Friday, June 17, 2022

Jack’s Sporting and Literary Society –

 THE NIGHT THEY BUMPED OFF HERMAN ROSENTHAL.

by John Adcock

Boardman Robinson, New York Tribune, July 20, 1912

“We take him to a dago joint down on the east side and let him eat a lot of ravioli and listen to the wops. He always got a kick out of that… then we take him up to the McAlpin and set him up in a window on the top floor where he can look straight up Broadway. He just sits there and looks at the lights and traffic and talks about the old mob up at Jack’s café.” — Ike Dorgan about his brother’s last days, to Westbrook Pegler in ‘Death Claims Tad Dorgan, Phrase Maker’ in the Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1929

THE ROARING FORTIES

The term “roaring forties” designated both a region and a glamorous era in time specific to New York. Geographically they started (roughly) at 40th Street and extended northward on Broadway to 42 Street and on to 50th Street. Damon Runyon recalled

Twenty years ago, the era of the Roaring Forties was commencing to pass. It had succeeded the era of the Gay Nineties and the Broadway South of 42nd street. Some of the Gay Nineties lapped over briefly into the era of the Roaring Forties, as one area always laps over into another for a spell. Lillian Russell, “Diamond Jim” Brady, the Hoffman House, Martin’s, Sherry’s, Delmonico’s, Shanley’s and Mouquin’s still were going concerns and bright memories of Manhattan Island.

The Roaring Forties era brought on the glamor, that was to become tradition, of the Knickerbocker hotel and Enrico Caruso and Jack’s restaurant and the Hippodrome and Murray’s, with the revolving glass dance floor, and the Castle’s and Healy’s and Releenweber’s and the Follies and Churchill's and Rector’s. It was the era of Wilson Mizner and Irving Berlin, and George Cohen and of the Harry Thaw trial and the Herman Rosenthal murder and the old Waldorf. – ‘The Brighter Side of News,’ Damon Runyon, Times-Union, Oct 3, 1939

THE PRINCE OF REPORTERS

O’Malley was known around town simply as “O’Malley of the Sun.” Despite the veil of anonymity — the old Sun did not use “by-lines” — O’Malley became widely known as a reporter and humor columnist. The brilliance of his style identified him to all who commonly read the paper. O’Malley’s reign as the prince of reporters began in 1906 and ran on until 1920, when he resigned to contribute to magazines and publishers.

Frank Ward O’Malley, Tad Dorgan, Hype Igoe, Benjamin DeCassares, Wilson Mizner, “Spanish” Jack O’Brien (cable editor on the old NY Sun), Tom Geraghty, Ring Lardner, Damon Runyon, George Luks the cartoonist, Stuffy Davis, Jim Huneker of the Sun, Vince Barton, and Jack Francis were members, some regular and some on the periphery, of ‘Jack’s Sporting and Literary Society’ who met at Jack’s restaurant with its famed Battling Nelson grill during the Roaring Forties.

That was a year—1912—notable for many things. So much happened that our great major Broadway sport of all night discussion and tableside debate hit a new high for all time. For one thing newspaper men will tell you that 1912 was the greatest year for news in journalistic history, at least in variety. Early in the year the Titanic went down, one of the very greatest news stories of all time. Then, just before 2 o’clock the morning of July 16 gunmen procured by Police Lieut. Charley Becker murdered Herman Rosenthal thereby beginning a murder yarn that held the front-page attention of readers for months. – ‘Back on Broadway – Golden Era of Indoor Sports,’ Frank Ward O’Malley, Buffalo Evening News, Aug 23, 1930.

Hype Igoe, 1938

Hype Igoe was a cartoonist and sporting columnist on the staff of the San Francisco Examiner. The year following the earthquake he came to New York and worked on the New York American’s art staff for a few years, thence to New York Sun as a writer of boxing, later to the Tribune, and finally a member of the World’s sports staff. Igoe was on the scene of the Rosenthal killing:

THE NIGHT THEY BUMPED OFF HERMAN ROSENTHAL

‘O’Malley Greatest of All, Igoe Tells Bill Corum,’ Albany Times-Union, New York, Nov 30, 1932

Dear Bill Corum: When Frank Ward O’Malley passed on in Paris a few weeks ago, I got me the sinks. Sad, because Time, greatest of all the line buckers, had taken another of the disappearing old guard.

I don’t know that you ever knew him. Not to have been in his company at some time or another in your newspaper career was to have missed a gentle genius of his kind. Our (Arthur) Brisbane always called him “the greatest reporter in the world.” Chronicling was only one of his sidelines. He played at being a human being better than anyone I had ever met. He wrote with tremendous sweeps of English, yet each line seemed leavened with the sweet wit which dominated his soul.

