Friday, January 08, 2016


Walt McDougall's This is the Life: Chapter 7 Part 1

This is the Life!


Walt McDougall

Chapter Seven (Part 1) - NOTHING TO APOLOGIZE FOR

From my earliest years my vacations had been spent at Oyster Bay, my uncle John coming to New York in his sloop to Aunt Sarah's house on the river bank at 84th Street and sailing back with a cargo of whooping youngsters to the "Creek" beside which he lived. Adventures were not lacking to these voyages, moments of terror in dread Hell Gate, sudden storms and annoying calms, occasional agonies of starvation between meals.

There were wide tracts then of genuine wilderness on Long Island where quail whistled and mud-hens made noises like gear being stripped. On the oak barrens between the Creek and the Sound, through which we passed to bathe, the barefooted village boys and sons of summer residents met and made things pleasant in the informal and piquant manner of boys the world over.

Teddy Roosevelt lived not far distant. He wore spectacles and, naturally, this being very unusual then, was the object of special attention from the village rednecks, being somewhat supercilious beside. He was willing to engage in combat but strictly forbidden to do so on account of the spectacles. He was an undersized, nervous, studious boy who did not often join in the rough sport that occupied most of us, but I imagine he was checked in this also. We used to tease him when he sat on his porch and made "horse-reins" on a spool.

One day in New York when we were playing near the river in the back yard of a boy named Shieffelin, whom I never met in later life, Teddy discovered that I was shortsighted, although my parents and teachers were unaware of the fact. A cessation of the play had ensued when an eagle flew over high above us. I could not see the bird until Teddy offered me his spectacles, then rarely worn by youngsters. I instantly perceived the king of birds soaring far aloft, and at the same instant became aware of hundreds of details in the landscape of which I had been hitherto utterly unaware. Teddy informed me that I was nearsighted, advised me to get spectacles, and generously bestowed upon me a lens from a broken pair which he happened to have in his pocket. I well remember that next day in church this new acquisition made it possible for me to pass the time in intense enjoyment, and thus began a thralldom to opticians that endured until a recent unaccountable improvement in my eyesight occurred.

Theodore Roosevelt, now already being invested with superhuman attributes, and I were always friendly and companionable, almost of the same age, both garrulous, opinionated and optimistic, and having in common a love for birds, hunting, riding, boxing and the like, but I never fathomed his passion for chopping down trees. Only for a time was our friendship disturbed; this was when he became Police Commissioner and I perpetrated the awful eyeglass-and-teeth caricatures. The one that actually enraged him was a really funny combination of a dentist's and an optician's showcase which quite curiously resembled him and of which I was secretly very proud. I soon heard that he was deeply offended, but his indignation was increased when on the day of his taking office, or that evening, a rainy, chilly night, I anticipated his projected personal inspection of the force and without disguise, but adopting a wide, toothsome grin, I, with a reporter, strolled up Sixth Avenue, dispersing every cop, visiting every station, appalling lieutenants and sergeants, and, without exciting the least suspicion, threw a general scare into every policeman I encountered, simply by dint of a few snappy questions and a broad-brimmed hat which I, as well as Roosevelt, at that time affected. That I resembled him closely enough to deceive those who had seen only his portraits was the secret of the success of this prank, the story of which when printed created some amusement and much disgust in police circles, but it made Teddy exceeding sore, and it was not until he became Governor, and State Librarian Hugh Hastings induced him to forgive me, that we entered upon our old relations.

I never would have dreamed of his taking offense at such a thing, for no man knew better the value of such advertising. He had none of the false dignity of most great men—and I believe him to be actually the greatest of our Presidents.

Once I happened to be bicycling in Peekskill and came upon him as he was about to lead a cavalry regiment on a hike to Albany. He invited me to accompany them, but duty compelled me to decline, and he dropped into the grass beside me on the roadside, where we discussed many unimportant matters, plucking grasses and chewing them like two boys while the troops waited. Finally, noting the perturbed glances of his staff, he recollected himself and sprang up, laughingly addressed his officers, and mounted his horse. Plainly enough, the whole staff were wondering who the dusty wheelman was who had held up the hike for an hour. I met one of them years afterward who reminded me of the incident, and he said that the Governor had told him who I was and had added: "If you ever meet him, treat him nice. He's like strong drink. He can sting like an adder!"

Roosevelt rarely was offended by cartoons. When I was syndicating a series called "Teddy in Africa," he was abroad and saw but few of them, but many of his admirers took up the cudgels for him. Piatt and Depew never took offense, Penrose sometimes quivered, but Quay was mailclad. He did not care how mean or offensive were portrayals of himself, and frequently asked for and framed the originals of very scathing cartoons. Croker was touchy although he pretended always to disregard newspaper attacks. He found it difficult, I perceived, to treat me with civility when we met, as often happened. Hanna merely despised a World cartoonist as a Democratic pest, but he frothed at the mouth over Homer Davenport's pictures and used language regarding him that he must have garnered in his lumbering days. Ward McAllister once intimated that he would cane me if he ever encountered me, but when I walked up and accosted Richard Harding Davis while conversing with "the arbiter of the 400" one day, he merely pursed up his lips and hurried away. However, he did not happen to be carrying a cane that day.

