Wednesday, December 10, 2014
News of Yore 1908: George McManus' Newlyweds Dissected
Most Popular Couple in America
Mr. and Mrs. Newlywed Celebrate Their Fourth Anniversary – With the Baby
(originally printed in the New York World, this version of the article was scanned, OCRed and proofed from appearance in Denver Times, April 9 1908)
The most popular couple In America this week are celebrating their fourth anniversary.
Four years ago, on April 10 1904, Mr. and Mrs. Newlywed appeared for the first time in pictures in the Funny Side of the Sunday World. The pictures of the Newlyweds, drawn by George McManus, instantly became popular.
A little more than a year and a half ago the interest taken in the Newlyweds was further enhanced by the first appearance of the baby in the pictures. Those who had merely smiled at the Newlyweds laughed at the Newlyweds and their baby.
Though just plain Americans of moderate income the Newlyweds and their baby have become known all over the world. They have been received at two foreign courts, and in this country have been welcomed by governors, senators, millionaires —everyone.
Victoria, queen of Spain, directed her little son's governess to write to Mr. McManus a tribute to the humor of the Newlyweds, and the crown prince of Germany had the Count Bismarck von Bohlenn write a similar letter in praise of the Newlyweds.
It is the realness of life in the pictures of the Newlyweds and their baby that makes the public take them in all seriousness. Scarcely a day has passed since the first appearance of the Newlyweds that the mail has not brought a score or more of letters to Mr. McManus giving advice and asking questions about the characters he was drawing.
The announcement made several months ago that the Newlyweds baby would be named after the best suggestion offered by the public brought thousands of replies.
For nearly a month hundreds of letters came each day suggesting a name for the baby. A similar interest was shown at the approach of the baby's second tooth.
The responses to the requests for a name and the best position for the second tooth came to Mr. McManus from all parts of the United States and from many other countries. They came in German French, Italian, Spanish — in fact, in almost every modern tongue.
The genuineness of the interest taken by the public in the Newlyweds and their baby is no better illustrated than by the letters received by Mr. McManus referring to the baby's tooth. A considerable number came from reputable dentists who in a friendly way chaffed Mr. McManus for not knowing that a baby's first teeth appeared in pairs and first of all in the lower jaw.
That the followers of the Newlyweds are consistent in their interest has been shown during the past few months by the letters that have reached Mr. McManus referring to the failure of the baby to grow up. After the first year of the baby's appearance scarcely a day passed without letters being received insisting that it was time the baby began to show signs of his increasing age.
The remarkable coiffure affected by Mrs. Newlywed immediately interested everyone. The ability of a woman to do her hair in such style was doubted by many; and McManus was taken to task in scores of letters by women who evidently had tried and failed. The doubters were silenced, however, when Miss Florence Bergere, who took the part of Mrs. Newlywed in a dramatization of "Panhandle Pete," appeared with her hair dressed in exactly the style drawn by Mr. McManus. At the same time this style of dressing the hair became so popular that women with sparse locks rushed to the wig makers to buy pads to fill out.
Bushels of Letters
The vast number of letters that he receives daily make it impossible for Mr. McManus to reply to all who write him. He answers as many as he can, however, especially those whose sincerity is particularly appealing. Two letters he received a short time ago are but samples of many that have come to him. One was from St. Louis and came from a woman who believed herself to be dying. Despite an incurable illness which confined her to her bed, she wrote her appreciation of the Newlyweds, declaring they made the time pass quickly. The other letter came in advance of a cane made entirely from the comic sections of the Sunday World in a penitentiary in Arizona. The prisoner, a man sentenced for a long term, wrote of the interest he and his fellow convicts took in the Newlywed pictures.
The approach of the fourth anniversary of the appearance of the Newlyweds has brought an increased number of letters to Mr. McManus, showing that many people have followed the fortunes of the couple throughout their existence. A large number of the letters contained suggestions for a suitable celebration of the appearance of the Newlyweds, and especially urged the adoption of some one day as the baby's birthday.
