Ellis Parker: the lost Dolan brother?

Posted by Matt Kuhns on May 15, 2013

This is almost certainly coincidence. But it’s something of an amusing coincidence, I think. I recently purchased several back issues of the late Will Eisner’s classic comic strip, The Spirit (it was adapted into a ridiculous-looking action movie a few years ago). I’ve been acquainted with The Spirit for a number of years, but as I read through these latest acquisitions, I was struck by the odd resemblance of Police Commissioner Dolan to someone else I’ve gotten to know through extensive reading…

Photos of Ellis Parker and drawings of Commissioner Dolan

Dolan’s the one in the bottom row (Parker photos courtesy William Fullerton)

One Spirit story memorably sends the title character along with Dolan to the Dolan clan’s western hometown, where half the population appears to be a ringer for the commish. Now, I’m almost left wondering if Ellis Parker wasn’t another branch of the same tree.

I’m not entirely sure how well I can convey the resemblance with a few images; there’s certainly no one pairing of photo and illustration which just knocks one over with similarity. But I think there’s an unmistakable impression of kinship after one views a number of images of each man.

To whatever extent there is, it’s as noted almost certainly coincidence. I had to indulge a certain measure of speculation in trying to round out the lives of sometimes thinly-documented persons in my book, and I love continuing that speculation on this blog, but more than likely the visual similarities between Doyle and Parker were unintentional. I say almost certainly because the origins of The Spirit strip leave me with a sliver of doubt: The Spirit, and Commissioner Dolan, debuted in 1940. Right around the time that Ellis Parker’s extradition battle and trial for kidnapping charges would have been frequently in the news, at least in the New York area where Eisner just happened to live. It’s at least possible that a photo of Parker left an impression on Eisner that resurfaced, if only unconsciously, in the creation of Dolan.

Probably not, though. The circumstances of Parker’s notoriety at the time, alone, would make him a curious model. More likely, the visual resemblance between the two is probably just a consequence of Dolan being a type, of which Parker was a real-life example. The nearly bald, grizzled oldtimer constantly puffing away on a pipe. Eisner filled The Spirit with many such archetypes (some of which now seem more like stereotypes, in fact). I imagine the explanation of Dolan’s visual origins is no more complicated than that.

Any further curiosity about his resemblance to Parker can be accounted for their cultural proximity: both were hardy old cops of similar vintage in the urban American northeast. They both wear similar circa-1940 suits because they were both professional men of the 1940s, etc.

Still, a funny little coincidence.

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