Friday, June 22, 2012
News of Yore 1955: Vern Greene Profiled
Bringing Up Greene
Twenty years ago Vernon Greene was hunched over a drawing board in the offices of King Features Syndicate in New York. In the manner of cartoonists he was scratching his head and groaning as he struggled to think of something funny to draw.
Then he was interrupted by a harried editor who shoved a drawing under his nose. "Draw something to tie in with this quick!"
Greene looked at the sketches. "Now wait a minute," he said. "This is Maggie and Jiggs. You got me mixed up with George McManus. In case you can't tell us apart any other way, look at the paychecks. You pay McManus over $100,000 a year while I get—"
"Save the gags for your strips," retorted the editor. "I know it's Jiggs. There's been a delay in the mails and George's next batch of drawings hasn't got here. We are right on deadline and can't wait any longer. Draw something and draw it quick!"
Greene made a page of drawings to bridge the gap. He was somewhat uneasy about how McManus, who originated the comic strip, would take the idea. But the famous humorist was so pleased when he saw the results that he offered Greene a job as his assistant.
Greene was flattered, but felt that he would do better on his own. However, after 18 years drawing everything from The Shadow to an Army life panel called Charlie Conscript, he came back to a full time job of drawing Jiggs for the famous strip Bringing Up Father, one of the most popular comics in the Sunday comio pages of Pacific Stars and Stripes.
The 47-year-old artist has been drawing seriously for 42 years and got into newspaper work in his teens as a staff artist for the Portland (Ore.) Telegraph. During the 1920s he knocked around the country until he went to work for King Features in 1935.
He left King to do other types of work and became interested in medical photography. During World War II, his hobby became a full time job with the Air Force. But after his discharge as a buck sergeant in 1945, he went back to cartooning.
Shortly after George McManus died in 1954, Greene was visiting friends at the syndicate. Recalling how he had once filled in for McManus 19 years before, they told him that several artists were trying out for the job of continuing the adventures of Greene also submitted some samples. Two weeks later he was told that the job wag his. He now draws the Sunday strip which appears in Stars and Stripes. In addition to several hundred newspapers in the States, Maggie's struggles to make a gentleman out of Jiggs appear in 27 foreign countries.
Although the cartoon is known as Maggie and Jiggs to most readers, its real name is Bringing Up Father.
The name originated before World War I when the cartoon started. At that time they were a newly rich family. Maggie had social ambitions, and the strip revolved around her efforts to bring him up to her level. Over 40 years have passed and she's still trying.
Greene says that the most common question asked about the characters is what is Jiggs' occupation? He has to answer that nobody knows for sure. Jiggs seems to have a lot of friends in the construction business and McManus once told a group: "I've made a million dollars and all I ever had for capital was a retired hod carrier with a love for corn beef and cabbage." All this leads to the suspicion that Jiggs is a retired contractor, but that is only supposition.
Whenever Greene can get a few strips ahead in his work he likes to join Special Services tours to entertain servicemen in overseas bases. In addition to the trip he just completed to the Far East, he has entertained in Alaska, Germany, France and England.
An ardent photographer, Greene has a collection of over 100 cameras. He is rarely seen without three or four hanging around his neck. In between his shows here, he managed to expose several thousand negatives of Japan and Korea. But, despite this enthusiasm for the lens, like all artists he insists that it will never replace the drawing pencil. An incident in Japan definitely proves this.
He and Stu Moldrem, Stars and Stripes sports cartoonist, stopped at a Japanese restaurant to catch up on a breakfast they missed while traveling between bases while accompanying the cartoonist's show. The proprieter couldn't speak a word of English and their combined Japanese vocabulary of a dozen words wasn't equal to the job of ordering a simple plate of ham and eggs. Time was running out. Their train was almost due.
But this was where cartooning turned out to be a most practical art. Greene drew a picture of what they wanted on the wall with chalk.
They got what they wanted, but Greene hopes that nobody will hear about it. You see, he's not supposed to eat ham and eggs. The public for some reason always associates an artist or writer with his characters. And Jiggs, in the public mind, is associated with corn beef and cabbage.
"It's a fine dish. In fact, you can accurately say that it is my meal ticket." Greene said. "But I like an occasional steak, too, you know."