Tina Brown on The New Yorker’s Cartoonists: “Anyone Who is Funny is Miserable”

Speaking this morning at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism Publishing Course, Tina Brown, editor in chief of The Daily Beast, said that when she arrived at The New Yorker as its new editor in 1992 (replacing Robert Gottlieb), she found the magazine’s cartoonists were “the most aggressive” when it came to changes she was making at the magazine. According to Gretchen Maslin, who was in the audience, Ms. Brown went on to say of the cartoonists, “they were afraid I’d get rid of the cartoons.” When Ms. Brown became editor she opened up the graphic character of the magazine (for instance, the high profile hiring of Richard Avedon as The New Yorker’s first staff photographer). At the time a number of cartoonists saw the introduction of other graphics as less space for cartoons. Ms. Brown went on to say in her remarks this morning that the cartoonists were  “the most aggressive because they were miserable. Anyone who is funny is miserable.”

 

Timeline of New Yorker Editors:

Harold Ross:  Founder and first editor, 1925 – 1951

William Shawn: 1952 – 1987

Robert Gottlieb: 1987 – 1992

Tina Brown: 1992 – 1998

David Remnick: 1998 – present

 

 

Author’s Progress Report: Thomas Vinciguerra on his Cast of Characters: Wolcott Gibbs, E.B. White, James Thurber, and the Golden Age of the New Yorker

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(above: foreground: Fritz Foord, Wolcott Gibbs, Frank Case (owner of the Algonquin Hotel) and Dorothy Parker. Standing, left to right: Alan Campbell, St. Clair McKelway, Russell Maloney and James Thurber.

 

An Ink Spill Exclusive:

Wolcott Gibbs and Co. in Upcoming Group Portrait

There’ve been a handful of New Yorker-centered books in recent years that have caused the house lights here to blink in excitement and anticipation.  The Linda Davis biography of Charles Addams, James Stevenson’s lovely book on Frank Modell, and Deirde Bair’s biography of Saul Steinberg.  Now another is added to that short list.  Last August, Publisher’s Weekly announced that W.W. Norton would be publishing Cast of Characters: Wolcott Gibbs, E.B. White, James Thurber and the Golden Age of The New Yorker, by Thomas Vinciguerra in the spring of 2015, coinciding with the magazine’s 90th anniversary. Since then, little has been heard from Vinciguerra. But some delicate arm-twisting elicited an update and overview from the harried author.

 

“After months of plowing through The New Yorker records at the main branch of the New York Public Library, I can safely say that I should be able to wrap up my primary digging there by the end of the summer,” Vinciguerra says. “I’ll soon be off to a few other archival collections and conducting some interviews. But happily, I’ve been working on this book in one form or another for so long that much of my research is already done.”

Thereby hangs a tale. In the fall of 2005 Vinciguerra began investigating the life of Gibbs (1902-1958), who in more than 30 years at The New Yorker contributed countless comic sketches, parodies, profiles, short stories, “Talk” and “Comment” pieces and, notably, a pungent theatre column for approximately two decades. “I was appalled that this incredibly productive, versatile, indispensable contributor had been largely forgotten to history,” he recalls. “But for five years, nobody wanted a biography about him. Their attitude was, ‘Wolcott Gibbs? Who’s he?’ Then, in 2010 I got lucky. Bloomsbury had published A Reporter at Wit’s End, a collection of the journalism of Gibbs’s colleague and friend St. Clair McKelway, and I found they were looking to do a follow-up. So in 2011 they came out with my anthology Backward Ran Sentences: The Best of Wolcott Gibbs From The New Yorker.

Backward Ran Sentences (its title derives from the famous 1936 Gibbs profile of Henry Luce, which spoofed many aspects of Time magazine, notably its weirdly inverted narrative structure) was a minor success and reawakened some interest in Gibbs. Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post named it one of his best books of the year and even Time declaimed puckishly, “Forward run to this Wolcott Gibbs anthology.” Still, there was no interest in a full-length account of Gibbs’s life.

