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Monday, December 11 Local

‘Beetle Bailey’ creator includes civilian in comic strip for good cause

STAMFORD — Stewart Jacobson broke down in tears in July when he received a letter.

It was from Mort Walker, the longtime Stamford resident whose “Beetle Bailey” comic strip is the oldest to still be produced by its original creator.

Walker is 94 years old, and his comic is nearly 70, but in all that time it was rare for Walker to include a regular civilian or cause into the strip. He said he doesn’t like to use it as an “editorial device;” all he’s looking to do is make people laugh.

But with Jacobson, he felt in the giving spirit this holiday season, not just for his longtime friend, but for children who might read his work.

“I don’t usually promote any activity, but I do think what he’s doing is worth promoting,” Walker said during a phone interview Friday.

Jacobson is an author, producer and humanitarian for Toys for Tots. His efforts are special enough to Walker that he wrote Jacobson, 68, into one of his latest comics that will be published on Sunday.

“It is indeed a pleasure to know of your continued efforts to support the Toys for Tots program, as you have graciously done for more years than I can recall,” Walker’s letter to Jacobson stated. “...I continue to support your mission and now, so do my characters in Beetle Bailey!”

In a phone interview Thursday from his home in Florida, Jacobson, a fast-and-smooth-talker who is originally from the Bronx, N.Y., called the comic strip the “Pulitzer or Oscar” of what he’s done for Toys for Tots.

“What Mort has done is solidified what I’ve done for 35 years,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson described himself as a true patriot, someone who’s appreciated America since he was a young child and “loves saluting the flag.”

So it was no surprise that he was noticeably giddy at the prospect of being in Walker’s long-running American comic strip, which alludes to a character by the name of “Colonel Jacobson” and his Toys for Tots campaign.

The two met in the ‘70s while Jacobson was a salesman for Panasonic in college at the State University of New York at Fredonia. Walker got in touch with him one day because he wanted to treat his parents to Panasonic equipment. It was the beginning of a decades-long friendship.

But while being featured in “Beetle Bailey” is high on Jacobson’s list of rare accomplishments, his work has brought him experiences few can imagine.

Among the most notable is when Jacobson and his wife, Linda, attended the 1995 Academy Awards. They were backstage where the winners have their trophies engraved, and Lizzy Gardiner, who had won for costume design that year, accidentally left her trophy behind.

“You go and take it to her,” Jacobson told his wife. “I’ve held plenty of those.”

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Jacobson and his wife were allowed to take the trophy to Gardiner in the audience. Out of all the winners in the crowd that night, Linda Jacobson felt like the biggest one of all.

“When Linda turned around and walked back to me, she gave me one of the greatest, emotional smiles,” Jacobson said. “That’s true love. She realized she can’t thank me enough.”

At this, Jacobson began to cry over the phone.

His wife died of cancer on Feb. 10, 2009 — one day after Jacobson’s birthday.

“She held on not to die on my birthday,” Jacobson said through tears.

Eight years later, Jacobson received that letter from his good friend Walker, but those tears were ones of joy.

tclark@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2265; @TravClark2

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