Firsts: Thurber’s First New Yorker Drawings

When you think of James Thurber’s drawings you probably think of one or two or three of his classics.  But before any of his cartoons appeared in the magazine (his first cartoon appeared in the issue of January 31, 1931), he illustrated and wrote something he called Our Pet Department.  It was, from the very first, intended to be a series; the first installment (shown above) appeared in the magazine’s fifth anniversary issue, February 22, 1930.  What’s fascinating (to me) is that the piece contains two elements that would go on to be forever associated with Thurber’s art: a dog, and a seal. 

It’s unclear when the two camps formed over whether Thurber’s art was or wasn’t art. Was it when the illustrations began appearing, or was it nearly a year later when the cartoons started turning up. Thurber’s simple line certainly wasn’t a shock. A trio of single line artists were already established at the magazine by the time Thurber’s first drawings appeared: Gardner Rea, Otto Soglow, and Gluyas Williams.  But it appeared that no little effort went into their finished pieces.

Thurber’s drawings seemed as casual as the effort he claimed to have put into them; their initial appearances in the New Yorker seemed to have dropped like graphic boulders in a placid pond. Thurber’s New Yorker colleague Wolcott Gibbs wrote (this from the Book-of-the-Month Club News, February, 1945):

“…for a good many years [Thurber’s drawings] were regarded by the rest of the staff, with the exception of E.B. White, as a hell of a way to waste good copy paper, since his usual output at a sitting was twenty or more, not to mention those he drew on the walls.”   

 New Yorker history books tell us that White was instrumental in bringing Thurber’s art to the world’s attention.  In 1962, a year after Thurber’s death, White told Thurber biographer, Harrison Kinney that “I think his art surpasses his writing” and “his drawing has a touch of genius.”

 

 

 

 

  

Spinach, Part 2 with Shanahan, Steiner, and Weber

As anyone who follows cartoon art knows, nearly everything and anything is fair game, including other cartoons. The famous Carl Rose “spinach” cartoon from the December 8, 1928 New Yorker  (shown above) that was yesterday’s subject here (well, more precisely, its caption origin was the subject) spawned a number of later cartoons.  Danny Shanahan gets the credit for causing me to think about casting around the Cartoon Bank site, using search words/terms like “spinach”  “broccoli” and “the hell with it”  — here are three takes by three masters of the art of cartooning:

Danny Shanahan’s from the February 28, 2005 New Yorker:

Peter Steiner’s from the July 24, 2000 New Yorker:

 

Robert Weber’s take, the February 21, 1994 New Yorker:

 

 

A Hmmmmm About Spinach

The Monday Tilley Watch, which usually appears in this place at this time, will be back next Monday as we’re in the second half of the last New Yorker‘s double issue week (the issue dated July 9 & 16, 2018).  In its stead, this brief puzzlement:

A Hmmmm About Spinach

Above: Carl Rose, E.B. White, A Can of Spinach

 

In December of 2013 the Spill posted a piece about the evolution of the caption of one of the most famous New Yorker cartoons.  The piece was updated and reposted in January of this year.  Here’s a further update (following the short burst of asterisks **********) — this time there’s a curious twist:

E.B. White is remembered as author of one of the most popular cartoon captions of the magazine’s earlier days, but perhaps it might be more accurate to say he was co-author, having adapted the caption from the artist’s original submission. The published caption, as it appeared beneath Carl Rose’s drawing in the December 8, 1928 New Yorker:spinach

“It’s broccoli, dear.”

“I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.”

 

The original caption, below, as submitted by Rose himself provided the framework for White’s sterling re-working. Rose’s original caption:

“Mother, if I eat my spinach, may I have some chocolate pudding?”

“No, dear, there isn’t any chocolate pudding today.”

“Well, then, the hell with the spinach.”

***********

This morning while rereading Carl Rose’s New York Times obit (June 22, 1971), I was somewhat startled to see the quote from Mr. White included in the paragraph below (I’ve bolded it).  I’d read Mr. Rose’s obit before without this quote causing a scene here.  This is why I re-read what I’ve read, and then re-re-read:

“With the December, 1928, publication of the cartoon, “spinach” took on a new, inedible meaning as a slang synonym for the distasteful. E.B. White, the man who supplied the caption, recalled in a telephone interview yesterday: “The spinach drawing came in with a caption that he (Rose) had put on it — some entirely different thing.”

Here’s the Hmmmm part: Was Mr. White’s caption an entirely different thing?  I immediately went to Scott Elledge’s wonderful biography of Mr. White hoping for clarification and/or amplification. Curiously, Mr. Elledge glides quickly over the spinach drawing, saying only: 

Soon nearly every issue of The New Yorker carried ten or twelve of his [White’s]  newsbreaks, five or six of his paragraphs of “Notes and Comment,” and one or more cartoons whose captions he had written or rewritten (Mother to child at the dinner table: “It’s broccoli, dear.” Child to mother: “I say it’s spinach and I say to hell with it.”).