Grover Cleveland, whose fortunes Pulitzer early abandoned, and who, like J. P., was a user of strong and extremely sulphurous language at times, was resentful of depictions of himself as excessively fat, but this was about the period of his marriage. He once informed Senator "Jim" Smith of New Jersey, an old Newark Academy boy, who had jokingly suggested the bestowal of an office upon me, that he "knew of a good place for me," and when Smith asked where, he grunted maliciously and replied:

"He ought to be in the penitentiary!"

James G. Blaine, a man of erudition and culture, as were Quay and Tom Reed, once acknowledged to me with more regret than irritation that Victor Gillam's "Tattooed Man" cartoons had made him writhe, not from rage, but from a sense of impotency against such a combination of malice and humor. He also informed me that he believed that there might be good reasons for the World's claim that the "Belshazzar's Feast" cartoon, which the Democratic State Committee enlarged to enormous size and placarded the city, had of itself influenced the election in 1884 sufficiently to account for the eleven-hundred-odd votes that lost him the State of New York. As a cartoon, I have often observed, occasionally made a difference of, say, ten thousand in the daily circulation, I have always felt that Grover Cleveland owed me a lot.

As a rule the rudeness of the cartoonist goes unresented by his victims less from respect than a fear that he might do far worse, yet a cartoonist is rarely made to suffer, no matter how scurrilously he treats his subjects. I imagine that he is really regarded by most public men with much the same feeling that all have for poison ivy, but this feeling has, I must admit, been in the main carefully hidden from me. I have only caught glimpses of it. In Europe, I found, he is not given as free a hand, and in Cuba not long before the Spanish War I narrowly escaped imprisonment by General Weyler because of a few disrespectful sketches that were reprinted in a Havana paper. I was exiled and came north in mid-winter to land in a blizzard, attired in the thinnest of tropical garments, with the clothing stores all closed because it was a holiday.

Homer Davenport had an experience that illustrated the British attitude toward the cartoonist. Homer was a breezy, somewhat illiterate, unpretentious and amiable Westerner to whom sudden fame had brought many friends and a slightly exaggerated sense of importance. At the summit of his renown, Hearst had sent him to England. The day after his arrival, he started off to Hawarden to make a life portrait of Gladstone, assuming that all British statesmen were cartoon-broken and approachable, as were the Washington species.

Hearing from the lodge-keeper that the Prime Minister was engaged in chopping down trees, Homer did not approach the house, but with the Westerner's keen instinct trailed his victim to where he was making the chips fly about a large oak. He stopped beside the austere axman and regarded his efforts with friendly approval until Gladstone observed his presence and paused. Homer then introduced himself as the American's cartoonist, and was pained and embarrassed at discovering that a cartoonist was not deuce-high in that neck of woods; nevertheless, he endeavored to make conversation of a sort to put Mr. Gladstone at his ease, but the result was merely a few savage grunts. After a pause of some length, the Prime Minister resumed his chopping. Poor Homer, having no experience of such frigid treatment, was at a complete loss for any method of extricating himself from his undignified position, but seeing a number of black birds circling above the trees in the distance, he ventured upon a new subject.

"I see you have a lot of crows around here," he remarked as Gladstone stopped and, standing erect, regarded him with a glance that was harder and chillier than a cold-storage turkey.

"Rooks, sir, rooks!" harshly croaked the statesman as he seized his ax and strode away.

Davenport's naïveté and geniality endeared him even to men who despised the paper he represented. One day Arthur Brisbane said to me just before luncheon: "I'm going to raise Davenport's salary."

"You'd better try to hoist your own first," I suggested. "How are you going to do it?"

"He'll be over here in a few minutes. Wait and see."

When Davenport arrived, Arthur offered him a hundred dollars per week more than he was receiving on the Hearst paper. Homer was stunned, but demanded an hour in which to consider the proposition. After we returned from luncheon, Davenport telephoned to decline the offer, explaining that Hearst had gone Brisbane a hundred dollars better. This the wily Brisbane had expected when he laid the plot, but a year or so later, when he himself had deserted Pulitzer for Hearst, this imposing salary of Homer's was concentrated gall and wormwood.

Finally, Homer formed a syndicate with Edward Marshall and myself, but the difficulty of finding Democratic papers wealthy enough to indulge in the luxury of his cartoons soon made the venture a precarious task and he was forced to make terms with the Hearst papers.

