A Hmmmmm About Spinach

The Monday Tilley Watch, which usually appears in this place at this time, will be back next Monday as we’re in the second half of the last New Yorker‘s double issue week (the issue dated July 9 & 16, 2018).  In its stead, this brief puzzlement:

A Hmmmm About Spinach

Above: Carl Rose, E.B. White, A Can of Spinach

 

In December of 2013 the Spill posted a piece about the evolution of the caption of one of the most famous New Yorker cartoons.  The piece was updated and reposted in January of this year.  Here’s a further update (following the short burst of asterisks **********) — this time there’s a curious twist:

E.B. White is remembered as author of one of the most popular cartoon captions of the magazine’s earlier days, but perhaps it might be more accurate to say he was co-author, having adapted the caption from the artist’s original submission. The published caption, as it appeared beneath Carl Rose’s drawing in the December 8, 1928 New Yorker:spinach

“It’s broccoli, dear.”

“I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.”

 

The original caption, below, as submitted by Rose himself provided the framework for White’s sterling re-working. Rose’s original caption:

“Mother, if I eat my spinach, may I have some chocolate pudding?”

“No, dear, there isn’t any chocolate pudding today.”

“Well, then, the hell with the spinach.”

***********

This morning while rereading Carl Rose’s New York Times obit (June 22, 1971), I was somewhat startled to see the quote from Mr. White included in the paragraph below (I’ve bolded it).  I’d read Mr. Rose’s obit before without this quote causing a scene here.  This is why I re-read what I’ve read, and then re-re-read:

“With the December, 1928, publication of the cartoon, “spinach” took on a new, inedible meaning as a slang synonym for the distasteful. E.B. White, the man who supplied the caption, recalled in a telephone interview yesterday: “The spinach drawing came in with a caption that he (Rose) had put on it — some entirely different thing.”

Here’s the Hmmmm part: Was Mr. White’s caption an entirely different thing?  I immediately went to Scott Elledge’s wonderful biography of Mr. White hoping for clarification and/or amplification. Curiously, Mr. Elledge glides quickly over the spinach drawing, saying only: 

Soon nearly every issue of The New Yorker carried ten or twelve of his [White’s]  newsbreaks, five or six of his paragraphs of “Notes and Comment,” and one or more cartoons whose captions he had written or rewritten (Mother to child at the dinner table: “It’s broccoli, dear.” Child to mother: “I say it’s spinach and I say to hell with it.”).

From Elledge I went to The Letters of E.B White (the revised edition, published in 2006). In a letter dated April 12, 1980, White says (in part):

“The spinach cartoon was not a collaboration in the strict sense of the word…one day a Carl Rose cartoon turned up on my desk for a fix. I didn’t think much of Rose’s caption, so I wrote an entirely new one…”

And after checking several other possible sources (Kunkels’s Ross biography for one), I finally came across a letter from Harold Ross citing the “spinach” drawing (it can be found in Kunkel’s Letters From The Editor: The New Yorker’s Harold Ross).  Here, in part is his letter to a Mr. Stark, dated June 5, 1931:

The dope on the “spinach” caption is this.  Sometime, not very often but occasionally, we get a caption in the office here for a picture, rather than use the artist’s caption.  This is because we insist on the artist putting the idea into the picture rather than into the wording…Carl Rose sent that drawing in and E.B. White saw it and wrote the caption we used in the picture…I didn’t think it was anything very hot. I went away to Florida and Mrs. Katharine Angell, who subsequently became Mrs. E.B. White, and who always insisted it was hilariously funny or something, printed it. It very shortly became a by-word much to my surprise.

I return to Carl Rose.  In his one and only collection One Dozen Roses: An Album of Words and Pictures, published in 1946, Rose devotes considerable space to talking about his famous drawing:

Obviously, Rose felt it necessary to let it be known that he had a part in the caption itself.  For without his original submitted captions that included the words subsequently used in the published caption:  “spinach” and “the hell with” Mr. White would’ve been faced with a drawing of a mother and little child sitting at a table, and nothing more. Could White have come up with the published caption without seeing Rose’s captions?

It seems fair that Mr. Rose receive some credit for the published caption (much as Yoko Ono was finally granted co-credit for John Lennon’s song, Imagine). Ordinarily, gagwriters receive no credit for their work (the Spill has covered this in previous posts. Here’s one).  But as Mr. White’s contribution to the drawing became public knowledge and his authorship of the published caption undeniable, Mr. Rose’s contribution to the published caption should be accepted as well. 

