Fairfield County (CT) Cartoonists; E.B. and Katharine White’s Home for Sale; Lots of Peter Arno on Pinterest; William Steig’s Connecticut Home For Sale

Fairfield County Connecticut’s Cartoonists

Here’s a really nice article in Vanity Fair, “When Fairfield County Was the Comic-Strip Capital of The World” written by Cullen Murphy, whose father drew “Prince Valiant” — a number of New Yorker artists show up (as you might expect as the county also had a large concentration of  cartoonists from the magazine…see this link for more on that).

 

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E.B. and Katharine White’s Home For Sale

From Town & Country, this article  — with photos — on the home previously owned by E.B. and Katharine White, now up for sale.

Why is this on Ink Spill, you might ask?  The White’s were major figures in the development of the New Yorker; both intersected with the magazine’s cartoons. One of Mr. White’s many duties at the New Yorker  was tinkering with cartoon captions. The most famous tinkering resulted in the Carl Rose drawing that appeared in the December 8, 1928 New Yorker:spinach

“It’s broccoli, dear.”

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

To read a little more about that particular caption, go here.

In the earliest decades of the New Yorker, Katharine White headed the fiction department. The cartoons fell under the fiction department’s umbrella until James Geraghty was appointed in 1939, when a stand alone art department was created.  In his book, The Art of The New Yorker: 1925-1995,  the magazine’s former Art Editor, Lee Lorenz wrote of Ms. White: “She remained a powerful voice in the selection of the magazine’s art even after she and her second husband, E. B. White, moved to Maine in the mid-thirties.”

Two recommended biographies: Scott Elledge’s E.B. White: A Biography (Norton, 1984)

and Linda Davis’s Onward and Upward: A Biography of Katharine S. White (Harper & Row, 1987)

And for a wonderful read on that era of the New Yorker: Thomas Vinciguerra’s Cast of Characters: Wolcott Gibbs, E.B. White, James Thurber, And the Golden Age of The New Yorker (W.W. Norton & Co.,  2016)

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A lot of Peter Arno on Pinterest

Billed as “182 Best Peter Arno Images on Pinterest” — it doesn’t disappoint. The post even includes the dummy cover for my Arno biography.

Anyway, it’s fun to see so much Arno in one place. New Yorker cartoons, New Yorker covers, advertisements — all kinds of wonderful art by the master.

 

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William Steig’s Kent Connecticut Home For Sale

Fear not — Ink Spill is not pushing real estate.  It’s just coincidence (or as Curly of the Three Stooges would say, “a coinkydink”) that two homes by three major New Yorker figures are up for sale. This is William Steig’s home in Kent, Connecticut. Read all about the home here.

Mr. Steig’s entry on the Spill’s A-Z:

William Steig Born in Brooklyn, NY, Nov. 14, 1907, died in Boston, Mass., Oct. 3, 2003. In a New Yorker career that lasted well over half a century and a publishing history that contains more than a cart load of books, both children’s and otherwise, it’s impossible to sum up Steig’s influence here on Ink Spill. He was among the giants of the New Yorker cartoon world, along with James Thurber, Saul Steinberg, Charles Addams, Helen Hokinson and Peter Arno. Lee Lorenz’s World of William Steig (Artisan, 1998) is an excellent way to begin exploring Steig’s life and work. NYer work: 1930 -2003.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Place Was Especially A Mess After The Weekly Art Meetings”

 

 

… “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 what Ross wanted.”*

 

— So said New Yorker editor and writer Rogers Whitaker to Thurber biographer, Harrison Kinney. He was describing a wonderfully fun and exciting time and place: The New Yorker in its infancy, ninety some years ago.

 

What’s changed since then?  Well, the cartoonists no longer wait in the office to hear the verdict for that week’s submissions (email now alerts them to a sale, and more often, rejection). However, many cartoonists still head to the New Yorker every week to sit across from the cartoon editor. It’s a chance to connect with the editor, to get feedback, to discuss that week’s submissions.  It’s also a chance to socialize with colleagues.  Cartoonists, as has been said many times, are mostly solitary creatures, whiling away at their drawing boards or tablets without the company of other humans.

 

Using the clues of the personalities Mr. Whitaker mentioned we know that the artists (cartoonists for the most part with some cover artists tossed in) began showing up at the New Yorker from the very first days of the magazine. What we don’t know is exactly when the cartoonists began showing up to see the Art Editor — a ritual that began sometime during James Geraghty’s tenure as the magazine’s first Art Editor.

