Friday, April 29, 2016


Walt McDougall's This is the Life: Chapter 14 Part 2

This is the Life!


Walt McDougall

Chapter Fourteen (Part 2) - It's a Long Lane that has No Turning

If anything out of the ordinary happens to the average dumb-bell, it's a miracle; if it happens twice to a scientist, it's a queer coincidence; if it happens thrice to a philosopher, it's a Law of Nature. Now, being dumb-bell, scientist and philosopher, I came to the conclusion that my experience of the newspaper game, as it is called, was about what happens to all of its players who are not crooks or rabbits, and I did as most of them do, tried something else.
I rented an office on Broad Street and established an advertising business under the cheeky title of "The Brain Shop," which very likely scared away as much business as it brought. Then there came to me a partner, whereby hangs a tragic tale. A well-known local politician, Clayton Erb, who had been Insurance Commissioner, a man of very wide acquaintance, offered to buy a half-interest in the Brain Shop, a proposition that was very acceptable inasmuch as it would relieve me of the outside work.

I thus became a sort of advertising counsel to several corporations, for one of which I produced a monthly colored comic paper of four pages [I believe McDougall is referring to the publication Giggles here -- Allan], several department stores and merchants, and in order to provide an outlet for my still exuberant energy, for I was only fifty years old, and still devoid of wisdom teeth, I started a little weekly called Sketches that sold about 2,400 every week right in the business section, handled by newsboys alone. I am now inclined to suspect that this would eventually have been my most profitable and pleasing means of support. Incidentally, I made a few cartoons for the Telegraph.

Late one Summer day Erb came into the office and said: "I will hand you a check for three thousand five hundred dollars in the morning. I am hurrying for my train now and can't stop. I am going to get a divorce from my wife and we will settle the matter tonight."

He lived out of town on a fair-sized estate called "Red Gables" from which the tragedy took its name. Next morning, as I entered the train at Pleasantville, somebody remarked: "That was awful about Clayton Erb, wasn't it?" I asked what he meant, and he handed me the morning paper. Erb had been killed by his wife as he rose from the dinner table. The trial attracted widespread attention, but Mrs. Erb was acquitted.

During this period I syndicated the "Log of the Ark by Japheth," which was widely accepted but holding strictly to the literal Biblical narrative it seemed incongruous to prolong it for a much greater period than the duration of Noah's maritime adventure, as any Fundamentalist will admit. When Roosevelt went on his hunting trip in Africa, I produced a series called "Teddy in Africa" that also widely syndicated, but it was not long before many newspapers hinted that some of their readers were indignant at my absurd or sarcastic depiction of their hero, and recognizing gradually that any form of caricature or criticism whatever of Roosevelt would be equally obnoxious, I began to ease up and finally ceased my efforts. This is what has always made the syndicating of political cartoons unprofitable; the protesting readers are always so much noisier than the others that the editors become alarmed at their din.

Next year a number of prominent Republicans induced me to start McDougall's Magazine, a publication designed to muckrake the muckraking magazines, for one thing, and, I presume, to rehabilitate the Republican Party in the estimation of the Best People. Hampton's Magazine, capitalized for millions, started that year, and spent, I heard, $60,000 a month, but it lasted only a few weeks longer than mine. I made the cover designs, cartoons, illustrations, wrote a serial entitled "The Golden Fleece," dealing with conditions in Atlantic City, where we sold ten thousand copies every month, made advertising cuts and everything except the poetry, in spite of which the periodical lasted ten months. It might have survived longer had I not been stricken by a severe attack of gout which laid me low, incapable of movement, for ten weeks or so. When I recovered, the damage was done. Many of those who signed up to take stock in the enterprise reneged and I was broke.

It was my first failure in health and in business, but I was still young. I have observed that the more senile of my old comrades are those who have clung like barnacles to one job, and that the ones who have been fired the oftenest are the most resilient, as if hustling for the meal-ticket keeps the glands in action.

I arrived in New York with eleven dollars in my pocket. Two friends who were awaiting me at the station took me out to dinner and afterward announced that we were booked for a poker game at the house of another old comrade, an opulent Wall Street broker. When I informed them of the state of my finances, they laughed the care-free laugh of those who live by their wits, and said my credit would be good.

I won $94 that night, and something assured me that old Father Knickerbocker's spirit was hovering over his prodigal son who had repented and returned to the old home town. In all my years in Philadelphia I had never won $94 in one night, nor in many nights. The next day I went to the office of the Globe and suggested a daily column entitled "Look Who's Here," in which the most notable of hotel arrivals should be pictured and written up in the style of the little country newspaper. Wright, the editor, enthused over the idea and agreed to pay me $100 weekly for the stuff.

I had singularly good fortune in having as subjects some notable arrivals, among them the Shah of Persia's brother (or brother-in-law—I've forgotten which), but, best of all, Sorolla, the foremost painter of the day, a genial, unassuming, stoutish and bearded genius who posed for me and in a long interview, his first in the country, gave me an opportunity of introducing him to the newspaper-reading public, which does not know a painter from a kalsominer.