“Finally,” says Vinciguerra, “I got in touch with my old friend John Glusman, editor-in-chief at Norton. He suggested a book about Gibbs and his circle, shamelessly playing up The New Yorker angle and such giants as White and Thurber, to elicit as much interest as possible. Proceeding from the principle that half a loaf is better than you know what, I gratefully accepted.”

The volume will be neither a history of The New Yorker nor a conventional biography, but rather a group portrait of a certain collection of writers, editors, artists, entertainers and other personalities placed against the backdrop of the magazine, with Gibbs as a focal point. “The best comparison I can make is to Poets in Their Youth,” Vinciguerra says, “in which Eileen Simpson chronicled the lives and times of a whole bunch of interconnected persons—Robert Lowell, Jean Stafford, R.P. Blackmur, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell—with her husband, John Berryman, as a connecting link.”

It’s an unconventional approach, and Vinciguerra is finding that he has his work cut out for him. “This is unlike anything I’ve done before,” says the author, a founding editor of The Week magazine and a contributor to various sections of The New York Times for almost 20 years. “And I’m afraid that I’m going to disappoint some people. When Brendan Gill came out with a new edition of Here at The New Yorker, he explained that the book wasn’t an official account of life at the magazine; it was an account of his life at the magazine. Similarly, Cast of Characters will concern itself almost exclusively with Gibbs and the people who were part of his orbit.

“Fortunately, Gibbs wasn’t merely a writer but a major New Yorker editor as well. And unlike White and Thurber, with whom he was always mentioned in the same breath, he never formally left the staff. So he was absolutely an ongoing, sometimes omniscient, presence. At the same time, there were many big names that weren’t in his crowd. You’re not really going to see anything here about folks like Joe Mitchell, Jean Stafford, Dorothy Parker, Richard Rovere, Saul Steinberg, or S.J. Perelman. A.J. Liebling, Robert Benchley and Peter Arno, among others, will enter only fleetingly.

“At the same time, there will be new information about hitherto elusive figures who Gibbs did interact with, like St. Clair McKelway, Russell Maloney, Gus Lobrano, John Mosher, Hobie Weekes, and Freddie Packard. It goes without saying that along with White and Thurber, Harold Ross and Katharine White will loom large. So, too, will Gibbs’s close friends Charles Addams and John O’Hara, and his literary enemy Alexander Woollcott. And I’m paying special attention to the two worlds that Gibbs really made his own—Broadway and Fire Island.

“I’m tempted to spill even more, but I do have a deadline.”

 

Some links of interest:

From newyorker.com, October 11, 2011, an interview with Jon Michaud of The New Yorker: “Q&A: Thomas Vinciguerra on Wolcott Gibbs”

From The Committee Room, December 12, 2012, this interview:  “TCR Recommends — “Backward Ran Sentences: The Best of Wolcott Gibbs by Thomas Vinciguerra”

From The Washington Post, December 9, 2011, “Year-end Picks”

From Time, October 25, 2011, “Backward Ran Sentences: The Best of Wolcott Gibbs from The New Yorker”

And…

Mr. Vinciguerra has been kind enough to pass along to this address examples of some of the treasure he has discovered while digging through the New Yorker’s archives in the New York Public Library.  From what I’ve been seeing, there is no doubt “Cast of Characters” will be in a league with “Genius in Disguise”  Thomas Kunkel’s spectacular biography of Harold Ross.  Come 2015, we are in for a treat.

 

 

 

 

 

Collaborating Cartoonists; Video: Charles Addams

 

 

 

 

 

Collaborating cartoonists have been on my mind recently. Who are they, why do they do it?  Does it double the fun?  A spate of collaborations in The New Yorker within the past year caused me to dig into the subject and ask a few questions.

 

To begin with, here’re a few words on the subject, written sixty years ago by Peter Arno :

 

The ideal collaboration – and I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in several – consists of sitting down together, with lots of paper and pencils, and digging; staring into the microscope from all angles, till suddenly the elusive germ is spotted. And sometimes that is only the beginning.

