This coming Sunday, the 8th of December, marks two anniversaries of note, one happy and the other not at all happy. The happier one: James Thurber was born that day in 1894. The unhappy anniversary: it was on that day in 1980 that the former Beatle, John Lennon was murdered in New York City.
Other than that unfortunate intersection on the calendar, there is a much sunnier connection between these two artists & writers. Lennon’s drawings, published in 1964’s In His Own Write immediately drew comparisons to Thurber’s work. According to a Lennon biographer, Ray Coleman, Lennon at first scoffed at the suggestion, telling a BBC interviewer in 1965, who brought up book reviewers mentioning Thurber and Edward Lear (among others) as influences on Lennon’s work, “I deny it because I’m ignorant of it.”
Not too many years later, in 1971, during an appearance by Yoko Ono and Lennon on The Dick Cavett Show, Cavett brought up the subject, saying, “You know, your drawings look a little like James Thurber’s.”
In a funny moment as Lennon begins to respond to Cavett, Yoko Ono turns to Lennon and says, “His work does look a bit like yours, y’know, I think” to which Lennon replies, “Well he’s older than me, so he came first, so I look like him.” And then he went on to say:
“I used to love his stuff when I was a kid. There were three people I was very keen on—Lewis Carroll, Thurber and an English drawer, or whatever you call him, called Ronald Searle. When I was about 11, I was turned on to those three. I think I was about 15 when I started Thurberizing the drawings.” (Another Lennon biographer, Philip Norman, credits Lennon’s Aunt Mimi with introducing her nephew to Thurber’s work).
Note: In His Own Write and the follow-up, A Spaniard in the Works are still in print. You can see many of the drawings in those two books by Googling: “John Lennon” +drawings (then select “Images”)
To see the Yoko Ono & John Lennon Cavett moment, click here. The discussion turns to Thurber at around the 6:05 mark.