I leave you with this quote from One Dozen Roses. Mr. Rose, obviously proud of his skill as both writer and artist, writes:

I did not originate every idea in this book.  Of the 115 drawings in this collection, 92 are mine, mine!

 

 

 

 

 

The New Yorker’s First Fourth

 This stunning Ilonka Karasz cover graced the New Yorker‘s first fourth of July issue. Ms. Karasz  contributed a remarkable 187 covers to the magazine; her first was on the 7th issue, April 4, 1925, her last appeared on the issue of October 22, 1973. Of note within the issue: this Helen Hokinson drawing appearing on the Talk of The Town’s lead page:

In 1925, Ms. Hokinson, newly arrived in New York (from Chicago) enrolled at Parsons School of Design. According to Liza Donnelly’s book Funny Ladies:

One day [Hokinson’s] instructor sent the students out to sketch in the streets of New York. Hokinson drew an elderly woman waving goodbye to a departing ocean liner. Upon her return to the classroom, her teacher, Howard Giles, laughed and suggested she take this and other drawings to the new magazine down the street.

This simple drawing of a woman waving immediately won over Harold Ross and Rea Irvin. Her work had an ease to it: Ross recognized the humor in her line quality, but also in what she chose to draw. Ross purchased her first submission and invited her to return every Tuesday  with more sketches for consideration.

“Better Pictures”

Never a day goes by that I don’t wonder at the trek the New Yorker cartoon has made in its ninety-three years; how it began, how it developed, and what it has become. For those with the time and energy (and either a complete collection of the magazine, access to a library with bound copies, or a subscription to the magazine allowing you access to its archives) the graphic evidence is available in the pages of the magazine’s issues, beginning with the very first in February of 1925, and carrying through to the latest issue on the newsstand and/or on whatever electronic device you use.

The how it began part is well documented, especially in Thomas Kunkel’s great biography of Harold Ross, Genius in Disguise, and in a number of other books (among them, Lee Lorenz’s Art of The New Yorker , and Ross,The New Yorker and Me,  by Jane Grant, Ross’s first wife and co-founder of the magazine; heck, I’ll throw in my Arno biography too — I spend much of it describing how the art department and the art developed). These books and others fill in the history, providing atmosphere, personalities — you know: the who, what, where, whys, and whens.

A favorite title is shown above.  Dale Kramer’s Ross and The New Yorker, published in 1951 (it had an earlier incarnation, in part, in the pages of Harper’s in 1943, with a co-author, George R. Clark). Mr. Kramer had the luxury of working in a time period when all of the major players of the magazine were around (Helen Hokinson perished in plane crash in 1949 just a couple of the years before the book came out; Ross died in the year the book was published). If you read Harrison Kinney’s The Thurber Letters, you’ll find a good deal of correspondence from Thurber to Kramer, guiding and correcting him. After reading the manuscript, Thurber told E.B. White he thought Kramer’s  writing was “undistinguished” but he didn’t “vehemently” disagree with anything in it.

What is always of interest (to me) in accounts of the magazine’s beginnings is the how the development of the New Yorker cartoon is handled. I think Kramer does a good job describing the earliest days, of what Ross was looking for, or not wanting (echoing the oft-quoted “he didn’t know what he wanted, but he knew what he didn’t want”), of Rea Irvin’s invaluable part in the art’s development.

I’m forever struck by Ross’s care for the art and artists — how important a part of the magazine it and they were to him.  In any of the books I’ve mentioned here, you’ll find a variation of the passage below laying out just how much Ross cared.  It is that care that was the foundation of the magazine’s art. That’s how this began, with great care, and an appreciation for the art, most especially the cartoons.  

Here’s Kramer on Ross and the magazine’s art:

Ross’s major contribution to “art” — the designation given to cartoons, spot drawings, illustrations, caricatures, and cover paintings — was the same curiosity and fierce demand for accuracy that was helping to bring the text into focus. He queried constantly, “Where am I in this picture?” The reader, he maintained, ought to be at a definite vantage point. He should be watching an action or overhearing a conversation.

Or Ross would ask, “Who’s talking?” Sometimes the artist was requested to open the speaker’s mouth wider. Ross was dealing, of course, with the people and the objects in the drawings, rather than craftsmanship. By demanding that the characters be plain to him, and seen from a particular vantage point, he naturally got better craftsmanship. The artists discovered, with some reluctance since they often had to do a drawing over and over again, that Ross’s demands, put into artistic sense by Irvin — along with Irvin’s own suggestions — resulted in better pictures.

To those who have admired the art of the New Yorker, “better pictures” might seem an understatement, but it’ll do just fine. Better pictures was something to shoot for, and I believe most of the devoted would agree, something attained. 

