From the Attic: Cobean, Ross, and Peter Arno

Here’re three more items that will soon be added to the Attic.

 

 

Above: A Sam Cobean handkerchief. Other than Thurber I can’t think of another of the magazine’s cartoonists who was more fond of delving into the whole man/woman thing.

 

 

Below:

This Timex watch with an Al Ross drawing on its face is not very old, but it’s interesting.  Danny Shanahan donated this to the Attic a few years ago. I hadn’t opened the box in awhile and when I did, the watch was still ticking.

 

 

Below:

A box of Peter Arno cocktail napkins.  When I began working on Arno’s biography, I bought nearly everything I came across that had anything to do with Arno.

 

 

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)


 

 

 

Al Ross: 1911 – 2012

 

The New York Times has reported that New Yorker cartoonist Al Ross has died.    Al, who was 100, easily held the title of most senior member of this cadre. He contributed over six hundred drawings to the magazine, from November 27, 1937 through February 18, 2002.

 

There were a number of veteran cartoonists who warmly welcomed me when I first began at The New Yorker.  Al Ross was one of them.  For a kid (I was 24) who suddenly found himself socializing with the magazine’s legendary cartoonists, Al’s upbeat vibe and amused expression was the perfect tonic for freshman insecurity. Al didn’t wear his seniority on his sleeve –- his warmth was inclusive, uncomplicated, and genuine.

 

If it wasn’t enough that Al was a great guy, he was also a superb cartoonist with a style to die for.  His fluid line, and the humor it incorporated seemed effortless.  Many cartoonists resemble their work and Al was no exception; he carried himself as his characters carried themselves on paper; he, and they, seemed always in motion (heck, even his signature seemed in a hurry).

 

The first time I met him, at a party following a gallery exhibit of New Yorker cartoons, I was leaving, heading into an elevator and he was coming out, about to throw himself into the throng. He paused to shake hands, and delivered what I’d see again and again whenever we ran into each other: a welcoming smile.

 

I interviewed Al back in 1999 as part of my research for the Peter Arno biography I’d just begun.  He told me, with much amusement, that he’d once been in room full of cartoonists, and overheard Arno say to colleague, “Where do half these guys get off calling themselves cartoonists?”   The last time I saw Al, at an exhibit of New Yorker cartoons, I was arriving and he was leaving. As he headed out the door, he paused and turned back to the room. Smiling broadly, he said with an air of mock sincerity, “‘Where do half these guys get off calling themselves cartoonists?”

 

 

Video: Paul Noth; Eli Stein celebrates Al Ross’s 100th; New Book: a Wolcott Gibbs anthology

From a blog by Peter McGraw, October 26, 2011, “Will these cartoons be funny in other countries?” – this post, including a short video of an interview with Paul Noth

 

From Eli Stein’s website, “We All Have to Start Somewhere Dept. Case in Point #16,” this post featuring work by Al Ross

 

From Salon, October 21, 2001, “The New Yorker writer that time forgot,” this review of a Wolcott Gibbs anthology, Backward Ran Sentences

[ in the earliest days of The New Yorker, Gibbs, as Katharine White’s assistant, was  given the sometimes unenviable task of hand holder, which meant talking to the artists, sending them notes, handing them rejections, etc..

Charles Addams fans might remember that Addams illustrated several book jackets for Gibbs, including Season in the Sun (Random House, 1951) and More in Sorrow (Holt, 1958) ]