For twenty years or more O’Malley, with Tad (Dorgan), Ben De Casseres, Wilson Mizner, “Spanish” (Jack) O’Brien, Harry Pollock, Vernie Barton, Corse Payton, Jack Francis, Arnold Rothstein, Jack Shaughnessy, Freddie Griesheim, and the bold bad boys of “wire tapping” and “the boats,” made Jack’s eating and drinking shebang our ole swimmin’ hole. That was before the camel prohibition came.

Herman Rosenthal

Bill, the night they bumped off Herman Rosenthal! It was maddening in the whirl of its excitement. Charley Meeghan, the then sports editor of the Morning Telegraph, and myself, had sauntered into George Considine’s New Metropolis, in 43rd, to gas and read “copy” on Charley’s printed story of a bout we had just seen in old Madison Square Garden.

Charley had wired his story from the ringside and here we were, 20 minutes later, reading it in type that couldn’t have been cold in the printing.

Charley, who is no more, Bill, looked up and said “Great age, Hype, great age. The fight isn’t half an hour old and it–” Charley never finished that sentence.

Bang-bang-, bang, bang, bang!!!

Five shots, Bill, two fast, then three.

“Backfire, Charley?’ I said.

“Backfire, hell,” said our waiter as he did a standing, sitting dive under the table. Before he disappeared, he pointed one long great cloud of powder reeking finger at the big open window. A smoke was floating into the room.

With the five shots came the piercing voice of Artie Hall, a famous blues singer. She was sitting at a table with Billy Atwell and Lieutenant File of the police department. From a rear seat, facing the door, Artie Hall had jumped to her feet and hit high C in a scream which still rings in my ears.

Miss Artie Hall, June 1900

File, in light civvies, his back to the door, whirled around, whipped out a long blue service gun and was through the door like an antelope. They brought him up on charges of negligence afterwards and Charley and I testified on his behalf. We told how he had gone “out in the smoke” not knowing what fate had in store for him.

Charley and I ran to the front door. A figure lay sprawled on the sidewalk, face downward. The fallen man’s right hand was stretched out full length and between the first two fingers, standing straight up, there was a half-consumed cigar. A little ribbon of blue smoke curled upward from it, which through some strange miracle, had not been disclosed from the man’s fingers as he crashed, stone dead, to the sidewalk. The maddening whirl in its beginning!

“Herman. It’s Herman,” whispered big “Judge” Crowley.

“Herman who?” I asked.

And from over my shoulder came the answer- “Herman Rosenthal, by God!”

I whipped around and there stood Frank Ward O’Malley. Always the “greatest reporter.” He had beaten Swope and Hill and the others in from the ole swimmin’ hole. He hadn’t waited for night editor’s orders. He had started with the first crack of the four gunmen’s gats. Indeed, a reporter, Bill.

Charles Becker

The strange death watch we kept in Jack’s that night. Becker was electrocuted for that slaying. O’Malley had gone up to Sing Sing as our and the old Sun’s representative. As the dawn came, we, Mizner, Tad, De Casseres, O’Brien, Payton, Barton, (Arnold) Rothstein, old Jimmy Wakely, Francis, Shaughnessy, (Jack) Dunstan himself, Henry M. T. Beekman, the great barrister, who coined the famous “old age is the death of enthusiasm” line, myself and one or two others, sat around a big table with our watches in the palm of our hands.

Each, in ghastly fashion, was trying to picture what Becker was doing. What his last moments were like. Each trembled in the strange excitement of that weird death vigil. Three minutes to go and it would be 5:30 of the morning, going away time in the big house in those days.

O’Malley came with the story. We clung to his Poe-like tale as ivy to an old oak. Bill, you’ll probably remember that Becker collapsed so pitifully that they asked a Negro companion in death to “wait on Charley.” Charley’s nerve was gone, Bill, and the Negro said he’d “sit it out until Charley had it over with.”

Breathlessly we waited for O’Malley’s return. Mizner got in the first word.

“Well?” he quizzed?

“Bill, the black man showed the “Czar of the Tenderloin” how to die,” said O’Malley.

“Then why the hell didn’t you lead off your story with that line?” stormed the exacting Broadway wit.  One of O’Malley’s better lines, which never got into type until now.

Frank Ward O’Malley! His lute laid aside for all time, Bill. I can see him now, black silk cords hanging from his nose glasses, handsome, kindly, sweet singer of prose! He was the only great reporter of my time who never talked of himself. I often wonder if Frank Ward O’Malley ever knew Frank Ward O’Malley.

Odd thing, Bill, they never put him on a big fight story. How he could have garnished the tragedy of the crushing of the Orchid Man at Boyle’s Thirty Acres or the malleting of the ox-like Willard at Toledo! A reporter!!

Hype Igoe.

Lt. Charles E. Becker, a brutal cop on the take, was convicted of Rosenthal’s murder and electrocuted on July 13, 1915, at Sing Sing prison.