 

And here’s how James Reid Parker, the New Yorker writer who doubled as Helen Hokinson’s collaborator for 18 years, described how they worked together:

 

We set aside Friday afternoons and evenings as definite work periods, during which we examined each other’s files, outlined future work for Helen, and studied rejections to see how they might be made acceptable.

 

Hokinson brought her drawings to these Friday meetings –- she seemingly sketched endlessly through the week.  Parker brought slips of paper containing stray thoughts or overheard remarks.

 

I’m not sure there’s since been a collaboration quite like what Hokinson enjoyed with Parker.  There were gag writers, like Herb Valen, who tried to “think like” Arno or George Price or whoever, but they didn’t meet with the artists to work out completed ideas. The king of ideamen (and a cartoonist himself), Richard McCallister, sent his work to the cartoonists (George Price and Arno among them).

 

One could argue that there was weekly collaboration from 1925 through 1950, the years the magazine’s founder, Harold Ross edited the magazine. Drawings were discussed and often “improved” by committee (see Ink Spill’s February 18, 2012 post, The Art Meeting). After suggested changes were made by the artists, the work was brought back to the the Art Meeting, for further evaluation. The process, for just one drawing,  could sometimes repeat itself a number of times.  James Geraghty, the Art Editor from 1939 through 1973, might explain to an artist how he envisioned a  particular drawing. In James Stevenson’s  new book The Life, Loves and Laughs of Frank Modell, Geraghty is quoted instructing a cartoonist: “Make it more …beautiful.” Ideas were sometimes generated in the art office and passed on to the artists ( these are often labeled “Office Idea” in the magazine’s archives, with no one person receiving credit).

 

This variety of interaction gave way in 1973 when Lee Lorenz assumed the title of Art Editor. The cartoonists Lorenz brought into the fold showed up with the idea, the caption and the art.  This was an organic shift, tied into the times that were a-changin’, similar to the emergence of the singer-songwriter in popular music.

 

The influx of cartoonists with their own ideas was not the death of collaboration — collaboration continued on — but the notion that a cartoonist would regularly use outside help came to be seen, by cartoonists themselves, as somewhat unthinkable (Roz Chast likened it to “cheating”).

 

Throughout The New Yorker’s history, no ideaman’s/collaborator’s  name appeared on the work alongside the artist’s name.  When the magazine  opened up its Table Of Contents in the issue of March 22, 1969, listing its writers & artists, readers did not see ideamen co-credited with the artists.  Mischa Richter, for instance, continued to work closely with his long-time ideaman, Harald Bakken, but only Richter’s name appeared in the magazine’s Table Of Contents. Although a small handful of cartoonists continued collaborating,  collaborations weren’t noted on The Table of Contents until 1994, when Liza Donnelly and this cartoonist collaborated for a color strip about a visit to “Beatlefest” in the New Jersey Meadowlands.  Another married cartoonist couple, Robert Crumb and Aline Kominsky Crumb received co-credit the following year for the first of a handful of pieces (color spreads) they contributed.

 

In June of 2010, Sam Means & Kate Beaton  began a New Yorker collaboration (it turned out to be a trio of appearances). Although they signed their joint efforts “Beans” their respective names appeared in the Table of Contents.

 

Very recently, a slew of collaborations have been published in the magazine, or in one case, on the magazine’s website. In all but one case, the collaborations have been acknowledged on the New Yorker’s Table of Contents.  Bob Mankoff’s assistant, Marc Philippe Eskenazi, who so far has had one cartoon published under his own name, collaborated with cartoonist Ben Schwartz.  Mr. Schwartz also collaborated with cartoonist Liam Walsh on a color piece for newyorker.com.  Cartoonist Bob Eckstein worked with comedian Adam Corolla for a drawing published in the magazine, and also with the actor/comedian, Len Belzer (in this case, uncredited in the Table of Contents).

