted several months before the company started
publishing. His discussion of his troubles with his distributor consisted mostly of derogatory statements about the Fawcett Distributing Corporation and its personnel."

     In fairness to Chesler, he had some reason to distrust Fawcett and it involved Allen E. Norman himself.

Appointment of Allen E. Norman to WPB post
from THE HERALD STATESMAN (Jan. 3, 1944)

     Prior to his appointment as head of the Magazine and Periodical Section, Norman was secretary of Fawcett Publications and its subsidiary corporations.3 Though he was on leave from this position and serving voluntarily with the WPB as a "dollar-a-year man", he was still receiving a comfortable salary of $1,333.33 per month from Fawcett. 4 This cozy situation didn't go unnoticed and complaints about it led to Norman being questioned by the same Senate committee investigating the defense program. Questions asked by Senator Homer Ferguson specifically concerning an in-house Fawcett publication.

FERGUSON: I want to show you an exhibit here [Exhibit No. 1189]. Do you know what that exhibit is?

NORMAN: I certainly do.

FERGUSON: What is it?

NORMAN: It is page 9 from the February issue of a house organ known as Fawcett Distributor, published by the Fawcett Distributing Corporation.

FERGUSON: What year was it published ?

NORMAN: 1944.

FERGUSON: And at that time you were the enforcing officer of the order for magazines?

NORMAN: I was, sir; yes. I was the Chief of the Section.

     After a line of questioning that established Fawcett's place among "seven or eight large national magazine distributors",  Chief Counsel for the committee, Hugh A. Fulton, zeroed in on a portion of the aforementioned Fawcett house organ.

FULTON: I think, if you look at the front page of that exhibit, there is a statement of how many, or at least a statement of the number of magazines [distributed by Fawcett]; is there not ?

NORMAN: Very frankly, I haven't even read the rest of this article. I read those two paragraphs and practically fell off my chair.

FULTON: When did you first read those two paragraphs?

NORMAN: The night of March 21,1944.

FULTON: How large a distribution would that house organ have ? It is fair to call it a house organ ?

NORMAN: I think so, sir. Well, I am sure under the interpretations that we have. It would go, Senator Ferguson, I presume, to the whole list of independent distributors through which Fawcett distributes magazines—there are some 700 of those—and it would go to publishers whose magazines Fawcett distributes, and it would probably go to some prospective publishers whose magazines they may hope to distribute.

     Then, Senator Ferguson jumped back in and asked Norman to read the two paragraphs that were cause for concern.

NORMAN [reading Exhibit No. 1189]: "These franchises [the independent distributors] will pay off even greater profits in 1944."
     The value of a franchise in wholesale distribution means a great deal, and the position that magazines have on the newsstands, and that sort of thing. [reading Exhibit No. 1189] "This is a case in which Fawcett foresight and careful planning aided us in getting the most possible from our paper allotments."
     Do you want me to read the whole thing, and then let's comment piecemeal ?

FERGUSON: Afterwards.

NORMAN [reading Exhibit No. 1189] : "We were fortunate enough to have Allen E. Norman, secretary of the Fawcett corporations..."

FERGUSON [interposing]: That is you, by the way?

NORMAN: Yes, sir. [Reading Exhibit No. 1189]: "...acting as a consultant to the Printing and Publishing Division of the War Production Board; and W. H. Fawcett, Jr., president of the Fawcett Corporations, as a member of the magazine task force..."

FERGUSON [interposing]: What is the task force? An advisory committee?

NORMAN: It is a group which acts as an operating committee for the Magazine Advisory Committee [of the WPB]. It is a little more flexible than the Magazine Advisory Committee. Some of the members only live [sic] from San Francisco to Boston to Birmingham.

FERGUSON: All right.

NORMAN [reading Exhibit No. 1189]: "...which cooperates with the Printing and Publishing Division of the War Production Board. This enabled us to really know the paper situation at all times. Roger Fawcett, in the New York office, carried out the War Production Board orders and suggestions so far as Fawcett-published magazines were concerned. It has been largely through the excellent work of this trio..."

