James Thurber, Cartoon Critic
On a recent search through Thurber biographies in the Spill library I happened upon a Thurber letter I’d forgotten about. Written to Harold Ross, and dated October 20, 1941, it appears in the mother ship of all Thurber biographies, Harrison Kinney’s twelve hundred and thirty-eight page Thurber: His Life And Times (Henry Holt, 1995).
Thurber, unhappy his ideas supplied for the artist, Mary Petty have been rejected, takes issue with five drawings in the current issue — the issue of October 18, 1941. After Thurber reminds Ross that this letter is not his first complaint (all Thurber quotes in this post are bolded):
You already have filed away for your autobiography some 50 or 100 blasphemous notes from me on what is the matter with the magazine.
he goes on to say:
The really great New Yorker drawings have had to do with people sitting in chairs, lying on the beach, or walking along the street. The easy answer the art meeting always gives to the dearth of ideas like the ones I am trying to describe is that they are hard to get or that nobody sends them in anymore. It seems to me that the principle reason for this is that the artists take their cue from the type of drawing which they see constantly published in the magazine.
Here are those first three drawings, by Richard Decker, Alan Dunn, and Ned Hilton. (Mr. Decker’s caption, difficult to read in the scan, is: “Where have you been. Your plane crashed half an hour ago.”)
Thurber writes of these drawings:
Years ago I wrote a story for The New Yorker in which a woman who tried to put together a cream separator suddenly snarled at those who were looking at her and said, “Why doesn’t somebody take this god damned thing away from me?” I want to help take the cream separators, parachutes, fire extinguishers, paint brushes and tomahawks away from four-fifths of the characters that appear in the The New Yorker idea drawings…
Thurber goes on to talk about two other drawings in the issue. Here’s Thurber on this drawing by Leonard Dove:
It must have been six years ago you told me drawings about psychoanalysts were terribly out of date. The next week I turned in one in which the analyst says, “A moment ago, Mrs. Ridgway, you said that everybody you looked at seemed to be a rabbit. Now just what did you mean by that?”* …But you can’t publish a drawing about an analyst and a woman with the caption, “Your only trouble is, Mrs. Markham, that you’re so horribly normal.” This is one of the oldest, tritest, and most often repeated lines in the world.
And then Thurber moved on to this Chon Day drawing:
…this is such an extravagant distortion of reality, it is so far removed from what any salesman would ever say, that to be successful it has to be fantastic. But since the situation is not fantastic, it ends up simply being a bad gag…No sales man ever said to any housewife what you have him saying in the cartoon I am talking about. That is a gag man’s idea.
*Thurber didn’t quite get his own caption right. The actual caption: “You said just a moment ago that everybody you look at seems to be a rabbit. Now just what do you mean by that, Mrs. Sprague?” It appeared in The New Yorker February 13, 1937.
William Steig Drawings At Auction
The other day it was noted here that the Swann Galleries will auction New Yorker work December 10th. Yesterday a Spill visitor sent me this listing of Steig drawings to be auctioned December 5th by Bonhams. Some beautiful work by one of The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Gods!
Meet The Artist (1943): Gluyas Williams
Speaking of NYer Cartoon Gods, here’s a self portrait of Gluyas Williams from the 1943 catalog published by the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum.
…and here’s Mr. Williams’s entry on the Spill‘s A-Z:
Gluyas Williams (above left undated; right: 1 975) Born, San Francisco, 1888. Died, Boston, Mass., 1982. One of the pillars of Harold Ross’s stable of artists, and one of Ross’s favorite cartoonists. His beautiful full page drawings were a regular feature in the magazine. Mr. Williams illustrated a number of Robert Benchley’s collections, providing the cover art as well as illustrations. New Yorker work: March 13, 1926 – Aug 25, 1951. Key collections: The Gluyas Williams Book ( Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1929), The Gluyas Williams Gallery (Harper, 1956). Website: http://www.gluyaswilliams.com/