Thursday, June 02, 2016


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Thorndike

Willis Hale Thorndike was born in Stockton, California, on February 8, 1872, according to Who’s Who in America (1910.). His parents were Albert Thorndike and Mary Page. In the 1880 U.S. Federal Census, Thorndike was the third of four children. The family resided in Stockton. Who’s Who said Thorndike was educated in public schools.

The 1888 Stockton city directory listed Thorndike, an artist, at 127 South Grant. Who Was Who in America with World Notables, Volume V, 1969–1973, said Thorndike was an artist on the San Francisco Chronicle, from 1890 to 1892; the New York Herald, from 1896 to 1897.

Who’s Who said Thorndike studied at the San Francisco Art School, the Art Students’ League in New York, and the Academy Julien in Paris. Thorndike was in Europe for two-and-a-half years. He was awarded first prize for a drawing from life, in Paris, 1894. The San Francisco Call (California), December 1, 1895, said, “Willis H. Thorndike is also studying to illustrate. He makes very chic girls. He has been at Etaples this summer, on the coast of Belgium, and while there he has made a vast improvement in his painting.” A passenger list recorded his return on April 25, 1896, in New York City.

The 1899 Stockton city directory listing had Thorndike at his old address, 127 South Grant. The following year, the 1900 census recorded Thorndike in San Francisco, California at 816 Sutter Street.

At some point Thorndike moved to Montana. The Butte Inter Mountain (Montana), December 26, 1901, noted some of the guests at the Montana Hotel including Willis Thorndike and Miss Hunsicker.

The Montana marriage license said Thorndike married Philadelphia native, Irma R. Hunsicker, on January 15, 1902, in Anaconda, Deer Lodge, Montana. The Butte Inter Mountain, January 25, 1902, published this item on page seven: “Mr. and Mrs. Willis H. Thorndike have returned from their wedding journey to Salt Lake and have gone to housekeeping at 722 Hickory street.” Page nine featured this article: “Married Man’s Troubles.

Anaconda, Jan. 25.—Willie Thorndike, the well-known artist can relate a thrilling story entitled “The Trial and Tribulations of a Newly Married Man.”

It is scarcely more than ten days ago that Willis forsook his bachelor friends and went before hymen’s altar.

Before leaving on their wedding trip, Mr. and Mrs. Thorndike rented a house on upper Hickory street and left orders to have the place cleaned and made ready for their occupancy upon their return. Everything about the house was put in order, but the water pipes were overlooked and the other night they froze up tight.

The orders left for the coal man to put in a supply of fuel were not obeyed, consequently when the young couple reached home the situation was not very pleasing to them.

Some friends, who met them at the depot, gave them assistance in making a fire in the parlor. But the worst came the next morning when the water pipes in the rear part of the house bursted, completely flooding the kitchen.

Between the plumbers, who have had the house in charge for a couple of days and freezing to death, Willis has concluded that the responsibilities of a married man are indeed burdensome, and he believes he is having more than his share of trouble.
Butte History and “Lost Butte” said Thorndike was an illustrator for the local newspaper, Anaconda Standard. Thorndike’s Saint Patrick’s illustration was published in color on March 15, 1903; his signature is at the bottom to the right of the circular inset. The site said Thorndike and his wife “left for New York on January 3, 1904.”

While Thorndike was in New York City, he produced some strips for two newspapers. American Newspaper Comics (2012) said the New York World published The Hoodoo Jockery and His Sure-Thing Mount, from April 25 to June 1, 1904; and Just to See What It Would Do, from November 25 to December 28, 1904. The next year, the New York Evening Telegram carried Hawkshaw the Wise Detective of Herald Square, from January 24 to June 26, 1905; and Samson, the Strong Man, from February 10 to June 23, 1905.

Who’s Who said Thorndike joined the staff of the Baltimore American in 1906. Thorndike’s editorial cartoons were reprinted in publications such as the Literary Digest, herehere and here; the Steamboat Pilot; and Red Bluff News here and here.

Red Bluff News 6/11/1911

In Baltimore, Thorndike illustrated the 1908 book, A Woman of War and Other Stories.

The 1910 census had Thorndike as a Baltimore resident at 1926 West Royal Terrace. 

The Baltimore American, February 5, 1911, mentioned the cartoon exhibition of Thorndike and Robert Brook at the Charcoal Club.
The first of a series of exhibition of cartoons by artists was opened in the rooms of the Charcoal Club last night. The opening exhibition is devoted to the works of Mr. Willis H. Thorndike, whose cartoons have appeared daily in The American for some years, and those of Mr. R. Brook, of the Star. The exhibitions will continue all this week….
Butte History said Thorndike returned to California in 1915.

A listing in the 1918 Los Angeles, California city directory, said artist Thorndike worked at 406 South Main in room 901, and lived at 4507 Prospect Avenue.

Thorndike’s residence was 1811 North Alexandria, Los Angeles, in the 1920 census. His occupation was manager of an advertising company, located at 824 San Fernando Building in the 1920 city directory. Thorndike’s home address did not change in the 1930 census and 1933 city directory.

Thorndike passed away March 18, 1940, in Los Angeles, according to the California Death Index and Find a Grave. Two days later the San Francisco Chronicle reported his death.

Los Angeles, March 19 (AP)— Funeral services will be held Thursday for Willis H. Thorndike, 68, once nationally known political cartoonist, who died Monday at his Hollywood home.

Thorndike started his career on The San Francisco Chronicle in 1890, studied drawing in Paris and later worked on the New York Herald, the Baltimore Sun and Anaconda Standard, during the mining boom at Anaconda, Mont.

He retired about 15 years ago and has been living in Los Angeles since then. Surviving is his widow, Irma.
Irma passed away August 28, 1968.

—Alex Jay


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