THE BRAIN

Power of the Press, even when the Power was only half a horse. Arnold Rothstein, who came into Jack’s every morning, was one of the most delightful beer companions with whom I have ever sat out a session. He impressed me as being a great executive who simply took the easiest way in a country where craft and graft are all ye need to know. – ‘Jack’s,’ Benjamin De Cassares, American Mercury, Nov 1932

The man who ran the gambling parlor on the second floor of the Metropole at the time of Rosenthal's demise was the gambler Arnold Rothstein. He took over where Rosenthal left off, soon running New York’s drug and gambling rackets. His fate was the same, shot in the abdomen outside the Park Central Hotel on Nov 4, 1928. Rothstein was one of the peripheral members of ‘Jack’s Sporting and Literary Society.’ In a ‘Hollywood Day by Day’ column in New Movie Magazine, by NEMO (O. O. McIntyre), the author wrote.

I had dinner with Jack the other night and he told me what I didn’t know before: that Arnold Rothstein, the murdered gambler, used to join that famous restaurant round table, and that no one around the board had a more razor-like wit.

Damon Runyon called him “The Brain.” Runyon recalled “He was the villain in a Fitzgerald novel. He carried on where Becker left off after Rosenthal’s murder; introduced the modern gangster; served crime as pay off man; taught politician and crook how to work profitably together.”

Arnold Rothstein, financier of the New York Underworld – Lindy’s restaurant on Broadway was his favorite hangout, and it was from there that a telephone call summoned him to his death. Frequently he sat all night in Lindy’s. drinking cup after cup of coffee and swapping gossip and wisecracks with such figures as Damon Runyon, the reporter; T.A. “Tad” Dorgan, the cartoonist; Jack Lait, Con Conrad, and Harry Hershfield. – ‘The Murder of Rothstein,’ Chicago Tribune, April 28, 1940

––To be Continued––

Miss Artie Hall, 1903

Artie Hall was a white "coon-shouter" from Georgia who first appeared on the stage in 1899. She mixed her own brown make-up and at the end of her act she would lower her blouse to show the white skin beneath the cloth. Newspapers hectored her for showing too much torso at the reveal, and for showing her underwear while dancing. By 1912 language had changed, and she was now known as a "blues-singer."



Saturday, May 28, 2022

The Laughs of a Nation

The Publications of 

Gerald G. Swan

 

by Alan Clark

Half Holiday Publishing
2022

294 Pages

Available HERE

 

Thursday, March 3, 2022

DEATH OF TAD! –

 ‘Merriest Guy in America’



[1] TAD DORGAN, Daffydills, Cupples and Leon, 1911

New York – “Tad,” the cartoonist who has been called “The Merriest Guy In America,” died In his sleep yesterday at his home in Great Neck, L. I. After nine years of taking it from fate as an invalid and a last five years of bondage to a wheel chair.


[2]  TAD DORGAN, Boston American, Nov 17, 1911

He was 52 years old last Monday and his real name was Thomas Aloysius Dorgan. He was born In San Francisco, and the first national intimation that something had happened to make life a little easier to bear came a few years later when the phrase, “Twenty-three- Skidoo” swept the country. That was “Tad’s” phrase, and it skidooed him from a $5-a-week office boy on a San Francisco newspaper to the East, three square meals every day, and the gorgeous idea of making “Judge Rummy” a national institution during the Thaw trial.

The expressions “Tad” kept putting in the mouths of his horde of cartoon characters have since been tossed glibly about by millions of his fellow citizens. Most of them - the phrases - are meaningless but irresistible.

[3] TAD DORGAN, ‘Elizas Crossing the Delaware – After Washington,’  LA Herald, Feb 24, 1913

“We Have No Bananas” 

“Officer, call a cop,” “Daddy, I see ducks,” “See what the boys in the back room will have” - these awaken memories as sentimental as love songs. “Dumb-bell” is prying its way into dictionaries, as may “Cake-eater,” “Dumb Dora,” “Drugstore cowboy” and “Nickel-nurser.” 

They are all “Tad’s”, and so are “Finale hoppers,” “Storm and Strife,” “Cat's Meow,” “For crying out loud,” and “What, no spinach?”

“Yes, we have no bananas” was his, too, and it became the most popular song of a decade. Many like best of all, however, his classic: “Drop that wheelbarrow - what do you know about machinery?” Although, “Let him up —he’s all out” has its loyal following.

These gaudy expressions rolled off “Tad’s” pen and a week later they would be in the mouth of every amateur wise-cracker from Baton Rouge to Point Barrow. “Tad's” eye first discerned that a hat was a “skimmer” and that eyeglasses were “cheaters.”

Dorgan was possessed of an encyclopedic savvy of prize fighting as well as of the homelier amusements of his fellow citizens. His stories of the Gans - Nelson and Jeffries - Johnson fights are classics of sports writing. He looked at fights and fighters with the same tender attention that Sir Joseph Duveen bestows upon old masters, and his tendency was to become tremendously excited.


