Sixty-six years ago this month James Thurber’s last original cartoon appeared in The New Yorker (the issue of March 23, 1946). Now before I get sympathetic emails telling me I’m woefully misinformed, and that Thurber’s drawings were appearing in the magazine well into the late 1950s, let me explain:
By the late 1940s Thurber had lost nearly all of his sight (he told Harvey Breit in a New York Times Magazine interview in 1949 that it had been a couple of years since he’d drawn and that he’d “practically given it up”). Facing the sad prospect that there’d be no more Thurber cartoons appearing in The New Yorker, Thurber friend and New Yorker writer, Peter DeVries, suggested to Harold Ross that a great way to continue publishing Thurber drawings would be to take some of his already published drawings and add new captions (supplied, of course, by Thurber). Ross loved this idea, and began running these hybrids with the September 11, 1948 issue. The freshly captioned drawings ran until February 12, 1949 (and that last was a composite of two previously run Thurber drawings). Spot drawings, often edited from their original appearance, continued to appear until December 13, 1958. The very last original Thurber drawing to appear in the magazine was a spot of two men boxing (November 1, 1947).
That brings me back to the March 23, 1946 drawing/cartoon (whichever you prefer). A man and a woman are sitting on a couch and the woman says, “Your faith is really more disturbing than my atheism.” By happenstance — or was it planned? — the man in this very last original cartoon is undoubtedly a self portrait. Thurber had drawn himself many times before (and would draw himself one last time for publication – that appeared on the cover of Time in July of 1951), but how serendipitous that the last Thurber man standing (in this case sitting) in his last wholly original published New Yorker cartoon would be Thurber himself.
Bowden, Edwin T., James Thurber: A Bibliography, Ohio State University Press, 1968.
Breit, Harvey, The New York Times, “Mr. Thurber observes a serene birthday,” December 4, 1949.
Kinney, Harrison, Thurber: His Life and Times, Henry Holt, pages 898 -902.