Monday, September 01, 2008
News of Yore 1922: McManus, Celebrity Cartoonist
This is an account of McManus' week in Detroit—of seven days of hardy public tribute to a man who has filled the world with wholesome laughter; of seven days of wholehearted acclaim, of unstinted welcome, of loud and resounding cheers.
George McManus, creator of "Bringing Up Father" betook himself to Detroit recently in connection with the appearance of his famous cartoon in the Detroit Times. McManus, on leaving New York, believed that the concerns which took him to Detroit might detain him there two days, certainly not more than three.
In figuring to go right out to Detroit and come right back again McManus reckoned without his personal fame.
It was as he stepped off the train at the Michigan Central station that a crescendo of cheers, rolling from a regiment or two of railroad employees massed about the station and train sheds, told him that his private character, if he had one, had been left behind in New York.
"Hello, George "—" Hello, Jiggs"— "How is Maggie ?"—and " Where is Dinty Moore ? "
And as McManus looked about him to grasp the reasons for all this, he found that he was the principal personage in a parade.
For the middle west has an outright, uproarious way of doing things not familiar in restrained and dignified New York.
Detroit had planned a parade. With ingratiating but inflexible determination several of her leading citizens laid hands upon our cartoonist and led him to an automobile, and within four minutes he was on his way to the City Hall by a circuitous route, which wound through all the city's main thoroughfares, with all sorts and conditions of vociferous Detroiters vociferating from more than two hundred other cars following behind.
Whereafter, under a flawless sky, and on the sunlit steps of the City Hall, he was vested with the freedom of the city and the keys thereof placed in his hands.
To appear successfully, in a community where you are a stranger, as the principal attraction at a series of gatherings, meetings, banquets, theatre performances, ball games, band concerts, and rallies, and to say the right thing each time at the right moment and leave behind you a warmth of enthusiasm and an uproar of cheering requires more gift than is included in the equipment of even the most versatile of men. It is also incredibly fatiguing. Or so most people will find it.
But not McManus.
"Mr. McManus has a room here," said the clerk of the Hotel Statler when a delegation that wanted him for a special meeting went there one day to invite him, "but I can't attempt to tell you when you will find him in it. He's on the go day and night; if he sleeps at all I haven't noticed it."
"Oh, well," said McManus when the delegation finally caught up with him, "it isn't as though this were work. I'm having no end of a party! This is really a vacation for me."
Five times he addressed gatherings of children at theatres; joyous, blissful, light-hearted aggregations of boys and girls who roared at his quips and yelled their approval while he drew them cartoons of the famous Jiggs household and told them incidents and anecdotes of the days when he, too, sat on a school bench out in St. Louis, where he was born and grew up. One of these meetings overflowed into the open air where, mounted on a motor truck, he tossed away 12,000 ice cream cones and cracked a new joke with every fling.
Between whiles he visited the sick and afflicted in hospitals, infirmaries, asylums and settlement houses, was guest at police and fire headquarters, and dined as "one of the outfit " at the penitentiary of Jackson County.
A feature of his visit was "Jiggs Day " at all the leading hotels and restaurants, by arrangement among the proprietors of all these places, who made corned beef and cabbage the principal dish on their menus and announced at the top of the cards that Dinty Moore, from his famous kitchen in New York, had telegraphed the necessary recipe.
His last public appearance in Detroit took on something of the character of one of those monster festivals which we read about in chronicles of ancient Rome.
His final day was spent as the guest of the city at a demonstration, of which the main purpose was "to let the people see him." A stand was erected by order of the city council in Grand Circus Park. McManus rode up to it with the Mayor in the Mayor's official car, with platoons of police preceding and a squadron of cavalry behind. An escort of 3,500 school children took position about the reviewing stand and sang the national anthem. Then McManus, with the Mayor beside him, reviewed a parade of clubs, orders, associations and trade unions that was nearly two hours passing that given point. Then he made a speech that was a 'knock out,' in the opinion of all the experts present, and at sundown was escorted to his train.
"Detroit," said he, as the train pulled for New York, "is a real town. If they like you, nothing's too good. I had a street car wait for me once in New York and was told that was high recognition. But here all the wheels of commerce and government stopped. That's not only recognition but WELCOME."
[Note: the original article was accompanied by a page of photographs which unfortunately were unreproducible. What little of them I can discern, though, assures me that the amazing reception described above did in fact take place more or less as described -- it's not just marketing hype]
Labels: News of Yore