Monday, December 31, 2007


News of Yore: Bill Holman Profiled

[from "The Cartoonist", fall 1957 issue]

In the annals of American cartoon­ing few men have risen to nobler heights of pure foolishness than Wil­liam Holman. As if born with fun-house mirrors for corneas, everything Holman sees has a zany twist. He is a master nut in the tradition of such past masters as Goldberg, Gross and Herriman.

While Holman's Smoky Stover has delighted readers with outrageous gags for 22 years, Holman, the man, has provided a fascinating shower of anecdotes for his friends for most of his 54 years. Holman's foibles are leg­endary. Many Holmanisms refer to his parsimonious resemblance to Jack Benny. Holman, they say affection­ately, has spent 40 years working to the top of a hotly competitive pro­fession, inspired by a passionate devo­tion to money. Holman would be the last to quarrel with these observations.

Although Holman is not considered a lavish spender (his money is com­pletely tied up in cash), John Pierotti recalls at least one exception: "I roomed with Bill on one European tour with Wilson McCoy, Hilda Terry, and Bill de la Torre. On our last night in Germany we drank and ate it up real good. Came the bill, we discov­ered we were broke because we had spent our last marks on shopping sprees. But Holman, as usual, had hoarded his. It was the only time I saw Bill stuck with a check."

In seeming contradiction to the leg­end, more than one artist in distress could tell of considerable Holman fi­nancial help. One close friend ob­served that both pictures are true and Holman is a man with conflicting im­pulses. His nature, generous and out­going, is restrained by a conservative midwest rearing and early years of financial insecurity.

It was while tending a popcorn ma­chine in a dime store that Holman, age 16, abandoned his early ambition to be a fireman and went to Chicago to study cartooning under Carl Ed at the Academy of Fine Arts. He started his career that year as a copy boy for the Chicago Tribune for $6 a week. Among his new cronies were Garret Price and Harold Gray.

For $35 a week Holman moved on to Cleveland to draw a strip called "Billville Birds". It was here that he met two men who became his life­long friends: a fellow wearing a fur collar, named J. R. Williams, and a tall, skinny blond (with whom he was to swipe gags from the local vaude­ville house) named Chic Young.

At 21, Holman felt prepared to move to the big time and New York. "Holman was a success right from the start in New York", says Reamer Keller. "He got a job at Hubert's Flea Circus. He'd lay down every evening at five and let the fleas feed on his head. The job kept Bill in scratch for a long time." This episode is not fully documented, but it is certain that Holman's itch to become a top car­toonist was unrelieved.

He started a strip, "G. Whizz Jr." [make that "Gee Whiz Jr." - Allan], with the Herald Tribune. The Trib­une syndicate office in the 1920's was a colorful rallying place and Holman was completely at home. The great Winsor McCay, smoke curling under his straw hat, presided over an India ink court of cartoonists and assorted actors and publicists who came to roost. It was here that W. C. Fields taught Holman to juggle. He can still bounce a few off the walls with fi­nesse. Will Rogers often dropped by. Also on view were Charles Voight, Clare Briggs and Frank Fogarty.

Frank recalls the then 26 year old Holman. "He held second base on the 'Syndicate Indoor Baseball Team' which played outdoors against 'Ward Morehouse's Editorials' in the rooftop league, atop the Tribune building. Once Bill hit a tremendous wallop into 40th Street. Gathering up speed on its ten story descent, the ball tore through a woman's umbrella and completely destroyed it. The lady sued the Tribune and Bill was the first baseball player benched for hit­ting."

Holman's early concern of cash ex­penditures was not limited to his own. Listen to Dave Gerard: "In the early 30's, Holman lived two stories above me on East 39th Street. Bandel Linn and I had been up on the newly com­pleted Empire State Building. We called Holman from the top to stick his head out of the window and wave a towel so we could see him through the telescope, which he did. One day later Linn was in my room and called Holman's room. "Holman", he said, "Gerard and I are on top of the Em­pire State again. Wave the towel!" We watched Holman wave his towel frantically two stories above. We re­peated the gag ten days running with Holman just as energetically waving his towel. Finally he exploded, "Look, for God's sake! You guys are always broke! What's the idea of paying a dollar-ten to go up on the Empire State Building every afternoon to see me wave my towel!"

