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J. Goldwater; Creator of Archie

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

To three generations of teen fans his name certainly wasn’t as familiar as those of the characters he created--Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie and Jughead. But John L. Goldwater, who died Friday at 83, was the key to their enduring popularity in Archie Comics, and they were his brainchildren.

Goldwater grew up an orphan in East Harlem, N.Y., before leaving to travel across the country, working odd jobs as he went. When he returned to New York several years later, he got a job loading magazines at the docks before going into the magazine business with two partners--Maurice Coyne and Louis Silbertkeit--to form MLJ magazines in 1941.

“Nobody was well known in comics in 1941 except Superman,” Goldwater once wrote. “Comic books were just in their formative stages as an industry.”

But Goldwater looked at Superman and saw a niche for another kind of character, whom average people could relate to. He once said he got the idea for his teen protagonist from “watching Andy Hardy movies” starring Mickey Rooney. His character became Archibald “Chick” Andrews, a carrot-topped, freckle-faced, stumble-footed teenager who first showed up in MLJ magazines’ Pep Comics No. 22 in December 1941.

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Betty Cooper, the girl next door who would rather fix cars than go shopping, and Jughead Jones, Archie’s best friend with the gargantuan appetite, also showed up in Pep No. 22. Months later, the fashionably correct Veronica Lodge and the prankster Reggie Mantle moved to Riverdale to join the mix. In the winter of 1942, Archie Comics No. 1 was born.

Archie was an instant success, and he and his friends have remained popular for nearly 60 years, hanging out at Pop Tate’s Chok’Lit Shoppe, heading for a drive in Archie’s beat-up red jalopy and driving high school principal Mr. Weatherbee and Miss Grundy crazy.

On the creative side, another key member of the team was artist Bob Montana, who drew the characters until his death in the early 1970s. Artists such as Dan DeCarlo brought Archie up to date, changing his checked pants to bluejeans and giving miniskirts to Betty and Veronica.

Goldwater once bridled at the idea that the artists were the real inspiration behind the series.

“Creativity is more than an idea or a concept,” Goldwater said. “It is development of the characters that will comprise the series--their individual characteristics, their weaknesses and strengths, their thoughts, their relationship to one another and anything and everything that makes them tick.”

The Archie comics spawned a cottage industry that moved into television with--over the last 30 years--"The Archie Show,” “The Archie Comedy Hour,” “Archie’s Funhouse,” “Archie’s TV Funnies,” “Everything’s Archie,” “The U.S. of Archie,” “The New Archie Sabrina Hour,” (Yes, “Sabrina the Teen-Age Witch” is an Archie Comics holding), “The Bang-Shang Lalapalooza Show” and “The New Archies.”

Today, Archie comics are published in more than 35 countries.

As for Goldwater, he ran Archie Comic Publications--the onetime MLJ Magazines--until his retirement in 1983. He was also national commissioner of the Anti-Defamation League and president of the New York Society for the Deaf from 1974 to 1977.

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In addition, he was the founder of the Comics Magazine Assn. of America.


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