Monday, January 16, 2017


Obscurity of the Day: Looking Backward - Famous Men in their Younger Days

Nelson Harding was the editorial cartoonist of the venerable Brooklyn Eagle from 1908 to 1929, and while there did the amazing feat of winning back-to-back Pulitzers in 1927 and 1928. The reward for this feat came in the form of an invitiation by Hearst to join his organization.  Harding accepted the offer, and was promptly swallowed up so thoroughly in Hearst's vast organization that his cartoons were lost in the shuffle from then on. At the Brooklyn Eagle, where he had been the venerated grand old man, his name became mud for jumping ship.

I've never been a fan of Harding's editorial cartoons. The art is fine but he had a habit of covering everything in a ticker-tape parade of unnecessary labels. Of his two Pulitzer winning cartoons, one is a ho-hum anti-war message, the other a weakly drawn huzzah to Lindbergh. I doubt that it would take me more than ten minutes of clicking around to find better editorial cartoons from those years. But that's typical for the Pulitzer prizes for cartooning, which employ some utterly mysterious and bizarre methods for evaluating cartoons.

Anyway, we're getting far afield. Although Harding's editorial cartoons leave me cold, he was a surprisingly humorous fellow when he felt the muse beckon in that direction. Today's obscurity, however, does not shine a great light on that aspect -- not Harding's fault but rather that the gulf of time has extinguished whatever humor might have been there. Looking Backward -- Famous Men in Their Younger Days  is a very short series that ran on Saturdays in the Eagle from April 5 to April 26 (a grand total of four episodes). In each episode a leading light in New York politics is satirized based on jobs they held in their younger days. The strips may have been knee-slappers then, but you'd have to be a historian of New York politics to get any humor from them now.

Just to beat a dead horse (is anyone still reading? hello?) the four installments covered, in order, New York City mayor William Gaynor, Brooklyn borough president Alfred E. Steers, NewYork City controller William A. Prendergast and Timothy L. Woodruff, one-time lieutenant governor of New York state.


Well maybe it isn't that hilarious, but the strip about Prendergast is doing a parody of a song from Gilbert and Sullivan's "H.M.S. Pinafore", which was considered a comic opera in it's day.
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