[4] TAD DORGAN & HYPE IGOE, c. 1910. Courtesy Rob Stolzer (see more HERE)

Heart Trouble

The Dempsey-Miske affair in Benton Harbor, Mich., in 1920 seemed mild enough to many people but it marked the beginning of the end for “Tad.” He was forbidden by physicians ever to attend another boxing match. Something had happened to his heart.

Even at that time, “Tad’s” general appearance was that of an object any reasonably determined wind could blow through a keyhole. He was more than thin. Such hair as he had was of an indeterminate sandy shade, He limped slightly with a motion that furthered the effect of scuttling before the wind. 

And the second, third and fourth fingers of his right hand had been lost somewhere early in his career. A factory accident in his youth was reported to be responsible for the missing digits. This was before “Tad” learned to draw, grasping his pen with the thumb and forefinger remaining to him.

“Tad” was as little handicapped in work by his heart as by his crippled hand. Confined to a wheel chair for the past five years, he continued to write boxing articles and draw his cartoons, getting his sports news over the radio. He died three weeks ahead in his work. His last cartoon, for publication May 21, was delivered to the office of King Feature Syndicate two days ago.

by an unknown author from an unknown newspaper from 1929


[5] TAD  DORGAN, Judge Rummy Joins the Stars of the Screen (with Silk Hat Harry,), Film Fun, January 1919

Note: TAD Dorgan must have been familiar with Cockney slang where “trouble and strife” referred to “wife.” TAD apparently used (above) the phrase “storm and strife” to the same purpose.

One old baseball term that qualified as good Americanese is “boner.” This is an abbreviation of “bonehead play.” The first man to use this form was T. A. Dorgan, or Tad, the sport-page cartoonist of the Hearst papers who had a baseball character called Bonehead Barry, the bush league bear. We owe “bonehead” and “boner” to him. – Westbrook Pegler, May 27, 1947

According to an article in ‘Fights and Fighters from Punch’s Scrapbook,’ The Mail (Adelaide SA), Oct 29, 1938: In writing an article about the match lost by Terrible Terry McGovern to Young Corbett on Nov 28, 1901, Tad Dorgan said, “Corbett got Terry’s Goat” — and thereby coined a phrase.” 

Note: About 23 Skidoo, the phrase credited to TAD Dorgan and popular in the 1890s. 23 was revived by FB Opper according to The Wasp Jan 27, 1906. Both were based on the knitting lady at the foot of the guillotine in Dickens. Skidoo was from the Greek word shedad, the Norse skedad, the American skedaddle meaning scatter or scat.





Monday, February 7, 2022

A Crowded Life in Comics –

 Another Survivor. Another Tale.

by Rick Marschall

Art Spiegelman is in the news, prominently again; and from which the modest but talented cartoonist never should be far, because he always has things to say. His magnum opus, the Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel, Maus, has returned to the top of best-seller lists. 


Maus in one of its levels is a personal memoir; seen through his eyes, seeing history through his father’s eyes. But writ, or drawn, large, it fixes the world’s eyes on concentration camps and the Holocaust. Hannah Arendt identified the banality of evil, but Art’s contribution to Holocaust literature is perhaps the depiction of how unique horrors simultaneously could inhabit, and corrode, the most private places of individual emotions.

As Hall of Fame baseball players all began their careers on sandlots and in the minor leagues, Art paid his dues as a cartoonist. Yet he never did minor league caliber work as a cartoonist, and indeed was a figure in many significant places, and among other cartoonists who also achieved prominence. He was part of the Underground movement whose West Coast names like R. Crumb defined a generation. Themes of social and political protest paralleled the graphic experimentation that arose from those studios in San Francisco and Seattle. 

At another extreme, perhaps, was the corporate work Art oversaw when back on the East Coast, with Topps, the company that produced bubble gum and trading cards. Hardly a gray-flannel suit executive, Art worked for the legendary Woody Gelman, and virtually institutionalized (and sanitized) the Undergrounds – or, perhaps, MAD Magazine – overseeing products like the Garbage Pail Kids.

Contributions to various Undergrounds, and contact with the movement’s artists, led to Art and his wife Françoise Mouly to establish a slick, stylish, graphic magazine with mature sensibilities, RAW. Its immediate impact and success can be seen as a latter-day counterpart of The Masses, which in 1911 summarized and succeeded many smaller protest and avant-garde publications. Thematic preoccupations were many, in each magazine, but graphic excellence was the irreducible standard.

The rest, similarly condensed, is history. Maus, before its serial chapters were collected as books, found its home in RAW.

I first met Art not in New York or the United States, but at a European comics festival as was my experience with many other cartoonists. I had been a guest at the Lucca Salon of Comics, Illustration, and Animation since the 1970s, as member of juries, as an exhibitor, or as a participant in round tables. Today the event in the quaint Tuscan city  largely has been given over to games and computer animation, but in those days was a major intellectual event. Historical monographs, debates, and awards were major components.

In 1982 Art was one of the American guests, and he was presented with the Yellow Kid award.

