Friday, December 16, 2022

A glimpse of Register history with Jim Sleeper

James Doren Sleeper in his office with a few old newspapers.

Local newspapers were one of the many significant interests of the late great Orange County historian Jim Sleeper. Old newspapers are, of course, among the most useful tools of the historian, but Jim took it even farther. He ran and indexed his own massive clipping files from every old Southern California newspaper he could get his hands on. Perhaps his greatest book, Turn the Rascals Out, was about an early local newspaper editor. Jim even published a few of his own little community newspapers from time to time, like the Canyon Wren. He also corresponded frequently with modern local journalists and editors – correcting their frequent historical errors and/or suggesting sources for future articles. 

And it turns out he was also a fan of the early Sunday color “funny papers.” This last point became clear to me when I helped clean out the Sleepers’ garage and found box after box of early full-color comic strip sections. Later, when we brought the remaining bits of his research library to the County Archives, even more old-time comic strips turned up -- tucked into books, boxes, etc.

And so it was with a smile of recognition that I came across a related item from Sleeper while I was processing a recently acquired collection: A fax sent by Jim to the Register’s Ombudsman, Dennis Foley, on Dec. 2, 1999:

Dear Dennis:

Last Sunday, the Millennium Moment [historical column], which hovers above your column each week like some foreboding seer, contained another historical clinker. As Ombudsman, I know you’re dying to correct the oversight.

The “Moment” in question concerned the first appearance of the Register’s Sunday edition and color comics wrap-around. The assertion was that “The Santa Ana Register was born in 1905, but didn’t publish on Sundays until 50 years ago, on Nov. 27, 1949."

The painful truth is that the first Sunday Register (also with wrap-around color comics) appeared twenty-two years before on Dec. 18, 1927! (See your paper’s microfilm.)

This roaring-twenties supplement was precipitated by the Register’s sale earlier in ’27 to its third owner, J. Frank Burke, a devout Democrat. Shortly after purchase, Burke optimistically installed a Sextuple Hoe Press capable of cranking out 24 pages an hour – sufficient to produce 48 pages for 36,000 subscribers. At the time, a 32-pager was a fat paper and the Register was hard pressed to muster 12,000 readers. 

Unhappily, Burke’s “Sunday sandbag” (as such editions came to be called) was short-lived. It expired on its 13th Sunday, a demise attributed to Orange County’s “churchiness,” an inadequate ad base and the dime-a-month increase it cost to cover the supplement.

When Burke sold to the Hoiles family in ’35 the county was little changed, but by 1949 the economic climate had brightened sufficiently to justify a lasting foray into Sunday journalism.

The citation of Jordana Milbauer’s “A Libertarian Dynasty: 1935-1987” as a bibliographic source for all this has no relevance whatsoever to “putting out the Sunday paper.” Her thesis was confined to the Hoiles’ editorial stance.

Excluding all copies of the paper’s missing first year (11-27-05 to 10-31-06), it’s microfilm runs are still the Register’s own best biographical resource. If the paper really wants to preserve local history, it might well begin by rereading and recovering some if its own!

Jim Sleeper


Phil Brigandi stumbling across a Sunday comics clipping among Sleeper's newspaper collections in 2012 (Author's photo)

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