Monday, October 03, 2011


News of Yore 1908: R.F. Outcault Interviewed in Los Angeles

Buster, Mary Jane, Mrs. Brown and Brown pater, all the family save Tige, have been staying in Los Angeles at the Alexandria Hotel.

I know of no more dramatic people in the boundaries of the world of imagination.
Fra Elbertus, who is the tutor in philosophy of Buster, is quoted in a “resolution” as saying “the imagination is the only real, sure enough thing in the world,” and Buster had proceeded since then to prove that as creatures of a sane, hard-working imagination, he and Mary Jane are among the only other really sure enough things.

Further, as there are four theatrical companies playing Buster; and as bread, cigarettes, whiskey, pills, stockings, hats, shoes, wagons, race horses, and a few hundred other articles, are named after him, it would seem that Buster and all those about him are of proper theatrical interest.

You will grieve to learn that Buster himself is no more. He has grown out of the Russian blouses and banged hair that made him famous. When I met the real Buster, I found myself facing a husky youth of about 20 who would make a fine football player or a stroke oar.

His father, R. F. Outcault, the creator of the Buster cartoons, compensated for Buster’s evolution into a man by calling in Mary Jane! She is still real; still the dainty, elfish sprite of a girl with a face like a smiling daisy, black hair that seems to carry merry little giggles in its waves, the saucy big bow on one side of her head and the black stockinged, slim little leg. All just like the pictures; all the sweet, childish type of a kindergarten soubrette.

Mr. Outcault, like many, in fact most, of the notables in life, has achieved greatness because of his versatility. He began life as a mechanical draftsman; became a reporter; studied law; dipped into psychology; drifted into the more solid and grateful philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, Socrates, and Plato; did sensational story stunts with Nellie Bly in New York; stopped work and discovered Europe; lectured; wrote Buster and Mary Jane and Tige into a play; composed eleven books about Buster; went into vaudeville for a couple of seasons and draws dividends yearly to the extent of somewhere about $100,000, because he has a wit and a pencil that knows how to seize and perpetuate his humor.

Buster Brown’s grandfather is Thomas A. Edison, for it was Edison who gave Outcault the tendencies and opportunities which lead to Buster’s creation.

“I was a reporter” said Outcault, “on the Cincinnati Enquirer when the exposition of ’88 was given, and Edison made his first exhibit. I was drawing $25 a week doing stories. I got that large salary because I illustrated my own stuff. You remember the chalk plates? Draw a line and then blow away the chalk dust? I had been trained as a mechanical draftsman and I drew sketches of the Edison exhibit, and he saw them.

“Someone sent him the papers, and he telegraphed me to come on to Llewellyn Park, and there he kept me at work for a year. He sent me to the Paris Exposition in ’89.”

Then Mr. Outcault told me how he finally got back into newspapering and did team work with Nellie Bly.

“At that time she got the pitiful salary nowadays of $12,000 a year doing sensational stories. One of the stunts we pulled off together was begging on 5th Avenue and making stories of the notables and millionaires when asked for help by two apparently starving people. Then we did slum stories, and it was then I stored the material which was to come to the front later with the Hogan’s Alley series and the Yellow Kid.”

All the time Mr. Outcault was a jokesmith and soon found he could add from $15-$20 a week to his income by making quips for the funny paper. These brought him according to quality, from 50 cents to $2.00 each.

Then the comic supplement feature began to shake up the New York journals, and the one which employed Outcault commissioned him to create fun for it.

He found that no comic artists could be hired, so he set to work himself and he drew and made up the first comic supplement in colors printed in the this country, and “Hogan’s Alley” with The Yellow Kid was it.

“And the rest of the story,” he said, “is easy, just like that of the young lady from Joppa in the Limerick.”

“I made a lot of money and my head swelled. I decided to stop work and went to Europe. It was very lovely, and we had a royal time and enriched several impoverished noble servitors, and came home looking for work.

“When I came back I found I had drifted out the mood and atmosphere for The Yellow Kid and that I had wisely dropped him while he was still popular.

“I went back to editorial work, but kept thinking about a new comic. I discussed this, as I do all important subjects, with my wife. By the way, I may write a book sometime on the immense value it is to a wise man to take his wife’s advice. Fools needn’t follow that example. In fact, they could hardly do it, as they seldom have the luck to have a wife.

“We both came to the conclusion that there was no good reason why all comics should be grotesque creations of the imagination. I had my boy, Dick Jr., on my knee at the time, and he had the haircut, the clothes and at his feet the dog which were afterward merged into the Buster series.

“What could be better for a subject than a good, clean, joyous American boy, a boy with The Star Spangled Banner waving all over his little body? I wanted to create a comic that had some worth besides the bringing of the ready smile. To meet the demands of the little girls I took Mary Jane here (and Mary smiled winsomely at us, more so even than she does in the Sunday supplement in this paper), and the result is, I believe, a success that appeals alike to the old-young people and the young-old people, to girls and to boys, and to those who think and to those only see.

“Before that I had gone in heavily on psychology and philosophy. Haeckel, Nietschke [sic and sic], Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus were always at my hand, for I had always loved the beautiful world and I wanted to know all the best there was about it. I expect it is to this system of reading that the ‘Resolutions’ of Buster have won some recognition.

“I believe I can frankly say that Buster and Mary Jane are remarkable commercial successes. Alan Dale, Acton Davies, Aronson and myself were talking in the Lambs’ Club one day about what judgment would be had that was reliable on new plays or on actors. We all agreed that the critics, as a rule, were governed too much by their desire to write bright, striking matter, and that their intimate relations with the managers deprived their decisions of judicial worth. Aronson summed the whole matter by saying that the only final dictum was that made by the box office.

“It is so with newspapers; the value of the paper can be had better from the circulation manager than the editor.

“On that basis I think that Buster is a success. He is in demand. I have four theatrical companies playing him. I have an advertising business in Chicago which advertises everything called by his name and which is one of the largest of the kind in the country. Why, there were 1,000,000 dozen of Buster’s stockings sold last year, and that is only one item. So don’t you think I have a right to assume that the public loves Buster? I know I do,” and he gave a quick look of affection at the sturdy youth by his side, the young man whose boyish traits created all this happy tangle of art, philosophy and commercialism.

“You can say for me,” interrupted Mrs. Outcault, “that Mr. Outcault is a great deal more funny and entertaining to his family than he is to the public. And that he is the best ---.”

Mr. Outcault, I think, blushed; I am certain that he began the operation but he broke in quickly with his philosophy.

“I try to give my family the very best there is to life. We have a beautiful home at Flushing, but the missus got tired of keeping a hotel for our friends, and we closed it up and now spend our time in Europe and wherever fancy calls us. I do my work wherever I happen to be, and we enjoy life. I suppose you might call us fun-hunters, and we get it.

“I do not mean by hunting fun what some might imagine I consider fun.

“You have spoken of enjoying some of Buster’s resolutions. I will read you one that contains my creed of work, of life, and of the future. Here it is:

Resolved--That when I die, and go to face my Maker, I shall have only one thing to make me hang my head in shame. NOT that I sinned. ‘To err is human.’ (And my poor little sins hurt no one, save, perhaps, myself.) But I shall be ashamed to think that God put me in this lovely world of His, where everything is sweet and beautiful, and I have spent so many idle hours when I might do like all the birds and flowers: be happier and realize the [text missing] are mine. --Buster.

“That is all,” said Mr. Outcault.

That’s about enough for anyone.


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