Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Bob Edgren’s Little Biographical Sketch

1897 [1] Bob Edgren, pictured working with Hearst reporter W.W. Naughton and boxer Jimmy Corbett, unsigned art after a photograph by F.H. Bushnell. 3 March.

by John Adcock

Edgren weighs about 225 pounds, is six feet tall, does not know what a tremor or a funk is, and has as good an appetite for a scrap as he has for his dinner. During all of the acrimonious anti-cartoon debate in both the assembly and senate he calmly sat in the reporters’ row and made his caricatures in the midst of the throbs of Morehouse’s speeches, and the dull thuds of Grove Johnson’s verbal hammer blows on newspaperdom, and none of the shouters for the heart’s blood of editors showed any disposition to hold Edgren responsible.  Down the Line, in Los Angeles Herald, March 2, 1899

 C artoonist and sporting columnist Robert Wadsworth Edgren was born in Chicago, Illinois, on January 27, 1874, and raised in California where he began a sporting career which led to 20 amateur sporting records between 1897 and 1910. Edgren played football on three western teams while studying at the University of California. In varsity athletics at Stanford University he won the world’s record for the hammer throw three times. Edgren was the first man in America to drive a speed boat, the Speed Demon, at the rate of a mile a minute, winning the Gold Challenge Cup.

1904 [2] ‘Fitzsimmons Is Being Bitten By Everything.’ 18 July.
EDGREN FAMILY. His Swedish-born father John Alexis Edgren was an extraordinary man who — at thirteen — spoke four languages and went to sea. At nineteen the King of Sweden granted him a commission as commander of merchant ships although he was under the legal age. Returning from South America he was becalmed off Fort Sumter where he witnessed the bombardment that commenced the American Civil War.

J.A. Edgren went to New York, resigned his commission and was made Active Ensign in the US Navy where he commanded war vessels and land artillery. He resigned after the war and attended Princeton and became a professor of ancient languages at the University of Chicago. He mastered 16 languages and was recognized as the world’s highest authority on Egyptian dialects. He was the founder of the Swedish Baptist Church in America and spent his final years preaching and writing on religious subjects. 

He had three daughters and two sons, Robert and Leonard. Both brothers were cartoonists, sporting columnists and photographers. Leonard worked on The World (New York) and died on January 7, 1918.

1895 [3-5] ‘The Victorious Berkeley Athletes,’ with a young Bob Edgren seated, third from the right. 18 July.
His [Bob Edgren’s] first newspaper work was done on the old San Francisco EXAMINER in the days when Homer Davenport, Jimmy Swinnerton, Gertrude Partington, Harrison Fisher, Jules Pages, Haydon Jones and Hank Raleigh were on its art staff and Bill and Wallace Irwin and Annie Laurie were cub reporters. — Edgren, International Sports Authority, Writer and Artist, Makes “Press” Bow Tomorrow, in Daily Press (Long Island), April 9, 1932
c.1900 [6] Ambrose Bierce, Hearst reporter.
Edgren, a graduate from the University of California in Berkeley, also studied art at the affiliated Mark Hopkins Institute of Art on San Francisco’s Nob Hill. Pugilist Bat Nelson recalled that “on the Pacific coast he put on weight rapidly until he weighed over 200 pounds. He was a human giant.” Edgren started out on the San Francisco Examiner as a sporting cartoonist in 1895. In June 1900 the Examiner received a letter from its staff writer Ambrose Bierce — often stationed in Washington — regarding a drawn likeness of him in his paper.
Perhaps it is none of my business, but I just want to say that a picture labelled ‘Ambrose Bierce’ in the issue of this paper dated June 1, is not a picture of Ambrose Bierce. I do not know of whom it is a picture; it looks as if it might be that of the assassin who put it in. I hope so; it will serve to identify him when I return. It may be that by that time I shall have experienced a change of heart, but my present feeling is that it would be better if he were dead. — Ambrose Bierce, in a letter
The manager of the editorial section where the offending image had appeared was Frederick W. Lawrence. Lawrence secured a large photograph of Bob Edgren stripped to the waist, “big as a house with muscles that hang over like bay windows,” which he mailed to Bierce with the following reply.
My dear Bierce: I am sorry you are displeased. Here is the photograph of the young person who printed your unlikeness. He cannot wait until you experience a change of heart, so leaves tomorrow for Washington to offer you a personal explanation. Please deal gently with him.  F.W. Lawrence, local staff of The Examiner
1896 [7] ‘Fitzsimmons Exhibits His Ring Methods.’ Unsigned art after photographs by F.H. Bushnell. 16 March. 
 dgren found his place as sporting editor/columnist/cartoonist on Pulitzer’s New York Evening World beginning in 1904. Preceded by political cartoons he drew earlier for Hearst’s New York Journal, during the Spanish-American War of 1898, where his “Sketches from Death” series made his reputation. Edgren backed up his reports of atrocities with 500 photographs, subsequently displayed before Congress. It’s possible that these were Edgren’s own pictures. He variously signed his work: Bob Edgren, R.W. Edgren, R.E., or R. Edgren. 

