Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Obscurity of the Day: Little Reggie and the Heavenly Twins

Marjorie Organ, one of the first female artists to plant a flag in the world of newspaper funnies, was a gorgeous creature if not an overly gifted cartoonist. When she started producing comics for Hearst's New York Evening Journal in 1902 at the tender age of 16, no doubt the job was easily secured after a little flirting with a swooning editor. Her very first continuing feature was this one, Little Reggie and the Heavenly Twins. It was also her longest-running strip by a long margin, running regularly from October 27 1902 to February 3 1905. The strip was a one-note affair with pathetic little runt Reggie in thrall to a pair of twin beauties who abuse his ardor with cold calculation. One can't help but imagine that Organ was not completely unfamiliar with the concept of leading smitten men around by the, um, nose. It doesn't help Organ's case any that one source, a biography of Robert Henri (we'll get to him in a moment), claims that Marjorie's best friend was Helen Marie Walsh, a similar gorgeous red-head, and that they were quite the madcap pair.

In 1904 Organ began dabbling in other series for the Evening Journal, but they were all short-lived. She left the paper at the end of 1905, and about this time may have enrolled in the New York School of Art. Some say that she met fine artist and ladies' man Robert Henri at the school, others say that she met the influential artist at a dinner following an art exhibition on February 3 1908. The latter story doesn't seem to hold water since the supposed meet-cute had Henri effusing over her wonderful comic strip. Since Organ had been away from the Journal for well over two years, and her only other known credit was a short-lived strip for the New York World that wouldn't start until a week later, the story seems suspect.

In any case, the famed Ash Can School portraitist Robert Henri did indeed meet, paint, woo, and wed the beauteous Marjorie Organ in 1908 and that was the end of her newspaper career. Marjorie Henri did continue to dabble in art after she married but primarily seems to have played entertainment director to Robert's never-ending string of portrait subjects. In 1929 Robert died of cancer, and was followed shortly after in 1930 by Marjorie, struck down by the same disease at age 46.


Part 1

Marjorie Organ was born in Ireland on December 3, 1886 according to Ancestry.com. The 1900 U.S. Federal Census recorded the Organ family having immigrated to the United States in 1895. The mother, Ellen, was the head of the household and had eight children of which seven were living. The census listed six children with "Marjory" being fourth oldest at 13.

In 1908 Organ met Robert Henri at a masquerade ball, the Artists' Ball, at Tuxedo Hall according to the article, "The Romance of a Girl with Red Hair", printed in the New Orleans Item on August 2, 1908. The exact date of the ball was not mentioned but it was in the middle of April. An excerpt about their meeting:

"Pardon me, do you pose?" he inquired, his eyes still fixed on the glory of red gold hair.

"No. In fact, I pose others, a little. I am an artist but an humble one. I have been
doing a little work for the newspapers for two years. I want to get into the magazines.
I hope".

"Yes, yes. You are ambitious." The master had a soothing voice.

"Had you a model for your 'The Girl with Red Hair'?" the girl asked.

The master smiled. "Yes and no. She never sat for me. But I saw her each morning
on the L train, and I made notes of her wonderful hair in my brain. She was a wee,
scrawny, awkward creature, a school girl I should have said. She was timid. One day
I approached to ask her if she would come to my studio and pose for my girl, but
she shrank away from me so that I passed without speaking. I have often wondered
what had become of that little girl. I gave the picture the face of a woman, but I kept
the girl's hair—that wonderful red hair."

Behind the mask the girl's lips parted. They closed again in a smile. Just then the
tiresome boy came up to take her to supper…

"Masks off."…

He saw it at last, the mass of burnished red gold hair.

"I thought so," he said to himself. "I thought there could be nowhere else such
wonderful hair as that. It is my little girl of three years ago. But the wee, scrawny
figure has ripened. The timid face has grown serene. My little Girl of the Red Hair
has grown up."

To one of his disciples he said eagerly, "The girl with the red hair and the beautiful
complexion. Who is she?"
Part 2

"That? Oh, that is Marjorie Organ, an illustrator on one of the downtown papers."

"Introduce me." The follower obeyed.

Miss Organ, looking up with laughter in her eyes, saw the hidalgo bending over her.
She rose. He knelt before her in mock humility.

"Forgive me." His voice was beseeching.

"For saying that I was wee and awkward and scrawny? It was quite true."

"But will you forgive me?"

"Certainly, Oh, please get up. Why should the great Robert Henri kneel to poor little
Marjorie Organ, the great painter to the beginner?"

Three weeks later—it was while they were hurrying over to Connecticut on an
impulsive wedding journey—he reminded her of her speech.

On June 7, 1908 the New York Times reported their marriage.

Robert Henri, head of the New York School of Art, it was announced yesterday,
was married on May 5 to Miss Marjorie Organ, who was a pupil at the art school.
The ceremony was performed in Connecticut, according to Mrs. Henri, the
artist's mother, by a Roman Catholic priest, but the bride's mother was not present.