He delighted in making speeches, after-dinner talks, and his success was due to the fact that all of his stories were about himself and his father, somewhat as were those of "Rolling-mill Kelly," the funniest monologist ever born. He was an illustration of how little mental equipment is needed by the political cartoonist who has a capable editor to guide him. Once, when Sam Chamberlain was editor of the American, he demanded of Davenport a cartoon in which Yorick was to stand with a skull in his hand beside an open grave. Homer blinked, owl-like, and then asked:

"Greater New York? Gosh! Some job!"

That was the same day he asked Fred Opper, after he had consulted a copy of "Hamlet" for local color: "Who's getting the royalties on Shakespeare's plays now?"

At the present time, when every correspondence-school comic-strip, Jeff-and-Mutt imitator calls himself a "cartoonist," Davenport would have found himself among a small army of illiterates. The proud title meant at the outset—and still means—one who produces a certain type of picture designed to affect public opinion, a pictured editorial, in fact, and has at all times been confined to a limited number of men, and none of the army of strippers, except Charles Macauley, who followed me on the World, has any more right to be called such than he has to be designated a paleontologist.

In our early and busy days, George Folsom, my partner, once said to me with ill-concealed anxiety:

"Mac, we've got to hump ourselves and make all the money we can, for it's as certain as taxes that a lot of real artists, fellows who have studied abroad, will be butting into this game and we'll be in the soup!" However, in the forty years that have elapsed, one can count on his fingers the really efficient cartoonists who have been developed by the necessities of newspapers, in spite of the fact that the correspondence schools advertise that they produce them in quantity.

In my years on the World and the Philadelphia North American the position was almost unique, only John McCutcheon, of the Chicago Tribune, being similarly situated, in that it was coequal with any position on the staff. Nobody dictated what I should do or how, and I sometimes practically dictated the policy of the paper by making a cartoon in advance of any editorial comment, as in the case of the Homestead Strike, when my picture sided with the strikers instead of with Carnegie, before J. P. had decided on his policy. Without any feeling, he commented on the position in which I had placed the paper, and within a day or so was pleased to say that my point of view was the correct one. With me, of course, it was merely a matter of sympathy for the workers, and not policy. I did not then know that the "policy" of the modern newspaper is usually nothing more than political or business expediency; besides being exceedingly elastic and resilient in emergencies, it can endure the severest treatment without a squeak of agony.

J. P. never placed the least check upon my energies and he never uttered one word of reproof or harsh criticism during the sixteen years I was on the World, and when I recall some of the caustic comments I have overheard and read on the outbursts of passionate protest and profane impatience of his sightless years, as recorded by his biographers, I have a feeling that I was singularly fortunate. I cannot remember that in all the years of my service was a cartoon made by me that was not published. Don Seitz records that I once sent in a caricature of Col. Charles Jones's wife on the beach at Asbury Park and that it narrowly escaped being published on the very day that Jones assumed control of the editorial page. If this be true, and I cannot deny it, because I have forgotten all about the incident, it shows that I was a pampered pet.

I do recall that when a minister of an uptown church wrote to Col. Cockerill protesting against an irreligious cartoon, the Colonel handed me the letter to read while he answered it. My secret uneasiness turned to elation when I read his answer. It read:

"My dear Sir, Will you kindly go to hell?
John A. Cockerill."

"Drop that in the mail box for me," he commanded, as if to convince me that it was not a bluff, and I did so with vast satisfaction.

It is also remarkable how rarely in all these years was a really serviceable cartoon suggested to me by any editor except J. P. and Cockerill. Few editors seem to think pictorially. I received suggestions from outsiders like Sydney Rosenfeld, Sam Untermeyer, Charley Hoyt, the playwright, Lew Dockstader, Thomas B. Reed, Senator Tillman, Maurice Barrymore, George Francis Train and, strange to say, from John L. Sullivan, who had a rough Irish wit that seems to have been entirely unsuspected by his acquaintances. In the minds of these men, cartoon ideas formed in actual cartoon shape.

Some years after I went to the Philadelphia North American, I dropped in on Macauley in my old room, and while there Frank Cobb, the almost deified editor of the World, entered and proceeded to take Charley to task because he had not drawn the tail of the Tammany tiger in the precise manner he had specified. I did not know Cobb, who had recently come from the West, but what I thought was evidently expressed by my countenance, for he glanced at me, reddened angrily, and seemed about to speak, but thought better of it and withdrew. I asked the agitated cartoonist, in amazement:

"Who was that bucko, mate? I never saw that sort here!"

"That was COBB!" whispered Macauley, wiping his damp brow.

"Never heard of him!" I stated truthfully, outraged by this unheard-of outrage upon that sacred cow, a Heaven-inspired cartoonist. "Whether he is plain Cobb or corn off the ear, if he'd panned me like that, I would have handed him one on the beezer, sure as Eve tempted Adam to his fall. That never happened here in my time!"


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