In addition to his career as a sporting cartoonist and columnist Edgren profited from his own photographs. Forty photos he took of the Johnson/Jeffries fight at Reno in 1910 were made into slides which were exhibited at movie houses and theatres across America. While covering the Spanish-American War Edgren was captured by the Spaniards but escaped to Florida disguised as a tugboat deckhand.

Bob Edgren was a sparring partner for pugilists like the Cornish giant Bob Fitzsimmons, Jim Corbett, James Jeffries, and Jack Dempsey. He was the lifelong friend of “Ruby Robert” Fitzsimmons, a giant freckled Cornishman who gained his unique top-heavy physique while employed as a blacksmith. 

1897 [8] ‘…Some of Them Yawned When the Bigger Man Was Knocked Senseless, and Some of Them Giggled Hysterically, and Some of Them Wished Both Men Would Be Killed in the Ring…’ Unsigned illustration, text by Winifred Black. Title: Does Modern Photography Incite Women to Brutality?, in American Sunday Magazine, Popular Periodical of The New York Journal and Advertiser. 30 May. 
1904 [9] ‘Fitz Starts Training,’ with pasted in photograph of the artist and columnist. 18 March.
 he Fitzsimmons cartoons enlarged Edgren’s reputation. On June 1, 1913, Fitzsimmons penned a series of newspaper articles about the current crop of “White Hopes” (white boxers who, it was hoped, would topple black champion Jack Johnson), articles all illustrated by Edgren. Finally, Robert Fitzsimmons and James J. Corbett battled for the world heavyweight championship at an arena in Carson City, Nevada, on March 17, 1897. Fitzsimmons won the title after a fourteen-round match. Edgren appears to have entered the ring with both champions at the boxer’s training camps.
But to get back to the Corbett fight. Three days before the match Robert Edgren boxed with Fitzsimmons alone in a barn. After a few minutes Edgren felt himself deposited in a corner with a single blow, one that made him deathly sick and paralyzed his arms and legs.
“I ’ope I didn’t ’urt you, Bob,” apologized the great fighter, “but I thought I’d show you what I’m going to do to Corbett. You can tell ’im if you like.”
Sure enough that was exactly what he did to Corbett, who had been fully warned and was amply prepared, and who for nearly fourteen rounds avoided the fatal blow. Corbett emerged from the fight unscratched, apparently as whole as he went in, but defeated. Fitzsimmons came out cut, bleeding, his face torn in a dozen places, but victorious. He had taken a terrific beating for the sake of landing a single blow and it won him a fortune. Nor was that blow a chance one. It was deliberately planned and perfectly placed.  “Fitz” – Napoleon of the Prize Ring, by Richard Barry in Pearson’s Magazine, Oct 1912
1897 [10] ‘Fitzsimmons With His Trainers And His Great Dane Yarrum.’ Unsigned art after photograph by F.H. Bushnell. 22 Feb.
 porting columnist William O. Inglis described his first glimpse of Bob Edgren to columnist Bob Davis. He was “the finest physical specimen I ever looked upon. A Dane with blue eyes, light hair, and the complexion of a girl. He was covering the Corbett training camp for the San Francisco Examiner. A high-spirited kid but likeable…”
I slipped out to Shaw’s Hot Spring to have a peek at Corbett, then at the top of his form and daily knocking half a dozen of his sparring partners more or less cockeyed. To my astonishment, I saw young Edgren standing by clad in trunks, obviously waiting to box a couple of rounds with Pompadour Jim. This, thought I, is going to be good, if the lad can take it. Anyhow, he will get a good story for the paper (…) In the first minute of the second round, the preacher’s son led with a right smart left, stabbed James in the beezer, and was starting a fast second poke when Corbett crossed with his right and walloped Edgren – also, as the saying goes – like nobody’s business. It was a pippin. “Good night!” I said under my breath. “That is the raspberry,” expecting to see the artist-writer cave to the mat. Imperceptibly his knees wavered, his head bent forward as a heavy shock of light hair cascaded down his forehead into his eyes. But he didn’t fall. Not that boy. Corbett, a slightly sinister expression in his eyes, stepped back to observe.
