From graphicarts (Princeton University), “Graphic Arts Collection: Whitney Darrow Jr”
By July of 1977, when I cracked open a brand new sketchbook, I’d already filled 38 others with drawings that had yet to connect with The New Yorker‘s Art Editor, Lee Lorenz; in other words: I was still an unpublished cartoonist. Of course I didn’t have a clue that the brand new sketchbook, #39 (pictured above), would contain the drawing that changed my unpublished status, sort of. Twelve drawings into the book I drew a fortune teller telling a man, “Nothing will ever happen to you.”
I copied it, and sent in the copy with my weekly batch to The New Yorker. They bought it for its idea, and gave it to the incomparable Whitney Darrow, Jr. to work up in his great style. I was left with the mixed blessing of having sold something to The New Yorker, but having to explain to family and friends why the work published wasn’t mine.
Left: Whitney Darrow’s published version
This post, however, is about the drawing in sketchbook #39 that came a page before the fortune teller drawing. In those early days I’d draw words and picture directly onto the sketchbook, without working them out somewhere. They all looked somewhat finished. Thus the sketchbook was a day-by-day unedited chronicle of work. Recently, I opened the sketchbook and looked at the drawing before the fortune teller drawing. It’s undoubtedly a personal tipping point, in just a turn of the page — it separates my years as an unpublished cartoonist from the years to come as a published cartoonist. It gave me a bit of a shudder looking at the drawing, a two-parter, captioned, “Isn’t that Telly Savalas?” What if (I let myself think) the next drawing after Telly Savalas hadn’t been the one; there’s not a hint of a possibility it would lead to a publishable idea. In a funny way, this little dance continues on to this day. There’s always going to be a Telly Savalas just before the drawing that works.
“The New Yorker Family Reunion Panel” at Westport Historical Society; Liana Finck signing A Bintel Brief at MoCCA Arts Fest; Bob Mankoff Book Tour Rolls On
“The New Yorker Family Reunion Panel” featuring children of Golden Age New Yorker artists, Alice Harvey, Perry Barlow, Edna Eicke, Arthur Getz and Whitney Darrow, Jr., Saturday, April 12th at The Westport Historical Society. Also on the panel: the children of James Geraghty, the magazine’s Art Editor from 1939 through 1973. You can find examples of work by the artists on The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Bank site.
(photo of The New Yorker Albums by Michael Maslin)
Bob Mankoff, The New Yorker‘s current Cartoon Editor is on the road promoting his new book, How About Never — Is Never Good for You? This latest report comes from The Princeton Packet.
As promised, here are three more of the eighteen short biographies from the Westport Historical Society exhibit, Cover Story: The New Yorker in Westport. My thanks again to the WHS for allowing these to be posted here on Ink Spill.
(Photo of Donald Reilly courtesy of Liza Donnelly).
For another look at the exhibit, link here to Attempted Bloggery, where you’ll find photos galore (scroll down for the Westport coverage).
(Above: Charles Addams at the wheel, with James Geraghty, The New Yorker‘s Art Editor from 1939 through 1973. South Hampton, 1947)
For those wanting to bathe in the glow of New Yorker covers and art history from the magazine’s Golden Age, there’s no better place this winter than the Westport Historical Society where dual exhibits, “Cover Story: The New Yorker in Westport and…Can’t Tell a Book by Its Cover” are currently running (through April 26th).
(Left: Charles Saxon, James Geraghty, Dana Fradon, and Whitney Darrow, Jr. Westport, September, 1982.)
Along with a room full of blow-ups of New Yorker covers and some original cover art by Garrett Price, Arthur Getz and John Norment, are informative biographies of each of the 16 artists represented, with photographs of the artists.
As the exhibit’s catalog notes:
Between 1925 and 1989, 16 New Yorker artists living in and around Westport – Weston produced a remarkable 761 covers for The New Yorker, a phenomenon first identified by curator Eve Potts.
From less than 10 per year pre-1939, New Yorker covers by greater Westport artists climbed to a peak of 27 in 1957.
The 16 artists: Garrett Price, James Daugherty, Perry Barlow, Alice Harvey, Helen Hokinson, Edna Eicke, Arthur Getz, Charles Addams, Reginald Massie, Whitney Darrow, Jr., Charles Saxon, Albert Hubbell, Donald Reilly, Mischa Richter, David Preston, and John Norment (thumb-nail bios for those artists in bold can be found on Ink Spill’s New Yorker Cartoonists A-Z)
James Geraghty, seen in the photograph to the left, settled with his family in Weston in 1949. He was the anchor for the concentration of New Yorker art and artists thriving in and around Westport-Weston. The exhibit features a wall of photographs celebrating Mr. Geraghty’s career at the magazine (the photos shown here from the exhibit are courtesy of Sarah Geraghty Herndon)
(Left: Geraghty in his New Yorker office at 25 West 43rd St. 1948)
(Mischa Richter, at the Geraghty’s. Weston, Ct. 1950s)
(Perry Barlow and Lois Smith at the Geraghty’s home, 1959).
