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Hazel, the Cartoon Maid Created by Ted Key, Takes the Stage in Her Own Musical

Hazel, the Cartoon Maid Created by Ted Key, Takes the Stage in Her Own Musical

During Ted Key’s nearly 96-
year life, the cartoonist saw his creations appear in
newspapers, magazines, books and movies, as well as on the
radio, television, Internet and walls of American workplaces.

Now, one will reach the stage.

Hazel, the bossy, wisecracking maid with a heart of gold, is the
title character in Hazel: A Musical Maid in America, which
premiers Wednesday, April 6, at the Drury Lane Theatre in
Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. The play features music by Ron Abel,
lyrics by Chuck Steffan and a book by Lissa Levin. It is directed
by Joshua Bergasse, stars Klea Blackhurst and will run through
May 20th.

Key created Hazel in 1943 for the Saturday Evening Post, a
general-circulation magazine that was published weekly by the
Philadelphia-based Curtis Publishing Co. until the late 1960s,
when financial troubles forced the company to publish it
biweekly instead. After Curtis filed for bankruptcy protection in
1969, Key began drawing six Hazel cartoons a week for King
Features Syndicate, which distributed them to newspapers.
Although Key retired from drawing Hazel in 1993 and died in
2008, King Features still distributes six Hazel cartoons a week
to newspapers. It also makes them available online.

Twelve collections of Hazel cartoons were published as books
from 1946 to 1982. Hazel also was made into a TV show that
ran in prime time from 1961 through 1966, earning its star,
Shirley Booth, two Emmy Awards. All five seasons of Hazel are available on DVDs from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
and Shout! Factory. Hazel also can be seen on Antenna TV.

Curtis was bought out of bankruptcy by the SerVaas family,
which moved it to Indianapolis, revived its magazines, and
began licensing its properties, including Norman Rockwell’s
Post cover illustrations.

Two other characters Key had a hand in creating are also
enjoying a comeback.

In 1959, Key was asked by his brother Len to come up with a
cartoon segment for a half-hour animated show being put
together by a childhood friend of Len’s. The show was “Rocky
and His Friends,” the friend was Jay Ward and the segment
became “Peabody’s Improbable History.”

DreamWorks Animation made a computer-animated movie
about the time-traveling dog and his boy, “Mr. Peabody and
Sherman,” that was released in 2014. It followed up with a
traditionally animated show with the same title that has been
available for streaming on Netflix since last October. Both the
movie and the show contain this credit: “Sherman and Peabody
are based on the characters and format created by Ted Key.”

Key’s other creations include:

• Three children’s books published in 1954, 1957 and 1960.
The last book, “The Biggest Dog in the World” was the only one
that Key illustrated. It became the basis for “Digby, the Biggest
Dog in the World,” a 1974 movie produced by Walter Shenson,
who is best known for producing the Beatles movies “A Hard
Day’s Night” and “Help!”

• The stories for three movies made by the Walt Disney Co. in
the 1970s — “The Million Dollar Duck,” “Gus,” and “The Cat
From Outer Space.” Key also wrote the screenplay for “Cat” and
turned it into a novel that was published in the United States,
Great Britain, France and Japan.

• Diz and Liz, a two-page, multi-panel cartoon about a boy and
girl that ran in Jack and Jill, Curtis’ monthly children’s
magazine, from 1961 through 1974. Some Diz and Liz
cartoons were reprinted in a 1964 coloring book and a 1966
children’s book. Key also wrote a 1965 Diz and Liz children’s
book that was illustrated by fellow cartoonist Colin Allen.

• Cartoons for two motivational products distributed biweekly
to businesses — Sales Bullets, which were pamphlets
containing tips on selling, and Positive Attitude Posters, which
consisted of an aphorism illustrated by a cartoon, usually
featuring children. Sales Bullets were published from 1959
through 1990 and Positive Attitude Posters were published
from 1965 through 2000. The posters can be found for sale
today on eBay and Etsy.

• General cartoons for magazines from the mid-1930s through
the 1960s. Three book collections of Key’s cartoons from The
Post were published in 1951, 1954 and 1967.

• “The Clinic,” a radio play that was broadcast in 1940, and
included in an anthology, “The Best Broadcasts of 1939-40,”
which was edited by Max Wylie, who selected it as the best
script by a new writer.

Key was born in Fresno, Calif., in 1912. He graduated from the
University of California, Berkeley with a major in art and a
minor in English in 1933. After two years in Los Angeles,
where he worked briefly as an animator and wrote a screenplay
for a W.C. Fields movie that Paramount Pictures Corp. was
willing to buy at one point, he moved to New York in 1935 and
began selling cartoons almost the moment he got off the bus.

Key wrote for radio from the late 1930s until he was inducted
into the Army in 1943. His last job in that capacity was staff
writer for J. Walter Thompson, where he filled the vacancy
created by the resignation of lyricist Alan Jay Lerner.

The Army relocated Key to Philadelphia and he remained in the
Philadelphia area until his death, living in a house in Valley
Forge, Pa., from 1951. Two of his sons, Peter and David still
reside in the Philadelphia area. His third son, Stephen, lives in
Providence, R.I.

A collection of Key’s drawings and papers can be found at
Syracuse University Libraries Special Collections Research

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