Scudder Middleton, New Yorker Cartoonists Hand-Holder and More

Posted on 1st May 2013 in News

 

 

 

 

Does the name Scudder Middleton mean anything to you?  It meant a little something to me, but no so much…until recently when I decided to look a little deeper into his association with The New Yorker’s art department.

 

I’d seen his name on memos while sifting through the magazine’s archives in The New York Public Library, and recalled that Lee Lorenz, in his book The Art of The New Yorker, mentioned Middleton as an early artists hand-holder.  Mostly though,  Middleton was in my brain because of the following passage I remembered  from Thurber’s Years With Ross:

 

In the early thirties, Scudder Middleton, then the official handholder, was emboldened one night at the Players Club to say to Ross, How am I doing at the office?” and Ross, emboldened by Scotch, snapped, “You’re fired!”

 

 

It is Middleton’s role, however brief, as artists hand-holder that has landed him here on Ink Spill.

 

Lee Lorenz, The New Yorker’s Art Editor from 1973 through 1993, and Cartoon Editor from 1993 through 1997, recently told me in a phone interview  that the job of artists hand-holder back in the magazine’s earliest days was really no more than dealing with cartoonists who the Art Editor did not want to interact with. The hand-holder would relay the bad news to cartoonists that they hadn’t sold a drawing, or the good news that they had (along with instructions for required changes to the drawing before it was finally accepted).

 

Judith Lee in her well researched book, Defining New Yorker Humor wrote that archival material suggests Middleton acted as artist hand-holder while Katharine White was away in the Spring/Summer of 1929.  As Ms. White did leave New York  in the Spring of 1929 to obtain a divorce in Reno, the suggestion fits. It would seem that this moment also marked the beginning of Ms. White’s fade from her hand-holder duties. Middleton was the first of her assistants to be given the job (but not the first New Yorker staffer to have the job).  With Middleton’s departure,  hand-holding duties were turned over to another of White’s assistants, Wolcott Gibbs (Ms. White retained a working relationship with Peter Arno and Helen Hokinson and perhaps a few other high profile artists).

 

Middleton’s hand-holding days didn’t produce much to write about (I only came across one story of an interaction he had with a cartoonist – it’s not worth repeating here). What I did find interesting was his pre and post New Yorker history.  Thankfully,  Middleton’s  New York Times obit fills out his days following Ross’s “You’re fired!”

 

After leaving  The New Yorker,  Middleton  blossomed as an editor, working first at Stage, from 1935 through 1940, then at Tomorrow Magazine for a couple of years, then at New Movies (later renamed Films in Review).

 

A few interesting tidbits found among the New Yorker biographies, especially Harrison Kinney’s massive biography, Thurber, His Life and Times:

 

Kinney writes that Middleton, after assuming his new job at Stage, attempted to lure New Yorker writers away by offering them more money (a small irony here is that both The New Yorker and Stage were partially financed by Raoul Fleischmann).

Kinney also refers to correspondence between E.B. White and Thurber about a proposed jointly written play about Harold Ross and The New Yorker.  White says in his letter to Thurber, the book would “…have to include Scudder Middleton…”

Lastly, it would be unthinkable to leave Middleton without mentioning that he was a published poet, with at least one affair with a Big Name. Edna St. Vincent Millay  dedicated her poem “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed” to Middleton, and said of him, he was “ a poet with the romantic profile of a matinee idol.”

 

Middleton died at age 70,  February 26, 1959.  At the time he was a resident of Boston. Here’s a list of his published work, all still available in one form or another:

Upper Night (Henry Holt & Co., 1927)

Streets and Faces (Little book Publishers, 1917)

The New Day (Macmillan Co., 1917)

Dining, Wining and Dancing in New York (Dodge Publishing Co. 1938)

To read more on The New Yorker’s Art Meeting, here’s a link to Ink Spill’s “Posted Notes” section.  Scroll down to February 2012.

