Tuesday, March 16, 2010

 

News of Yore 1930 - Briggs Succumbs

Clare Briggs, Cartoon Genius, Dies at 54

Creator of "When a Feller Needs a Friend," "Days of Real Sport" and Other Notable Comics -- Began Newspaper Career as Sketch Artist on St. Louis Democrat

(from Editor & Publisher 1/11/1930)

Clare A. Briggs, creator of "When a Feller Needs a Friend," "Ain't It a Grand and Glorious Feeling?" and "The Days of Real Sport," and undoubtedly one of the greatest comic artists that American journalism has ever produced, died Jan. 3 at the Neurological Institute, New York City, following an operation necessitated by an illness of several months. Mr. Briggs, who was 54 years old, was afflicted with an illness that threatened him with blindness and last August was sent to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for treatment. He returned to New York, somewhat improved, but about six weeks ago contracted bronchial pneumonia and was removed to the Neurological Institute. Although his illness from the first was considered critical, he had successfully passed several crises, and was believed to be on the road to recovery.

The body of Clare Briggs lay in state in Campbell's Funeral Church, Broadway and Sixty-Sixth Street, New York City, over Saturday and Sunday, preparatory to funeral services which were held Monday morning. During that time, hundreds of his friends, fellow artists and admirers visited the church to pay their respects to his memory, and numerous floral pieces blanketed the coffin, which rested in the Gold Room.

The services on Monday morning were conducted by Rev. Dr. Nathan A. Seagle, rector of St. Stephen's Protestant Episcopal Church. Scores of Briggs' associates, well-known personages of the arts and professions, filled the chapel to overflowing and delegations were present from the Lambs, the Dutch Treat Club, the Newspaper Club and the Illustrators' Society.

A quartet from the Lambs, composed of Frank Croxton, Scott Welsh, Douglas Dumbrille and John McCloskey, sang "Lead Kindly Light" and "Abide With Me." Years ago Briggs sang bass in a Kansas City quartet and later he immortalized the theme in one of his cartoons.

The pallbearers were Arthur Byron, actor; A.O. Brown, former Shepherd of the Lambs; Lieutenant Gitz Rice, composer; Rube Goldberg, cartoonist; Frank Belcher; and A.M. Briggs, advertising man. Later the body was cremated.

Members of the family who attended the services were: Mr. and Mrs. Reuben A. Lewis, Jr., daughter and son-in-law; Miss Ruth Clare Briggs, his second daughter; Mr. and Mrs. John O. Briggs, son and daughter-in-law; Clem W. Briggs and Harry Briggs, of Scranton, brothers; and Mrs. Clem W. Briggs. Others present were:

Winsor McCay, Charles R. Macauley, Gene Byrnes, Arthur S. Draper, Ray Schooley, Oscar Riegel, Judge William F. Handley, Frederic W. Hume, William R. McLaughlin, Russell Patterson, Floyd Gibbons, W.J. Enright, T.E. Powers, Raymond Anthhony Court, George F. Kerr, Jack Hines, Leo Donnelly, Ted Brown, C.W. Carroll, Miss Peggy White, Wallace Morgaan, Vet Anderson, Miss Katherine Gridland, Harry Conway, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Greenleaf, Grantland Rice, A.R. Holcombe, Philip Dunning, Miss Emma Bugbee, A.M. Cortell, Fred G. Lewis, Robert McGrath, Geoffrey Parsons, William H. Rankin, Howard Davis, Albert Headley, M.B. Aleshire, Ralph F. Robertson, R.J. Woodbury, J.J. Keegan, Mrs. Mary Kalven, Mrs. M. Densmore, Arthur H. Folwell, Vincent J. Pursell, Howard T. White, Harry Staton, Hector Fuller, John Cassel, Mrs. William Rossetti, A.H. French, Paul Parks, Denis Tilden Lynch, Charles Voight, H.T. Webster, C.D. Williams, Edward Gallagher and Mr. and Mrs. Willard Fairchild.

