Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Nurse Romance Stories: Teen Secret Diary 11 - "Nurse Betsy Crane"

Charlton's Teen Secret Diary 11 is a key issue in the flowering of the medical romance genre. It is the first such comic in that early 60s 'explosion' triggered by the success of television series like Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey (Dell comic book versions of which followed later, after this sub-genre was established by Charlton). Although she's a stereotypical red-head in this story, Betsy must have dyed her hair, because in subsequent issues she's shown with black hair. Approximately 20% of nurses depicted in romance and war comics from the late 40s through the early 60s are redheads, far exceeding the incidence of red hair in the population, suggesting a stereotype possibly originating with a period earlier in the 20th Century during which Irish nurses were well-represented amongst nursing recruits. Charlton perhaps reconsidered the color of Betsy's hair as they prepared to launch their next nurse romance title, Cynthia Doyle Nurse in Love, with Cynthia remaining a redhead throughout the series.

Nurses in these early 60s romance comics are beginning to display characteristics of the liberated woman of later in the decade. Betsy is independent, capable, and intelligent. She is able to read situations better than the doctor she is the 'handmaiden' to. But the narrative on the splash page really captures the stereotype of Betsy's generation of nurses in a nutshell. Nursing is an occupation for women, and their female characteristics merge with their professional identity such that the two are inseparable.

Betsy, and a twist of fate, brought the doctor back from the depths of despair to resume his valuable career. Elsewhere in this comic there's a nursing recruitment ad, which presents an image of nurses congruent with that promoted by this and other nurse comic book stories of the time.

Charlton changed the title of the series to Nurse Betsy Crane with issue 12. It was the first and longest running medical romance series in comics, ending with issue 27. Charlton also reprinted the Betsy Crane stories in the five issue series Soap Opera Romances, one of the last titles in the romance genre, from July 1982 through March 1983.

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