We shared some panels and round tables, as well as fraternization at Lucca’s restaurants and bars late into the nights. Truthfully, there was as much beneficial interplay, and even business deals, in the festival’s after-hours as in the scheduled events. Cartoonists and historians from all over the world communed; multi-lingual friends were never far away; and if language ever became a challenge, Hugo Pratt would pick up a guitar and sing. Or cartoonists would sketch. Halcyon days.

I recall the last day of Lucca that year. Some guests gathered in front of the Hotel Universo, on the plaza of the Teatro Giglio (the opera house, Lee Falk reminded us, where Puccini began his career), waiting for rides to the train station or the airport in nearby Pisa.

We went on to share professional and personal friendship and interplay, even without the smoky ambiance of Lucca’s hotel lounges. Art and his wife Françoise – now The New Yorker’s art editor – visited my wife Nancy and me at our home in Connecticut, and I was a guest in their loft in lower Manhattan. Art occasionally borrowed books and vintage magazines from my collection.

When RAW and other activities increasingly occupied Art’s time, he recommended me to succeed him at the School of Visual Arts, where he had been teaching a course on “Language and Structure of the Comics.” I wound up at SVA for years, teaching that class and additional courses of my suggestion. When I had to be away myself, among my substitutes were Donald Phelps. – introduced to me by Art, for which I was very grateful – Peter Kuper and others. Some of those cartoonists, and many of my students, are friends to this day.

As Maus was serialized in RAW, I sometimes saw its work in progress, and I remember one half-inked page of whose construction Art was especially proud. The architectonic possibilities in comics was among Art’s intuitions, and when I published a reprint volume of Cliff Sterrett’s 1920s surrealistic color Sunday pages, I invited Art to write the foreword. It was a uniquely (and typically) perceptive essay limning the affinities between Sterrett’s art in Polly and Her Pals and Jazz Age music.

Art Spiegelman at Angouleme, 1991 (photo: Alan Kaplan)

In 1991, I think it was, the Angoulême Comics Festival designated the “American Year,” and I was hired as the representative. Eventually more than 125 American cartoonists and publishers joined the jaunt to France, and we arranged a few days in Paris before and after the actual festival; a special BD-train was chartered for the trip south. Art was among the attendees; his interest in vintage French comics was separate from Françoise’s roots (I recall now that she once bought a run of L’Assiette au Beurre from me for Art’s birthday). RAW hosted the work of many French and Belgian cartoonists.

Our conversations were not always about comics and popular culture. A few years ago Art and I staked opposing views on the ideals of the German Romantic philosopher Gottfried Lessing. (Lessing’s disinclination, in his seminal work Laocoon, to apply similar critical standards to all art forms, was derived from Aristotle’s On Poetics. While this is the most persuasive of Aristotle’s essays to me, I am basically a Platonist.)

As noted above, Art Spiegelman is back in the news these days and Maus has returned to the top of best-seller lists. In news cycles swirling with various incidents of censored news, banned viewpoints, and a growing “cancel culture,” the Board of Education in a small Tennessee County voted to remove Maus from its curriculum for 8th-grade classes and seek “age-appropriate” works on the Holocaust.. 

The reaction of much of mainstream media has condemned the Board’s decision. They have evoked the Scopes Monkey Trial of the 1920s, and have raised spectres of Southern rednecks flexing their innate antisemitism: stereotypical illiterates perpetuating centuries-old bigotry. Art himself, in interviews, has cited the low reading-scores of students in rural McMinn County as he struggled with “bafflement” over the decision. He suggested the relative illiteracy of county residents as an explanation for school board members who might “possibly not be Nazis.”

There is a bit of nonsense about all this. The school board, whose minutes are available online, did not ban Maus from the county and its town libraries or bookstores, much less its school libraries. It removed the book from the curriculum of 8th-grade classes, citing its standing policies for pre-teens. The discussions manifested no antisemitism – quite the contrary – and there was agreement to substitute another book about the Holocaust in the curriculum.

Despite New Yorkers’ stereotypical beliefs about Tennesseans – and obviously different standards regarding language and images appropriate for, and recommended to, pre-teen students – there were no hints of bigotry in the board’s discussions. Even The New York Times and CBS in New York have reported on low literacy rates among New York City’s students (lower than those routinely reported for Tennessee students), so that factor seems not dispositive. New Yorkers might wish to impose their opinions about age-appropriate normatives to other communities, but they likely would object, and have chafed at the reverse  imposition of others’ cultural points of view on them.


Interviewed during Tennessee school board controversy

Back in the news, as I say, Art Spiegelman has a chance to contribute to the important public discussion, and not be merely at its center. Interviewed on CNN (while eating breakfast and vaping; explaining that he was unaccustomed to answering questions at 8:30 in the morning) he delivered, according to one reviewer, “one of the greatest television interviews of all time.” The segment’s director, Ron Gilmer, subsequently wrote on Twitter, “In 49 years of directing TV news, I’ve never seen [anything like] this. He was amazing.”