Mr. Briggs after a varied career in the East and Middle West joined the New York Tribune in 1914, and remained with this paper and its successor, the Herald Tribune, until his death. His Sunday page, "Mr. & Mrs.," and daily cartoons were widely syndicated by the New York Herald Tribune Syndicate, being published in hundreds of papers.

Born in 1875 in Reedsburg, Wis., the son of Mr. and Mrs. William Pardee Briggs, he spent his boyhood days until the age of nine in that town, when in 1884 his family moved to Dixon, Ill. There at the age of ten he started his newspaper career as a newsboy, delivering the local paper to village subscribers for 40 cents a week and the privilege of wearing a red, white and blue cap, inscribed with the name of the newspaper. For five years, between the happy ages of 9 and 14, Briggs lived in Dixon, and at the end of that time moved with his family to Lincoln, Neb.

He lived in Lincoln until he was 21, in 1896, and for two years studied at the University of Nebraska, where John J. Pershing taught mathematics. At the University he took up stenography, which enabled him to earn $6 a week, when work was available. During this time he also studied drawing, for which he had shown a talent since boyhood, at normal school, and his first published drawings appeared in the Western Penman, one of the editors of which was his instructor.

He had had hopes of becoming a newspaper cartoonist before he entered upon his course in drawing, and there crystallized, he once said, after an embarrassing comment from the then Lieutenant Pershing during a mathematics class.

"If ever a fellow needed a friend, I did in mathematics," Briggs said. "It happened that Lieutenant Pershing was my instructor, and I believe he will testify that it was easier to conquer Germany than to teach me 'math.' One day he ordered me to the blackboard to demonstrate a theorem, and while I was giving the problem a hard but losing battle, he remarked: 'Briggs, sit down, you don't know anything.' Right then and there I decided to become a newspaper man."

From Lincoln, with a portfolio of drawings, Briggs went to St. Louis, in 1896, where Joseph McCullagh gave him a job with the St. Louis Democrat. Informing McCullagh that he was accustomed to receiving $12 a week, whereas he had never received more than $8, Briggs snapped up an offer by McCullagh for $10 weekly, and always recalled the incident as one of the smartest deals he ever put over. Shortly after this his illustrations of the famous St. Louis cyclone of 1896 won commendations throughout the state.

As a successful and much relied upon sketch artist, who at that time were depended upon for practically all illustrations appearing in the daily papers, Briggs was kept busy and for a time he thought he had found his place in life. About a year later, however, the half-tone process of reproducing photographs was perfected and the estate of the sketch artist considerably lessened.

For this reason Briggs studied cartooning and when the Spanish-American War broke out he joined the St. Louis Chronicle at $25 a week, specializing in political cartoons with a war-time angle. When the war ended, however, his job did also, and he left for New York in search of work and to enter a class at Pratt Institute. It was at this time that he came to know the meaning of hard times and struggle. He managed to obtain a job as an apprentice workman to a sign painter, but was doomed to the disappointment of being fired, with a lecture on the art to which he had aspired, when his employer, coming around to inspect his work, found his apprentice using a rule to keep his lettering straight.

Following this he was employed for two weeks, at $10 a week, by a catalogue publishing house, where he made drawings of clothing designs. At the end of that time another artist with what Briggs thought to be a fine disregard for money, or a keen determination to have some, offered to do the same job for $6 a week.

Briggs returned to his home in Lincoln in July of 1900 and married Ruth Owen and then returned to New York with his wife. Work was still hard to find, but at last, through Dr. William J. Kinsley, hand-writing expert, he secured a job on the New York Journal, which started him on his real career.

Almost as soon as he had joined the Journal, he was sent to cover a sensational trial. He turned in his sketches to a night editor, who appreciated such work, and having examined them told Briggs, "You're no sketch artist -- you're a cartoonist." The night editor devoted a full half-page to the drawings and a few weeks later William Randolph Hearst sent Briggs to Chicago, where for the next seven years he served on the Chicago American and Examiner.