That the interest taken in the Newlyweds is friendly in the extreme is shown by the countless suggestions received by Mr. McManus of new feats for the baby to accomplish. Newspaper clippings from all over the country containing references to unusual performances of young babies are enclosed in letters almost daily.
Mr. McManus himself is obliged to do much explaining among his friends and acquaintances who see in the troubles and joys of the Newlyweds a fancied reference to a real experience in their own homes. Mrs. Newlywed, endowed by Mr. McManus with rare beauty, had a host of admirers from the start, but Mr. Newlywed has been forced to fight his way under the handicap of his looks. That his rare good nature and extreme devotion to his wife and baby have been recognized, the correspondence of Mr. McManus proves. The letters which at first referred only to the sweetness and beauty of Mrs. Newlywed and the homeliness of Mr. Newlywed have gradually changed in tone, until now Mr. Newlywed's good, qualities receive as much attention as do those of his wife.
Of the artist who draws the Newlyweds, George McManus the Mirror, a St. Louis magazine, said recently:
"'Tis only a few years ago that, without ever having had a drawing lesson, he went into the artists' room of the Republic. He did hackwork, but he did it well, and tried for better work. He tried a cartoon or two; his work told; he designed some posters in which he aimed at something like beauty and hit the mark. His work asserted itself, but it brought no adequate pay. So he hiked to New York, and in, as we say, no time, he was one of the stars of the comic section of the World. First he invented Panhandle Pete a cadging tramp. Pete was spread over the country by the supplement syndicate plan, and he became a national character.
"But Panhandle Pete's success was nothing to that of the Newlyweds and their baby, Napoleon. These persons are the delight of millions. And in the picturing of their troubles there's a fine display of cleanly humorous fancy. The coarseness of much comic supplement stuff is absent. The drawings make the woman beautiful — relatively — the husband a blandly blithering idiot, the baby an incalculable, destructive bawl.
"Father and baby are burlesque, but mamma is pretty and trim, though ‘just crazy about the baby.' All this goes right home to the man-in-the-street, or the man-in-the-flat, the clerk, the working man. And the women—they eat it up. The baby, ugly brat though he be, is a dear. The incidents are the commonplaces of middle class family life, not so funny as they are universal, illustrating nothing except that the baby is boss of the ranch, and that his parents think him the greatest baby that ever happened and worth all the troubles he makes. The millions look for the Newlyweds, and finding them, roar.
"To these George McManus is the greatest artist in the world, to whom the great pictorial wits of the French, German and Italian cartoonists and caricaturists are not to be compared. The secret of McManus' hit is to be found in his good observation, and in his real sympathy with the man-in-the-flat, who's a decent
fellow, hard working, ambitious for better things, self-sacrificing for his family and — as bohemia sees him — about equally pathetic and absurd, in his bourgeois ideals.
"Under McManus' kindliness runs a little fire of ironic contempt for the conventionalistic Mr. Newlywed, and perhaps a suspicion of the exasperation of Charles Lamb with babies when, maddened by their noise, mockingly be toasted King Herod for the slaughter of the innocents. And the masses see themselves in the Newlyweds and rejoice in the spectacle of their ordinariness, their prosaic decency and their servitude to the two-toothed brat that is none the less their angel child. The masses don't know that they are ironized, but they know that they are all Newlyweds, and, between their guffaws, secretly ashamed of it. So
that McManus, wittingly or unwittingly, is a satirist who sears in spots even as did Hogarth or Cruikshank. He's a cynic even though he play upon the heart interest, the mother instinct, the home ideal — all dear to the average person. He smashes hard at paidolatry and the wallowings of parenthood.
“This cynical savor to McManus' sense of humor is an inheritance from his father, George McManus of the old Grand Opera house, one of the best story tellers and dry wits this town has ever known. It may lead him to better things, in conjunction with the sense which he has for color and character, though these are absent from the Sunday supplement stuff. It may lead him in the way of Goya, that bitter Spaniard. When his vogue shall have passed, as pass it must, if success does not soften his fiber, which it shouldn't, he may turn to deeper, permanent things and achieve something worth while, as Glackens and George Luks have achieved in piercing paint.”
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