By Jim Shepherd
The date of the Phantom’s successful proposal to Diana Palmer is clearly established as the 26th of June, 1943 and the date of Diana’s change of heart is also clear, the 13th of July, 1943!
It was a long wait before everything was finally resolved and the famous couple finally married… the date was officially the 24th of November, 1977 some 34 years after the scene depicted on the title page of the story!
Curiously, Lee Falk neglected to bestow an official title on the story. In all previous printings, Frew called it The Phantom’s Engagement, but mainly for record purposes. In some overseas editions it appeared under the title, The Proposal.
Whatever title Lee had in mind, the story was his 18th daily, running from the 24th of May until the 24th of July, 1943 and immediately followed Bent Beak Broder. Understandably, many researchers have been thrown by Frew printings after the first appearance in edition number 34 in 1951. For some unaccountable reason, all reprints began with a selection of panels from Bent Beak Broder, a story which has no connection with The Phantom’s Engagement! The reason Diana is in a wheelchair relates to injuries she suffered in the story The Phantom Goes To War in which Byron played a major role.
There is one very curious quote in The Phantom’s Engagement. At one point Uncle Dave calls Diana’s mother ‘Evie’. Her mother’s name is, as we all know, Lily! Not so much curious, but vaguely interesting is the appearance of Karna, Prince of the Ismani Tribe, to pledge their loyalty to the Phantom at the seventh moon. As The Phantom’s Engagement was running in daily newspapers, the story The Ismani Cannibals was running in the Sunday papers!
The ‘seventh moon’ subplot was a neat idea at the time, but faded out of Phantom history.
Phantom researchers can be forgiven for feeling a little confused if they check Frew edition numbers 131, 226, 357, 515 and 741 against Frew’s first complete printing in number 1154. All those editions were edited. In number 131, one panel was replaced and for some strange reason most panels were extended vertically. In all printings after number 131, six more panels were deleted.
When Frew first published The Phantom’s Engagement, the printing was in landscape format with the staples on the short, vertical side. This type of production finally ceased in 1952, much to the relief of enthusiasts who preferred the current, more traditional layout approach.
Some more interesting history linked to The Phantom’s Engagement. In Lee Falk’s 1959 daily story, The Betrothal (also illustrated by Wilson McCoy) there is a flashback to Engagement when the Phantom, on the verge of proposing to the wheelchair-bound Diana is suddenly summoned back to the jungle to help sort out a promised marriage scenario between members of the Llongo and Wambesi tribes, a scenario which is on the verge of starting a tribal war!