He sold a half-million dollars' worth of pictures during one month, and I am convinced that it was all due to my boosting, but of course I may be in error.

At the end of the second week Mr. Wright told me that the owner of the Globe, a Wall Street man named Searles, had become alarmed over my contributions, thinking them largely fakes inasmuch as he could not credit me with a general acquaintance large enough nor the luck nor the ability to bag so many interesting subjects every week and he was afraid of libel suits! So the feature expired and nobody has ever had the nerve or industry to revive it.

I had already planned and now set to work to make six sample pages of a front-page comic, "Hank the Hermit," which on completion I submitted to the World, which was known to be in need of a new feature, but although "Hank" was approved by those in charge of the supplement, I now discovered that Mr. Ralph Pulitzer cherished a personal antipathy to me. His brother Joe told me that Ralph "did not like my style."

I formed a connection with the Western Newspaper Syndicate, managed by Charles Mar, who had been with the American, and in a short time "Hank" was booming, being used by many of the best papers of the country. Later, when it was earning perhaps $500 weekly, the World was again in distress owing to the desertion of their main attraction, George McManus, creator of "Bringing up Father," to the American. Pulitzer had another opportunity to avail himself of the feature, as my partners were very unsatisfactory to me, but I was to witness another instance of a business man allowing his personal feelings to influence him in a business deal.

While "Hank the Hermit" was getting into his stride, for these features take time to establish themselves, I issued, through the American Press Association, a tri-weekly feature called "The Outlet," a quarter-page package of cartoon, verse, wise-cracks and a strip, "Gink and Boob," which was acceptable to about a hundred papers and which certainly was work enough for two men at least. When "Hank" was placed under the management of the McClure Syndicate and his prosperity became assured, I dropped "The Outlet" and went to Florida to recuperate. Henceforth for years I spent eight or nine months in the year at Rockledge, Fla.

Two or three stories that I had written for my own ill-fated magazine I sold in New York, "The Criminal's Hat," which I am now attempting to dramatize, "Pikers Afloat," a novelette, and "The Last Contest," which the American Magazine published in 1912, illustrated by George Wright, and then in 1914 republished, illustrated by Ruyterdal, which was an extraordinary proceeding, for which Orville Wright wrote a commendation. For this tale I invented the launching and landing stage for airplanes on ships, which has been adopted, but as yet I have received no royalties for the invention. The story caused H. G. Wells in his "Predictions" to seriously assert that airplanes would not be used in warfare for fifty years!

Life now moved easily and uneventfully for several years, a big tuna, tarpon or devilfish being something to talk about for days, and a passing automobile with children wanting to see "Hank and his Animals," tourists from every State of the Union passing down the Lincoln Highway, becoming a pleasing interruption to the day's work. In the Spring of 1915, instigated by McClure's, now under the ownership of C. C. Brainard, who had once been a World reporter, I began a daily series, a strip, entitled "Absent-minded Abner," which was subscribed to by some seventy-five important papers, among them the Evening Sun, New York, which was very satisfactory, to me, at least.

It is generally supposed by the cartooning fraternity that each Presidential candidate selects his cartoonist just as he does his manager. As a matter of fact he does once in many years. Usually he does not know a cartoonist exists. The able publicity manager, of either party, takes care of the picking, not of one but many alleged cartoonists, who go on the payrolls of the party and help to swell the bills. In 1904 Davenport was chosen by Roosevelt, making one cartoon, "He Is Good Enough for Me!" among others, that doubtless affected many votes, but he had much difficulty in getting paid the money promised him.

In 1911 I began to flirt with Gov. Wilson and prepare his mind for a vigorous assertion of his rights to have a hand-picked artist, but I found very quickly that cartooning was a branch that he had totally neglected. He seemed quite unaware of the importance or the extent of this means of influencing public opinion, nor was he particularly disposed to learn anything about it. Several times that summer I went to Sea Girt, and also corresponded with the Governor, finding him apparently entirely disposed to place the matter of National Cartooning in my experienced hands.

About a month before the Baltimore Convention I endeavored to screw him down to a decision, having a sort of suspicion that having marooned Harvey, Inglis, Measday, Jim Smith and most of his original workers, he intended to have nothing to do with any of the men who had done so much for his political advancement. The following letter, written after the matter had been discussed often, shows how little real impression my arguments had upon what he called his "one-track mind," being, in fact, pure piffle, although I did not perceive it at the time.

State of New Jersey
Executive Department
May 7th 1912

My dear Mr. McDougall:
I need not tell you how sincerely I appreciate your letter of April twenty-fifth and must ask your indulgence for not having replied sooner.

