Thurber Thursday: A Composite Thurber

There are a lot of fun Thurber factoids to be found in Edwin Bowden‘s James Thurber: A Bibliography (Ohio State University Press, 1968)Since I brought it home from Columbus, Ohio (I bought it in the Thurber House gift shop, of all places) I’ve gone to this book a zillion times for all sorts of Thurber-related issues that’ve come up.

An interesting chapter in Thurber’s New Yorker cartoon history that I’ve thought about for awhile popped up in my brain this morning, and so I turned once again to Bowden. On page 199, he cites one drawing (identified as C583) as a composite. 

I remembered reading in Burton Bernstein’s essential Thurber: A Biography (Dodd, Mead & Co. 1975) that when Thurber’s sight was near totally gone, Thurber, as Bernstein put it, “threw in the towel” and ceased (but not entirely*) to draw any more for publication. Harold Ross, not wanting The New Yorker to be Thurber-less art-wise (Thurber continued to contribute written pieces) devised a plan to repurpose Thurber’s artwork. Sometimes it was a case of republishing a drawing with a new caption, or part of a drawing, with a new caption.

According to Bowden, in this one case, a drawing published in the issue of February 12, 1949, was actually the result of two previously published drawings cobbled together with a new caption added: in other words,  a composite. The drawing that appeared in the issue of February 12, 1949 was, as you’ll see, a combination of a drawing published in the issue of January 9, 1943, and the other from the issue of October 2, 1943.

First, the composite, published Feb 12th,’49.


And now the two previous drawings, with the Jan. 9th, ’43 drawing first:

And here’s the October 2nd, ’43 drawing:

Bernstein wrote of this odd era of repurposing Thurber’s drawings:

“Ross…proposed that old cuts of Thurber drawings be reversed and elements in each be rearranged …to create whole new cartoons with new captions. A young cartoonist named Frank Modell was one of the staff artists given the rearrangement chore by Ross.”**

*According to Bernstein, Thurber’s last original published drawing appeared on the cover of Time, July 9, 1951 (shown below) and that the last original Thurber drawing in The New Yorker was a spot of two men boxing. It appeared in the issue of November 1, 1947.

**From Bernstein’s Thurber: A Biography, page 388.


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