Who was Russell Maloney and What Did Harold Ross Say About Him?

 

In May of 1935, New Yorker founder and  editor, Harold Ross sent a six word memo to Wolcott Gibbs, at one time the artists so-called hand-holder, i.e., the middleman between the cartoonists and the editors:

 

“Best ideas lately come from Maloney.”

 

 

“Maloney” was Russell Maloney, a Harvard graduate, who peppered the New Yorker with so many impressive cartoon ideas, Harold Ross invited him into the fold. Maloney’s stock rose fast, soon inheriting James Thurber’s position as prime Talk of the Town editor/writer.  He wore many hats, contributing profiles, stories, ideas for cartoons, Talk pieces, etc., etc. – all told, an impressive amount of work in a short period of time at the magazine (he was there for eleven years, retiring at age 35. According to his obit in The New York Times,  Maloney said he retired because he couldn’t keep up the pace).

 

One of Mahoney’s signed pieces stood out from all his contributions:   “Inflexible Logic” published in the issue of February 3, 1940.  The fiction piece revolved around a theory that six chimpanzees with six typewriters “just pounding away at the typewriter keys, would be bound to copy out all the books ever written by man.”

 

For at least one of The New Yorker’s cartoonists, Carl Rose (his drawing at the top of this post was based on a Maloney idea) the quality of Maloney’s contributions to the art department were ranked exceptionally high.  From Rose’s 1946 collection, One Dozen Roses: An Album of Words and Pictures:

 

The two best gagmen in the world, for my money are E.B. White and Russell Maloney…for a couple of years he sold an incredible number of  picture ideas to The New Yorker and has been represented anonymously by most of the regular contributors to the magazine.

 

 

Maloney died of a cerebral hemorrhage in September of 1948 at age 38.  Following his retirement from The New Yorker he went on to write for numerous publications, including The New York Times, Life, and The Saturday Review (where he published “Tilley the Toiler”  — a profile of The New Yorker).  At the time of his death he was a radio book critic for CBS.  A collection of some of his New Yorker pieces, It’s Still Maloney, or Ten Years in the Big City,  came out in 1945 ( Sorry about the poor image of the book below  — it appears the cover illustration is by the New Yorker cartoonist, Richard Taylor).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Capote and New Yorker Cartoons

   Reading the Holly Golightly piece (“Forever a Gamine at Tiffany’s”) in today’s New York Times revived a thought I had lodged in my mental “to do” file a few weeks ago when I had the pleasure of meeting Thurber biographer, Burton Bernstein.

 

Listening to  Mr. Bernstein expanding upon a passage from his biography concerning (the nearly blind) Thurber being led around The New Yorker’s offices and elsewhere by Capote,  got me to thinking about the legend of Capote throwing away cartoons while assisting in The New Yorker’s art department.

 

Before we get to that, here’s a very brief look at Capote’s earliest days at the magazine. In late 1942 or early 1943, he was hired, while still attending school, as a New Yorker copyboy – a catch-all job that apparently included sharpening pencils, running errands (and yes, leading Thurber around).  After a time he was given the plum job of assisting in the art department (according to some, this came out of his close friendship with office manager, Daise Terry).

 

Capote’s new duties included sorting through incoming envelopes of unsolicited cartoons and attending  the art meeting where his job was to place selected drawings on an easel. Each drawing would be examined and discussed by Harold Ross, Rea Irvin, fiction editor, Gus Lobrano, and the temporary art editor, Albert Hubbell (filling in for James Geraghty who’d gone off to serve his country).  Daise Terry would take notes on the comments.

 

Albert Hubbell told Gerald Clarke that up until Capote worked the easel, all previous assistants were like “automatons” — Capote, however, would laugh, make faces and comment on the cartoons.  This led Ross to instruct Hubbell:  “Tell him to stop that.”

 

Capote’s copyboy/art assistant days at The New Yorker lasted until the summer of 1944 (his leaving came on the heels of an oft told misunderstanding between Capote and the poet, Robert Frost that eventually led Harold Ross to ban Capote from the offices).

 

 

And now on to throwing away cartoons.  I’d first come across the story in Brendan Gill’s Here At The New Yorker:

 

The story goes that after Capote’s departure from the magazine, it was discovered that he had been serving as a sort of self-appointed art editor. One of his tasks was to open the envelopes that contained drawings sent in by artists from all around the country; when Capote didn’t like a drawing, he dropped it over the far edge of the big table at which he worked. Years passed, and someone thought to move the table. Behind it were found hundreds of drawings that Capote had peremptorily rejected, instead of sending them along to Geraghty or Ross. True or false? Nobody knows, for Capote anecdotes are hard to check.

 

 

So did he, or didn’t he?  This morning, in a stab at clarity, I gathered the Capote material* at hand on these premises and came up with a couple of puzzle pieces.

 

During many many hours of conversation, conducted over the last two years of Capote’s life, writer Lawrence Grobel had this exchange with Capote about the disappearing cartoons:

 

Grobel: Is there any truth to the story… that you appointed yourself an art editor, rejecting submitted drawings you didn’t like by dropping them behind a table where you worked?

Capote:  No. Where’d you hear that?

Grobel: It’s in Brendan Gill’s book.

Capote: “Well, I was in the art department but I wasn’t throwing away people’s cartoons.”

 

And, Capote told his biographer, Gerald Clarke:

 

Sometimes I would get the cartoons all messed up and confused. Then I would throw them into one of those holes  and say to myself,  ‘Well, I’ll straighten that out later.’  I somehow happened to lose about seven hundred of them that way. I didn’t deliberately destroy them, and I don’t know how I lost track of them.

