Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Duke of Bovina and Butter for Camelot

From February 7 through April 22, 1944 the syndicated comic strip “Oaky Doaks” ran a story concerning the lack of butter in Camelot and the attempts to purchase it from the Duke of Bovina. The connection of butter and Bovina does not seem like a coincidence. Whoever wrote this script must have heard about the fame that Bovina butter once had, but I have yet to track down the source. Oaky Doaks was nationally syndicated. distributed by the Associated Press and illustrated by Ralph Fuller and scripted by William McCleery. The strip ran from 1935 to 1961. The main character, Oaky Doaks, was a well-meaning farm boy who had fashioned a suit of armor from the tin roof of a shed. Riding his father’s plow horse, Nellie, they had a series of adventures.

Here are the first three strips in the story line concerning butter and the Duke of Bovina (I apologize that the second strip is somewhat hard to read).

The story starts with King Arthur, while having hotcakes at breakfast, discovering that there is no butter in the kingdom, causing the king to say “Egad! Another Crisis!” The next strip first brings up the Duke of Bovina as the supplier of butter in the city. The duke is noted as having “a whole swarm” of cows. The king summons the duke to explain the lack of butter. The duke, when told to kneel before his king instead sits down on the floor and explains that he needs money so he’s doubling the price. The king is furious, charging that the duke is blackmailing the kingdom. It is suggested that the King summon Lady Merry Darey of South Jersey to see if she’ll make a better offer. While waiting for Lady Merry, the duke is put up in the castle, refusing to sleep on the bed, curling up on a table instead.

Oaky Doaks is sent out of Camelot to meet Lady Merry’s coach. Lady Merry is attracted to Doaks. When she arrives in Camelot and meets the king she kisses him too. He explains the situation and that he will sign a contract with either the Duke of Bovina or with Lady Merry to supply butter for Camelot. Lady Merry is thrilled to hear that the Duke is a ruthless man and wants to meet him. When he comes in Lady Merry is immediately smittened and shortly after are betrothed. The king is upset, seeing the engagement as combining against him. While talking about this with the Duke and Lady Merry a brick comes through the window. They see a large crowd demanding “We Want Butter!” The king tells the duke that the crowd will be upset if they find out that he is responsible for the butter famine. The duke, in fear of his life, flees back to Bovina, leaving an upset Lady Merry behind. The king tries to get terms for Lady Merry’s butter but she refuses, not wanting to put the duke out of business.

The mob continues to throw bricks, demanding butter. The king wants to go out and read them the riot act but Oaky Doaks suggests he better go instead. Doaks announces to the crowd that the king is sending him to the Duke of Bovina “to butter – I mean better relations – and get butter!” He asks if the crowd supports him and one protester says “If ye bring back the butter!!”

So Oaky heads to Bovina, welcomed by the sign “You are entering the province of Bovina, Land of Milk and HONEYS! Let us Whip Your Cream.” While stopping for lunch, he is threatened from a voice in the bushes. He gets out his sword and slashes through the bushes, cutting the dress of a milkmaid. She promptly draws a pitchfork and tells him to put up his hands. Doaks explains his mission to get butter from the Duke of Bovina. The woman says he better run or the duke will wring his neck. Doaks says his duty is to get butter, even to the death. Several other milkmaids come out with pitchforks. The women explain that they are Milkmaid’s Local 42 and that they have orders to kill any men on the Duke of Bovina’s property because they are a disturbing influence on the milkmaids. When he tells them they are so pretty they all blush.

Doaks is escorted by the milkmaids to the Duke of Bovina, riding their cows. They arrive at the duke’s, where Doaks discovers he lives in a barn. The duke recognizes Doaks, who then explains that he is there about the butter. The duke cannot read the contract that Doaks brings, nor can he sign it. Instead, he says Doaks can supply entertainment that is needed to keep the milkmaids contented, so he’s put into a ring with a bull. The milkmaids can’t watch because they don’t want to see Doaks get killed. The bull knocks Doaks out of the ring and onto the waiting milkmaids. Doaks goes back in the ring and throws the bull into a tree. The cows break down the fence of the ring and form a line to protect the bull.

The milkmaids are very impressed by Doaks and want to go back to Camelot with him so they can tell folks “how brave an’ kind yo’ are.” The duke accuses Doaks of trying to take away his milkmaids. Doaks says he’ll do that unless the duke signs the “contract to supply the kingdom with good, cheap butter.” The duke signs with an ‘x.’

Meanwhile, Doaks horse Nellie has come back to Camelot and finds Lady Merry, “brokenhearted by the Duke’s desertion.” Lady Merry asks the horse if she has seen the duke and she shakes her head no. Lady Merry thinks the duke may be dead. She realizes it’s a way to get to Bovina, so she rides away on the horse.

In the meantime, the Duke of Bovina goes into production to supply King Arthur’s kingdom with butter. He admits that he’s unhappy that he ran away from Lady Merry, giving her the idea that he loved his cows more than her. Doaks agrees to help, but when he calls for his horse Nellie, she appears with Lady Merry riding. Lady Merry and the Duke rush into each other’s arms.

The March 29 panel is the last time we see the Duke of Bovina, but the butter story isn’t quite done. As Doaks rides Nellie back to Camelot with the butter contract, an evil spell has hit Camelot. It’s a plague of bad tempers cast by a coven of witches. Doaks gets lost in the woods and encounters a witch. He’s taken to the conclave of witches where he encounters Hazel, their Queen. She is spreading the awful malady Grouchitis, but is excited when it is announced that Doaks has with him a pound of butter. The witches are excited to have butter but he refuses to give it to them, explaining that it is promised to the king. He won’t say where he’s hidden it so he’s put to the stake and the fire is lit. Doaks promises to tell them where the butter is if they put out the fire, but on condition that they lift the spell. The Queen disagrees but the witches break the spell anyway. When Doaks is convinced they have lifted the spell, he tells them the butter is hidden in one of the witches’ hats. Doaks comes back to King Arthur, explaining why he no longer has the butter, but has the contract and has gotten the spell lifted. The king is happy that he used it to lift the spell and plans to make Doaks a Knight, except it is explained that Doaks is already a knight. So instead he is invited to accompany the king on “a Royal Binge!”

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