If there was no antisemitism evinced in the school board’s deliberations, neither was there any prejudice against a “comic book” per se being in a school curriculum. In this case Art may feel justifiable pride for the role he has played in elevating the acceptance of graphic novels, their potential, and the the codification of their narrative structure, in America.

Much is made these days of “cancel culture” – in contemporary America, almost everything becomes a slogan or a brand – and that likely is because many cultural things  are being canceled: books, shows, songs, websites, posts, communications, and thoughts. The curriculum change voted by the McMinn County School Board is, relatively speaking, very likely in the minority of targeted themes.

When the tumult and the shouting dies, as per Kipling’s phrase, at the moment in America the persecution of cultural traditions, conservative values, and longstanding worldviews is more virulent, and currently successful, than contrary efforts against progressive agendas and iconoclasm. It is the stuff of daily headlines, often hyperbolic, and not likely to fade while the antagonists seemingly enjoy the tumult and shouting.

I have been in the unique position (I mean unique among people I know, anyway) of having had close relations, shared projects, and even friendships, with people on the Left and the Right; even the Far Left and the Far Right. And unique that, unlike most people except aid workers and missionaries, my victimized friends have suffered from wildly disparate sources of persecution. Innocent tourists in Washington on January 6, some in jail after a year with no charges filed against them. I knew one of the cartoonists murdered in the “Charlie Hebdo” massacre. Another friend spent a year in solitary confinement in a European jail for publicly (in fact it was privately) sharing his own research and views of historical matters. And so on.

I mentioned America’s predilection for making brands or slogans of every phenomenon – categorizing, I suppose; the easier to explain… but also the easier to dismiss.


Françoise Mouly

So, currently, has Maus become, maybe more than ever it has been, a subset or detail of the cultural wars. In some people’s fevered imaginations, a minor adjustment (not banning) in that small county’s pre-teen curriculum might be a harbinger of crematoria erected across the mid-South; but I don’t believe it. The fact that there are far greater – let me say, at least, more numerous – censorious acts in the news, against conservatives, reminds us to retain perspective. Literal banning of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird are two examples of Political Correctness on steroids. Who, indeed, are the fascistic masters of our minds? Once putative, now looming.

It might not seem so now, but Art Spiegelman is rather a victim of this cultural maelstrom. He surely is not a commercial victim; but he can be properly satisfied, in spite of the winds he faces, to be an essential voice of education and palliative debate.

Yet speaking personally (which is all I can do), and returning to our common devotion to cartooning history and the art form of the comic strip, I fervently hope that Art’s great talent and many achievements (no less shared by the justly, much-awarded Françoise), his encouragement of others, his fidelity to graphic excellence, his body of work, will not be subsumed by such controversies. That is, not the somber leitmotif of Maus, but the 8th grade’s curriculum adjustment in Tennessee.

History and art are not mutually exclusive, of course; least of all Spiegelman’s own history and his own art. I return to Gottfried Lessing, who believed that words and ideas are extended in time, whereas representational art and graphics are extended in space. Art Spiegelman, rarely among his peers but with remarkable frequency has melded the two in in his own work.

114

Monday, January 17, 2022

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Chronicler of Many Adventurous Decades

Rick Marschall



Birds Of a Feather? Rick Marschall and Ron Goulart on the right; R C Harvey and Shel Dorf, left.

Ron Goulart died on the morning of January 14th, 2022. It was the day after his birthday: an irony wrapped in a riddle strangled by a conundrum. Actually the date was merely a coincidence. No, it was an irrelevant fact. 

I am struggling with a way to begin this, fooling myself that I can “open” with a type of grabber that he did in one of his, oh, 200+ novels.

Tougher than a “lede” will be how to close this remembrance, because with Ron there was always a story to be continued, or a sequel, or a next book; or a conversation to be finished next time. A “hook,” maybe; a cliffhanger. Or a happy ending.

But, no. Ron Goulart died on the morning of January 14th, 2002. “The End.” 

But only the end of those great long and rambling phone calls. Never with no point to them, but rather dozens of points. Funny. Trains-of-thought. Questions. Answers. Frequently with grumbles and complaints. Gossip. Memories from, say, something we he and I did 45 years ago. Even a loose thread from a chat we both remembered from 45 years earlier.

But Ron’s “passing” was not the end of his legacy. Three hundred books (we must also remember the numerous histories and anthologies); bottomless pits of clips and files and letters – the collection that not only filled his Connecticut homes (making mazes of living-room floors, between stacks) or with his friends, sometimes vaguely remembered, across the continent, who held his “stuff.” The stuff ranged from mail-in premiums to personal sketches he received from an array of legendary figures. 

Many aspects of Ron Goulart will live forever. Not the least in the fond memories and now broken hearts of many friends and uncountable strangers he inspired.