 

Realizing that magazine was suddenly awash in public collaboration, I asked Liam Walsh, Ben Schwartz, Bob Eckstein, and Marc Philippe Eskenazi about their collaborations, beginning with the obvious, “Why collaborate?”  (I offhandedly asked Liza Donnelly if she could remember why she and I collaborated on the Beatlefest piece and she replied, “Because we wanted to.”).

 

Michael Maslin: Why collaborate?

 

Liam Walsh: I didn’t think about this very much beforehand, although it’s a very interesting question. (And one that I’m thinking about in relation to whether it’s something I want to do in the future.) I think the obvious reason would be if each person brought a different strength to the table but that doesn’t really apply to Ben and me. I think there is some benefit in the pressure of not wanting to let the other partner down. I’ve found the weekly deadlines for New Yorker cartoons to be really valuable because a lot of times if I’m writing or creating something speculatively I find that productivity suffers from my not being a strict enough taskmaster. Marc and Ben and I have been experimenting a little bit with using each other to help us make and keep productivity goals. There is probably a teensy element of fear in my desire to collaborate at this early point in my career, in the same way I might like to have a friend by my side when I walk past the graveyard at night. I also think that, at its best, collaborating can take you to places, creatively, you might not have gone on your own. My mind has certain tracks that it tends to stay in and working with another person can force me to venture outside of my usual thought patterns.

 

Ben Schwartz: The best answer is probably the simplest: it’s fun.  Collaboration allows me to get out of my comfort zone, explore new ideas, and gain insight into the creative process of others.  Having an engaged partner to share the workload keeps the pressure down and the enthusiasm up, all while creating a sense of accountability that ensures what we started actually gets finished.

 

Bob Eckstein: There have been a few reasons I’ve collaborated with different people in the past, some good, some embarrassing. I thought of the six last people I worked with and came up with: friendship, writer’s block, fun, to learn from, being star-stuck and an ice-breaker to date someone.

 

 

Marc Philippe EskenaziIn our case [“our” being Liam Walsh & Ben Schwartz- ed.], I cannot draw very proficiently, and don’t really have the patience to tidy up a drawing the way I would develop and refine a piece of music or writing.  But looking through thousands of cartoons each week, I couldn’t help but develop a few ideas here and there.  So I’d sketch them out in a notebook I had since high school.

 

MM: “How did the collaboration begin..,i.e., who made the first move and why?”

 

Eskenazi: Ben, Liam Walsh, and I often went to get coffee or lunch, and we would help develop each other’s ideas, theirs for cartoons, mine for stand-up.  Eventually I showed them my terrible drawings, and they liked some of the jokes.  Ben and I sold two, and Liam and I have sold one which may run around Halloween next year if it survives the harsh Summer.

Walsh: Tom Toro’s piece for the Culture Desk was a big inspiration to me to try some sort of longer-form piece. The Kurtzman exhibition seemed a promising subject and since we were both interested and spend a fair amount of time together anyway it seemed natural to do it together. Ben and I have been talking about working together for a long time. We are both big fans of comics, which are massive collaborations of writers, editors, pencilers, inkers, letters, etc so we might have had a different attitude toward the idea than someone who was a novelist or a “fine art” painter.

Eckstein: I’ll focus on two that specifically resulted in being published in the New Yorker. Len Belzer and I became best friends partly from trying to make each other laugh. We both came from a comedy background and he hosted one of the most important radio comedy shows in the ’80s, interviewing the biggest comics like Carlin, Cosby, Seinfeld, Robin Williams, etc.  I was also very close to his recently deceased wife and all of us sometimes critiqued the cartoons in the New Yorker. We also occasionally read our writing to each other, anything we might be performing or publishing. One piece of Len’s was about a poet’s reading. I thought it was pretty good and suggested he call it “Hecklers on Poetry Night.” I then commented that it would make a neat NYer cartoon. So we worked on the heckles and I did a drawing of our friend (artist John Kascht on stage).

