In Good Company: a look at the cartoons in Al Ross’s New Yorker debut issue

 

The news that Al Ross passed away last week got me to thinking about  his start at The New Yorker, way way back in the issue of November 27, 1937, when he was twenty-five years old. This morning I went to our cabinet full of bound New Yorkers, brought out the volume from late 1937 and began paging through the particular issue that contains Al’s inaugural drawing. It’s a wonderful snapshot of that time with an outstanding roster of cartoonists.

The issue begins with a Helen Hokinson cover,  one of those pieces capturing a moment. Beautiful. The first cartoon is by Charles Addams, done in his earlier style before his drawings became more defined. Next up is a Richard Decker drawing printed in step-ladder fashion – sitting atop two columns of type. On the opposite page, a Richard Taylor, also step-ladderish. Taylor had such an unusual style – it reminds me of P.C. Vey’s in a way. Turning the page we come to a beautiful full page by William Galbraith. On the opposite page a great spot drawing by Suzanne Suba – a Macy’s parade moment.

Next page, a Mary Petty that nearly eats up the whole page. Opposite that is a short piece by E.B.White titled “Small Thanks to You “(sorry, couldn’t avoid mentioning that). Several pages later a Syd Hoff spread along the top third of the page. Up next is one of the masters of the full page, Gluyas Williams. A few pages later the two Prices face each other: George and Garrett.

I have to take a break here just for a moment and comment on the way the make-up department handled the cartoons. With the exception of the full page cartoons, every single cartoon was awarded a unique space, meaning the shape of the cartoon is different for each cartoon. Even the cartoons that are rectangular are never the same size (the Hoff stretched out three columns wide, the Garrett Price two and a half columns wide).

Turning the page, a Robert Day cartoon (another rectangle, but nearly square). Two pages later, not a cartoon, but an Al Frueh drawing illustrating a current Broadway show.  Frueh does a terrific take on Orson Welles.  Would love to see a collection of his theater pieces in a book (there is a very nice catalog of his work, but so far, not a collection).

Two pages later we find Al Ross’s first New Yorker cartoon (caption: “Listen, Chief…”). Those familiar with Al’s later work would be hard pressed to recognize this cartoon as one of his.  It’s done in a somewhat early Addams-ish style. Across the gutter from the cartoon the name “Robert Benchley” appears at the end of his theater review.  Heady company!

A number of pages go by before we reach a fairly large and very funny Barbara Shermund cartoon.  Leafing through more pages, through the New Yorker’s holiday wrap up of children’s toys and books, we come upon a brief review of Dr. Seuss’s  And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street: “Slight but humorous. Spirited comic-strip pictures and a rhymed text show the power of exaggeration…”

And finally, a Perry Barlow cartoon to end the issue.  It’s a children’s book themed drawing running on the book review page.  If I’m not mistaken this is an unusual pairing. I’ve been under the impression for most of my life that the editors avoided tying the cartoons to the surrounding story.

Before we close the magazine, a treat near the end:  a full page ad for The 1937 New Yorker Album, published by Random House. A banner running across the page declares: “Just Published – bigger and funnier than ever.” Contributors include all the aforementioned in this post ( except Al, whose work would begin showing up in later Albums) plus, among others,  Peter Arno, James Thurber,  Rea Irvin, Gardner Rea, Otto Soglow, Alan Dunn, Barney Tobey, Alajalov,  Chon Day, Carl Rose, Whitney Darrow, Jr., and William Steig.  Wow.

 

For more on Al Ross, head on over to newyorker.com, where the magazine’s cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff, has posted this piece (it includes a good scan of Al’s first cartoon).

And for even more: Mike Lynch has posted a number of Al’s drawings on his site. (You’ll need to scroll down a ways, past all the NCS business)


 

 

 

Fifty Years Earlier

As a cartoonist it’s (mostly) all about what’s next; this may explain why I sometimes like to take a breather and think about what was.  Still in a celebratory mode because of The New Yorker’s 86th anniversary, I went to my collection of anniversary issues and pulled out the issue from fifty years ago, dated February 18, 1961.   Thought I’d sit with it for a few moments and take a look at the cartoons.

There’s no “Table of Contents” for the issue ( the magazine didn’t add that helpful feature until the issue of March 22, 1969),  so knowing whose work appears inside will be a surprise.

William Steig’s work appears on page 14, but it’s not a cartoon, it’s an ad — an illustration for  First National City Bank.  Moving through the movie listings ( “Ben Hur,” “the Misfits,” “Exodus,” etc., etc.) and pausing to take in Otto (“The Little King”) Soglow’s wonderful “Talk of the Town” drawings, we encounter the first cartoon of the issue, and it’s by the magazine’s most prolific cartoonist, Alan Dunn (Dunn also holds the honor of being one half of the first married New Yorker cartoonist couple.  His wife was Mary Petty).   Dunn was an expert at making something out of the day’s headlines, and in this case the drawing reflects our country’s endless fascination with the Russians.

Next is a George Price drawing of a waiter holding a giant shish-kebob setting off the  restaurant’s sprinkler system.  A good solid effort by one of the masters of the Golden Age.  Richard Decker’s drawing of a doctor’s waiting room filled with self-promoting ads, including a “Specials” sign, wouldn’t be so out of place – with some tweaking — in today’s New Yorker.

A Robert Kraus is next, done in his inviting moody Dedini-esque style, and then an Ed Fisher drawing (by my calculations, the eighty-fifth of his career at The New Yorker – he eventually published just over 700).  Another Alan Dunn follows ( tied into current events, of course) and then a classic Steig husband-and-wife  domestic scene ( I can’t help but be reminded that The New Yorker is fortunate to have a contemporaneous expert at  capturing domestic scenes: Victoria Roberts). Opposite Steig’s drawing is a Steinberg,  captionless of course ( he’d given up captions long ago).  A man wearing  a helmet and shield sits on a rearing horse—they’ve just encountered a projection screen, such as the kind a family would set up to watch home movies.

A page later is a  half-page captionless Charles Addams drawing ( Addams told Dick Cavett that the captionless drawings were his favorite kind).  Turn the page and there’s a Charles Saxon ( man, did he have a smooth style) and then a Lee Lorenz ( his eighty-eighth drawing for the magazine in a career still going like gang-busters). Another page finds a Chon Day, the master of economical styling ( not counting Thurber).  Two pages later, a three-quarter beauty by Whitney Darrow, Jr.,  specifically referencing the new family at The White House; Caroline Kennedy utters the caption.

After the Darrow drawing it’s a fifty-four page wait til the next cartoon, wherein James Stevenson takes us back to a couple in ancient Rome and, shockingly(!) uses the word “orgy” in his caption.  Another twenty-nine pages zoom by before we reach the last cartoon in the issue.  By Frank Modell, it’s a bar scene, and the subject is nearly everyone’s favorite subject — a subject at which Modell excels: men and women.