I am a very barren fellow in ideas as to how I could avail myself of the services of a cartoonist. I am sure that your mind is more fertile than my own in such a matter. I am equally certain that there will be unrivaled opportunities in the approaching campaign for the use of wits.

I should esteem it a real pleasure to have a talk with you, as you suggest. I am expecting to be in my office here on Friday forenoon next and Monday forenoon next. I wonder if it would be possible for you to run down.

Sincerely yours,
Woodrow Wilson.

A few days later I went to Trenton, meeting the Governor on the trolley car and going to his office with him, where we talked for two hours. I found it quite impossible to get a definite statement from him, and it was long afterward that I learned that he hesitated mainly because I had been affiliated with a Republican paper for ten years or so and he was afraid I was politically unsound. Politics was so serious a matter to him, and he was actually at the time in such a nervous state, that even one or two jests of mine were taken up with intense gravity. One of these, that Bill Sulzer seemed to be really his most formidable adversary, actually seemed, incredible as it may appear, to perturb him visibly. In sooth, that day he was plainly depressed and quite lacking in his usual buoyancy. I left him, however, persuaded that everything was all right.

I went to the Baltimore Convention, luckily being able to rent a little house just within the police lines which came in handy for some of my friends. It was the usual sleepless, confusing, harrowing series of scraps. One day I met Harry Walker, Bryan's manager, who dropped a few words that electrified me. I had secured the promise of Champ Clark, Gov. Lowden and others to select me as cartoonist, but I had not considered William J. I immediately asked Walker where he was, and was told that he was in his room.

I found him talking with a man, a stranger, and, dismissing him, he took me into the bathroom, where he at once signified his willingness to use my services. He dropped a significant remark in doing so which led me to think that he had hopes of beating Woodrow. "I am only wondering," he said, "whether we can afford to pay your prices!" The next day he abandoned his opposition, however, and Wilson was nominated.

Not long afterward I discovered that Charley Macauley of the World had persuaded Wilson to accept his valuable services, but nothing was said to me about the matter. I did make an "animated" cartoon for the motion-picture branch of the publicity department under Robert Wooley, which took me two months to complete and was widely circulated.

One day I received a telephone message from Bob Davis, informing me that his boss, Frank Munsey, had just bought the Press and wanted to hire me as his cartoonist. He asked me to come down at once. I found Mr. Munsey in his office in the Flatiron Building, seated on a sort of dais, and he greeted me amiably, stating that he wanted me to make a daily cartoon for which he would pay the sum of one hundred dollars weekly. By this time a hundred dollars for a New York cartoonist was a mere trifle and comic-page men were getting four times that sum. I explained to him that much water had run under the bridge since I received a hundred dollars per week, but that I would make him a daily cartoon for that sum.

"I will want all of your time!" he said suddenly.

When I confided to him that I had two quite successful syndicate features in hand and could not, it was evident, drop them for the insignificant, even paltry sum of a hundred dollars, he snapped out: "Well, I'm taking chances on you! You've been identified with comic stuff for several years and your effectiveness as a cartoonist may be impaired." He was evidently quite piqued, and in spite of Bob's nervous signals to placate him, I retorted, very truthfully: "I'm the one who is taking chances. You have never made a success yet of any newspaper you ever tackled."

I cannot remember the details of the exceedingly animated and delightful conversation. I recall reminding him of the numerous occasions during the last five years when I had been arrested for libel in Philadelphia, but as we both lost our tempers the things we said were of no importance, but I enjoyed it more than anything that had happened to me in years. Bob Davis's distress and horror were simply delightful. My shocking lack of veneration for his boss agonized him. I never imagined Mr. Munsey was so human, and I think the old boy secretly enjoyed the experience, for I doubt if he ever had anybody stand up to him and talk back since he got on Easy Street. Finally, as I walked out, he uttered the last word: "I'll never have a cartoonist on a paper of mine!" He may have considered it a sort of promise, for as far as I am aware, he has never employed one. He fired Bill Rogers as soon as he bought the Herald, and no better man for that paper ever lived.

In nineteen-twenty-three I met him in the corridor of the Herald and he greeted me pleasantly. I said to him: "Mr. Munsey, it seems to me you need a good cartoonist pretty bad!" He smiled and replied: "You come and see me when newsprint gets cheaper." That he has, however, persisted in his silly obsession the following proves:

280 Broadway
New York,
January 28,1924.

Walt McDougall,
Braemoor, Goshen, N.Y.

My dear McDougall: Mr. Munsey is still disinclined to put a cartoon in the Herald. He simply does not want cartoons in the Herald, and he owns the paper.

Very truly yours,
C. M. Lincoln.

One of the funny things about objections of offended owners who sternly refuse to use the work of men who have disgruntled them is that such men can sell anything that is valuable to their papers by simply using a nom de plume. I have had innumerable pictures printed under various names at one time and another merely to avoid subjecting Ralph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst or Frank Munsey to an attack of cardiac trouble. Many another man has had the same experience.


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