  I recently did a cartoon with comedian Adam Carolla. I listen to his podcast and he once said something which I thought was possibly a good cartoon idea. Normally I consider that simply a dead idea since it was someone else’s  but  my caption idea was different enough that I figured why not do a cartoon with him. I forgot how I was able to contact him but I know a few people from the show…I’m in touch with comic Larry Miller…I know Adam’s assistant….I used to work for his co-host Alison Rosen from my days at TimeOut NY. (yeah, I know, it is all who you know. But having an opportunity to collaborate is a perk from many, many years of working at many places). Anyhoo, he was like, “sure” and that was it. We met in New York City but the cartoon was already done by then.

Schwartz: With Liam: He got the ball rolling, having been inspired by a Tom Toro piece for the Culture Desk blog.  We had recently viewed the Harvey Kurtzman exhibit at the Society of Illustrators together, and he felt that we could turn that experience into a comic for the blog.  I agreed, and we went from there.

With Marc: Marc had been generating gag ideas on his own for a while, but he didn’t think he was yet ready as an illustrator to take them any further.  I don’t actually remember if he asked me to draw some up or if I volunteered.

The larger context that applies to both cases, though, is that Marc, Liam and I are all friends with broadly similar creative sensibilities, and we often gather to workshop our individual projects and ideas.  Collaboration seemed like a natural next step.

 

MM: How did you decide who drew the work?(this question didn’t apply to Bob Eckstein as he was working with non-cartoonists)

 

Walsh: That was a little complicated. We considered a few different possibilities, but since drawing is our mutual strong suit it was clear that we both wanted to be very involved in that part. I did some early sketches, then together we worked out the final sketches, then I penciled the piece and inked my character before passing it over to Ben to ink everything else and do the colors.

Schwartz: Liam had a few specific layout ideas that he sketched up and I immediately embraced, so that gave us our start. From there, we considered having him fully finish the drawings for the sake of efficiency, but we eventually decided that it would be fun to see both our styles merge on the page.  He ended up doing full pencils plus the finished inks for his avatar, while I inked the rest and provided colors.  Inking another artist’s work was a real treat, and something I had long wanted to do.

With Marc, our roles were pretty clear from the start—he was the writer and I was the artist.

Eskenazi: My contribution was only the idea, and the general layout of the image.  For our Oscars cartoon, I described the image and gave the wording of the caption.  For our caption contest, which Mayor Bloomberg purchased, I had drawn the image in the style of a third-grade

 

MM: Did you actually sit down across from each other and work things out, or was it done over the phone, or via the internet?

 

Eskenazi: I gave Ben my sketchbook, and he drew up a few, but the only ones that sold were from scans or emails.

Schwartz: Liam and I started by exchanging several emails discussing ideas and themes.  This was valuable, but we didn’t have a concrete plan until we sat down in person and mapped out our page together.

Marc and I worked together in a more assembly-line fashion.  He generated his ideas earlier, then passed them off to me.  He didn’t see the results until I was fully finished with the art.

Eckstein: With Len, I might show him what I’m working on when we get together. We play chess, we have lunch and sometimes we stop and he will help me with my sketches, throwing out a suggestion or two. Sometimes he’ll just come out with a great new caption I would have never thought of. We’ve been published in a few places. We[recently] had a cartoon in the Wall Street Journal and he called me with new cartoon idea he had which I’ll draw up and show him. Then we will decide what works and doesn’t work and I’ll make those changes before showing them to Bob at the NYer.

Walsh: We did some initial emailing, but it didn’t come together until we committed to sitting down and not leaving until it was done. We wound up writing every single word together.

 

MM: Any problems working together (decision-making; disagreements over what works, what doesn’t) or was it smooth sailing?

Walsh: Smooth sailing for us. We seemed to move pretty steadily forward–that is to say, each time one of us had an idea the other seemed to think it was an improvement over what we had so far. I’m sure this is not always the case. I can easily imagine having a great idea that I can’t live without and really having that bring things to a standstill; but it’s not like there is only one possible successful outcome and everything else is shit and you need to get there or fail. There are a million ways we could have done that piece and some are better, some are worse, and lots are probably pretty similar. If either of us had insanely brilliant ideas that didn’t make it into the piece I’m sure they will be put to use in some future project.