FERGUSON (interposing): Who is this trio?
NORMAN: That would presumably be W. H. Fawcett, Roger Fawcett, and myself. [reading]"...that F. D. C.," —that is Fawcett Distributing Corporation—"...has been able to make its plans for 1944 long in advance, thereby providing our independent wholesalers with a goodly supply of magazines to assure high profits for this year."  6

Roger, W.H., Gordon and Roscoe Fawcett
[image courtesy of P.C. Hamerlinck's FAWCETT COMPANION]

     This apparently damning paragraph insinuating collusion between Norman and Roger Fawcett to benefit the Fawcett distribution corporation was dismissed by Norman as, "...a very ill-chosen selection of words ...written by a minor employee of Fawcett Publications in the Greenwich, Conn., office." 7
     (Even though the article in question carried the byline of "Roscoe Fawcett", company circulation manager and a Fawcett sibling, the anonymous Fawcett employee Norman was so willingly threw under the bus was revealed to be Gene Fornshell. Fornshell was conveniently in the Army at the time and unable to respond to Norman's claim of his responsibility for the offending paragraphs.) 
     The whole matter had come up when a publisher seeking a larger quota of paper, appealed to the Magazine Section headed by Norman and presented the house organ article as evidence of his partiality toward Fawcett, a competing publisher. Norman's superior, Dr. Arthur Holcombe, Chairman of the Appeals Board for the whole WPB, ruled the evidence as irrelevant and the publisher's appeal was denied.
     The publisher questioning Norman's impartiality was the National Police Gazette Corporation. The NATIONAL POLICE GAZETTE had been bought in 1933 by Merwil Publishing. Merwil was the publisher of a men's soft-core pornographic magazines and was owned jointly by Merle Williams Hersey and the brothers, Irwin and Harry Donenfeld. Significantly, among the Donenfelds other publishing ventures was National Comics (D.C.), Fawcett Publishing's direct and very litigious competitor. Merwil lost the tabloid to bankruptcy in 1935. By the time of their appeal before Norman, the publisher of the NATIONAL GAZETTE was Harold H. Roswell.
     While the "house organ matter" wasn't brought up by Chesler in his own appeal before Norman, he asserted that Fawcett, at once his distributor and a competing comic book publisher, purposely drove him out of business.


      "The Printing and Publishing Division contended, and the Appeals Board concurred,"
continued Norman's report to the Senate committee, "that it would he illogical to allot a sizable quantity of a critical war commodity to a publisher who could not operate in normal times, so that he might operate in the highly artificial market caused by the paper shortage. The last year that Mr. Chesler published for 12 consecutive months was 1938, 4 years before the paper-limitation orders were put into effect."
      "Mr. Chesler is now being investigated by the Compliance Division in New York. In the first quarter of 1943 he overused his quarterly allotment by about 250 percent, and in addition he participated in the publication of four and one-half million copies of comic magazines without a paper quota."
     Unmentioned in the report were the titles of the comics in whose publication he "participated". Since none bore either his own name nor that of his Dynamic Publications, it is likely that these were surrogate publishers fronting for Chesler, who likely got a piece of the action.
      "Another matter of investigation is whether or not Mr. Chesler falsely represented his paper usage in 1942 in order to obtain the paper quota that was recognized for him."
      "Mr. Chesler's case has been reviewed on two separate occasions by the Printing and Publishing Division, and he has been given two oral hearings before the Appeals Board in order that he might present any material that would support his claim of excessive and undue hardship. Following both hearings the Appeals Board issued letters of denial." 
     This denial of his quota appeal would seem to end Chesler's wish to get back into publishing. But Chesler wasn't so easily discouraged. If he couldn't get the paper he wanted to publish in his own name, perhaps he could buy it from someone else.