 

 

 

 

The Making Of A Magazine: A Potted History

Mention The New Yorker and it’s highly likely the image, or one of the first images, that pops into one’s mind is of Rea Irvin’s Eustace Tilley, the magazine’s mascot.  He appeared on the inaugural issue of the magazine dated February 21, 1925, and on every anniversary issue until Tina Brown broke the streak in 1994 by publishing R. Crumb’s Elvis Tilley. 

Those fond of New Yorker history may know that the magazine was nearly killed after just four months of publication; barely anyone was reading it, and what advertising there was was drying up.  The magazine’s founder and editor, Harold Ross, seeing a need to fill space on the inside cover, summoned one of his writers, Corey Ford, to discuss the problem.  Ford described the moment in his memoir, The Time Of Laughter:

In his impulsive way, he called me into his office and began jangling coins and pacing the floor.  Could I do a series of promotion ads to fill the goddamn inside cover? Rea Irvin thought I might burlesque those house organ brochures about publishing a magazine.  Have the first one by tomorrow? Done and done. God bless you.

The result was a twenty part series called The Making of a Magazine.  The first one ran in the August 8 issue:

You’ll notice the illustration, by Johan Bull, shows a little top hatted fellow, who is identified as “Our Mr. Tilley.” We have to wait until the second in a series (the issue of August 15th) to learn his full name: “… Mr. Eustace Tilley.” Tilley was to be the readers tour guide through Ford’s twenty installments, pointing out the various departments needed to turn out The New Yorker.

More from Corey Ford:

The New Yorker‘s man-of-all-work, who personally supervised all these departments, was Mr. Eustace Tilley. (“Tilley” was the name of a maiden aunt, and I chose “Eustace” because it sounded euphonious.) In Johan Bull’s illustrations, he appeared as a silk-hat dude, with morning coat and striped trousers and a monocle, based on the figure in Rea Irvin’s anniversary cover. In time Irvin’s creation became known as Eustace Tilley…

The series ended in the issue of January 2, 1926.  The cover, by Rea Irvin, bore Tilley himself (a coincidence?) coming ala a cuckoo bird, through the clock’s double doors.

In that final installment, Ford ends with this reveal:

In the very same year, bound copies of The Making Of A Magazine appeared. The Spill archive is not fortunate enough to have one (shown at the top of this post is a charming small — 4″ x 6″ — promotional paper version gifted to the Spill ), so I’m showing a scan from AbeBooks, where a copy can be had, signed by Ford, for $1,000.00. 

Now if you don’t want to spring for that copy, or the few others listed at lesser prices ($750.00 – $375.00), you can, believe it or not,  buy a modern copy (shown below) on AbeBooks for $7.57. You’ll notice this issue is part of a series, “Forgotten Books” and the book is by “Author Unknown”  — hmmm, do we laugh or cry, or sniff, Tilley-like?  

Below: Johan Bull’s last Tilley in the last of the series:

 

 

The Monday Tilley Watch, The New Yorker Issue of June 25, 2018; A Few Images Posted from the Upcoming New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons

Noted that this week’s cover (above right) is by Harry Bliss, one of the New Yorker‘s cartoonists.  Noted because the majority of the magazine’s covers were once handled by its cartoonists (somewhat more than 60% a year by my iffy calculations). The number of cartoonists contributing covers these days can be counted on one hand: Mr. Bliss, Roz Chast, Bruce Eric Kaplan, Danny Shanahan, and George Booth.

The change came, as so many changes did, with the arrival of Tina Brown as editor in 1992.  At a meeting of cartoonists called by Ms. Brown just before she took the reigns as editor of The New Yorker, a bunch of us sat around a large table in an upstairs conference room at the fabled Algonquin. Arriving late (Amtrak issues), I sat next to then art editor Lee Lorenz and asked him what I’d missed.  He leaned over and whispered, “She’s going to bring in a lot of illustrators.” He then added something else, which you’ll have to wait to read in my memoir.

Some of Mr. Bliss’s cover has that Hitchcockian “Rear Window” feel to it; the structure of the cartoon (using balconies) has been put to good use by a few cartoonists over the years. Here’s an example that readily came to mind: a Liza Donnelly drawing that appeared in the January 20, 2014 New Yorker:

To read what Mr. Bliss had to say about his cover, go to this mini-interview here on  newyorker.com.