(Left: Geraghty and Charles Saxon at The New Yorker)
From The Westport Historical Society webpage:
Between 1925 and 1989, 16 New Yorker artists living in and around Westport-Weston produced a remarkable 761 covers for The New Yorker Magazine.
The Westport Historical Society’s next two exhibits share the covers and the story-behind-the-story, focusing especially on the influence of The New Yorker’s “idea man” turned Art Editor, James Geraghty.
Link here to the Westport Society website for details. And also make sure to read Dorrie (Barlow) Thomas’s piece about her grandfather’s 1939 New Yorker cover (below) that inspired a famous Christmas song.
Before my recent interview with Dana Fradon, I did some research — as much as the internet allowed, which wasn’t a heck of a lot — and ran into this first collection of his from 1961. My copy arrived today — the pages yellowed and stiff, but the early ’60s humor intact (over on Mike Lynch’s site you’ll find a scan of the cover and a few cartoons from Mr. Fradon’s second paperback collection, My Son the Medicine Man). I really like these New Yorker cartoonists’ paperbacks — especially when they are original collections and not just the standard reprinting of a hardcover published a year or so earlier. There are a few posted on Ink Spill‘s “From the Attic” section, including Al Ross‘s Bums vrs Billionaires. This was probably the closest thing the late Mr. Ross had to a cartoon collection (he also authored Sexcapades and Cartooning Fundamentals, but neither were purely cartoon collections).
Mischa Richter had a number of these paperbacks as well. The Ink Spill library has just one (not included yet in the “From the Attic” section): Strictly Doctors (Pocket Books, 1963). Mr. Richter authored at least two other mass paperbacks The Man on the Couch (Pocket Book, 1958) and Keeping Women in Line (Avon, 1954). The latter seems to be an original collection (it says so right on the cover).
A Whitney Darrow, Jr. paperback from the late 1940s, Hold It, Florence, is a mash-up of two Darrow collections, You’re Sitting on My Eyelashes and Please Pass the Hostess.
These little brittle gems are easy to come by online, but it’s always more fun when they show up in a used bookstore wedged between ancient Peanuts collections. There’s a wagon load of un-PC content in some of these books, but considering them as archeological dig finds, they tell us perhaps what we already knew or suspected cartoon life was like half a century ago.
Addendum: I did more looking online for New Yorker cartoonist paperback collections (post-war through the early 1960s) and found just one more that may or may not be an original collection: Starke Staring by Leslie Starke, published in 1955.
Someone once said that the greatest difference between Fred Astaire’s dancing and Gene Kelly’s dancing is that you could see Gene Kelly’s sweat. Pauline Kael, writing in The New Yorker in 1972 said, “Kelly isn’t a winged dancer; he’s a hoofer and more earthbound” which she compared to “Astaire’s grasshopper lightness.” Here are some other words you’ll run into when reading about Astaire’s dancing: effortless, graceful, floating on air. And for Kelly: muscular, dynamic, down-to-earth.
I pose this simple question: is it possible to divide New Yorker cartoonists into two distinct camps: Astaire Cartoonists and Kelly Cartoonists? Are there some cartoonists whose work seems effortless, like Astaire’s? Do others show the sweat, and muscularity of Kelly’s performances? Well of course I think the answer is yes. I’m not saying Astaire’s dancing was better than Kelly’s or vice-versa – I’m just saying they were different.
This has everything to do with what cartoons look like on the printed page or glowing screen and how a cartoonist’s work appears to the reader’s eye. Is the reader aware of the mechanics of the drawing (do you see the sweat?) or does the cartoon seem effortless?
I’m reminded of the story James Thurber told of the day he was sitting in his driveway in Connecticut drawing his car head on. Al Freuh, the great New Yorker artist happened by, and seeing Thurber struggling with crosshatching and perspective, said, “Don’t bother drawing like that – if you ever got good at it, you’d be mediocre.” (I’d put Frueh in the Astaire camp).
As an example of what I’m talking about, here’s my short-list of Astaire cartoonists and Kelly cartoonists:
Robert Weber definitely in Astaire camp. Mischa Richter in the Kelly school. Thurber, Astaire; Gluyas Williams, Astaire. Mary Petty, Kelly; and her husband, Alan Dunn: Kelly. George Price, Kelly. William Steig, Astaire. Richard Taylor, Kelly. Charles Barsotti, Astaire; Whitney Darrow, Jr., Kelly. Helen Hokinson, Astaire. Steinberg, Kelly & Astaire (yes, there are hybrids!).
I invite Ink Spill visitors to offer their lists; I fully expect some will completely disagree with mine – so let me have it.
