A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fightingS

During the Golden Age of comics, before the rise of the Comics Code Authority, crime was king. Newsstands were filled with lurid titles like Gangsters and Gun Molls, Prison Riot, Murder, Inc., Murderous Gangsters and their equally lurid covers. As obscure as some of these comics were, even more obscure was the one called Velda: Girl Detective. What set Velda apart from the other crime comics of the era is that the title character was based on a real person.*

Photo from Velda's Detective Files

* PLEASE NOTE THAT VELDA IS A WORK OF FICTION AND THAT THIS ARTICLE IS A PARODY. THANK YOU. -Ed.

There were many crime comics that featured female protagonists. Some are legendary in their own right and are almost as well known today as they were 60 years ago, featuring characters such as Miss Fury and Phantom Lady. There were also Lady Masque, Invisible Scarlet O'Neill, Claire Voyant and the Woman in Red.

But only Velda's adventures were real. Lasting barely half a dozen issues, Velda was published by a poverty row outfit called Black Cat Comics, which was also responsible for titles such as Tommy Tiddles: Toddler T-Man and Rubbo, the Human Eraser.

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fighting

No one could have been more surprised than Velda Bellinghausen herself when the little known ex-burlesque queen-cum-private eye became nationwide news and one of the earliest multimedia celebrities...ephemeral as that fame was. Born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 8, 1923, Velda said in a 2003 interview that her father, Roald M. Bellinghausen, was an officer with the New York Police Department. Her mother, Judith (neé Toth), operated a buttonholing machine at the Superior Never-Chafe Ladies Discreet Undergarment factory in the garment district of Manhattan. "In 1932, Dad made the Homicide Squad, which made things a lot better for us. And I entered kindergarten that year. My formal education began the following year when I entered PS 101. I was never a great student, but I did OK." Sadly, the young girl's mother passed away in 1934, the hapless victim of a freak donut explosion.

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fighting

Velda bravely took over the household chores in the absence of a father who was worshiped but seldom at home. In spite of the hardship, Velda managed to graduate from high school in 1940, "124th out of a class of 132—which isn't so bad, I guess. At any rate it was better than Ralph Belarsky, who was number 132." She spent the summer following graduation working at a soda fountain, then enrolled in the Ajax Business School where she decided to major in stenography.

But if she dreamed of a career in the offices of a large insurance company or farm machine wholesaler her hopes were dashed by the tragic death of her father. The passing of Homicide Detective 2nd Class Roald Bellinghausen in 1943 was "a real mess" for the twenty-year-old girl. Not the least of which was the scandal that surrounded the shoot-out in which her father had died. "That son-of-a-bitch DA [King Noorvik, who held that office until the events following the Sline murder case in 1953] was deep in some rotten business. He was so eager to cover it up that he ruined Dad's name to save his own dirty neck."

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fighting

With her father's name and record blackened, Velda was denied virtually all the benefits due to her. "I had no choice but to drop out of school and get a job." She quickly found work as a typist at A. Saperstein's Music Publishing Co. and Nonpareil Talent Agency on Varick St. Meanwhile, she moved from the modest home in which she had grown up to a one room apartment over a Chinese laundry in Greenwich Village. This saved her both rent and carfare, since Saperstein's was located only a few blocks away. She had been working for the music publisher and talent agent for a year when she met Maxim Slotnik, the impressario behind Slotnik's Follies. Maxim had inherited the theater several years earlier from his father, Rudolf Slotnik, and had promptly converted it from a seedy, failing, third-string vaudeville theater to a seedy, profitable, third-string burlesque house.

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fighting

He had come into Saperstein's looking for a new trombonist when his eye was struck by the statuesque beauty busily tapping away on her Smith-Corona at a contract for a comedy dancing horse act. At that time, the twenty-one-year-old Velda Bellinghausen had achieved her full adult height of six feet. During her teenage years she had always been shy about being so tall. "Being a head over just about every guy in high school had never done much for my self-esteem," she said much later, "let alone getting asked out on dates. Nor did being built along the same lines as two yards of string." But nature had recently done some interesting things with those two yards and Slotnik immediately offered the astonished typist a place in his chorus line. "I didn't know from beans about dancing or anything. In fact, I can hardly walk across a room without hurting myself. But it was for more money in a week than I made in whole month at Saperstein's, so what could I have said but yes? Besides, I was always the tall, gawky, skinny girl who never got any dates in school, so I guess I was plenty flattered, too."

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fightingS

It must have been a jolt to those old classmates who'd laughed at the idea of asking the class string bean out for a soda and a movie when they saw the headliner at Slotsky's Follies. In the half dozen years she was on Maxim's stage, Velda worked her way up from anonymous chorine to star with her name blazing across the marquee (as "Velda B", however, at Maxim's insistence, to save what would have been a not inconsiderable investment in 75-watt bulbs).