Schwartz: In both cases, it was nothing but a great experience.  With Marc, things were particularly easy because our roles were so well defined and we each allowed the other full control of his part.  Since Liam and I shared nearly every step of the process, we had more opportunities for disagreement, but it was never an issue.  I think we each had to give up a couple of ideas that we liked, but only because we believed that the other’s take was even stronger.

Eskenazi: I felt very detached and excited.

Eckstein: All the people I’ve been lucky to work with are very accomplished and very talented. I collaborate with Len so I can get better and learn how to be funnier. Our only problems (as far as I’m aware of!) are when one of us doesn’t get a reference the other is making but we just enjoy getting together whatever the circumstances.

 

MM: Did it turn out that one of you was stronger in the word department, the other in the drawing department?  By that I mean:  did either of you guide the text more than the art, and the art more than the text?”

Eckstein: In a perfect world I’d like to only do the writing and wish someone else would draw up the ideas.

Walsh: I’m not supremely confident about my writing skills so it was great to have an editor sitting right across from me. It was a true collaboration, 50/50, and I think we both agree that what came out of it was not something we would have come up with on our own.

Schwartz: I feel like Liam and I equally contributed to both the words and pictures of our piece, to the point where even I have trouble remembering which elements were his and which were mine.

Again, Marc had full control over the text for his gag, and I had full control over the visuals (though, of course, I had his text in hand to guide me).

Eskenazi: No we’re both equal on both fronts.  He[Ben Scwhartz] gets more credit as being a better artist, but it is very subjective.  I could draw as well as him if I wanted to, but I really just don’t care enough.  I could easily, though.  Easily.

MM: Are there plans to collaborate again?

Eskenazi: I hope so, I need the money.

Schwartz: I would love to do more collaboration with Marc and with Liam, and with Marc and Liam.  We’ve been tossing around ideas, so hopefully we’ll have something to show for it soon.

Walsh: I suspect so. Ben and I are working on something with Marc right now (because a two-person collaboration wasn’t complicated enough!) and I’m sure we’ll work together again in the future.

Eckstein: The pay a cartoonist makes does not make collaborating practical. Ideally I’d love to collaborate with some of the comedians who I was influenced by growing up but even a-one-time-thing — that’s problematic… I’d like to see more cross-over of people who love comics and people who love cartoons. I’d like to see Demetri Martin cartooning for the New Yorker.

I was [recently] talking to [comedian] Larry Miller with hopes of collaborating on a cartoon and we exchanged jokes and captions to try to come up with something.

 

 

 This piece began with a dip into New Yorker history, so why not end with it too.  It’s instructive to remember that  collaboration likely brought the art of James Thurber to The New Yorker.  Had Thurber not contributed his art to Is Sex Necessary, his collaboration with E.B. White, it’s possible Harold Ross may never have thought twice about allowing Thurber’s “goddam seal drawing” into the magazine.

 

And…

This twelve minute video, “You Rang, Mr. Addams”

(Thanks to Mike Lynch for mentioning this on FB)

Scudder Middleton, New Yorker Cartoonists Hand-Holder and More

 

 

 

 

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.

Peter De Vries, Cartoon Doctor

 

 

 

Occasionally, Ink Spill takes a look at New Yorker contributors who weren’t cartoonists but whose work at the magazine was so intertwined with cartoons and/or cartoonists that it would be just plain silly not to look at them.  Peter De Vries,  a New Yorker staffer from 1944 through 1986, fits the bill perfectly.

 

De Vries, who died in 1993, moved from his hometown, Chicago, to the east coast and The New Yorker via James Thurber, who highly recommended De Vries to the magazine’s founder and editor, Harold Ross.

 

Hired to work part-time in the magazine’s poetry department, De Vries wrote for Notes and Comment, as well as contributing fiction.  After asking the magazine’s Art Editor, James Geraghty if there was anything he could do in the Art Department, De Vries was taken in as a “cartoon doctor” in 1947,  fixing captions, helping to develop ideas, and sometimes coming up with his own. Unless my computations are wrong, no other New Yorker editor had as  long an association with the magazine’s cartoons as De Vries: thirty-nine years.

