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Fontaine Fox and Toonerville Trolley

It wasn’t long ago that Louisvillian Fontaine Fox was in newspapers across the country. A cartoonist, Fox delighted readers with unique and whimsical drawings and hilarious stories of the “Toonerville Folks” in a comic strip also known as the Toonerville Trolley.

Born in 1884, Fox started his cartooning career at the Louisville Herald, dropping out of Indiana University to pursue it full-time. By 1908, he was drawing a series of daily cartoons for the Chicago Evening Post. Eventually, his work was syndicated nationwide.

In 1913, Fox’s comic strip was permanently named Toonerville Folks. Many believe it was based on his experiences with people in Louisville. In addition to a squiggly drawing style and a unique point of view, Toonerville had the largest cast of characters ever seen in a comic strip—53 in all. By the 1930s, Toonerville was appearing in some 300 newspapers. It also made it to the silver screen in both live-action and animated forms.

When Fox retired in 1955, the comic was retired as well. Forty years later, in 1995, Toonerville was honored in a U.S. postage stamp series.

When not drawing comics, Fox was an author and avid golfer, winning several tournaments. Both the Filson Club and Indiana University have collections on this accomplished native Louisvillian.

A few more facts about Fontaine Fox:

  • Fox wrote three books, Fontaine Fox’s Funny Folk (1917), Fontaine Fox’s Cartoons (1918), and The Toonerville Trolley and Other Cartoons (1921), and illustrated several others, most notably Ring Lardner’s Own Your Own Home (1919).
  • The Toonerville neighborhood, nicknamed for the Toonerville Trolley that ran along Brook Street from 1915 to 1930, was the inspiration for the nationally syndicated cartoon and is one of Old Louisville’s best-kept secrets.
  • Between 1920 and 1922, 17 Toonerville silent film comedy adaptations were scripted by Fox for Philadelphia’s Betzwood Film Company. Only seven of those 17 shorts still exist. Four are preserved in the Betzwood Film Archive at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, PA.
  • Mickey McGuire, Toonerville’s town bully, was the focus of a long-running series of comedy shorts. Between 1927 and 1936, Mickey Rooney starred as McGuire in more than 55 of them. Rooney (born Joe Yule Jr.) even adopted the professional name Mickey McGuire for a time before finally settling on the last name Rooney.
  • The first of several Van Beuren Studios animated cartoons adapted from Fox’s syndicated panels was released by RKO on January 17, 1936. Some of them became available on DVD from Image Entertainment in 1999.
  • Toonerville also launched several merchandising efforts, including cracker boxes, gum wrappers, and a variety of toys.
Program 114
TV trivia answer man David Inman, historic Farmington, local rock schools, and Rev. Dr. Kevin W. Cosby of St. Stephen Church. (#114)