From the Depart of Just Sayin’:  The number of illustrations in this issue outweigh (in space) the number of cartoons appearing.  Sixteen illustrations (not including Tom Bachtell’s wonderful drawings that are laced through the Talk of The Town). Three of the sixteen are full page. Seventeen cartoons this week, one a full page by Liana Finck

The sizing of cartoons in this issue is generally very good. Most every drawing  gets some breathing room (just one is shoe-horned into a tight space).  

Three drawings noted: Ben Schwartzs bargain hunter’s mounted big game is fun. Charles Addams had a field day with this scenario throughout his spectacular New Yorker run.  Here’s one example .

Love Edward Koren‘s restaurant drawing. Some New Yorker drawings are referred to as evergreens — they always work, no matter the year, the trends, the political landscape, the whatever. Mr. Koren’s drawing is an evergreen.

The Spill‘s candidate for New Yorker drawing of the year (thus far) is Joe Dator‘s Abe Lincoln cartoon. (You can find it here on the magazine’s slideshow of the current issue’s cartoons. It’s number 13.)  When Harold Ross, the New Yorker‘s founder and first editor was asked why his magazine did not run color cartoons his response was, “What’s so funny about red?”* Mr. Dator’s drawing is a perfect example of what is funny about pink and orange, and yellow, and green and purple.

Spill round of applause for the above drawings.

*The New Yorker did run one color drawing in Ross’s time, Rea Irvin’s two page color spread, The Maharajah of Puttyput Receives a Christmas Necktie From the Queen. It was in the issue of December 12, 1925.

Still missing: Rea Irvin’s iconic Talk of The Town masthead. Here’s a Spill piece about its disappearance and replacement.

This is what the real thing looks like:

 

 — See you next week

______________________________________________________________________

A Few Images Posted From the Upcoming New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons

The above from the publisher’s website. Well it’s not much, but it’s better than nuthin’.  I could only get the middle image to open up for a better view. Will post more when there’s more to post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

50 Years Ago This Week: Peter Arno’s Last New Yorker Cartoon

Every so often the Spill likes to take a look at the last cartoon published by one of the magazine’s artists. This week it’s a drawing by Peter Arno — the cartoonist the New Yorker‘s Roger Angell called “the magazine’s first genius.”  I won’t go on and on here about why Arno is one of the magazine’s greatest — some say the greatest of the magazine’s artists, but if you want more on the subject there is a biography of him floating around (forgive me for lifting the bolded passage below from the aforementioned biography). 

(Above: Arno’s drawing as it appeared in the issue)

Sometime in the fall of 1967, Arno finished working on a full-page drawing of Pan blowing on his pipes as he frolicked through a glade.  In the forefront of the picture is a young, well-endowed woman, who says to him, “Oh, grow up!”  Brendan Gill [in his wonderful book, Here At The New Yorker] described the drawing this way:

“…in content and composition it was a characteristic piece of work…the drawing is a matter of some forty or fifty bold strokes of black against white, bound together by a gray wash; it has been built up as solidly as a fortress, though built in fun, and its dominant note is one of youthful zest.  Nobody could ever tell that it was the work of an aging man, let alone a dying one.”

“Oh, grow up!” wasn’t the last Arno published by the New Yorker.  His last cover appeared the following June, and the magazine has, from time-to-time brought out one of his older covers or drawings. But it was certainly the last published in his lifetime. The drawing appeared in the anniversary issue, dated February 24th, 1968. It would’ve been out on the newsstands a week earlier, the week of February 18.  Arno died on February 22. 

If you have access to the New Yorker‘s digital edition or happen to have a print copy, it’s certainly worth a visit to this issue — it’s a gem.  Rea Irvin’s Eustace Tilley is, of course, on the cover (and Mr. Irvin’s classic masthead for the Talk of The Town is in its place). The issue’s cartoons are by some of the greatest names on the magazine’s roster of artists (the magazine had a history of making sure the anniversary issue was loaded up with a good number of its big guns. In my Arno research I came across a note to Arno from the New Yorker‘s founder and first editor, Harold Ross expressing concern he (Ross) did not have a Arno drawing available for the upcoming anniversary issue). 

In this issue you’ll find terrific cartoons by Robert Weber, Alan Dunn, George Price, James Stevenson, William Steig, Steinberg, Richard Decker, Warren Miller, Frank Modell, Syd Hoff, Charles Addams, Whitney Darrow, Jr., Lee Lorenz, Mischa Richter, and Barney Tobey. (At this particular time the magazine’s stable of cartoonists was all male. Mary Petty’s piece appeared in 1966, and Nurit Karlin’s work did not begin appearing until 1974).

Next week, the Spill will return with its usual Monday Tilley Watch.