Tuesday, January 13, 2009

 

Excerpts from Louis Sobol's "The Longest Street"

I'm going to save you the price of a book today. I purchased a copy of Louis Sobol's memoir The Longest Street (1968, Crown Publishing) because the author began his career as a Broadway columnist at the wild and woolly New York Evening Graphic. Always hungry for any information about the goings-on at that paper, I was disappointed with my investment in the book since Sobol devotes very little space to the subject.

I did, however, find a few interesting passages about cartoonists and I figured I'd save you from reading a 450 page book yourself in order to ferret out these little gems.

The Sad Declining Years of Carl Schultze
"In an earlier book of mine, Some Days Were Happy, I dwelt briefly on a long-forgotten cartoonist, Carl E. Schultze. Now I'd like to present the complete story.

Back in April of 1935, I ran a line to the effect that Schultze, creator of the highly popular comic strip "Foxy Grandpa" which was originated in the New York Herald at the turn of the century and then moved on to the New York American and other Hearst papers, was reported eking out a meager living drawing posters for YMCAs.
Two days later came a letter from Schultze, confessing that for more than a year he had lodged at the Twenty-third Street YMCA turning out cards and posters for the branch. "But," he added, "things look brighter now, and I'm planning to modernize the old character and give him new life in book form."

In the same mail arrived a note from Karl T. Marx, Secretary of the German-American Conference Relief Committee, advising that the veteran cartoonist had applied at the office for help and been assigned to interview applicants for jobs.

I was filled with melancholy over the plight of an artist who in his day ranked with the top-drawer cartoonists—as readers of my generation certainly should recall—for many of us had been ardent fans of the genial, philosophical character Schultze had created.

A week later, another note arrived from Schultze. "Your 'Voice of Broadway' certainly started something. The latest is the Associated Press which came in here yesterday with a fine hurray—pictures and everything. From the quiet tranquil life, I have suddenly found myself in a whirlwind of activity—a sort of dust storm—but gold dust. Even if none gathers down around me, I've certainly got the old works tuned up and am happily on my way. Anyway I have known for quite a few years past the things most worthwhile in life and haven't a single kick to register. Life can always be good—it's silly to mind the bumps."

And, indeed, feature stories appeared in several of the Man­hattan newspapers, detailing his earlier career, praising his ac­ceptance of his current obscurity and financial distress. He was sixty-nine then.

I lost contact with the fine, cheerful old gentleman until one day in January of 1939, while I was on the Coast, accumulated mail was forwarded to me, and among the items was a postcard from Schultze with a brief little message. "A smile from Foxy Grandpa. So nice to be alive with nice people who are alive. So happy days." It was signed with a drawing of Foxy Grandpa— and then Schultze's own signature.

The card was dated January 12. It reached me January 19, the very day that the newspaper carried the news of the artist's death of a heart attack at the age of seventy-two. According to the obituaries, the once dominant and high-earning cartoonist had been subsisting for a year or so on a $95-a-month job as an illustra­tor in the reading materials project of the WPA."
George Luks a Pariah among Cartoonists?
This passage includes several factoids worthy of a raised eyebrow.
"The Artists & Writers Club, as its label indicates, was origin­ally organized to gather certain members of the literary and art sets for occasional dinners and chatter, though often outsiders were admitted to our esoteric clan. Usually, we congregated in the up­stairs dining room of "21."

Sports columnist Grantland Rice, one of the original organ­izers, was president. After his death, cartoonist Rube Goldberg succeeded him. Goldberg usually was the master of ceremonies at our gatherings.

An account of just one meeting may convey some idea of what took place at these sessions. This one took place on December 7, 1944, and, of course, since December 7 was a memorable date in our history, there were solemn toasts to our fighting lads.

Then we turned to lighter subjects. Artist James Montgomery Flagg revealed his minor problems when he began painting that famous and much-discussed mural of the Dempsey-Willard fight that was to be hung in Jack Dempsey's restaurant.

"I didn't even know how sensitive some folks could be," he lamented. "Why, this fight was held back in 1919, and I painted in some folks who never were at that fight simply because Jack thought they were important and should be included. Do you know something? Some of them, and I'm not kidding, actually squawked because they didn't like the seats I put them in! And my friend Damon Runyon told me he wasn't too sure he even liked the people I put next to him in that painting."

Producer John Golden was another speaker. He discussed old-time chaps who drew and wrote and got together occasionally for fun and light imbibing. Among those he mentioned was that cartoonist genius, Dick Outcault, who had created the popular cartoon, "Yellow Kid." He said Outcault hadn't originally intended that the "kid" should be yellow, but there was a slight mishap in the coloring process. Golden confessed that it was he who used to write the balloon captions for the cartoon. "I got more of a kick out of them," he insisted, "Than when I wrote 'Poor Butterfly' years later."

"Well, William Randolph Hearst came along and coaxed Outcault to bring 'Yellow Kid' over to the Journal. Whereupon Joe Pulitzer, irked by this theft of one of his artists, had a certain newcomer imitate the strip, and for quite a while we had two 'Yellow Kids' running. Everybody in the business considered this highly unethical, and in fact many of the boys stopped talking to the young imitator artist.

"The years passed, and I became a producer. One day my secretary came in and said there was a man outside to see me, and, of course, as you must guess, it was the ostracized cartoonist. By this time, I wasn't as peeved with him as I had been in those earlier days, so I told the girl to show him in.

"He said: 'Look here, John Golden, you don't have to be so high-hat with me. I don't do any silly cartoons anymore. I move around with the best of them. I paint kings and queens, and I get more for a single painting than I did for a whole year's cartooning. So don't be so stuck up with me. I'm just as important as you are.'"

Golden went on to tell us that indeed the fellow had become as important as he claimed. He was George B. Luks whose paint­ings were hung in national museums around the world, and whom James Huneker once described as "a Puck, a Caliban, a Falstaff, a tornado."

A Rare Photo

"A rare photo when Healy's on Broadway was a popular rendezvous. This gathering was a "welcome back to freedom" for Hype Igoe, famed Hearst sports columnist who had been jailed for some minor infraction of the law. Among the assembly: bottom row, starting with the fourth from the left, we spot Wilson Mizner, noted raconteur oft profiled man-about-town of the twenties; then "Tad" (T. A. Dorgan), famed Hearst sports cartoonist, Hype Igoe, composer Irving Berlin, cartoonist Tom McNamara ("Us Boys"), also cartoonists Walter Hoban, Hal Coffman, Cliff Sterett ("Polly and Her Pals"). In the row above, we lead off with Victor Watson, Hearst editor who com­mitted suicide, then third from left, cartoonist Winsor McCay ("Nemo" and "Lady Bountiful"). Fifth from right, cartoonist Jimmy Swinnerton, and third from right, cartoonist humorist Harry Hershfield.

Healy's has long joined the Tombs of Broadway—and for that matter Hype Igoe has passed on. And so have most of those in this gay assembly, although Hershfield and Berlin long beyond the threescore-and-ten mark remain very much alive and active."
Not mentioned in Sobol's caption are 'Stanley' (blurry, on the left edge) who might have been cartoonist Lee Stanley of "The Old Home Town" and "Duke" Wellington who I'm guessing is Charles H. Wellington of "Pa's Son-In-Law", Can you identify any others?

Comments:
Stanley is Stanley Ketchel Middle Weight Champion of the world.
 
All of these-- but especially the Luks account-- are really relevant to my dissertation research. Any chance you have page numbers for any of these?
 
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