Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cliff Sterrett (1883-1964)

Cliff Sterrett was born at Fergus Falls, Minnesota, on 12 December 1883, where he drew on any blank space he could find; on fences, barns, and sidewalks. He once covered the entire floor of the post office with drawings of naked boys at the swimming hole before the postmaster discovered him and chased the boy out of the building. His father was a druggist and his mother died when he was two, leaving Clifford and his younger brother Paul to be raised by a maiden aunt, Miss Sallie Johnson, while the father moved on to Seattle.

Sterrett moved to New York at eighteen, armed with a letter of introduction from a local Episcopal clergyman, where he studied under George Bellows at the Chase Art School. He joined the New York Herald in 19o4 as an art staff assistant and began submitting cartoons to the New York Telegram published by the same company. His first comic strip was Ventriloquial Vag, followed by Merry Ha-Ha, When a Man’s Married, Before and After, and For This we Have Daughters. He left the Telegram and did general newspaper illustration for the New York Times, then joined the New York Evening Journal where he originated Polly and Her Pals in 1912. Polly appeared in Spanish, Danish, Portuguese and Japanese. Polly and Her Pals was the first feature with continuing characters to run six days a week with a Sunday page. “I insisted on sticking to Polly and Her Pals instead of doing other characters for the Sunday.”

“Since that time the changes have been many. The whole field has changed, the ‘girl’ strip having come into its own. Old comic art editors used to say, “No one is interested in girls -- girls in cartoons anyway.” Now the realization has come that people are interested in girls -- in cartoons or anywhere else!”

In addition to his comic work Sterrett painted in oils and took up hunting -- with a camera, since he “loathed killing anything.” His wife helped come up with gags as well as acting as a censor, proof reader and spelling corrector. His Aunt Sallie, who had acted as a surrogate mother, lived with the couple in New York city. Sterrett died 28 December 1964.

I borrowed the color Sunday from the ASIFA blog and many more samples of Sterrett’s Polly can be found THERE.

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