     On an undated sheet of typing paper, Chesler (or someone in his employ) wrote out a list of comic titles: THE ARROW, DETECTIVE EYE, FANTOMAN, FUNNY PAGES...nineteen titles in all. Obscure comics, mostly short-lived and some that hadn't been published for several years. Linking all of them, though, was a lineage that began with Chesler himself.
     He had sold two of the titles on this list--STAR and STAR RANGER--to Ultem Publications back in 1937. Similarly, William Cook and John Mahon sold two of their Comics Magazine Company's titles, FUNNY PAGES and FUNNY PICTURE STORIES, to Ultem in the same period. Eventually, Ultem sold all of these to Centaur Publications, the comic book venture owned by pulp publishers Joe Hardie and Raymond Kelly. The rest of the titles on Chesler's list were filled by comics published by Comic Corporation of America, the imprint used by Hardie and Kelly as the successor of Centaur.
     On March 15, 1944, Chesler wrote a letter to Ray Kelly asking about acquiring the rights to FUNNY PAGES and AMAZING MAN.

Letter from Chesler inquiring about the availability 
of two defunct Comic Corp. of America comics.

     Within a week, Chesler received his reply.

The reply of co-owner, Raymond Kelly

     Undeterred, Chesler looked elsewhere. He didn't have to look any further than to a publisher who had been the beneficiary of fortuitous ruling in another quota appeal.
     Like Chesler, the publisher of AIR NEWS magazine had appealed for an increase in its paper quota. Phillip Andrews, owner of his namesake Phillip Andrews Publishing, claimed that the increase was based upon, "...the essentiality of the publication in the war effort and on his competitive standing with other aviation magazine publishers."
     Andrews request was initially rejected, but the appeals board eventually agreed to increase, "...Phillip Andrews' quota along with that of  SKYWAYS, FLYING CADET and various other publishers," of aviation magazines. 10
     FLYING CADET was a curious hybrid publication. Although in most ways it was a straightforward aviation magazine, packed with text and photos of airplanes and pilots, it also featured a comic book style section in some of its early issues. Its editor, Archer St. John, obviously had an eye on the growing comic book market and was integrating some of its format into his magazine.
     (It should be noted that Phillip Andrews bought AIR NEWS from St. John, who was its original publisher. St. John then used that money to start up FLYING CADET.)

FLYING CADET vol. 1 #1 (Jan. 1943)

     How Chesler became aware of FLYING CADET and its bonus paper quota isn't clear. Had he heard about it during his own appeal hearing? Or did he know St. John through his previous employment as advertising manager of Lionel Trains Corporation? In any case, in September 1944, they struck a deal.
     The deal was spelled out in a letter to Chesler from his attorney, David Alterbaum, dated September 12, 1944. In it, Alterbaum notes that on September 1st, St. John organized the Flying Cadet Publishing Company, Inc., paying $500 for its 100 shares of capital stock. In turn, St. John sold those shares to Betty Chesler for the sum of $500. Subsequently, St. John then sold, "...all his right, title and interest in and to," FLYING CADET magazine to the corporation.
     And he was well compensated for the sale.
     Chesler agreed to pay St. John $38, 000, with $20,000 of it up front and the rest in 12 monthly installments of $1,500 beginning October 1, 1944.
Details of the agreement between 
Archer St. John and Harry 'A' Chesler  (Sept. 12, 1944)
[note writer/editor Kenneth Fitch named as Secretary]

     It's a fair assumption that this influx of cash helped finance the start up of St. John's eponymous publishing company a few years later.
     Although the owner's statement in FLYING CADET vol. 2, #7 (17) names St. John as editor, business manager and owner, by the time it was published on October 1, 1944, he had already assigned the copyright to Chesler (aka Flying Cadet Publishing Co., Inc.) on September 8th. The comic (and by now, its contents were mostly in comic book format) ended with this issue. Chesler didn't care about the title; he had other plans.

FLYING CADET #17 [vol. 2 #7]  (Oct. 1944)

      On paper, Flying Cadet Publishing Co., Inc. and Dynamic Publishing, Inc. were separate companies. In reality, they had the same owner operating (for a time) from the same address at 163 W. 23rd Street. This led to the somewhat absurd, but probably legally sensible situation which found Chesler corresponding with himself.
     Chesler was working one more angle. 


     The following offer is hereby submitted to you:

          1. You are to have the exclusive right to publish and distribute the magazine, DYNAMIC COMICS and PUNCH COMICS, beginning with the January, 1945 issues thereof...". 

