Thursday, September 11, 2014

 

Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Harry Hershfield


Harry Hershfield was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on October 13, 1885, according to his World War I and II draft cards. In Comics and Their Creators: Life Stories of American Cartoonists (1942), Martin Sheridan wrote:
Hershfield was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but soon moved to Chicago, where he attended school. A few months’ study at the Chicago School of Illustration provided him with all the art training he ever had.
Coulton Waugh, in his book, The Comics, said Hershfield worked at the Chicago News before he was 15 years old. The World Encyclopedia of Comics’ profile of Hershfield, by Bill Blackbeard, said: “…[Hershfield did] newspaper sports and feature-story comic art first on the Chicago Daily News in 1899 at the age of 14.”

According to the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Hershfield’s family was in Chicago, Illinois. He was the fourth child of Mikel and Annie, both Russian emigrants, and his birth was recorded as “Oct 1885”. The household included eight children and was located at 293 West 12 Street.

The Chicago School of Illustration was operated by Frank Holme. Hershfield’s teacher may have been Holme, Joe Carll or John T. McCutcheon.

The New York Times, December 16, 1974, said:

…After completing high school, he went to work for The Chicago Daily News for $2.50 a week to draw pictures of news events. 
In 1902, when he graduated to being a cartoonist, he presided at a farewell banquet for another newspaper artist. From that point on he had a steadily growing diet of chicken and a widening audience to go with his developing repertory of jokes.
Regarding Hershfield’s employment at the Chicago Daily News, Sheridan said:
…[he] progressed from copy boy to cameraman, reporter, and finally sports cartoonist. During that time the comic artist began to experiment with a strip called Homeless Hector, telling of the difficulties of a lost dog.
American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Homeless Hector ran from January 4, 1906 to October 20, 1908. The strip returned and was syndicated by National News Association from July 22 to December 3, 1912.

Waugh provided some details about Hershfield’s work and employer.

In 1902 the belltower in the Piazza San Marco in Venice collapsed. For a cover story featuring other imperiled structures, young Hershfield retouched what he took to be an off-angle photograph of a tower. The first edition of the morning paper showed the Tower of Pisa miraculously straightened. As Hershfield recalls, “I was given two weeks to complete my education.” He also made line drawings from photographs and covered breaking stories with on-the-spot sketches, including the famous Iroquois Hotel fire in 1903. At the time, most staff artists did both cartoons and illustrations and their efforts were considered “fillers.”
According to American Newspaper Comics, Hershfield’s Chicago Daily News strips include: War’s Ebb and Flow from January 3 to February 14, 1906; Bill Slowguy from February 8, 1906 to October 19, 1908; Adventures of a Fly from November 4 to December 3, 1907; Christopher’s Luck from October 16 to December 23, 1907; Tiny Tinkles from January 7 to 16, and February 11 to 20, 1908; The Luck of Christopher from February 18 to June 2, 1908; and The Fortune Teller from April 15 to September 16, 1908. In 1905 Hershfield also filled in for some of C.F. Batchelder’s panel cartoons.

Variety 12/12/1908


San Francisco Chronicle 11/10/1908


San Francisco Chronicle 5/10/1909

Blackbeard said Hershfield moved “…to the San Francisco Chronicle in 1907, then to the Hearst Chicago Examiner in late 1909 (where he created another dog strip, Rubber, the Canine Cop), and finally to the New York Journal to begin his first major strip in 1910: Desperate Desmond.” American Newspaper Comics said The Piker’s Rubaiyat* ran from November 10 to December 26, and Raffles from May 6 to 23, 1909, both in the Chronicle; and Desperate Desmond from March 11, 1910 to October 15, 1912. The strip was adapted for the stage. The New York Tribune, September 3, 1912, said: “Hershfield, the creator of ‘Desperate, Desmond,’ puts his villain through several adventures.”

Rome Daily Sentinel 10/30/1913

The San Francisco Chronicle, February 24, 1929, explained how Hershfield helped Robert Ripley’s career.
Luck began to shoot at him [Ripley] as soon as he got to the Bulletin office. He lost his job. That was the lucky part of it—because he immediately got a better job across the street with The Chronicle. Harry Hershfield was the star cartoonist of that paper and was busy illustrating a series [probably The Piker’s Rubaiyat] for W.O. McGeehan. Mr. Hershfield preferred to do sporting pictures and persuaded Harry B. Smith, the sports editor, to put the newcomer on trial doing McGeehan’s stuff.
“The boy’s good,” said the wily Hershfield, enthusiastically. “It’s only fair you give him a chance.”
About Hershfield’s Journal editor, Arthur Brisbane, Waugh wrote:
Hershfield once asked Brisbane if he considered a cartoonist a newspaperman. “Would you call a barnacle a ship?” was the reply. Brisbane, however, aware of cartoonists’ ability to attract readers, once cut off their signatures in order to reduce their personal following and thereby their salary demands. Hershfield took the issue directly to Hearst, who not only restored the signatures but ordered bylines as well. This credit has become standard practice since.
Hershfield has not been found in the 1910 census. When Desperate Desmond ended in October 1912, it was followed by Dauntless Durham of the USA, running from January 22, 1913 to January 31, 1914. Hershfield’s next, and best known strip, Abie the Agent, began February 2, 1914 and ended in 1940. Waugh wrote:
Abie Kabibble was a middle-class businessman and paterfamilias, a role with which more and more Americans could identify. Although minorities had been fair game for satire in the past, a cast of Jewish characters using dialect was a touchy endeavor. That Hershfield was able to make their qualities and traits universal is a tribute to his skill, gentle wit, and humanity.
7/13/1930

Sunday topper 10/10/1930

10/26/1930; original art courtesy of Heritage Auctions

The Telegram (Elmira, NY) 2/27/1921

A New York passenger list, at Ancestry.com, listed him and “Jane Hershfield” aboard the steamship Celtic, which sailed from Liverpool, England, December 19, 1912. The ship arrived in New York ten days later. On October 13, 1914, Hershfield married Jane Isdell in Manhattan, New York City, as recorded in the New York Marriage Indexes at Ancestry.com, and included in Hershfield’s profile in American Jews (1947). The New York Times, June 13, 1960, said: “…Mrs. Hershfield was formerly an actress and appeared under the name Jane Dellis in a number of hit productions during the early part of the century. She performed in ‘The Ziegfeld Follies.’”