Holman's romantic escapades of that era are largely unrecorded. Otto Soglow supplies one, however, that re­veals Holman as the Great Lover. "One day Bill found himself at Coney Island and ventured into the Tunnel of Love and discovered a female sit­ting on one of the painted rocks. She explained that she was left there by some guy who was getting too familiar. Bill saw a lot of the girl and senti­mentally recalls her in his strip to this day. She was a Lithuanian; Notary Sojac was her name." No Holmanisms are more inspired than Soglow's.

Holman is almost as well known as a performer as he is a cartoonist. He has appeared in movies and worked on radio and TV. Abner Dean, who was on a panel show with Holman, Gus Edson and Soglow, says of Holman the performer, "Bill has the rare quality of being able to switch from comic to straight man. He becomes a stimulant. His essential zanyism lifts others out of any rut."

The effect of Holman upon his au­diences is unique. He instantly estab­lishes rapport as he strides on stage dressed in a dark blue suit, dotted bow tie and perhaps a light blue sweater. His mouth clamps a lit cigar and his bald head is topped incon­gruously by a bright red fireman's hat. Before the audience can quite absorb the initial visual onslaught, Holman barks in deadpan, "Cut out that laugh­ing, you idiots!" or "Shut up, you crazy screwballs!" The effect is elec­tric. They howl.

This approach has also provided his fellow performers with some queasy moments. Al Posen, long time friend and associate, had this experience: "We were putting on a show at the military hospital at Northport, L. I. The doctor in charge cau­tioned us not to make any reference to the mental condition of the patients as the audience would be made up of G.I.'s from the psychiatric ward. Bill evidently missed the briefing be­cause as soon as he came on he began referring to the patients as a bunch of nuts and screwballs — and they loved it. Bill was probably the only man in the world who could get away with it. Obviously, the audience recog­nized him as one of their own."

Holman cavorts overseas as if Europe were his home town of Crawfordsville, Indiana, where everybody knows him. He assumes that everyone from an obscure Arab in Morocco to a barmaid in a remote French village is a rabid Smoky Stover fan. This blithe assumption is incredible to his traveling companions only until they find it more often than not to be true. Gus Edson was one. "We were flying 7000 feet over the stormy North Atlantic when the pilot turned to Bill and said, 'There's a Norwegian weather ship right below us,' and with that the pilot radioed the ship and told them, 'I have Bill Holman aboard, famous American cartoonist who draws Smoky Stover.' The ship radioed back, 'Ask that crazy guy what Notary Sojac means!' "

After almost 40 years of cartoon­ing Holman retains all his youthful enthusiasm for his work. He takes pride in his craftsmanship. His gentle nature is always masked in a jest. He is incapable of a mean intention. His head is a jackpot of puns. His comedy fuse never stops sputtering. Holman looks and acts like an operator newly in from promoting P. T. Bamum's latest oddities.

Marty Branner wrote this "Owed to Bill Holman", dedicated to Mrs. Hol­man.

Many a tale I've heard over and over
About that cartoonist who draws Smoky Stover.
You could grow old waiting for Wil­liam to buy,
Yet, when you know Holman, he's not a bad guy.
He once threw a dinner, and 'twixt me and you
Bill paid the whole check and he never said "FOO".
But of all his virtues, the best, be it said,
Is his wife Dolores, that gorgeous redhead.

Dolores, the best Holman authority of all, has this to say: "Life with Bill certainly isn't dull. I never know if on a week's notice I will be heading for Paris, the middlewest or Timbuktu. He does have a faculty for not hearing at times (when I want something) but then, aren't most husbands like that? To use that old cliche, I'd do it again. You just gotta love that guy."
We all do, Dolores, we all do.


Hello, Allan-----Technically, in the eighth paragraph, it should say that Holman did GEE WHIZ, JR. for the N.Y.Herald, not the Herald-Tribune, as the two papers didn't merge until about a year later. Also, it says that he met Winsor McCay there. Wasn't McCay working for Hearst for some ten years at this time?---------2266 Nix Nix, Cole Johnson.
Hi Cole -
McCay returned to the Herald 1924-26 to resurrect Little Nemo. As for the Herald-Tribune the papers didn't combine until 1924 but weren't they under the same ownership earlier?

-- "Too Lazy To Look It Up" Allan
Hello All----I don't know how I forgot about McCay's second run at Nemo in '24-'26, but you see here that anything's possible.-Cole J.
I recently bought a reprint of Smokey Stover #1 with an intro by Harvey Kurtzman who mention's Holman's having been in a couple of movies. Any clues anyone?
There were documentary shorts: Maestro of the Comics (1946) and Screen Snapshots: Famous Cartoonists (1950).

Bhob @ Potrzebie
Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]