 

Rea Irvin, the New Yorker‘s Art Supervisor did not meet the artists flooding into the office. So who actually saw the artists coming in? It was, in the very beginning, Ross’s secretary, Helen Mears, who was soon fired and replaced by a young man named Philip Wylie. He was the unofficially titled artists “hand-holder” — the link between the editorial staff and the cartoonists.   Most importantly to The New Yorker‘s history, and to its success, Wylie is the person who, while looking through twenty-one year old Peter Arno’s portfolio one day in 1925  happened to spot a drawing Arno hadn’t intended to show: a sketch  of “two old bats about to charge obliviously into a trap — made by the rise of a sidewalk elevator. It [the drawing] greatly amused me.”   The  “two old bats” came to be called The Whoops Sisters, and also came to be credited as very likely rescuing The New Yorker from an early demise.  This moment was one of the so-called “happy accidents” that saved the New Yorker and propelled it forward. And it could have only happened because Arno came into the office and sat down with Wylie.

 

We know that upon James Geraghty’s appointment as Art Editor in 1939 he began working closely with the magazine’s staff cartoonists on Look Day (Tuesdays back then, and for many years after. Wednesdays now).  What has always endeared me to the editor/artist dance at the magazine is that editorial prompts are not directives — they are suggestions.  This practice continued on during Lee Lorenz’s twenty-four years as art editor after he succeeded Geraghty, and it continues right up to today.

 

Mr. Lorenz ran a very tight ship in those twenty-four years; artists had to be invited in to the office on Look Day.  Even some long-time contributors did not receive the coveted invitation.  They had to drop off their work at the receptionist’s glassed-in cubicle at the end of the hallway near the elevators. To be invited back was well-earned. And what you found once you were buzzed through the hallway door and then walked down the dog-legged hallway to the Art Department was a small cream-colored waiting room filled with cartoonists whose names would most likely be as familiar as the names of your family members. Their work, of course, would be familiar as well. The days of artists messing up the office were in the rear view mirror.  Some of the cartoonists actually had “studios” in the building (Charles Addams, Frank Modell, James Stevenson, Edward Koren among them).  Mr. Lorenz had an editorial light touch when working with artists — a shade lighter than Geraghty’s, or so I’ve been told; like Geraghty, Lorenz’s advice was succinct, and spot-on.

 

When Bob Mankoff succeeded Mr. Lorenz, he instituted what he called an “open door” policy,  saying, “I’ll see anyone.”  And in they came. To be sure, it created a different climate in what is called the cartoonists lounge.  Lots of new faces, many unpublished in The New Yorker, or anywhere, mingled with veteran contributors such as Sam Gross, George Booth, and Mort Gerberg. The scene wasn’t messy, as in the old days, but it was lively (they’ve had to be “hushed” on more than one occasion.  Dana Fradon, recalling the pre-Mankoff days, told Ink Spill: “Once, when someone down the hall voiced an official complaint about ‘noise’ coming from the cartoonists waiting room, Ed Fisher and I went out into the hall and sang, in close harmony, ‘The Beer-Barrel Polka’. “Roll out the barrel…”).

 

It was recently announced that a New Yorker editor, Emma Allen would replace Mr. Mankoff in May. A Cartoon Department email soon followed announcing that Mr. Mankoff would not see cartoonists on Look Day in these last weeks of his editorship.  How eerily quiet it will be around the cartoon lounge on Wednesday mornings!  I imagine that come May, the non-existent doors to the cartoon department will swing open again (there are waist-high partitions everywhere now, and just a few doors) and the cartoonists will flood in, as lively and boisterous as they’ve been for over ninety years.

 

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*A Who’s Who of those mentioned above

Emma Allen:  Ms. Allen has worked as an editor of Talk of The Town, a writer, and editor of Daily Shouts, and as of May this year, The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Editor.

Ed Fisher: Mr. Fisher’s first cartoon appeared in The New Yorker October 27, 1951; he went on to contribute over 700 cartoons. He died in 2013.

Dan Fradon:  Mr. Fradon, whose first cartoon appeared in The New Yorker, May 1, 1948,  is the doyen of the magazine’s artists. He has published well over a thousand cartoons in the magazine.

James Geraghty: a former gag-writer, hired in 1939, he became the magazine’s first Art Editor.  Before Geraghty, there was no one single person at the magazine dedicated to overseeing all the art (Harold Ross was the overseer of everything in his magazine).  Ross’s successor, William Shawn said of Geraghty: “Along with Harold Ross…he set set the magazine’s comic art on its course and he helped determine the direction in which the comic art would go and is still going.”  Mr. Geraghty was the art editor from 1939 through 1973. He died in 1983.

Rea Irvin: Mr. Irvin is a huge part of the New Yorker’s DNA as he’s responsible for the New Yorker‘s first cover (featuring the fellow referred to as Eustace Tilley); Mr. Irvin adapted the typeface that we now call the Irvin typeface; he contributed a record number of New Yorker covers, and last but not least, he helped “educate” Harold Ross, art-wise. He died in 1972.

