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HOME > Biographical > 100 New Yorkers of the 1970s > WESTSIDER LEE FALK
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Creator of The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician


Who is the most widely read author in the world today?

Not counting Chairman Mao, whose quotations are required reading for one-fourth of the earth's population, the honor probably belongs to a dapper, soft-spoken man in his early 60s who could walk from his Westside apartment all the way to Times Square without being recognized. He is not a familiar figure on book jackets or talk shows because Lee Falk happens to be a comic strip writer. His two creations, The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician, are published in more than 500 newspapers in 40 countries. His daily readership: close to 100 million.

"One of the few places in the world where my strips don't run is in New York City," says Falk, leaning gently forward in his chair. "They ran in the New York Journal American for 25 years. That was the biggest afternoon paper in America until the newspaper strike, about 10 years ago. Then it folded, as did most of New York's papers; we were left with the Times, the Post, and the Daily News. But my strips do run in El Diario, the Spanish-language newspaper, and in the New York News World."

He arrived in New York from Missouri during the Great Depression,
while still in his teens, carrying a sample strip he had written and drawn.
King Features bought Mandrake the Magician and two years later added
The Phantom to their syndicate.

In the beginning, Falk did both the drawing and the writing himself. "Then for a long time I used to make rough sketches and give them to my artists," he recalls. "Now I just give a description of each panel. I might say 'close-up' or 'long shot' like you do in a film. Then I put in the dialogue. … Some of my early artists are dead. They've gone on to their reward — to that big bar up in the sky, where all artists go. … Now there's one group drawing my strips on Long Island, and another one on Cape Cod. Very often I don't see them from one year to the next. Collaboration works best that way."

Since giving up his drawing pad, Falk has increased his literary output many times over. Besides doing all the writing for his strips for the past 40-odd years — which now takes up but a small part of his time — he has written five novels and a dozen plays. He owns five theatres; he has directed about 100 plays and produced 300. None of his own dramatic works has been a big commercial success, although one is currently doing well in Paris. Then there was the comedy that he co-authored with a young American he met in Rome just before World War II. "It almost made it to Broadway," says Falk. "It was redone about two years ago on the We............
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