by John Adcock
Arthur “Bugs” Baer was a cartoonist and columnist who was one of the most famous humorists of the teens and twenties, probably more famous than the contemporary Algonquin Round Table group of humorists that included Alexander Woollcott, Robert Benchley, and Dorothy Parker. “Bugs Baer” was “always welcome around the banquet board” at the Round Table. Unfortunately for history “Bugs” Baer published little in book form -- his whole career was played out in the newspapers in the ephemeral sports and entertainment pages. His obituary noted that ‘One Word Led to Another,’ his King Features column, “once was read by an estimated 15 million persons daily.”
While writing his New York American column ‘One Word Led to Another,’ for Arthur Brisbane, “Bugs” (as ‘Gram Wire’) moonlighted with another humor column for his old employers at the Evening World. Joseph Van Raalte, in his ‘Bo Broadway’ column, was referring to “Bugs” Baer when he wrote “A writer’s fame may be measured these days by the lit’ry standing of the birds who steal his stuff.”
Arthur Baer was born in Philadelphia and left school to begin a working life at fourteen. At twenty he landed a job, first as office boy then staff artist, on the Philadelphia Ledger at $2 per week. Around 1915 he became the sports-cartoonist for the Washington Times. Baer was a popular cartoonist, he drew well, he was funny, and he was on the most widely read page in any newspaper. He was given the name “Bugs” after an insulting baseball shaped bug he included in the corner of his cartoons. His first column was called ‘Rabid Rudolph’ a daily humor piece in the New York World. He was recruited by Arthur Brisbane for Hearst’s American in 1915.
“The mighty Brisbane,” wrote Damon Runyon in 1941, “used to admit that he did not know humor and often deferred to the judgment of the late T.A. Dorgan (Tad”) his cartoonist, and Arthur “Bugs” Baer, both truly great newspaper humorists, the latter still the greatest of them all in our humble opinion, and one of the greatest who ever lived.”
Baer switched from cartoons to columns after his boss on the Washington Times went on a two-week bender leaving Baer to write sports columns and draw the cartoon. The boss wrote “Bugs” a letter of praise: “Your stuff on the Senators has been great and I’m putting through a raise for you. P.S. But tell that damn cartoonist if his stuff doesn’t improve he’s fired!” Baer gave up cartoons for humoristic columns but he was proud of his cartooning abilities for the rest of his life. For two years he wrote “Mutt and Jeff” text for Bud Fisher.
“Bugs” Baer was, along with George McManus, an habitué of Dinty Moore’s Times Square establishment at a time when Broadway, boozing, boxing and baseball were the main concern of columnists, sports-cartoonists and comic strip artists. His partners in crime were celebrated writers and drawers like Bud Counihan, Bud Fisher, Harry “Hash” Herschfield, Gunboat Hudson, George Herriman, “TAD” Dorgan, Hype Igoe, Robert Ripley (“Believe it or Not”), Milt Gross, Damon Runyon, Westbrook Pegler and Grantland Rice.
After his retirement (and right up to his death) Baer was still contributing columns to newspapers by way of the postal service and Bob Considine’s regular column. Arthur “Bugs Baer” died at his Stamford, Connecticut estate 17 May 1969. He was 83 years old.
“Europe’s a place where they name a street for you one day and chase you down it the next.”
“America never lost a war or won a peace.”
“Well, there is a time and place for everything, except a wet nose in a small apartment.”
“When sober he could throw a lambchop past a wolf.”
“The difference between political correspondents and a politician is that the newspaperman isn’t wearing partisan mittens when he’s feeling in the public’s purse.”
“Alimony is like buying oats for a dead horse.”
*Bugs Baer's papers (mostly columns) are kept at Syracuse University HERE. Thanks to his son, also named Bugs Baer, for this information.