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)


 

 

 

The First New Yorker Cartoon

As the 86th anniversary of The New Yorker approaches,  I’ve played a bit of New Yorker Trivial Pursuit, thinking about the first issue, and wondering who had the very first cartoon in the first issue of The New Yorker.

Once you’ve made your way past the famous Rea Irvin Eustace Tilley cover, and have turned the first page (with its heading, “Of All Things”) you run right into an Al Frueh drawing of a gent on a subway car, heeding the advice of a nearby sign to keep the subway cars clean. The passenger is seen putting great effort into cleaning one of the car’s windows.  Frueh not only had the first cartoon in the first New Yorker, he also had the first full page cartoon in the first issue (Wallace Morgan goes him one better later in the issue with the magazine’s first double page spread).

Frueh worked a decade-and-a-half at The New York World before settling into The New Yorker for the next thirty-seven years.  It’s more than fair to say he became at least as well known for his theatrical caricatures as for the roughly two hundred cartoons he contributed (and one cover,  for the magazine’s second issue, February 28, 1925).

Long ago, before I habitually dove into elderly copies of The New Yorker and became familiar with Frueh’s work,  I ran into this passage from James Thurber’s The Years with Ross:

…Frueh…once came upon me in my garage in Connecticut, sitting ten feet in front of my Ford and trying to draw it head on. ‘You can’t do that, Thurber,’ said Frueh, out of his vast knowledge and experience as a draughtsman. ‘You’d better draw it from the side.’ I took his advice.

The passage made an impression on me.  I draw cars nearly every day, and with Frueh’s words of wisdom in the back of my mind, I avoid the head-on drawing like the plague.

For more on Al Frueh:

The Complete New Yorker: the best place to see his work for the magazine.  It’s all there on disc: the theatrical caricatures, the cartoons, and his cover.

The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker:  limited, of course, to his cartoons.

Obscure, but worth it if you can find it:  an excellent booklet “The Art of Al Frueh” (pictured at the head of this post) that accompanied an exhibit of his work at The University of Connecticut in the Fall of 1983.  It includes The New Yorker’s obituary (written by Brendan Gill) in its entirety, published September 28, 1968.

The New York Times obituary of September 18, 1968.  Along with The New Yorker’s obit you  get a decent idea of Frueh’s rural life on his 100 acre nut farm in Sharon, Connecticut.

The New Yorker’s Cartoon Bank has three examples of Frueh’s cartoons.

Here At The New Yorker:  Brendan Gill’s memoir contains a self portrait of Frueh as well as affectionate memories.