Harrison Kinney: A reporter for The New Yorker from 1949-1954; his massive biography of James Thurber: His Life & Times was published in 1995.

Lee Lorenz: Geraghty’s successor as Art Editor (and later, under Tina Brown’s editorship, as Cartoon Editor).   He began as editor in 1973, handing over the reigns to Bob Mankoff in 1997. Mr. Lorenz is also one of, if not the most prolific New Yorker cartoonists. He is also the author of numerous books about New Yorker cartoonists, including the must-read history, The Art of The New Yorker:1925- 1995.

Bob Mankoff: Mr. Mankoff, also a cartoonist for the magazine, has been its cartoon editor for over nineteen years.  His memoir, How About Never — Is Never Good For You?: My Life In Cartoons was published in 2014.

Helen Mears: Harold Ross’s first secretary and the first person delegated to be a go-between the editorial department and the artists. She was fired by Philip Wylie on orders from Harold Ross. Mr. Wylie then assumed Ms. Mears duties.

Harold Ross: The founder and first editor of The New Yorker. There are three biographies of Mr. Ross. Thomas Kunkel’s biography Genius in Disguise is essential reading. Mr. Ross died in 1951.

William Shawn: Appointed in January of 1952 as Harold Ross’s successor. He remained editor until 1987. He died in 1992.

Rogers E. M. Whitaker: hired in 1926 he headed the checking department and later the make-up department.  Mr. Whitaker went on to become an editor and contributor to the New Yorker, working under various names:  “E.M. Frimbo”  (“The World’s Greatest Railroad Buff”) for pieces chronicling his journeys on the nations railways; “J.W.L.” for his pieces about Ivy League football; “The Old Curmudgeon” when he wrote for The Talk of The Town.   Mr. Whitaker died in 1981.

Katharine White: Hired in August of 1925, Ms. White (then Angell) was the magazine’s first Fiction Editor.  According to the New York Times: she…”exerted a profoundly creative influence on contemporary American literature…having transformed The New Yorker from a humor magazine into the purveyor of much of the best writing in the country.” Before James Geraghty consolidated the Art Department, the art was under the umbrella of the Fiction Department.  Lee Lorenz has written of her that “she was a powerful voice in the selection of the magazine’s art.” She died in 1977.  Linda Davis’s biography, Onward & Upward: A Biography of Katharine S. White is essential reading.

Philip Wylie: “The New Yorker‘s first bona fide applicant” was the magazine’s second artist hand holder.  He attended hundreds of the magazine’s first art meetings.  His short stint at The New Yorker was followed by a long and successful career as a writer including the best-selling Generation of Vipers.  He died in 1971

 

 

Frank Modell Celebrated

ModellCartoonists mostly live solitary work lives. When they’ve finished a drawing, sit back and take a look at it, the feedback usually comes from within; then there’s the occasional  laugh from their spouse, friend, room mate or visitor. In the reverse, it’s also usually a solitary experience for someone looking at a cartoon in a magazine.  More often than not, the reaction is internal, and yes, sometimes a laugh, out loud.

It is always slightly jarring — at least for me — to sit in a crowd and hear the collective roar of laughter at cartoons projected on a screen. Such was the experience last night at an evening dedicated to celebrating the life and work of the great New Yorker cartoonist Frank Modell, who passed away in May at age 98.

The event was held a few doors east of  the 44th Street entrance to The New Yorker‘s former longtime address at 25 West 43rd Street (the building’s main lobby stretches from 43rd to 44th).  A plaque attached to the magazine’s one-time residence bears Frank’s name alongside a number of other heavy hitters: Harold Ross, E.B. White, James Thurber, Helen Hokinson, Peter Arno, Charles Addams, Katharine White and James Stevenson to name but a few.  Mr. Stevenson, Frank’s best friend, was in attendance last night, as were a number of other New Yorker colleagues, including Warren Miller, Mort Gerberg, Edward Sorel, Arnold Roth, Liza Donnelly, Charles “Chip” McGrath, Roger Angell,  Anne Hall Elser, Thomas Vinciguerra  and Linda Davis.

Remarks from Frank’s close friends, Flicker Hammond, Edgar Lansbury, Tom Meehan, and the long-time New Yorker writer, Kennedy Fraser were preceded by the presentation of a wonderful array of Frank’s work. Watching the drawings come up on the screen, with each caption read by Nancy Franklin (the New Yorker‘s former television critic), the laughter moved from the front of the room to the rear — a true wave of laughter.  Each drawing was a reminder of Frank’s ability to reach us with elegant drawings (it was noted that Frank’s long-time colleague and editor Lee Lorenz had said that Frank’s drawings “popped off the page”) topped off by a disarmingly precise caption:  nothing elaborate, nothing obtuse — just plain funny. Funny, and evergreen; that magic ingredient  that for many many years was the hallmark of New Yorker cartoons.