E.B. White’s Lady is Cold Cover Surprise

Posted on 3rd January 2013 in News

 

 

 

This morning’s outside temperature of 8 degrees made me think of the cover of The Lady is Cold,  E.B. White’s first book, published in 1929. I knew of the book — a collection of his poetry published in The New Yorker and FPA’s column, The Conning Tower – because I’ve had the cover image on my desktop for months thinking I’d someday include it in a piece called  “Books I Wish I Had.”

 

Preparing this post I stumbled upon a nice surprise while conducting online research as well as looking through Scott Elledge’s wonderful biography of White.

 

White’s book’s title and cover art refers to the statue of Pomona, the goddess of abundance, that sits atop a tiered fountain on the Grand Army Plaza out front of Manhattan’s famed Plaza Hotel.  The artist responsible for the book’s cover was a fellow named Ernest F. Hubbard.  From the Scott Elledge biography I learned that Mr. Hubbard was a friend of White’s wife, legendary New Yorker editor Katharine White. The surprise mentioned earlier in this piece was discovering that Ernest Hubbard was also a New Yorker cartoonist.  Until today, I’m afraid I’d never heard of him.  He had two drawings published: October 30, 1926 and November 6, 1926.  It’s likely that Mr. Hubbard was also a writer and contributor to the magazine’s Talk of the Town section (I’ll just leave that possibility hanging until verified). Should I be able to obtain permission, I’ll post at least one of the Hubbard drawings in the next few days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In search of… New Yorker Artist, Andre De Schaub

Posted on 20th February 2012 in News

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This morning while searching obituaries in The Complete New Yorker database I came across the very first New Yorker contributor obituary.  Written by Katharine White, it appeared in the issue of April 23, 1927. The subject was a New Yorker cartoonist and cover artist, Andre De Schaub, who contributed one cartoon and five covers.

Until today, I confess, I’d never heard of Mr. De Schaub. A search in the New York Times turned up no additional information, nor did a series of Google searches ( other than a plethora of sites offering De Schaub prints).

His New Yorker obituary is, however, chock full of interesting information, such as his birth place (Petrograd, in 1898) and that he was:

..the grandson of an architect attached to the Russian Court. He studied one year at the Beaux Arts, which he left to enter the war as an officer in one of the Czar’s Guard regiments. During the Revolution he fought against the Reds and subsequently was condemned to death three times because of his being an officer and a nobleman. Finally, he escaped to Germany, whence he came to the United States four years ago.  Here he made his profession…

Four of his five covers can be found at the New Yorker’s Conde Nast Store. They’re quite beautiful.  With kind permission of The New Yorker, I’ve posted his one cartoon, published October 16, 1926 (it is, of course, copyrighted by The New Yorker).

If anyone out there has additional information to add to De Schaub’s slim, but extremely colorful biography, please contact me (using the contact button along the right side of the page).  A photograph would be especially welcome.

 

 

The New Yorker’s Art Meeting: A Potted History

Posted on 18th February 2012 in News

 

 

It’s tempting to believe that the structure of The New Yorker’s Art Department arrived fully formed in 1924 when Harold Ross, with his wife Jane Grant  began pulling together his dream magazine.  But of course, such was not the case.

 

What we know for certain is that once the first issue was out,  Ross and several of his newly hired employees began meeting every Tuesday afternoon to discuss the incoming art submissions.  The very first art meetings consisted of Ross, his Art Director, Rea Irvin, Ross’s secretary, Helen Mears, and Philip Wylie, the magazine’s first utility man.  In no short order, Ralph Ingersoll, hired in June of ’25  joined the art meeting, and later still, Katharine White (then Katharine Angell), hired in August of ’25, began sitting in.

From  James Thurber’s account in The Years With Ross we get a good idea of what took place at the meeting, which began right after lunch and ended at 6 pm:

In the center of a long table in the art meeting room a drawing board was set up to display the week’s submissions…Ross sat on the edge of a chair several feet away from the table, leaning forward, the fingers of his left hand spread upon his chest, his right hand holding a white knitting needle which he used for a pointer…Ross rarely laughed outright at anything. His face would light up, or his torso would undergo a spasm of amusement, but he was not at the art meeting for pleasure.