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fighting

By 1949, Velda had gotten "sick and tired" of burlesque, "which I could really see had no future as a career." She was weary of "shedding feathers", as he put it, twice nightly and four times on weekend matinees. Too, wondering what her father would think about what she had been reduced to doing bothered her to a considerable degree. "Probably rolling over in his grave," she said, "though I think he might have liked Olivia Duvall and her Peeping Pigeons."

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fightingS

One day, while eating her customary luncheon cheeseburger, she happened to notice an advertisement on the inside of a discarded matchbook cover. It was for the Hawkshaw Detective Correspondence School. Intrigued, she sent in her twenty dollars and in a few weeks the first of the books began arriving. A year later, she received her private investigator's license. "That was a big day, I can tell you!" Maxim Slotksy, as she tells it, nearly had a stroke when she quit, but she never looked back. Finding a tiny place for an office, she hung up her shingle and waited for her first client.

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fighting

Not many cases came Velda's way in the first several months of her practice. "Money wasn't exactly rolling in like I'd thought it would. Maybe," she admits, "it was because I kept taking on too many jobs that didn't pay." She was forced to close her office and move her business to her apartment in the Zenobia Arms on Pith Street in the Village.

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fightingS

Her big break came with cracking the notorious Sline Murder Case—a feat that did not bring her much in the way of remuneration, but did have two payoffs: it eventually put the skids under the career of her nemesis, New York City DA King Noorvik, and it made Velda news coast-to-coast—to say nothing of the satisfaction of having saved a teenage girl from the electric chair. After all, when was the last time the newspapers, tabloids and newsreels had a beautiful ex-stripper detective to pose for their cameras? All the top true detective magazine covered her story and she even appeared on the cover of Life.

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fightingS

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fighting

Eventually, the story of the Sline Case became the subject of a book (Velda) and, in turn, a motion picture. This was G-Girl, featuring Lizbeth Scott as Velda.

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fightingS

The latter inspired a short-lived television series—Girl Detective (with Maxine Cooper in the title role). Although it only lasted a single season it was one of the first television crime dramas to feature a female protagonist. Spin-off followed spin-off, with, among other things, Velda paper dolls, cocktail glasses, jigsaw puzzles, dress patterns, a Big Little Book, calendars and even a short-lived radio series. But most importantly to this history, there was a series of comic books.

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fighting

When publisher Felix Undershot began looking for a title to bolster the sagging Black Cat line of comics, he thought he'd found the answer to his prayers in Velda Bellinghausen. To his astonishment and pleasure, he discovered that no one had yet approached her about obtaining her endorsement for a new comic book title that would bear her name. Even though public interest in her may have been on the decline, Undershot was certain that she was still a viable commodity in the comic book market. Velda's only caveat was that each issue feature at least one story based on one of her real-life cases. Art and writing chores were assigned to veteran comic book creator Raoul Molnar, whose previous work for Black Cat included Amoeba Man, Tapir Boy and many other titles dear to the hearts of Golden Age collectors. At the time he had been contacted by Undershot, Molnar had his own art shop—the "factory" he called it—where a team of artist/writers produced comic books for a number of publishers, including Black Cat.

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fighting

Undershot, a veteran of World War II, understood two things immediately: the love GIs had for pinups and the love artists had for drawing pinups. He had already made several attempts at exploiting this knowledge with titles such as Woolah, Queen of the Tundra and Neolithica—Girl of the Pleistocene (who lived on as a filler in the Velda comics). Although these had not done as well as he'd hoped, Undershot still had faith in his idea and had been looking for a new leggy, curvaceous heroine who wore form-fitting clothes with a lot of décolletage. When he saw the coverage Velda Bellinghausen had been getting on the covers of detective and adventure magazines, he saw immediately where his fortune lay. Or at least so he thought. Unlike many comic book heroes and heroines who began their careers as sidelines in other titles, Velda from the very beginning had her own book. Every issue was written and drawn by Molnar (with Hawkshaw Hawk, Neolithica and others contributed by Farnsworth Standpipe and other veterans of Molnar's "factory").

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fighting

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fighting

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fighting

Although starting off well with the first book, published in January, 1954, Velda struggled along for only a scant seven or eight issues, finally being done in by the advent of the Comics Code Authority, who objected not only to the violence in the stories but Velda's propensity for losing her clothing at the least excuse, the final straw being an adventure set in a nudist colony.

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fighting

Although Undershot tried to revive the character a couple of years later as a schoolteacher who secretly doubled as trouble-seeking society page news reporter, it was clear that the franchise had run its course. (There was apparently an abortive attempt to syndicate a daily newspaper strip. Girl Detective, which ran for a few months in half a dozen papers, and which was clearly based on the comic book character.)

A heroine who went from burlesque dancing to crime fightingS

Black Cat Comics did not long survive the demise of its star title—a demise hastened by Undershot's indictment for smuggling pornographic pachenko machines from Uruguay—and for more than half a century his greatest achievement, Velda: Girl Detective, existed only in the memories of those aging fans who fondly remembered gazing lovingly at their favorite heroine as she combated crime in her trademark capri pants and pageboy haircut.

Some of this article is excerpted with permission from the forthcoming book, The Complete Velda.