From that time onward, Briggs' future was assured and his popularity increased. His drawings for more than a quarter of a century, while later connected with the Chicago Tribune, from 1907 to 1914, and the New York Tribune, from 1914 until its consolidation with the New York Herald, and with the merged papers until his death, have provided the American people with a good clean wholesome type of humor. His work was handled by the New York Herald Tribune Syndicate since 1914.

While Briggs has inspired many of the cartoonists of today to follow his style, generally in another field, however, they have nevertheless only added to his prestige. While they depicted the race track, the factory or the office, he remained faithful to the domestic scene. His cartoons have been of the home, the family, the parents or the children, with perhaps an occasional dip into a small group of individuals known to everybody, such as the "Male Quartet."

He had the ability to recognize immediately the little customary things that were typical of humanity as a whole and these were the things which he put in his cartoons. He illustrated the utter ridiculousness of people, all with the same petty emotions and reacting in the same way. He exposed the little faults and weaknesses of people, yet in a gentle way, which left them acknowledging them with a smile.

Briggs took his work seriously, yet it was often that he would stand back from a sketch, while at work, and roar with laughter. While he always painted the lighter side of life, once a year he drew an appeal for the Tribune Fresh Air Fund. The response from this yearly appeal was so great that it was considered larger than any other single contribution.

As he himself declared, draftsmanship was the least requisite of his calling, the capacity for ideas being everything. With an added ability to devise apt captions for his work, which would express his ideas, he brought to the language expressions which remain after him. Almost unconsciously people utter his phrases to convey the same ideas which he did. Some of them used so frequently include "Someone is Always Taking the Joy out of Life," "Oh, Man," and "Ain't It a Grand and Glorious Feeling."

As Briggs could always cause his readers to smile so too, on occasion, he could cause them to act in response to his drawings, such as he did yearly by his Fresh Air cartoon. Another example of this was his famous cartoon, "Wonder What the Flag Thinks About," which appeared in June 1922. This cartoon caused a nationwide controversy on the improper way in which the American flag was used and resulted in the calling of the National Flag Conference in Washington in 1923. Members of 67 of the largest patriotic organizations of the country participated in the conference and formulated a set of regulations for proper civilian use of the flag. Briggs was always credited with the greater part in causing this action.

When the American Association of Cartoonists and Caricaturists was founded in 1926 Briggs was made a member of the advisory board, and he was a member of the committee which was in charge of the association's dinner in New York in March 1927, which was the greatest gathering of cartoonists ever held. In 1928 he was elected secretary of the Artists and Writers Association. He was a member of the Forty Club of Chicago, the Calabash Club of Bermuda, the New York Newspaper Club, the Lambs, the Coffee House, the Dutch Treat, the Buccaneers, the Illustrators Society, the Wykagyl Country Club, the Bailey Park Country Club and the Cold Stream Country Club.

His home in New Rochelle, N.Y., close to the Wykagyl Country Club golf links, in the building of which he had taken a keen interest, utilizing old ship timbers to give one room the appearance of a ship's interior, was sold recently and he had been living at 1 West Sixty-seventh street, New York City.

Truly Briggs was representative of the time, as certainly as he could recall others. In the space of ten years, from 1919 to 1929, his characters were adapted to films, have appeared in book form, and only last summer they were presented on the radio. Responding to thousands of letters asking the question, he wrote "How to Be a Cartoonist" in 1926.

Following are a few of the many tributes which were forwarded to the Herald Tribune on the occasion of the cartoonist's death --

Jack Lait, writer and editor -- Clare Briggs was a recognized outstanding genius on the Chicago Evening American when I started my newspaper career there more than a quarter century ago. He grew greater as he grew older and mellower until he became the beloved interpreter of life's common denominators, always kindly, always keen.