William Maxwell, who joined The New Yorker’s staff in 1936,  told the Paris Review in its Fall 1982 issue:

Occasionally Mrs. White would say that the picture might be saved if it had a better caption, and it would be returned to the artist or sent to E. B. White, who was a whiz at this… Rea Irvin smoked a cigar and was interested only when a drawing by Gluyas Williams appeared on the stand.

And from Dale Kramer’s Ross and The New Yorker:

When a picture amused him Irvin’s eyes brightened, he chuckled, and often, because none of the others understood art techniques, gave a little lecture.  There would be a discussion and a decision. If the decision was to buy, a price was settled on.  When a picture failed by a narrow margin the artist was given a chance to make changes and resubmit it. Irvin suggested improvements that might be made, and Wylie passed them on to the artists.

 

In a letter to Thurber biographer, Harrison Kinney, Rogers Whitaker, a New Yorker contributor from 1926 – 1981, described the scene in the magazine’s offices once the art meeting ended:

The place was especially a mess after the weekly art meeting. The artists, who waited for the verdicts, scrambled for desk space where they could retouch their cartoons and spots according to what Wylie, or Katharine Angell, told them Ross wanted done.

Wylie was one of many artist  “hand-holders” – the bridge between the editors and the artists.  Some others who held this position were Thurber (briefly, in 1927), Wolcott Gibbs, Scudder Middleton, and William Maxwell.  According to Maxwell, Katharine White’s hand-holding duties were eventually narrowed to just Hokinson and Peter Arno, the magazine’s prized artists.

Lee Lorenz wrote in his Art of The New Yorker that, in the earliest years,  the look of the magazine:

had been accomplished without either an art editor in the usual sense or the support of anything one could reasonably call an art department.

That changed in 1939 when former gagman, James Geraghty was hired.  As with so much distant New Yorker history, there’s some fuzziness concerning exactly what Geraghty was hired to do.  Geraghty, in his unpublished memoir, wrote that he took the job “without any inkling” of what was required of him. There’ve been suggestions in numerous accounts of New Yorker history, that Geraghty was hired as yet another in the lengthening line of artist hand-holders, in this case, succeeding William Maxwell, who was increasingly pre-occupied with his own writing as well as his editorial duties under Katharine White.

Geraghty, in his memoir,  recalled his first art meeting and the awkwardness of sitting next to Rea Irvin: two men seemingly sharing one (as yet unofficial, unnamed) position: Art Editor.   While E.B. White and others continued to “tinker” with captions, Geraghty began spending one day a week working exclusively on captions.   He also adopted the idea that he was the Artists’ “representative” at meetings, following Ross’s assurance  that Geraghty was being paid “to keep the damned artists happy.”

With these new components, the art meeting committee model stayed in place until the death of Ross in December of 1951.  When William Shawn officially succeeded Ross in January of 1952, he pared the meeting to two participants: Shawn, and Geraghty.

With Geraghty’s retirement in 1973, and Lee Lorenz’s  appointment as Art Editor, the art meetings continued with Lorenz and Shawn. Shawn’s successor, Robert Gottlieb and then Tina Brown, subdivided the Art Department, creating a Cartoon Editor, an Art Editor (for covers) and an Illustration Editor.  Lorenz, who was in the midst of these modern day changes,  lays them out in detail  in his Art of The New Yorker.

Today, the  Shawn model Art Meeting continues, with the current Editor, David Remnick, and the current Cartoon Editor, Bob Mankoff (and with a third editor occasionally joining the meeting) sitting down one day a week to look through the pile of drawings Mankoff has distilled from the mountain submitted to the magazine. The cartoonists no longer wait outside the Art Meeting’s door for the verdict on their work,  but I assure you: wherever they are on Thursday or Friday afternoon:  they’re waiting.

Wolcott Gibbs and New Yorker Cartoons

Posted on 10th February 2012 in News

 

Of all the duties Wolcott Gibbs attended to during his thirty-one years at The New Yorker (and his duties were many: editor, writer, theater critic), his relationship to the magazine’s cartoonists (or “artists” as the magazine calls them) is probably the least examined.