 

In various interviews over the years, he seemed reticent to discuss his duties concerning cartoons. Ben Yagoda, who interviewed him for The New York Times in 1983, reported that De Vries couldn’t recall any original cartoon ideas he came up with, except one: a drawing by Richard Decker that appeared in July 21, 1945. Yagoda surmised that “DeVries  hesitancy to discuss his work in the Art Department may spring from a desire to uphold the myth that cartoonists’ works are never altered.”  That myth is worth exploring at another time, but perhaps it was less an allegiance to the myth and more of a De Vries personality trait. Former New Yorker Art/Cartoon Editor, Lee Lorenz, who was recently interviewed for this piece, described De Vries as “very quiet – sort of shy.” In a 1956 interview with The New York Times, De Vries described himself as “‘utility man in the Art Deaprtment,’ while others around the place describe him as a force in the Bull Pen.”

 

Frank Modell, now age 95, and the New Yorker’s eldest cartoonist,  was good friends with De Vries,  interacting with him weekly at the magazine’s office during the time Modell was Geraghty’s assistant in the 1940s.  Modell told me recently, “De Vries was an amazingly good humored guy.” Distilling De Vries’ work with cartoons, Modell said,  “he made [captions] a little more clear.”

 

When Lorenz succeeded James Geraghty as Art Editor in 1973, a sea-change was underway at the Art Department.  Idea men (there were no idea women) who had supplied some of the great New Yorker cartoonists with a steady stream of excellent work, were facing a new wave of cartoonists who were in the mold of Thurber – an artist who wrote all of his own ideas  — and not George Price, a cartoonist who relied completely on ideamen.

Lorenz, reflecting on that time, and the waning of idea men:

Of course there was a long tradition there of people who just did the ideas and the artists who just did the drawings, but we’d gotten past that by that point. Artists did their own stuff. If he [De Vries] came up with a good one I’d certainly take it  back to the artist, and they’d have the final word –- it was their caption.

 I’ve thought about it a lot — there’s a big difference between writing humor and captioning a cartoon. There’s a special skill to writing captions.  He was a funny writer, but when he tried to change a caption, it got longer, it got more convoluted.”

 Asked to describe his working relationship with De Vries, Lorenz said:

“We were friendly, but I hardly ever saw him. He kept pretty much to himself there.  The stuff [sheets of paper bearing copies of approved cartoons for that week] would be shipped out to his office at some point during the week and he’d go through it.   He didn’t come to the art department.  All this stuff would be passed around in a box – a regular wooden box. It would go down to his office and he would go through it and make notes and eventually it would come back to me. But I don’t remember we discussed much of this face to face.  We weren’t avoiding each other —  that was just the kind of relationship we had.

If cartoon aficionados have one reason to hold De Vries in high regard it would certainly be for the part he played in developing one of Charles Addams most enduring cartoons (and a captionless one at that). In the fall of 1946, James Geraghty, in need of a Christmas cover, invited  De Vries over to his Connecticut home to sit out on the front lawn and brainstorm. The result was the classic Addams  cartoon that appeared in the December 21, 1946 New Yorker:  three members of the so-called Addams Family, four stories up, about to pour boiling oil on the carolers below. Although Geraghty and De Vries conceived of it as a cover, Harold Ross nixed the idea and ran it inside as a full page cartoon.

De Vries, a prolific novelist, did not shy away from using his New Yorker Art Department experience in his popular 1954 book, The Tunnel of Love.  It’s the story, in a nutshell, of a fellow named Dick, who is Cartoon Editor of  The Townsman, a New Yorker-like magazine,  and  another fellow, Augie, who’s a third-rate cartoonist and first rate idea man.

Below:  De Vries first book, published in 1940, cover by Charles Addams

 

Special thanks to Lee Lorenz and Frank Modell for their assistance with this piece. Lee Lorenz interviewed April 9, 2013; Frank Modell interviewed April 11, 2013

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).