As each cartoon was presented I was also reminded of the friendliness of Frank’s work — work as friendly as the man himself. The people he drew were people we knew, or know, or are. His animals, whether mythical or not, are animals we feel an attachment to, whether it’s the unicorn riding a unicycle or a dog sleeping on a stuffed chair.  One of the drawings shown, “Boy, am I glad to see you.” was greeted with exceptionally riotous laughter.  I couldn’t help but think of Frank himself at that moment.  Boy, Frank, were we glad to see you.

modell-boy-am-i-glad-to-see-you

 

Did Arno Write Thurber?

Arno Workbooks a  A lot of material accumulates when you’ve been researching a subject for fifteen years. In my case, much of it was placed in a ramshackle assortment of black binders pictured here.  There was also a binder [not pictured] labeled “Next” that contained a very very  long checklist of things that needed looking into. The more I uncovered about Arno, the more I needed to discover. Over time, as the checklist dwindled, I was left with a handful (maybe two) of  unresolved questions. Some will likely never be resolved, but  I was certain that one question in particular could be answered by a visit to the Beinecke Library at Arno’s alma mater, Yale University (Arno didn’t graduate, but spent a busy freshman year there).

 

By visiting the Beinecke I could finally answer the question of whether Arno wrote James Thurber. Back in the late 1950s Thurber reached out to his fellow New Yorker contributors  while putting together his memoir, The Years With Ross. I’d discovered years ago that the Beinecke holds Thurber’s papers from that project, including a file located in Box 2 that contains all the correspondence between Thurber and his colleagues.  Did Arno write Thurber? I could wait to find out, and I did. Over the past few years I decided to save this last field trip for when my Arno biography had sold — a celebratory final run.

 

A couple of days ago, sitting a large table in the Beinecke’s well guarded reading room, I was handed Box 2.  The correspondence folder inside was so thick it took up two-thirds of the box (the other third contained a folder of fan mail to Thurber); clearly, this was going to take awhile — a fun while. After two hours, after reading letters from Thurber to E.B. White and Katharine White, and their letters in response, and rounds of letters between Thurber and St. Clair McKelway, William Shawn, and Wolcott Gibbs, etc., etc., I found a letter from Thurber to Charles Addams.  Thurber mentioned that he’d written Arno several times and never heard back.  I realized, then and there, I wasn’t going to find a letter from Arno in this mountain of correspondence.

 

It fit an Arno trait I’d discovered to be mostly true: as an adult, he wasn’t much of a letter writer. Heck, I’d even been forewarned some years ago when I found a great little privately printed book of biographies, Faces & Facts by a fellow named Willis Birchman. Birchman (a caricaturist more than a biographer) allowed one page per subject, plus a page for a self-portrait.  The first biography in the book is Arno’s, and it contains a sentence highly relevant to this blog post:

Arno never opens his mail.

A Surprise By Way of E.B. White’s “The Lady Is Cold”

The Lady is Cold

Late yesterday afternoon two New Yorker cartoonists (oh, all right, it was my wife, Liza Donnelly & I) were walking across the street from The Plaza Hotel, when I realized we were near the statue of Pomona (the goddess of abundance) that stands atop the Pulitzer Fountain on The Grand Army Plaza. I wanted a closer look at Pomona because of a series of events earlier this year that resulted in a surprise addition to Ink Spill’s New Yorker Cartoonists A-Z .

Back in the Spring I happened upon and fell in love with E.B. White’s poem, “The Lady is Cold”; the lady who is cold, is in fact, the very same Pomona situated on top of the Pulitzer Fountain. I soon discovered that the poem was also the title of White’s first book (published in 1929), a collection of his poems that had appeared in The New Yorker as well as FPA‘s column, “The Conning Tower.”

The book’s cover, depicting Pomona outside The Plaza, was by someone I’d never heard of, a fellow named Ernest F. Hubbard. From Scott Elledge’s excellent biography of E.B.White I then learned that Mr. Hubbard was a friend of White’s wife (legendary New Yorker editor Katharine White) as well as a contributor of short pieces to the magazine.  Ernest Hubbard was also — surprise! — a New Yorker cartoonist. Had it not been for the poem, I doubt I would’ve ever known about Mr. Hubbard. His two drawings were published in 1926, the first in the October 30th issue  and the second in the issue of November 6th. The latter appears below.

Hubbard

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.