When Gibbs began at The New Yorker, working under Katharine Angell (later, after marrying E.B. White,  Katharine White), one of his duties was “seeing artists” — that is, he acted as the buffer between the editors and the artists, delivering the bad news or good news to cartoonists about work submitted;  if the news was good, Gibbs would relay instructions, if any, from the editors as to how to make the bought work work for publication in The New Yorker.

As his stock rose at the magazine, Gibbs went on to sit side-by-side in the weekly Tuesday afternoon Art Meetings with Katharine White, Harold Ross, and Rea Irvin.  Gibbs’ affinity with the magazine’s art went public in 1935 when he contributed a rebuttal, of sorts, to New Yorker Art Critic, Lewis Mumford, who had  issues with the work presented in the New Yorker’s Seventh Album. Here’s how Gibbs, in his piece titled “Fresh Flowers” responded to  Mumford’s quibble that the Album contained too much work that came out of “that special kind of temporary madness that springs out of a tough day at the office and three rapid Martinis.” :

 

This apparently refers to the work of a few artists characters whose characters belong to no particular land or time, and are held to the world itself only lightly, by the pull of a tempered gravity. They are the wilder shadows in the same wonderland that Lewis Carroll first explored, and are valuable to this collection as lesser examples of the same universal and timeless quality.


While continuing at the Art Meetings as an editor, Gibbs eventually passed his “seeing artists” job to a new-comer, William Maxwell,  who told The Paris Review in 1985:

 

A great deal of what was put before the art meeting was extremely unfunny. Gibbs was repelled by the whole idea of grown men using their minds in this way and seldom said anything.

 

 

Sitting in the Art Meetings, examining thousands upon thousands of “extremely unfunny” cartoons is one thing, but enjoying the work of masters of the form is very much another. It comes as no surprise then that for a quartet of New Yorker cartoonists, Gibbs was the go-to man for introducing collections of their work to the public.   He wrote the Foreward to William Steig’s 1942 collection, The Lonely Ones; the Foreward to George Price’s  1943 collection, Who’s In Charge Here?, and the Preface to Alan Dunn’s 1956 collection, Should It Gurgle?

 

In the Foreward to Charles Addams’ 1947 collection, Addams & Evil,  Gibbs wrote of the two camps of cartoons thriving in the magazine’s pages:

 

New Yorker cartoons can be roughly divided into two classifications, which, back in the days when I was the most insanely miscast of an almost endless procession of art editors, were conveniently designated as “straight” and “nutty.”

 

 

Addams in turn provided  three covers for Gibbs’  own work:

More in Sorrow (1958), Season in the Sun (1946), and Season in the Sun (the Play,  in 1950).

 

And way back in 1937, Rea Irvin, who, we can’t be reminded enough, shaped and guided the magazine’s art in its infancy, provided the cover and illustrations for Gibbs’ first collection of his New Yorker pieces, Bed of Neuroses.

Video: Paul Noth; Eli Stein celebrates Al Ross’s 100th; New Book: a Wolcott Gibbs anthology

Posted on 26th October 2011 in News

From a blog by Peter McGraw, October 26, 2011, “Will these cartoons be funny in other countries?” - this post, including a short video of an interview with Paul Noth

 

From Eli Stein’s website, “We All Have to Start Somewhere Dept. Case in Point #16,” this post featuring work by Al Ross

 

From Salon, October 21, 2001, “The New Yorker writer that time forgot,” this review of a Wolcott Gibbs anthology, Backward Ran Sentences

[ in the earliest days of The New Yorker, Gibbs, as Katharine White's assistant, was  given the sometimes unenviable task of hand holder, which meant talking to the artists, sending them notes, handing them rejections, etc..

Charles Addams fans might remember that Addams illustrated several book jackets for Gibbs, including Season in the Sun (Random House, 1951) and More in Sorrow (Holt, 1958) ]