Slam Bradley by Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster © DC Comics 1937
Although none have been quite as popular as their character in the blue tights and red cape, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created other comic book characters too. One was Slam Bradley, who debuted more than a year earlier. He appeared in the first issue of Detective Comics, more than two years before that title introduced another caped crusader in a bat mask, and remained as a regular feature for 12 years. Slam was a pre-superhero hero, a two-fisted private eye with a fondness for drink and dames, shown here taking on racist caricatures of Japanese thugs (sadly common in those days).
Unlike their more famous creation, which they developed on their own, Siegel and Shuster created Slam Bradley as “work for hire”, meaning that National Publications (as DC was known then) was legally considered the creator, rather than the actual creators. Under PD56 the copyright would have expired after 1993; as a corporate work it won’t enter the Public Domain until 2058.
Nineteen Eight-Four by George Orwell ©1949
Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of two great dystopian social-science-fiction novels by George Orwell (the other being Animal Farm. Although the title of the book (chosen without a lot of thought, by transposing two digits of the year in which it was written) would seemingly leave it looking hopelessly dated, the strength of the ideas – and perhaps the extent to which Orwell has proven prescient – have kept it current and still very cautionary.
Many elements of the book are already well established in the public domain: doublethink, thoughtcrime, and newspeak have (perhaps ironically) become part of the English language, and Big Brother is character/concept known to people who know nothing of the book itself. The book was published in 1949, and under PD56 would have become public domain after 2005.
But it did not, and in a case of life imitating fiction, copies of the book were quietly erased from the Kindle e-readers of Amazon customers who had purchased an edition that violated the Orwell estate’s copyright… much like the totalitarian government depicted in the book might have done with a book that was no longer politically correct.
The Glenn Miller Orchestra
One of Glenn Miller’s most lasting contributions to popular culture is “In the Mood”. It’s an instrumental jazz tune that most people will recognize, even if they don’t know the name… or even who the legendary trombonist and bandleader was. Although Miller arranged it and he and his orchestra produced the recording that made the tune a hit, Miller didn’t write it. Joe Garland and Andy Razaf are credited as writers, but they took the famous melody from a tune apparently written by Horace Henderson or Wingy Manone.
“In the Mood” is one of the greatest hits of the Big Band era. It begins with a spritely sax solo joined by horns, one that fairly beckons listeners to get up and run to the dance floor, where it greets them with a lilting, easily danceable melody that gets mixed up just a bit with a couple solos, leading to a climax at the end. It’s well-named, providing the perfect atmosphere to get party-goers of the 1930s and early 1940s (and any jazz lover since) “in the mood” for dancing (and maybe more).
The original melody dates to 1930 or earlier. The Glenn Miller Orchestra’s classic recording of it was made in 1939, meaning it would’ve entered the public domain in 1996. Miller died in World War 2, crossing the British Channel on a mission to entertain Allied troops in France in late 1944.
Annie, Daddy Warbucks, and Sandy, by Harold Gray ©1924
Little Orphan Annie is a classic comic strip, created by Harold Gray. Although commonly thought of today as a left-leaning product of the Great Depression era (especially since the Broadway musical adaptation, which reinterpreted it that way), it began during the boom years following World War 1, and took a stalwartly Hoover-era Republican view of society. Oliver Warbucks was (as his name was meant to indicate) a hard-working benevolent war profiteer, who took in a plucky orphan girl and invited her to call him “Daddy”. Accompanied by her faithful companion Sandy (a dog of indeterminate breed) Annie became an adventurer, often separated from her beloved capitalist foster father, but never for very long.
The strip began in 1924, continuing until its cancellation in 2010. In the 1970s, following Gray’s death it had lapsed production and ran reprinted strips from its glory days, but was revived in 1979 when the musical reignited interest. Under PD56, the copyright would have lapsed at the end of that year; it was narrowly revived itself the year before, when Congress extended copyrights to 75 years.