I first met Ron at some Seuling Con or other in New York City, those early conventions in small, seedy hotels, before the days when Phil Seuling expanded into large, seedy hotels. It was the 1960s, and I was a young fan of strips, attending with my usual sloppily tied portfolio of originals. Ron routinely showed up with a retinue of Connecticut friends – cartoonists who had peripheral interest in vintage comics and vintage artists and vintage tales. Ron and I shared knowledge of ancient lore, even from before our times. Affinity. His friends – Bob Weber, Gill Fox, Orlando Busino – became my friends too.

[Having invoked “irony,” I will note here that only three days before Ron died, our old and beloved mutual friend Orlando Busino died. My next column will recall this great cartoonist and great man.]


(l-r) Gene Hazleton; Rick Marschall; Sheldon Moldoff; Ron Goulart; 
Dick Sprang; Vin Sullivan. (Photo by John Province)

A few years later I moved into the midst of Cartooning Country, Fairfield County, Connecticut. I was political cartoonist on The Connecticut Herald, and lived in Westport, then Weston. Most important, perhaps, was the full-bloom friendship with Ron Goulart (and Bob and Gill and Orlando). 

A rather wider circle, in those halcyon days, consisted of cartoonists like Dik Browne, Dick Hodgins, Jerry Dumas, John Cullen Murphy, Jack Tippit, Frank Johnson, Mort Walker, Stan Drake, and Len Starr… at parties, BBQs, Long Island Sound cruises, golf outings. But a circle within a circle comprised the merry men I described around Ron – Weber, Fox, and Busino. With Jerry Marcus and Joe Farris and Jack Berrill and a couple other guys, it was a virtual fraternity.

Ron, in fact, described our group as a Movable Frat Party, no offense to Hemingway. At least twice a week we gathered for early lunches, sometimes in Westport but usually in Bethel or Ridgefield. More often than not we straggled in to a restaurant… exchanged news… looked at the menus… at which time Jerry Marcus would complain about something or other, and we then discussed where else to meet in 10 minutes. Lunch was eaten leisurely and we talked and laughed, laughed and talked. Sometimes we adjourned to my house where I would do a show-and-tell with vintage art or Sunday funnies.

Ron and I saved a lot of money through the years by reliably presenting our latest books to each other, always with inscriptions and drawings. 

Invariably, Ron was the focus of impromptu trivia challenges – “Who Was What,” for instance (he was a fount of knowledge about the sexual leanings of Hollywood’s bit players) or great stories about scores of cartoonists and writers he met as a fan in his youth.

As evening approached, we all scurried home in time for dinner. Our wives suspected that we goofed off during these days, but we knew the truth – we goofed off on these days. Occasionally, however, we straightened up. That is, we met for midnight snacks at a local diner instead.

Ron was always at the center of such get-togethers. He was as funny as the cartoonists, and usually more interesting, which everyone acknowledged. He always had news about his latest projects, or frustrated projects; and he added us, variously, as characters in his books. Oddly, if not inappropriately, not always as heroes or innocent bystanders. 

Ron and I traded a lot of stories and a lot of cartoon collectibles. I brought Bill Blackbeard up to meet him, and once we traveled down to New Jersey to meet Boody Rogers (joined by a gosh-wow Craig Yoe). I interviewed Ron for my paper (“The Master of Ghoul-Art” was my title; horror fiction was one genre he seldom visited, but the pun was irresistible to me). When I was a comics editor at three newspaper syndicates I tried to get this maestro of so many fields to script a comic strip, but only (after me) did he collaborate on one – Star Hawks, with the local Gil Kane). Leonard Starr invited us both to do stories for Thunder Cats

After I left Connecticut we kept in close touch. We bummed around Comicon together many times. We both contributed to Toutain’s Spanish part-series History of the Comics. When was editor at Marvel, I gave him writing assignments for the black and white magazines. When I launched NEMO magazine, about strip history, I commissioned Ron – of course! – for the first, and subsequent, issues.


 
When I moved from Connecticut, the “Movable Fraternity” had a farewell BBQ, everyone doing a drawing for a presentation binder. This was from Ron Goulart and wife Fran, evoking – as many of his drawings and notes did, a moldy strip character. Here, Slim Jim.

I am bragging, obviously, about having known Ron Goulart. I was proud to have known him and to have worked with him. But peripherally, for any uninitiated readers, I have shed light here on his many activities in many areas. 

We shared tips and leads as freelancers in the same fields. Slow-pays and no-pays are banes of our “existence,” such as it is. He shared backstage-stories about ghosting the TEK Lab series “by” William Shatner. We had similar reactions to R C Harvey virtually accusing us of character assassination for writing that Milt Caniff occasionally relied on other artists like Bud Sickles. Ron would have written a regular for the imminent revival of NEMO magazine.