From Elledge I went to The Letters of E.B White (the revised edition, published in 2006). In a letter dated April 12, 1980, White says (in part):

“The spinach cartoon was not a collaboration in the strict sense of the word…one day a Carl Rose cartoon turned up on my desk for a fix. I didn’t think much of Rose’s caption, so I wrote an entirely new one…”

And after checking several other possible sources (Kunkels’s Ross biography for one), I finally came across a letter from Harold Ross citing the “spinach” drawing (it can be found in Kunkel’s Letters From The Editor: The New Yorker’s Harold Ross).  Here, in part is his letter to a Mr. Stark, dated June 5, 1931:

The dope on the “spinach” caption is this.  Sometime, not very often but occasionally, we get a caption in the office here for a picture, rather than use the artist’s caption.  This is because we insist on the artist putting the idea into the picture rather than into the wording…Carl Rose sent that drawing in and E.B. White saw it and wrote the caption we used in the picture…I didn’t think it was anything very hot. I went away to Florida and Mrs. Katharine Angell, who subsequently became Mrs. E.B. White, and who always insisted it was hilariously funny or something, printed it. It very shortly became a by-word much to my surprise.

I return to Carl Rose.  In his one and only collection One Dozen Roses: An Album of Words and Pictures, published in 1946, Rose devotes considerable space to talking about his famous drawing:

Obviously, Rose felt it necessary to let it be known that he had a part in the caption itself.  For without his original submitted captions that included the words subsequently used in the published caption:  “spinach” and “the hell with” Mr. White would’ve been faced with a drawing of a mother and little child sitting at a table, and nothing more. Could White have come up with the published caption without seeing Rose’s captions?

It seems fair that Mr. Rose receive some credit for the published caption (much as Yoko Ono was finally granted co-credit for John Lennon’s song, Imagine). Ordinarily, gagwriters receive no credit for their work (the Spill has covered this in previous posts. Here’s one).  But as Mr. White’s contribution to the drawing became public knowledge and his authorship of the published caption undeniable, Mr. Rose’s contribution to the published caption should be accepted as well. 

I leave you with this quote from One Dozen Roses. Mr. Rose, obviously proud of his skill as both writer and artist, writes:

I did not originate every idea in this book.  Of the 115 drawings in this collection, 92 are mine, mine!

 

 

 

 

 

Armed Services Editions: Thurber, Benchley, White, Arno, O’Hara, Parker, Woollcott & More

The Spill has been very fortunate over its decade plus span to receive numerous contributions to its archives. The latest is a treasure trove of Armed Services Editions from Prof. Brian Anderson of Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, NC..  Prof. Anderson, seeing an ASE-related post on this site, recently supplied a list of the New Yorker related editions as well as a box of editions (many of which you see above). Also in the box: a pony edition of The New Yorker, dated January 27, 1945, cover by Perry Barlow.  Prof. Anderson, along with Molly Guptill Manning are curating an exhibit of Armed Services Editions at the Grolier Club in the spring of 2020.

Here’s a short list of titles by some favorites (the bolded ones are in the Spill‘s archives):

The New Yorker’s Baedeker 819
New Yorker Profiles 955
The New Yorker Reporter at Large 1066

By Thurber
My World and Welcome to It A-11 (reprinted as S-5)
My Life and Hard Times L-2 (856)
Let Your Mind Alone N-7 (rpt 755)
The Middle Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze I-253 (rpt 705)
The Thurber Carnival 970

With E. B. White
Is Sex Necessary M-2 (rpt 1016)

By E. B. White
One Man’s Meat P-26
Quo Vadimas 696

With Katharine White A Subtreasury of American Humor  F-176 

Margaret Case Harriman Take Them up Tenderly  Q-26

 Walter Bernstein Keep Your Head Down  903

Charles Boyer Dark Ship  1156

John McNulty Third Avenue, New York  1180

Joseph Mitchell McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon D-108

Dorothy Parker Selected Short Stories R-4

John O’Hara Pipe Night 741

John O’Hara The Doctor’s Son and Other Stories 979

Robert Benchley After 1903 What? R-5

Samuel Hopkins Adams A. Woollcott 931

The Bedside Tales / Introduction by Peter Arno 933

 

Podcast of Interest: How To Read Nancy’s Karasik & Newgarden; Blog of Interest: A New Yorker State of Mind

How To Read Nancy authors, Karasik & Newgarden join Gil Roth on his Virtual Memories ShowListen here.

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Blog of Interest: A New Yorker State of Mind: Reading Every Issue of The New Yorker Magazine

A look at the issue of December 8, 1928 —  wherein appears one of the most famous of all New Yorker cartoons:

  Read it here

*Here’s a revamped Spill post from Dec. 21, 2013 on the evolution of the caption for the drawing:

E.B. White is remembered as author of one of the most popular cartoon captions of the magazine’s earlier days, but perhaps it might be more accurate to say he was co-author, having adapted the caption from the artist’s original submission. The published caption, as it appeared beneath Carl Rose’s drawing in the December 8, 1928 New Yorker:spinach

“It’s broccoli, dear.”

“I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.”

 

The original caption, below, as submitted by Rose himself provided the framework for White’s sterling re-working. Rose’s original caption:

“Mother, if I eat my spinach, may I have some chocolate pudding?”

“No, dear, there isn’t any chocolate pudding today.”

“Well, the, the hell with the spinach.”