I never thought it would happen to me. But now, I too, like millions of other Americans, have seen a beloved book series from my childhood cancelled by the woke mob.
The Amazement Boys books, written and illustrated by Skip Willups in the 1940s and 1950s, were never as popular as other adventure stories for young readers like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. But these plucky pre-teens from Horselip, Indiana, who put their heads together to solve crimes in between chores, schoolwork, and “mushy stuff” with local girls, had a fiercely loyal following, including my young self.
Like other famous kid sleuths, the Amazement Boys were full of what we used to call “pep” — the playful energy of the old-fashioned American boyhood, a cross between Andy Hardy and Chick Carter, Boy Detective — but never vulgar or disrespectful of their elders (though they did have a pea-shooter or two confiscated by Miss Crimple, their wary schoolteacher). Willups’ detailed illustrations beautifully caught the Boys’ youthful vigor and fun as well as their derring-do when tailing culprits like Jones the Radiator Thief or Bugsy the Pyro.
Willups produced thirty-six Amazement Boys books before succumbing to lung cancer in 1959; his sons Terry and Jim cranked out a few more — pretty good, but not a patch on the originals — and then settled on merchandising the franchise, creating new editions, lunchboxes, and even a short-lived TV series. Jim passed in 1986, but Terry has kept the flame alive, and when his daughter Mavis announced last year that the family business Amazement Enterprises was working on a special deluxe edition of all the Willups books and even a few rarities that had only been privately published before — and currently only available to rare book collectors — we longtime fans were over the moon, and counted the days until the Spring 2021 release.
Well, the wait is over — not because the edition has been published, but because it has been cancelled. And all because one of the Amazement Boys, Dingey, is not sufficiently politically correct for the cancel culture mob.
Never mind that the Amazement Boys were one of the few racially-integrated adventure teams in publishing, and that Dingey had some of the funniest lines in the series; I still remember howling with my buddies when Dingey volunteered to brave the lair of Sneetchy the White Slaver, saying, “Dat ol’ white slaver ain’t gwine ta mess wif me nohow, yassir! Y’all know what ah’m talkin’ ‘bout!”
And Dingey even caught the crook hisself — excuse me, himself; Dingey’s lingo is contagious! — in The Secret of Sam’s Outhouse, when he dropped a watermelon on Needles the Drug Peddler’s head and knocked him cold.
It might be claiming too much to call Dingey a role model, but it must have given young African-Americans of that time a sense of pride to see white people sharing in their pleasure at the achievements of Jackie Robinson and Ralph Bunche as well as the antics of Eddie “Rochester” Anderson and George Washington Grover Cleveland “Dingey” Alexander. Dingey was even popular in the Deep South, despite the Jim Crow laws at the time.
But in these days of Antifa and Black Lives Matter, when everyone has a chip on his shoulder, someone was bound to complain that Dingey’s behavior and dialect — as well as the large, rubbery lips with which Willups drew him, and the other Amazement Boys calling him by childish nicknames like “you dumb spook” and the “n” word — made him inappropriate for today’s P.C. book market.
Maybe you’re wondering why Amazement Enterprises couldn’t just make some changes — for instance, changing the outmoded expressions and the size of Dingey’s lips. I could even understand omitting entirely the “Dingey’s Surprise” rarity, done in the style of the old “Tijuana Bibles” and containing some ill-advised references and drawings that are certainly not the “kid stuff” we saw as children (though one could argue the story’s ending, in which Dingey is threatened with lynching for sharing his “surprise” with white women, teaches a valuable lesson about American history, much like the Confederate statues the social justice warriors love to tear down).
But thanks to the woke mob, we can’t even have our Amazement Boys in expurgated form: Mavis Willups has been forced by the P.C. police to issue a groveling statement, saying “it embarrasses me and my children to see this come out under our family name, and we’d just as soon forget the whole thing.”
Another childhood dream destroyed by cancel culture! What’s next, Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? (I bet liberals wouldn’t defend Mr. Yunioshi if he was trying to get into Harvard ahead of “Dingey”!) Where does the madness end?