J.N. "Ding" Darling, cartoonist -- Clare Briggs was one of the most delightful craftsmen in his generation. His death robs the world of one of the greatest human commentators of the day and to his friends and the profession which he honored the loss is irreparable.

Harry Hershfield, cartoonist -- Clare Briggs' genius was beyond technical discussion. One whose creations were so much a part of the layman's daily life comes under the heading of a world's loss.

John T. McCutcheon, cartoonist -- Clare Briggs, as the faithful pictorial biographer of the people of his times, has rendered a service of inestimable value to future historians who wish to study the American young and old of the last quarter century. I know of no cartoonist whose work has a greater right to live.

Booth Tarkington -- I greatly regret to hear such news of a true humorist. His passing will lessen American happiness.

George Ade -- I did not wait for Briggs to die in order to discover his greatness and praise him. For years I have followed his work with unfailing enthusiasm. Of all the comedy artists doing newspaper work he was the one who knew most about small town life and boyhood and the human weaknesses of adults and the turbulent joys and sorrows of domesticity. I knew him a long time and every time I met him I praised him right to his face. He always appeared puzzled and unconvinced by my fulsome compliments. He knew human nature. His batting average was very high. He was never dull, never vulgar, never going through the motions. He always delivered. He was one of the large men of his generation. No one in sight can duplicate his delightful output.

Herbert Johnson, cartoonist -- Briggs was a man utterly without guile or venom. He was one of the most talented caricaturists America has produced. His work at its best possessed genuine artistic merit of a high order in a difficult field. Plenty of comics but only one Briggs.

Franklin P. Adams -- I feel acutely the loss of a cartoonist whose work I have enjoyed hugely for thirty years. I enjoyed it so much that I got him to leave Chicago so that his work could appear in the New York Tribune with mine. It helped the paper so much that Clare stayed there for fifteen years, seven years longer than I did. To my notion he drew no dud cartoons. I never knew anyone who so enjoyed working. Often while drawing a cartoon I have seen him laugh uproariously at it. He was a sweet and merry boy, if a rotten poker player, and the public, poorer for his leaving it, is a big winner in having him at all.

Chief Justice William Howard Taft -- I've very much enjoyed his cartoons and am very sorry to hear of his death, because he was one whose wit was not at the expense of anybody but calculated to make everybody feel happy.

Alfred E. Smith -- I learned with deep regret of the passing of Briggs. We lost a rare personality with a talent for gentle criticism of the common weaknesses of human nature. He had a genuine love and understanding of the American child and the American family. I shall miss his cartoons in the morning paper. His particular place will be hard to fill.

Senator Arthur Capper of Kansas -- I am greatly shocked to hear of the death of Clare Briggs. I desire to pay tribute to his very wonderful talents. I have long regarded him as one of the greatest artists in his field that the world has everr known, and his death is a great loss alike to art and to journalism.

Frank R. Kent, political writer, Baltimore Sun -- The humor of Briggs' series "When a Feller Needs a Friend" was most delightful. He was a great cartoonist and in a class by himself.

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Comments:
That obituary is a fine testament to what comic strips meant to people back then.
 
My mother is the Miss Peggy White referred to in this article. She worked in the art department of the New York Herald Tribune for many years ... years with Clare Briggs, Charles Voight, Harrison Cady, Clifford McBride, Winsor McCay and Harry Staton. I remember her wonderful stories of these colorful artists. She was a young girl and had great fun. I still own about eight original cartoons that Clare Briggs gave her after they were printed in the newspaper. Harrison Cady also gifted her with two of his works for her wedding. I am looking to sell these works so that others may enjoy them - any suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you.

Christine Cullen
 
My grandfather was Harry Staton, manager of the Herald Tribune Syndicate. I have letters from Briggs to him, original cartoons, photos, the cartoon book with inscription. I would like to sell them, put them in some archives, whatever. I've certainly enjoyed reading about him. I have a letter apologizing for going on a binge again and not turning in his cartoon for the week. I rhink they partied pretty hard.
 
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