Tuesday, May 01, 2012


Ink-Slinger Profiles: Frank King

Frank Oscar King was born in Cashton, Wisconsin on April 9, 1883, according to Who's Who in Chicago and Vicinity 1936. In the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, he was the oldest of two sons born to John and Caroline. They lived in Tomah, Wisconsin at 1710 Superior Avenue. His father was a mechanic. The New York Times, June 25, 1969, said

…Tomah, a small town in the Kickapoo Hills…provided much of the background and setting for "Gasoline Alley"….His talent for drawing soon found vent in country fair competitions and one day he drew a sign for a bootblack in the local hotel for 25 cents. A traveling salesman later saw the sign and learned it had been drawn by the son of one of his customers and arranged an interview for the young artist with a newspaper editor in Minneapolis. Mr. King took the job for $6 a week and in four years doubled his salary doing art work for the paper.

Who's Who said he graduated from high school in 1901, and attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts in 1905 and 1906. The Minneapolis Journal (Minnesota), March 20, 1905, mentioned King's chalk talk at a St. Patrick's Day celebration. The Wisconsin Biographical Dictionary (2008) said:

…by the time he decided to pursue his studies at the academy, he had been working as a cartoonist at the Minneapolis Times for five years, beginning in 1901 when he was eighteen."

In 1906, he worked for a short time at an advertising agency then became a staff member of the Chicago Examiner. He stayed until 1909, and then switched to the Chicago Tribune where he had his own weekly cartoon.

The Winston-Salem Journal (North Carolina), April 26, 1926, published King's brief account of his life.

As to biography—here goes. Birthplace, Cashton, Wis., but tired of the town and moved to Tomah one month later. High chair, measles and arithmetic there, also higher education culminating in learned essay at graduation from high school entitled "Newspaper Art." It embraced everything I had learned since and much more. Stuck type for Tomah Journal and spent four years in art department of Minneapolis Times. Left to go to art school in Chicago, and Minneapolis Times collapsed one month later. Three years with Hearst but he didn't know it. Then The Chicago Tribune, Motorcycle Mike, Bobby Make-Believe, Rectangle, Gasoline Alley, Walt and Skeezix.

The 1910 census recorded him in Chicago at 4936 Jackson Avenue, where he was boarding with a doctor and his family. King's occupation was newspaper artist. His first strip for the Chicago Tribune was Oh Augustus in August 1910. In 1913 The Rectangle debuted, which later introduced the characters of Gasoline Alley. In 1914 he contributed Hi Hopper to the Sunday comics page.

Who's Who said he married Delia Drew, of Tomah, on February 7, 1911. The Evanston (Illinois) Directory 1917 listed him as a cartoonist at 611 Madison. He signed his World War I draft card on September 12, 1918. His address was in Glencoe, Illinois at 533 Madison. His occupation was newspaper cartoonist at the Chicago Tribune. He was described as medium height, slender build with gray eyes and black hair.

King lived in Glencoe at 533 Madison Street, according to the 1920 census. He was a newspaper cartoonist. His son was nearly four years old. The Rockford Register-Gazette, April 7, 1923, published an article about vehicle license numbers. It noted the numbers of the following cartoonists:

John T. McCutcheon, noted Chicago cartoonist, carries license No. 10 on his Studebaker…Number 348, of "Doc Yak" fame, is held by Sidney Smith, Chicago Tribune cartoonist and creator of the "Doc Yak" strip and now author of the Gumps. Number 354, which appears on Andy Gump's chariot, is held by Frank O. King, Glencoe, also a cartoonist on the Tribune.

On September 2, 1927, the King family returned from Europe. The passenger list said their son, Robert, was born February 1916 in Chicago. The Tampa Tribune, February 22, 1929, noted the building of his Kissimmee home: "Work has begun on the residence being erected at Lago Vista…by Frank King…Mr. King is here giving personal supervision to the preliminary work….The residence is on Lake Tohopekaliga."

The King family was counted at their Glencoe address during the 1930 census. He continued as a newspaper cartoonist. The date of their move to Kissimmee is not known. The 1935 Florida State Census listed King and his family; his occupation was retired cartoonist. Kissimmee, Gateway to the Kissimmee River Valley (2003) pointed out the real-life connection to one of King's cartoon characters.

Another of Kissimmee's favorite sons, Frank O. King, creator of the "Gasoline Alley" cartoon strip, lived between Kissimmee and St. Cloud for more than 20 years. King's Highway runs south from Neptune Road to the more than 230 acres that included the cartoonist's Folly Farm estate on the northeast shore of Lake Tohopekaliga.

The cartoon's banker, a Mr. Enray, was a caricature of one of King's neighbors, N. Ray Carroll, president of what then was the First National Bank of Kissimmee. Carroll—and Mr. Enray—gave out saving advice as well as loans….

…The comic strip banker guided the strip's main character, Skeezix Wallet, as he ran his fix-it shop, named Wallet and Bobble….

Life magazine, February 16, 1942, covered the growth of Skeezix from infancy to age 21. The 1945 Florida State Census counted King and his wife; his occupation was cartoonist. In 1949 the National Cartoonists Society awarded the Silver T-Square to King.

King retired from the Gasoline Alley Sunday strip in 1951, handing it to his assistant Bill Perry. The year 1959 was eventful for him: the San Diego Union, February 8, 1959 noted the passing of his wife, February 7, at their home in Winter Park, Florida; he was named cartoonist of the year by the National Cartoonists Society; and he retired from the Gasoline Alley daily, which was continued by his assistant Dick Moores.

A 1968 photo of him is here. King passed away June 24, 1969 at home in Winter Park, according to the Associated Press. He, his wife and an infant son (1912) were buried at the Oak Grove Cemetery in Tomah Wisconsin. Gasoline Alley original art is here.


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