Many contemporary fans and scholars of vintage strips learned from Ron’s many books and anthologies. Many fans of science fiction, mystery, and licensed-character novels have enjoyed Ron’s work… even without knowing it. Many of his books were ghost-written; and his list of assumed names was as lengthy and colorful as pioneer recording artists or clever confidence-men. (Did you really think Lee Falk wrote those Phantom novels, too?)

In fact, I was a fan of Ron Goulart before I knew there was much to read in the world beyond cereal boxes at the breakfast table. As a kid I hounded my mother to buy Chex cereal. She wondered why I eagerly risked the challenges to my regularity – but it was to read the Fake News called “The Chex-Press” on those cereal boxes. Hilarious! Ron Goulart wrote them for the ad agency, the early-and-often work of the most prolific friend (or stranger) I knew, Ron Goulart. 

Vicarious pleasures: I think the only times Ron ever danced was in his self-caricatures. But he was known to stick his tongue out. The Andriola reference is the plethora of back-stories we shared about the cartoonist.

It is not often that a person can dominate fields of which he is also a pre-eminent, honest-broker historian. His personality – I mean his compelling arsenal of virtues – was more than humor and sarcasm, cultural acuity and cynicism. He occasionally was philosophical and introspective, too. Not particularly religious, he taught me, by example, the meaning of that Christian virtue, unconditional love.

“To be continued”? Actually, yes. Until printing presses and used-book stores disappear, Ron Goulart will indeed always be with us.

–30–

113

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

The Meldrum Family –

by John Adcock

One extraordinary fictional serial of 1848, The Meldrum Family, was written by William Howitt for his own periodical Howitt’s Journal. The complete title is Facts from the Fields – The Depopulating Policy, Extension of the English Manufacturing System by Which Men are Worked up into Malefactors: The Meldrum Family. 

A labourer named James Meldrum is driven to the city to seek work, a victim of the Enclosures Acts, a series of Acts passed between 1750 and 1860, which enclosed open fields and common land in the country, creating legal property rights to land that was previously considered common ground. Falling on hard times, described in excruciating detail by Howitt, Meldrum’s children become increasingly disobedient to their distracted father. While Meldrum trudges the country begging for odd jobs to keep food on the table, his sons quit going to chapel and stay up all night drinking in taverns. The breaking point is reached when his daughter Dinah joins her rebellious brothers.

She appeared to hold the same notions as her brothers, and to be resolved to “live while she could,” as she called it. Often when James came home at night he found Dinah reading. Sometimes her brothers were in, and she read aloud; but what they read he scarcely knew, for he became so drowsy on entering the house, that he could just but keep his eyes open while he got his supper, and then fell asleep in his chair (…) 


But one Sunday he saw a quantity of those cheap publications with which the little book-shops abound, lying about, and he took up first one, and then another, and read. They were stories of the most inflated and extravagant kind, of lords and ladies, and thieves, and people with the most romantic names and startling actions imaginable. Murder, seduction, contempt of everything sacred, crime and dissipation of every possible kind, were dressed up in a fashion which would disgust and shock the refined and the virtuous, but which only stimulated the mind already depressed. 


“Varney the Vampyre, or the Feast of Blood;” “The Murder at the Old Ferry;” “The Hangman's Daughter;” “The Illuminated Dagger;” “Prince Morio and the Fair Vatilde;” “Seduction;” “The Love Child;” “The Wife's Tragedy;” “Mantel;” “The Ordeal by Touch;” “The Rivals, or the Spectre of the Hall;” “The Old House of West Street,” etc. etc., and numbers of the like relations, all illustrated by engravings of the most atrocious character, were the staples of this literature which poured in myriads of sheets on the devoted heads of the poor and ignorant. 


To these were added cheap reprints of infidel writers, in which religion was represented as a mere state invention to feed priests, and frighten people into submission. There were halfpenny “murder sheets,” detailing all the most revolting murders as they every week occurred, and every species of vileness, villainy, and horror, in pennyworths and halfpennyworths.

“What was the effect on the mind of Meldrum?” asks Howitt.

For a moment, he appeared surprised; then stunned; then he took up another and another, and a new and wild appetite seemed to seize on him. Strange and dark thoughts had passed through the mind of James Meldrum as he plodded along the road to and from his labour in wind, and rain, and darkness. Strange and dark thoughts, darker than the night, wilder than the wind, more chilling than the rain, not only passed through his mind, but remained in it, and brooded there like evil spirits that had found a roomy and congenial home.[i]

Meldrum, losing his faith in a benevolent God, rushes out to walk the night country in the drenching rain and thunder, mind racing with horror. “From this day Meldrum was another man,” a mere work of chance in an indifferent universe, and he spent his non-working hours drinking gin, avoiding chapel, and reading “the fatal literature.” Eventually he becomes a madman, a murderer, and a homeless wanderer, rejected by his own children and his community. 

The devouring of penny bloods did not cause Meldrum’s madness; it was the catalyst that opened his mind to madness. The source of his insanity was industrial London’s debilitating depopulation policies.



[i] Howitt's Journal, Vol. 3, 1848