Mr. and Mrs. Henri are now on their way to Spain on board the Moltke. Mr. Henri
is accustomed to take every year a number of his pupils to Spain, and did not
drop this practice because of his marriage. The wedding was announced the day
the ship sailed, last Tuesday.

Mr. Henri is a widower, his first wife having died about two years ago. He is 42
years old and is noted in art circles for the originality of his ideas and his refusal
to be bound by conventions.

His wife is 21 and has been doing illustrating work for the newspapers. She has
been a pupil at the New York Art School for a long time but is said to have met
Mr. Henri only three weeks before they were married.

Their names do not appear in the 1910 census. The reason may have been that they were away in Europe; a passenger list records their return to New York on October 20, 1910. In 1920 they lived at 10 Gramercy Park in Manhattan; their occupation was "Artist" in the "Art" industry. Their work appeared in numerous art exhibitions.

Henri died on July 12, 1929. Organ passed away in July 1930 according to the book, Robert Henri: Painter-Teacher-Prophet.

by Alex Jay
Part 3

After further reading, I have concluded that the newspaper account of Henri and Organ's meeting was a fanciful fabrication. In the Delaware Art Museum 1980 exhibition catalogue, "City Life Illustrated, 1890-1940: Sloan, Glackens, Luks, Shinn—Their Friends and Followers", was this reaction:

When the news reached the press, an article about the romantic marriage of Henri
to a "comic artist" was printed, but [John] Sloan declared it "ridiculous and untrue."

In Bennard B. Perlman's book, "Robert Henri: His Life and Art", on page 86 he wrote:

…The July 19 Sunday edition of the American-Examiner carried a story about his
supposed courtship, headlined: "The Romance of a Girl with Red Hair," which
placed his meeting with Marjorie at a masquerade ball….

Henri was sent a copy of the newspaper story, complete with pictures. "Not one
word was true," was his only comment, and that included the location of the
marriage in Connecticut.

Two accounts of their meeting have similarities with minor differences. From page 55 of "City Life Illustrated" was this version:

Marjorie frequented New York Cafe Mousquin, the famous gathering place of artists,
writers, and musicians, and it was here in 1908 that she first saw Robert Henri. At
the coaxing of her friend Walt Kuhn, a cartoonist for the World, she attended some
of Henri's art lectures and was captivated by him. Another friend, Journal artist
Rudolph Dirks, finally introduced the two at Mousquin's in March 1908.

From page 86 of "Robert Henri: His Life and Art", was this account:

Marjorie met Henri at Mousquin's on February 3, 1908, after the opening of The
Eight exhibition, to which she had been invited by Rudolph Dirks. She had brought
along Helen Walsh; it was also the first meeting of Dirks with his future wife. Henri,
dining at another table, walked over to greet Dirks and complimented him on the
painting he had sent to the Pennsylvania Academy. Immediately attracted to the
red-haired, blue-eyed Marjorie, he was even more intrigued when he learned that
she was the creator of one of the comic strips he so enjoyed. He suggested she
join his class, which she did, teasing him during the initial critique by sketching a
caricature of him with enlarged feet. The teacher reciprocated by asking her to
pose for a portrait in his studio, and it was there that the romance blossomed.
Perhaps the best account of their meeting is in William Homer's Robert Henri and His Circle, which he wrote with Violet Organ, Marjorie's sister:

"She was often squired about by Walt Kuhn and Rudolph Dirks, Cartoonists working on the World and Journal respectively; ad at Monquin's, sone of their favorite haunts, Henri was pointed out to her as the leader of the Eight. At Walt Kuhn's urging, she attended some of Henri's lectures and was very attracted by his slight southern drawl and electric changes of manner. Finally Dirks, himself a friend of Henri's introduced them at Mouquin's late in March. Two days after the meeting Henri began to paint her portrait in sittings that were kept secret from all but her sister Violet. Indeed, few were aware of their courtship during the spring, so their marriage on May 5 in a civil ceremony at Elizabeth, New Jersey, came as a complete surprise to most of his friends. Reporters on the New York newspapers did not discover the wedding until early in June, after the couple ha sailed to Spain for their honeymoon."
"no doubt the job was easily secured after a little flirting with a swooning editor..."
Wow. This really sums up the way women can't win: if they're not attractive, they're attacked for it. If they are attractive, they're told that nothing they achieve is deserved.

I think Organ's design of Reggie and her use of black show an interesting graphic stylization here. The writing of the strip does seem incredibly tedious, but plenty of professional male cartoonists of the time weren't geniuses, especially at ages 16-21.

But let's assume that you're right, that Organ's looks did play a part in her hiring. Studies show that good-looking job applicants do better in today's market, so why not then? But would this extra asset have been enough to have given her an advantage over other candidates who had the major unearned boost of having been born white men? Or was it simply enough that the editor was willing to spend a few minutes with her portfolio, as he would a promising young lad's, when most women (see Nellie Bly's initial experiences in New York) were discouraged by editors from applying at all? And I'd be willing to bet a large amount that she was paid a smaller salary than her male peers, no matter how "beauteous" she was.
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