 

Despite it being a more colorful story that Capote appointed himself editor and/or destroyed or threw away cartoons, it’s far more believable that the 17 year old Capote was overwhelmed by the volume of unsolicited cartoons (reportedly thousands a week) coming into the office and inadvertently lost track of many of them.  But of course, as Brendan Gill suggested, we’ll never really know.

*Books consulted:

Bernstein, Burton  Thurber (Dodd, Mead, 1975)

Clarke, Gerald   Capote: A Biography (Simon & Schuster, 1988) pp. 71 – 73.

Clarke, Gerald  Too Brief A Treat; The Letters of Truman Capote (Random house, 2004)

Gill, Brendan   Here At The New Yorker (Random House, 1975)  p.317

Grobel, Lawrence   Conversations with Capote (New American Library, 1985) p.56

Inge, M. Thomas   Truman Capote: Conversations (University Press of Mississippi, 1987)

Plimpton, George   Truman Capote (Nan A.Talese/Doubleday, 1997)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Eustace!

 

In honor of the very first issue of The New Yorker, dated February 21, 1925, I’m re-posting a photo I took for “Tilley Over Time a piece I contributed to newyorker.com back in February 21, 2008.

The cartoonists appearing in that first issue were Alfred Frueh, Gardner Rea, Oscar Howard, Wallace Morgan, Ethel Plummer and, on page 14,  an unknown cartoonist, whose drawing is titled Flor de Pince Nez. (you can find some brief biographical material on all of these cartoonists here). Below is the work of the unidentified cartoonist. If anyone can ID the artist, please contact me.

 

And finally, a big big round of applause for Rea Irvin, who brought us Eustace Tilley, and three cheers for Harold Ross, without whom…

The Algonquin

 

The  holiday season reminds me of the Algonquin Hotel, and once reminded I only have to look across my desk to the snowglobe pictured above.  It was given to me years ago by friends who stayed at the hotel for a day or two.

 

I threw together the little scene above for Ink Spillers. The snowglobe sits atop Margaret Case Harriman’s Vicious Circle: The Story of The Algonquin Roundtable (Rinehart & Co., Inc., 1951.  Illustrated by the late great Al Hirschfeld). Behind the globe is Frank Case’s Tales Of A Wayward Inn (Garden City Publishing, Inc., 1941. With seven illustrations, including one by James Thurber and another by Covarrubias ). My thanks to Jack Ziegler for adding Wayward Inn  to our collection many moons ago. The Empire State Building and Chrysler Building are Times Square souvenirs. I found the tin Yellow Cab someplace years ago.  There’s a sign on the trunk:  “Always Be Careful Crossing Streets” — excellent advice then and now.

 

The mention of the Algonquin brings to mind a flood some of the biggest and brightest names associated with the earliest and earlier years of The New Yorker: Harold Ross, Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott, Benchley, E.B. White, and Thurber, who made the place his second home when he wasn’t at his “great good place” in Connecticut.  It was in the Algonquin lobby that Thurber and another of the magazine’s giants, Peter Arno, met for the last time just before Thurber’s death.  And of course it was where William Shawn went for his cereal and orange juice lunch every week day during his long tenure as editor.

 

For those wanting much more on the Algonguin and its part in The New Yorker’s story, there are the books in the photo (Frank Case owned the Algonguin), as well as Thomas Kunkel’s terrific biography of Harold Ross, Genius in Disguise (Random House, 1995). There are plenty of other books with tales of the Algonquin — too many to mention at the moment. I will however note a few more books that go right to the heart of the matter:

Wit’s End: Days and Nights  of the Algonquin Round Table by James R. Gaines (Booksurge Publishing, 2007)

The Algonquin Wits Edited by Robert E. Drennan (The Citadel Press, 1985)

The Lost Algonquin Round Table Edited by Nat Benchley and Kevin C. Fitzpatrick (iUniverse, Inc., 2009)

Wolcott Gibbs and New Yorker Cartoons

 

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.

Posted Note: Happy 87th

With The New Yorker’s 87th birthday just around the corner (the very first issue was dated February 21, 1925) I thought it would be fun to muse about the magazine’s present cartoon universe.

What New Yorker cartoonists do so well and have done so well over eight decades is knee-jerk to their time. The New Yorker’s hands-off system, begun by its founder, Harold Ross, of encouraging contributing cartoonists to explore their creative bent, wherever it may lead them, remains very much in place to this day.  This was a spectacular editorial decision, providing a home for those (of us) who have trouble taking direction, but no trouble at all staring into space or messing around on paper awaiting the pulsating light bulb of inspiration to strike. It’s a freedom that’s produced tens of thousands of great cartoons and scores of great cartoonists, from Addams to Ziegler. I’d venture to say — without the research to back it up — that the magazine’s current crop of cartoonists, more than any in the past, has taken this freedom and run like hell with it, graphically and otherwise.

Part of the genius of Harold Ross, was his decision to encourage his artists to run amuck creatively, insuring that the magazine does not hand the readership formula.  As each issue arrives (either in our mailbox or electronically), I, like many of the magazine’s million other readers, look at the cartoons first. The 87th anniversary issue, now in hand, with its fuzzy “loading” Eustace Tilley cover, was no exception; the excitement of flipping through looking at the cartoons came not from what was expected, but, as always, from the unexpected.