The couple was in the 1915 New York State Census; residing at 109 West 45th Street in Manhattan, where Hershfield was a cartoonist.

The Green Book Magazine 4/1916

Hershfield signed his World War I draft card September 12, 1918. His address was 620 West 149 Street in Manhattan. The cartoonist worked at the New York Evening Journal. He was described as medium height and build with blue eyes and light-colored hair.

The New York Dramatic Mirror, May 27, 1919, published a story on how Hershfield entered vaudeville.
Harry Hershfield has escaped being a ham. Mr. Armour and Mr. Swift, there is just so much less pork for you to sell. Why? Read on. Harry is known by his cartoons, accompanied by the nom-de-plume Abie, the Agent, throughout Manhattan and the provincial press. He has attempted and succeeded as a monologist.
It was at the 305th Infantry benefit held at the Hudson Theater. In the language of the Drama League he nearly busted everybody’s sides. It was rumored that one old maid, going through such contortions, cracked her glass leg to such fine atoms that sliding feet caused a whisper to circulate that Mr. Hoover be sent for at once because some one had hoarded so much sugar in her stocking that it had burst. Strange to say, Harry, up to the last second’s shaving before he was introduced by Louis Mann, had planned a revival service. No, don’t call for the hook. Nothing so dreary as hitting the sawdust trail. Drawing one or two of Abie the Agent’s carryings-on, was the blue print he had handed to Tom Oliphant of The Evening Mail, who carpentered the benefit together—and a job of mortising he did, too. But genius zigzags like lightning. Hastily he scribbled twenty of his own jokes on a slip of paper and stepped forth before a Sunday evening audience. He crossed out each joke with a lead pencil, padding the intermissions with impromptu lines. The real joke was that the audience thought it was rehearsal routine. The next morning Park Row was what Broadway is on the day after a footlight explosion—and such things do not happen to “hams.”
The 1920 census said Hershfield was at the same address found on his draft card and did newspaper work.

 Buffalo Courier 7/7/1924

Buffalo Morning Express 9/26/1924


In the 1925 New York State Census, cartoonist Hershfield resided at 454 Riverside Drive in Manhattan.

Hershfield’s residence, in the 1930 census, was in Manhattan at 251-257 West 104th Street. 
When Hershfield left the Hearst organization because of a contract dispute, he created Meyer the Buyer which appeared in the Evening Graphic from February 15 to May 9, 1932. About two years later, his strip According to Hoyle ran in the New York Herald-Tribune.


The New York Times, February 16, 1934, reported Hershfield’s bankruptcy filing with liabilities of $16,289.

340 West 57th Street was Hershfield’s home, since 1935, according to the 1940 census. One of the newspaper cartoonist’s neighbors was James Montgomery Flagg and his daughter. Hershfield’s highest level of education was the eighth grade. In 1939 he worked 52 weeks and had income of five-thousand dollars.

On April 27, 1942 Hershfield signed his World War II draft card which had the same address in the 1940 census. He had an office at the Daily Mirror newspaper. He stood five feet seven-and-a-half inches and weighed 152 pounds. He had blue eyes and gray hair.


On July 2, 1945, Hershfield read the daily newspaper comic strips by invitation of Mayor La Guardia during the newspaper delivery man strike.

Hershfield passed away December 15, 1974, in New York City. The New York Times reported his passing the following day. Blackbeard’s overview of Hershfield’s non-comics career said:

…Hershfield quickly developed a marked reputation as a humorous writer and raconteur quite apart from his repute as a strip artist. For a number of years in the late 1910’s, Hershfield wrote weekly short comic pieces presumably narrated by Abie, under such titles as “Abie on Conversation,” “Abie on Summer Snapshots,” etc., which ran on the editorial and feature pages of newspapers, many of which did not carry the Abie strip at all. In 1932, he became a columnist (“My Week”) for the N.Y. Daily Mirror, and, later in the 1930's, began to broadcast theatrical criticism, scripted for Hollywood studios, and joined the radio cast of Can You Top This? a 1940’s show tailored for comic raconteurs. His ethnic dialect stories, largely about Irish, Jewish, and German types, were marked by wit and good taste. A toastmaster who was always in great demand, Hershfield has also authored such books as Laugh Louder, Live Longer (Grayson, 1959): a title which seems to have been happily prophetic in his case....

—Alex Jay

* * * * * * * * * * *
Further Reading

In Their Own Image: New York Jews in Jazz Age Popular Culture
Ted Merwin
Rutgers University Press, 2006

* The Piker’s Rubaiyat was written by William F. Kirk, of the Milwaukee Sentinel,in 1904. His profile and The PIker’s Rubaiyat were published in the National Magazine, July 1904. William O’Connell McGeehan was inspired by Kirk’s piece and wrote his version for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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