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Mickey Mouse Bubblegum, 1935 (R89)

Walt Disney (1901-1966) was a fledgling animator in 1928 when he traveled to New York City to negotiate a better contract with Universal Studios, hoping to trade on the early popularity of his best character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Instead, Universal not only took control of the rights of Oswald and other characters developed by Disney but also hired away all of his employees. The story goes that Disney, on a train ride back to Hollywood, quickly developed a new character to replace Oswald. He created Mickey Mouse who was further developed by collaborator Ub Iwerks and given his name by Disney's wife, Lillian, according to their daughter Diane.

Mickey Mouse became one of the most successful cartoon characters of all-time, inspired partly by Charlie Chaplin’s underdog Tramp persona, and ultimately a building block of the Disney empire. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit continued to exist, albeit on a much smaller stage, into the late 1950s. The Disney company in 2006 decided it wanted to reacquire assets that Walt Disney originally helped create, including Oswald. So Disney orchestrated a trade with NBC Universal, swapping ABC/ESPN star broadcaster Al Michaels for the rights to Oswald and the others. Said Michaels, "I'm going to be a trivia answer someday.”

Pirate’s Picture Bubblegum, 1936 (R109)

Most pirates of the 17th and 18th centuries had one thing in common: their final chapter was rarely good. Most of them were captured or killed. That’s what separates John Avery (1659-1696) whose ability to steal a fortune and disappear eventually brought him the nickname the Arch Pirate. Avery (sometimes called Every) signed his first name as Henry. His shipmates knew him as Ben. In the spring of 1694, while the first mate on a vessel called the Charles, Avery benefitted from a mutiny by the crew which appointed him the new captain.

He renamed the 46-gun ship the Fancy and assembled a squadron of perhaps eight vessels. In September 1895, they attacked a 25-ship Grand Mughal convoy that was making a pilgrimage to Mecca. The Mughals were an Islamic empire in south Asia, and their ships carried significant treasure. After two hours of fighting, Avery’s men boarded the Ganj-i-sawai and secured jewels and precious metals with a value estimated at about $120 million in 2024 dollars. Avery paid off his men and disappeared with a large share of the loot, retiring from his brief career as a pirate in either Britain or some unknown tropical island. He was never captured.

The Lone Ranger, 1940 (R83)

More than two dozen actors have portrayed the Lone Ranger since the character made his radio debut in 1933. Among them, Clayton Moore is probably the only one who wanted to play the role for the rest of his life. Moore was the lead in the Lone Ranger series that made its debut in 1949, the first Western made for TV. Moore rode his trusty horse Silver alongside companion Tonto, played by Jay Silverheels, a Canadian-born Mohawk, for 169 episodes through 1957.

Afterward, Moore showed up in full costume for rodeos and promotional gigs until 1979 when a company that purchased the rights to the character with plans to release a new movie obtained a court order preventing Moore from wearing the Lone Ranger’s black mask in public. Moore opted to wear sunglasses in the shape of a mask. The movie bombed, and in 1984 the company allowed Moore to don the mask again. “It's my symbol, it's the Lone Ranger, and if I may say, it's Americana,” Moore said. “I guess when I go up to the big ranch in the sky, I'll still have it on.’’ He stayed in character until his death at age 85 in 1999.

Superman, 1940 (R145)

Superman arrived in 1938 with the publication of Action Comics No. 1. Bowman printed its first collector cards two years later, and the Man of Steel wouldn’t be content with merely putting away bad guys. Over the coming decades, the superhero became a multimedia superstar. Radio jumped on board in 1940 when The Adventures of Superman began an 11-year run with more than 2,000 episodes. Newspapers ran syndicated comic strips for decades, and Paramount released a series of animated shorts beginning in 1941. The 1951 big screen debut was a 58-minute B-movie, Superman and the Mole Men, introducing George Reeves in the lead role.

Reeves became a household name with the TV series, The Adventures of Superman, which aired 102 episodes from 1952-58 and was popular in Japan. Broadway gave us the Tony-nominated musical play, It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Superman in 1966, and Elliot S. Maggin penned two Superman novels. The first big-budget film, 1978’s Superman, starring Christopher Reeve, made $300 million at the box office (nearly $1.4 billion in 2023) and spawned three sequels. The inevitable reboot, Man of Steel, starring Henry Cavill, was released in 2013, and the sequels just keep coming.

Movie Stars, 1948 (R701-9)

The 1948 Bowman Movie Stars set included 36 cards and featured the likes of Cesar Romero, Yvonne De Carlo, Shelley Winters, and Sonja Henie who transitioned from Olympic skating hero to big screen headliner. Checking in at No. 5 in the collection is Margaret Field (1922-2011), best known as the mother of Sally Field who made a name in 1960s TV comedies Gidget and The Flying Nun before evolving into a serious actress who won Academy Awards for her performances in 1979’s Norma Rae and Places in the Heart five years later.

Margaret Field is far less celebrated than her daughter, but she made a living as an actress, landing parts in nearly 100 TV programs and films. She had small roles in two significant movies — 1948’s The Big Clock starring Ray Milland and Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 romantic biblical drama Samson and Delilah. Field did lots of TV work with guest appearances on Bonanza, Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, and The Lone Ranger. But she is also remembered for her co-starring contribution to The Man From Planet X, a low-budget sci-fi movie from 1951 that actually scores 100 percent from critics at Rotten Tomatoes.

American Beauties, 1944 (R59)

Pin-Up girls were a big part of the culture during World War II, often depicted on the nose of military aircraft. These idealized images of young women are no longer are considered appropriate, but in their era they were popular enough that Gum Inc. published a 1944 set of 24 unnumbered cards whose titles often had military undertones, such as “Forced Landing” or “Ankles Aweigh.” The cards were primarily distributed in packs of 12 (for 5 cents) but also were available in uncut panels of 9 cards. The collection’s artwork was used by other printers on blotters, notepads, and the like.

The artist who created the American Beauties cards was Gil Elvgren who was born in 1914 in St. Paul, Minnesota and graduated from Chicago’s American Academy of Art at the age of 22 during the Great Depression. He used oil paints on 30 x 24 inch canvases and was so popular he became known as "the Norman Rockwell of pin-ups.” His clients included Coca Cola, General Electric, and the Sealy Mattress Company and his work appeared in The Saturday Evening Post and Good Housekeeping. The models he used included Donna Reed, Lola Albright, Arlene Dahl, and Kim Novak.

Television and Radio Stars of the NBC, (R701-14, R701-15)

Don Herbert (1917-2007) studied English and science at La Crosse State Teachers College in Wisconsin but also enjoyed drama. He once acted opposite Nancy Davis, the future Nancy Reagan, in summer stock. Herbert eventually found a path that allowed him to combine his passion for science and his ability to perform in front of an audience, creating the program Watch Mr. Wizard in 1951 for WMAQ-TV, the NBC affiliate in Chicago. The program became nationally syndicated, and for four decades Herbert was America’s TV science teacher, entertaining and inspiring young people to enter the field.

By 1956, according to the New York Times, there were 5,000 Mr. Wizard Science Clubs with membership of more than 100,000. David Letterman, who grew up watching Mr. Wizard, had Herbert as a guest on his first late-night episode. When Herbert died at age 89 in 2007, Bill Nye the Science Guy paid tribute, saying, he “helped create the United States’ first generation of homegrown rocket scientists just in time to respond to Sputnik. He sent us to the moon. He changed the world.” The Rockefeller University science research center once asked applicants what inspired them to get into science, and more than half of them wrote: Mr. Wizard.



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Story text above written by Jeff Faraudo.