Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fred Meagher (1912-1976)

Fred Meagher was born in Clearfield, Pennsylvania on April 11, 1912, and showed an artistic inclination from the age of four. His first commercial art job was painting western murals on the walls of the hometown Dimeling Hotel Coffee Shop while still a senior in high school. He took courses in art from the International Correspondence School from 1928 to 1935. In 1932 he illustrated his first cover for the Saturday Evening Post then joined the staff of the Philadelphia Enquirer as a staff cartoonist and illustrator.

“In those days the big city newspapers were after the mobs, and my cartoons were directed against gangsters and the crooks who later became the targets of Tom Dewey. One night when I went back to my apartment I found a note shoved under the door. It read: ‘Your next cartoon will be your last.’”

In 1936 Meagher contributed cover and interior illustrations to the pulps Dan Dunn Detective and Tailspin Tommy. He took a job as an animator’s assistant for R. K. O. pictures and worked as an animator and story synchronizer at the Disney Studios where contributed to Donald Duck, Snow White, and Fantasia. In the thirties Meagher ghosted a trip to the moon sequence in the Flash Gordon strip when Alex Raymond became ill. With writer Stan Schendel he produced Wings Winfair for Gulf Funny Weekly, a popular comic giveaway, from issue 232 in 1937, until 1941.

He produced Ralston-Purina’s Tom Mix Comics (1940-1942), another four-color giveaway, with writer Ray Bouvert and inker Bill Allison. He drew the first few Sunday strips of Vesta West (Aug 30, 1942-1944), published in the Chicago Tribune Comic Magazine, before it was turned over to Ray Bailey. He produced aviation training and maintenance manuals during the war and in 1949 opened his own advertising studio which involved him with Nabisco Shredded Wheat promoting the radio serial hero Straight Arrow. He created the “Flying Red Horse” for Mobil Oil, and helped develop “Smoky the Bear” and the “Little Con Edison Man.”

Vin Sullivan began publishing Straight Arrow comic books with scripts by Gardner Fox, art (all 55 issues) by Meagher, and inking by Meagher’s wife Ruthanne. Straight Arrow sold up to 5 million copies a month during its run. He also drew the Durango Kid backup feature Dan Brand and Tipi for issues 16 to 32 concurrent with his work on the Buffalo Bill newspaper comic strip which began August 14 1950 and ran to July 28, 1956. Meagher recalled his time drawing comic strips for Richard Harpster this way --

“It’s 14 to 16 hours every day. The deadlines were consistent nightmares. You cannot hire assistants because they tend to change the character of the strip. Then the editors write letters and complain. You can’t go anywhere. I took a vacation once and had to take my drawing board to the beach. I got sick and was forced to continue cartooning while I was in the hospital. Cartoonists can never get ahead. A few do, but not many.”

Meagher owned the rights to the strip jointly with United Features syndicate. The Bluebird character in the Buffalo Bill strip was based on Ruthanne. Meagher was set to play the lead in a Buffalo Bill television show but as far as I can tell the project never came to pass. Other artwork was drawn for ME’s Best of the West and the one-shot Fury comic book.

The Straight Arrow daily comic strip ran from July 3 1950 to August 4, 1951, with scripts by Gardner Fox and artwork by Joe Certa and John Belfi.

Fred Meagher quit cartooning in 1955 and went to work for the American Can Company as a special project designer until his retirement in 1969. He died January 26, 1976.


“Drawing Talent, love of Horses Brings Fame to Clearfield Artist” by Betty Hamilton, The Progress, Clearfield, Pa., 31 Aug 1950

“Clearfield Native Fred Meagher Looks Back at Career as an Artist” by Richard Harpster, The Progress , 17 Aug 1971, originally appeared 28 July 1971 in the Jersey Free Press, Phillipsburg, N. J.

“Distinguished Artists to Judge Smith Valley Festival” Nevada State Journal, 25 May 1975.

“A Short History of Straight Arrow” by Bill Harper, Alter Ego, No. 11, Nov. 2001

“Straight Arrow 1949 to the Present” by John Belfi, Alter Ego, No. 11, Nov. 2001

“In Search of the “Enigmatic” Fred L. Meagher” by Bill Harper and Jean Walton, Alter Ego, No. 11, Nov. 2001

1 comment:

  1. The murals on the walls of the hometown Dimeling Hotel Coffee Shop are still there
    but in need of restoration.

    If you have any ideas on this
    contact the Dimeling Hotel.