If you pick up a copy of veteran New Yorker cartoonist, cover artist, and Talk of the Town contributor James Stevenson’s latest book, The Life, Loves and Laughs of Frank Modell, you’ll find a section wherein Mr. Stevenson recounts his “summer office boy” job at The New Yorker back in 1947, and mentions as well his beginnings at the magazine, nine years later, once he was hired full time.
In a New York Times op-ed piece from January of 2011 (“New Yorker Confidential”) Stevenson recounted how James Geraghty, then The New Yorker’s Art Editor turned to him after the hiring handshake and said, “You must not tell anybody at the office or anywhere else what you do.” Only Geraghty and the magazine’s editor, William Shawn knew what he was up to all day long at the magazine. What he was up to was creating ideas for some of the established cartoonists.
The subject of idea men (or the less appealing term “gagmen”) is of great interest to me –- my unpublished biography of Peter Arno goes into the subject in detail as Arno, though prolific in his earliest years, came to rely more and more on outside help as the years wore on. I plan on going into the subject here on Ink Spill sometime in the future.
Curious about the secrecy of Stevenson’s job, and many other things concerning his time at The New Yorker, I called him up the other day to talk shop. Among other things, I learned that Stevenson was among the chosen (Frank Modell was another) to guide a nearly blind James Thurber around the office. According to Stevenson, this was the time-period “back when he [Thurber] was working on the soap opera series” [“Soapland” was a five part series running from the issue of May 15, 1948 thru July 24, 1948]. Here’s a snippet of our conversation:
Michael Maslin: Why all the secrecy?
James Stevenson: I have a very clear vision of meeting Geraghty. I was working for Life magazine –- and I’d been selling ideas [to the New Yorker] — and he said come and have a cup of coffee. He described a career having an office at the New Yorker, and thinking up jokes, but I couldn’t tell anybody – it was a secret. And now it’s possible, but I doubt it, that he was just testing me. He liked to test people.
MM: The crowd of cartoonists that arrived at The New Yorker around the same time as you: Warren Miller, Lee Lorenz, etc.. seemed to arrive complete – you didn’t need to rely on idea men like so many of the previous generation; Helen Hokinson, Whitney Darrow, Jr., and George Price to name a few. Why was that?
JS: I think originally the New Yorker artists –- a lot of them -– might’ve come thru the Art Student’s League or something like that and they had a background in how to draw and how to do this and how to do that, and they would do handsome drawings but they might not be funny.
MM: I have a copy of the March 10, 1956, New Yorker in front of me – it contains your first cartoon published in The New Yorker. Going through the list of cartoonists in that issue, it’s an amazing group: Alain, Steinberg, Steig, Perry Barlow, Barney Tobey, Hoff, Kovarsky, Richter, and on and on. You must’ve rubbed elbows with many of them while you were there.
JS: Actually no, because I had this hidden career. I had an office for awhile across the hall from Geraghty. I didn’t much want to go into the [Art] office because pretty soon someone would ask questions. I was maybe more comfortable with people who were Talk reporters because they wouldn’t ask me anything related to what I actually did.
MM: In your new book about Frank Modell, you mention bringing a package up to Peter Arno’s apartment on Park Avenue at around three in the afternoon and that he met you at the door still in his dressing gown. You said that on the way home you decided you wanted to be Peter Arno. Did you start drawing like him?
JS: No, I just liked the life style.
Philip Roth, who celebrates his 80th birthday today, was first published in The New Yorker the issue of March 14, 1959, with his story, “Defender of the Faith” causing an immediate stir (see the upcoming PBS American Masters profile “Philip Roth: Unmasked” for, among so many other things, Mr. Roth’s recollection of buying, opening up, reading and rereading his story in this particular issue — jokingly(?) saying he even read it “upside down”).
The issue featured a cover by the wonderful Abe Birnbaum, who contributed nine cartoons and nearly a hundred and fifty covers to The New Yorker. His New York Times obit (June 20, 1966) contains this quote by Mr. Birnbaum: “Nothing is ugly. Everything is what it is.”
Brendan Gill reprinted the robin cover in his book, Here At The New Yorker, writing of it:
“Nobody was satisfied with the ‘rough’ of this giant robin as it was first seen at the weekly art meeting. At the time, the background consisted merely of landscape. Geraghty [the New Yorker’s Art Editor from 1939 thru 1973] suggested the addition of birdwatchers. That simple change changed everything.”
When Philip Roth read, reread, and read his first New Yorker story upside down, he ran across cartoons by the following cartoonists — a roster that’s just about as good a snapshot of The New Yorker‘s cartoon universe late 1950s as any:
William O’Brian, Frank Modell, Robert Kraus, Saul Steinberg, Everett Opie, Barney Tobey, William Steig, Ed Fisher, Robert Day (whose cartoon appeared on the first page of Roth’s story), James Stevenson, Otto Soglow, Syd Hoff, Whitney Darrow, Jr., Charles Saxon, Anatol Kovarsky, Dana Fradon, Eldon Dedini, and Lee Lorenz