Friday, June 26, 2009
Frank Willard (1893-1958)
Frank H. Willard (1893-1958) worked as a timekeeper, claims tracer and hot dog operator before starting “Moon Mullins” in 1923 at the suggestion of J. M. Patterson, publisher and founder of the New York Daily News. Patterson suggested the name “Moon” and Willard found the last name by leafing through the ‘M’s’ in a Bronx phone book.
July 12, 1954 >
As Westbrook Pegler Sees It:
Brash Impulse at 12!
When I detected in Frank Willard’s ribald comic strip “Moon Mullins” a proud innuendo that he was going back to his old hometown of Anna, Ill., as a triumphant prodigal for civic ceremonies and tributes, I bethought me of one of these conversational evenings which are the bliss of my estate.
Mr. Willard was the first person, to my best knowledge and belief, who ever thought of dropping a salt-cellar into a napkin as a gesture of diplomatic force. By brandishing same at persons unknown in a speakeasy in a viaduct in Chicago, Mr. Willard persuaded our way out of a crisis concerning who had said what to whose babe. I am not the one to say that Theodore Roosevelt’s big stick was more to be respected. Frank Willard, known as “Doc” because in his gallus days he solemnly advised gin as a prophylaxis against the common cold and other vulgar ills of that echelon, never had to wield his salt-cellar. He just waved that napkin with that 3-ounce nugget in the pouch and they even called a cab for us outside and sped us on our way.
That, however, was not the evening when I asked Doc how he had chanced to become a comic-strip artist.
False Step Recalled
That was another evening. That evening, I said, I had made the same false step myself, in my ‘teens but, being a worse artist and incapable of improvement because an arbitrary savant at the art institute had insisted we draw people from the feet up, because who ever heard of building a house from the roof down, had chucked it to hew a career in beautiful prose. Mr. Willard said he always had suspected that there had been some draftsman lousier than he, and he drank to me as his long sought vindication.
“Well,” he said, “I will tell you how I came to be a comic-strip artist.”
“If this is going to drag up your past,” I said, “Let us talk of other things.”
“No, no,” Mr. Willard exclaimed, “I must speak out. I must tell someone.”
So he began:
“I was born in Anna, Ill.”
Mr. Willard prepared another black cow of sarsaparilla and vanilla ice cream. His little boy, Kayo, who somewhat later flew a B-29 in the Pacific, was snoozing in a dresser drawer.
“Anna, Ill. I was living with my Aunt Sadie and my Uncle Watt. They were fine American types, Uncle Watt had answered the bugles and marched with the colors in 1898. He came back from Tampa impaired in health and was receiving from a grateful republic a modest reparation of about $75 a month. We were not rich, as riches go, But neither ill-housed, ill-fed, ill-clothed.”
“You are not getting mileage or space-rates for this recital,” I said.
“You are hearing a saga,” Mr. Willard said.
“I used to take subscriptions for the Youth’s Companion. The revenues from these honest efforts kept me in chewing tobacco and catfish tackle, and life extended before me as a gentle, undulating career until one night, by kerosene lamp in the parlor, I drawed me a picture of Col. Custer in an advertisement in that admirable bladder.
“The ad said, “The boy who sends in the best free-hand copy of this pitcher will get absolutely free of all cost and/or expense one Daisy repeating air rifle and one ounce of BB shot.”
“Like those girls who send their pitchers to the beauty contest editor, I never expected to hear any more about it. But fancy my happy consternation when a few weeks later the mailman delivered a notice that I had won one Daisy repeater with one ounce of BB shot. Same arrived by Adams express a few days later. There was terrible carnage, I can tell you, among the cats and robins, and sparrows and chickens, of Anna, Ill., the next few days.”
“Are we getting warm?” I asked.
“You will regret this flippancy,” Mr. Willard said, “This is a story you will long remember. You may write a classic on it when you get old and your cold bones need a little whisky to warm the marrows. But you will not have the decency to thank me.”
“You can’t tell,” I said, “I am erratic.”
“Oh, well,” Mr. Willard went on, “there came a hot Saturday night, and a brakeman, who lived close by, was having himself a wonderful time in the tin wash tub in his kitchen. This brakeman took a bath every Saturday night. I chanced by, stalking whatever prey might be, and observed him standing in this tin tub, squeezing water over himself with a towel.”
A hush fell on the room.
“I had a wicked impulse,” Mr. Willard said. “Satan whispered to me. We did not have wire-mesh screens in those days. We used cheesecloth screens. I dropped to one knee. I drew a bead. I aimed. I fired --
“All went black -- reason tottered -- and this brakeman let out a yell and came right through that mosquito screen at me. My pulses pounded in my veins. I made for the tracks on the C. & E. I., and hopped aboard a soft coal gondola. In the morning, at East St. Louis, I hocked my Daisy repeating air rifle for $2. I bummed my way to Chicago and got a job in the Boston store as a copy boy in the art department where they drew the ads for corsets.
“The rest is history,” Mr. Willard said. “I went to France to conquer the Hun, returned home and asked Captain Joe Patterson for a job drawing funnies. He asked me ‘Any experience?’ I told him how I happened to leave Anna, Ill. He said ‘You are hired.’”
Mr. Willard’s hand trembled as he mixed another black cow. Our third.
“No,” he said. “I have never gone back to Anna, Ill. I left under a cloud. Oh, would that I could prove my repentance of my brash impulse at the age of 12!”