Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Will Gould's Asparagus Tipps
Those of us who were acquainted with Will Gould, popular sports cartoonist on
the Graphic in its early days, were never able to understand why he abandoned
the drawing board, after achieving considerable success at it, to disappear in
Hollywood. He had shown promise of becoming one of the greatest artists in the
business and had a tremendous following.
Gould left the Graphic to join King Features. There he drew a daily sports
panel and a detective comic strip serial called Red Barry, which were widely
distributed. Then suddenly he chucked it all.
"I got bored too easily," was his recent explanation, "especially when
I discovered California and that delightful narcotic known as golf." He now
works for TV and radio.
One of the first jumps in Graphic circulation came when he introduced
Asparagus Tipps, a racing strip that suggested winners. With beginner's luck he
hit six straight long shots in one week. This phenomena had track circles agog.
Asparagus Tipps was extensively promoted on the sides of trucks and billboards,
in front page headlines, and in racing journals. The circulation department said
it had added 35,000 readers.
Asparagus Tipps became the subject of wide discussion and many track
followers ignored the statistics and advice of racing forms to put their money
on the horses it recommended. The story of this popular feature of the times is
told here by Gould:
"I created the strip because Gauvreau asked me, urged, cajoled and did
everything but threaten. I had at first refused, the reason being because I
thought it would be an infringement of Ken Kling's Joe and Asbestos running in
the Mirror, although I knew that Bud Fisher, in creating Mutt and Jeff, first
started them as track picking winners. When Gauvreau finally told me that he was
doing a column which was an imitation of Brisbane's Today and asked why I should
be so squeamish I left his office and came back in ten minutes with the title
Asparagus Tipps. Months later Jim Jennings of the sports staff returned from the
six day bike races at the Garden and said that Ken Kling was blowing his top
because I had swiped his idea. In those days I really could get redheaded at
what I interpreted as an injustice. With Gauvreau's permission I drew a strip
that would quiet Mr. Kling. Every now and then when I would pick more than one
horse, and didn't do so well, I naturally blamed it on Asparagus. Felix O'Fan,
another character in the strip, would give him a lecture on being swell-headed
and over-confident. In this particular strip Felix said: 'After all, even being a comic-strip character who picks the winners of horse races isn't new. Bud Fisher originated that 35 years ago.'
"Once Kling and I had the same horse, the same day. It was called
Canter. Because of our touting, it was backed down to 5 to 1. It broke Frank
Erickson's Jersey book. Then it came to pass that all the horses I tipped in the
strip were being scratched, the owners figuring they couldn't get much of a
price if the whole town went in on it. Finally we suspected a leak at the
engraving plant that was making our cuts. It was decided that I leave the name
of the horse out and then have it set up in type just before we went to press.
That worked for a while and then the scratches started all over again. I got
tired and dropped it. Years later it shrunk to a single panel and finally was
Little things used to make big doings on the Graphic in Gould's time.
He tells of one incident concerned with the fighting game that had temperament
flying all over the place and which resulted in his departure from the
"My righteous indignation," said Gould, "exploded one Friday night
when I returned from the fights at Madison Square Garden and found the following
note in my typewriter: 'Dear Gould ... In the future please do not devote so
much space to unknowns as Sully Montgomery.' It was signed by Gauvreau.
"Being a nonconformist to the nth degree, a rebel at any type of
regimentation, I resented any type of inter-office memo. Besides I had three
offers for my services, two from King Features and one from Payne, Managing
Editor of the Mirror. I told Jennings, who happened to be around, that if
Gauvreau had anything to say he could say it to me in person. At that time I had
a mental picture of Gauvreau in tears, pacing the floor, and pleading with me to
turn down the offers on the ground that Hearst was trying to break up the
Graphic. I went looking for Gauvreau while Jennings tried to reason with me.
When I found him I let go with the blast: 'The guy who wrote that note doesn't
know prize-fighting from hemstitching and I've got a good mind to blow this
sheet once and for all.' Gauvreau listened intently as I proceeded to prove that
Sully Montgomery was first in line for a shot at the heavyweight title. I could
have done the same with any bantamweight. Here's how heavyweight contenders are
made, Gould style, I told him. Take a bantamweight. Somewhere along the line
he's licked a guy who became a featherweight, the featherweight later licked a
guy who later licked a middleweight, etc., and in the end you have a 118 pounder
with some type of 'moral victory' over a 220 pounder who is now the leading
contender for the world heavyweight crown. With Montgomery this wasn't that much
involved but I am sure I had Gauvreau thoroughly confused. In the end I finally
ran out of steam and was looking for an exit-line. It came. Being sharp and
nimble with the ad lib I managed to wind up my tirade with one word 'Nuts' and
fairly flew out of the office before he could figure it all out.
"Actually the real reason for using Sully Montgomery in a feature
cartoon was because I'd kidded around all day and had less than half an hour to
make the deadline. So I used an old 'head' of Sully, pasted it on a fresh sheet
of bristol board, drew a few comic figures around it and sent it to the
engravers. The following morning some remorse set in over my tirade and so I
went down to the Graphic and asked my friend Lester Cohen if Gauvreau was sore
after I had left. Cohen happened to be present during my flare-up. Deadpanned,
he asked if I'd really like to know. With some trepidation I said yes. His reply
was 'Gauvreau said there goes one helluva good sports writer.' And being a boy
then all I could do was gulp."