     So began the two-page agreement draped in legalese that granted the Flying Cadet Publishing Co., Inc. the license to publish several comics for a set royalty fee.
     The agreement goes on to specify that no less than 200,000 copies of each issue must be published. It also states unequivocally that, "It is understood and agreed that this license does not include any rights of the licensee in and to any paper quotas which may or may not be assigned to us, as licensors."
     Since Chesler had been denied a paper quota increase as Dynamic Publishing, this sentence didn't mean much, if anything. This is followed by the carefully crafted, "It is understood and agreed that this license shall not be construed to be that of a joint venture or partnership, and that you undertake the ultimate risk of publishing venture in connection with these magazines."
     Seemingly, a perfectly normal agreement designating the terms between two different companies. In actuality, Chesler was to profit both from the sales of a comic on the newsstand and from a royalty he would pay himself for the right to publish it.
     A perfectly executed double-dip.
     The agreement was accepted, naturally, and signed by Flying Cadet Publishing Co. Inc.'s secretary, Kenneth Fitch. Fitch, longtime writer and editor, was doing double-duty himself.
     How much this royalty meant is spelled out in a statement sent out on April 23, 1945. In it, the sales of DYNAMIC COMICS #13 and 14, and PUNCH COMICS #12 and 13, totaled and divided by the 1/4 cent royalty, netted Dynamic Publishing $3,787.50.

PUNCH COMICS #12 (Jan. 1945)
     On May 5, 1945, the license was renewed and expanded upon. Dynamic Publishing now graciously allowed Flying Cadet Publishing to not only publish more issues of DYNAMIC and PUNCH, but also the new title, RED SEAL. All other terms remained the same except that now it was specified that at least 250,000 copies of each comic had to be published per issue.

     The debut issue of AMERICAN AIR FORCES was also published under the Flying Cadet Publishing imprint. What kind of deal Chesler had with Vincent Sullivan's emerging Magazine Enterprises is unknown. But it is perhaps noteworthy that the comic was similar to the final issue of FLYING CADET, with a mix of comic and magazine material. Ironically, the format lived on if the title itself did not.


     Harry 'A' Chesler was always looking for a new opportunity. By the mid-Forties he had made enough money off his various comic sorties to veer off into other ventures. He purchased 200 acres of land off Eyland Avenue in Succasunna, New Jersey, containing a pond. With the help of bulldozers, the pond was reshaped to resemble a horseshoe. And it was soon revealed to be part of a much larger plan.
     In March, 1947, Chesler announced that he had invested $200,000 in Horseshoe Lake Park, a venue that was to include, "...[a] restaurant, a tap room and a ballroom, the latter having a floor space of 60 by 120 feet." 11  The complex, still under construction and set to open on June 1st, was also to feature, "...a Merry-Go-Round, Ferris Wheel and Caterpillar for a starter." 12  Two years later, it seems the project was still under construction, but none the less ambitious.

From BILLBOARD (Feb. 26, 1949)

      Perhaps Chesler's amusement park was never fully realized. Given Chesler's penchant for reusing old names, perhaps the citizens of Succasunna were spared an amusement park named Goobyland.



1  Investigation of the National Defense Program. Hearings before a Special Committee Investigating the National Defense Program, Pt. 22-24, (1944), pg. 10861.


Ibid., pg. 10457.

4  Ibid.

5  Ibid., pg. 10453.

6   Ibid., pg. 10454.

7  Ibid., pg. 10455.

8  Ibid., pg. 10861.

9  Ibid.

10  Ibid., pg. 10860.

11  "Horse Shoe Lake, Still In Building Stage, Bows June 1", BILLBOARD, March 29, 1947, pg. 102.

12   Ibid.

Additional general information sources include:

Ewing, Emma Mai, "The Funnies Can Be Serious",  THE NEW YORK TIMES, Sept. 12, 1976, pg.347.

Babbage, Joan, "Comics' "Father" Helping Fairleigh Make A Home For His Children", THE STAR LEDGER, Jan. 20, 1976, pg. 27.

Mueller, John, "Harry 'A' & The Golden Age Of Comics", SUNDAY RECORD, Dec. 19, 1976.