Edgren shook his head ponderously, caught his stance, came up tossing the lock of hair from his eyes, took a swift posture of defence, and laced Jim on the point of the jaw with a right and left that would have dropped for the count any man not in perfect condition. It was the swiftest, best-timed comeback I ever saw launched by a groggy man. For a split-second Jim contemplated a kill, but the glitter in his eyes faded, and he held out his hand. Edgren took it, smiling. To my dying day I shall remember that three-second mix-up. I can still see Edgren bending forward as the lock of hair spilled over his eyes, and his sudden lion-like recovery. It was magnificent. All the rest of his life I looked upon him as a superman. Every mortal has his idol. Mine is Bob Edgren. Bob Davis Reveals: When One Man In a Split Second Made a Lifelong Friend, in The Sun (New York), Nov 7, 1939
1897 [11] ‘Fitzsimmons Observes the Courtesy of the Highway.’ Art by Homer Davenport. 16 March.
1897 [12] ‘Struggle Between Harvard and Yale,’ the art signed ‘Bob Edgren’. 14 Nov.
 nother sporting columnist, Damon Runyon, reported on the same event, claiming that Corbett heard rumors that “Edgren was whispering to some of his friends to be present at the meeting to see the champ get belted around.”
Corbett, a vain fellow in those days, made about two deft feints at Edgren as soon as they put up their hands and then sank his left into the cartoonist’s midriff with a force that caused Robert to go oof and fold like an opera hat. It was a little malicious on the part of the champion and Edgren never forgot it. I think he may have let the incident impair his judgement of Corbett’s real ability even in retrospect. Boxing ‘“The Champ” An Old Stunt, by Damon Runyon, Albany Times-Union, June 3, 1946
1897 [13] ‘Will Fitz Make Corbett An XMas Present?’ Art by Edgren. 21 Dec.
LIFELONG GRUDGE. Unfortunately for our present little biographical sketch, all the purported witnesses to the event are dead leaving the question of the veracity of one party or another unanswered. In the same article Runyon opined, “it seems to me that all of the San Francisco sporting chappies hated one another. When Edgren and “Tad” were the great rivals of their professions in New York they waged such a violent personal battle in their respective papers that their publishers had to step in and call it off.” Bob Edgren’s longest running newspaper feud was with the gunslinger/referee/sporting columnist Bat Masterson, who carried his grudge against the cartoonist to the grave.

However, it is doubtful Runyon was an actual eyewitness to the battle of Carson City. Bob Fitzsimmons and James J. Corbett arrived in Carson City, Nevada, in the middle of February 1897 while Damon Runyon was still a boy, sixteen years old and working on his father’s small newspaper at Pueblo, Colorado. Most likely the story was relayed to him from Jim Corbett, and, as Runyon himself admitted “I think there was always a slight coolness between them.”

1909 [14-16] Black fighter Jack Johnson and white fighter James J. Jeffries sign the contract for next year’s boxing match in Reno, Nevada, and toast on it with a glass of Pommery. A meeting for the press at the Albany Hotel in New York, with Bob Edgren standing tall on the left. 1 Nov.

1910 [17] Jeffries with sparring partner Armstrong.
1910 [18] ‘Writers and Fighters Who Will Describe the Big Battle for The Call.’ With a.o. photographs of Bob Edgren and Rube Goldberg. 27 June.
WITNESSED BY TWO. Jim Jeffries also attended the match between Corbett and Fitzsimmons in 1897 but sparred with Corbett behind closed doors. The only two witnesses were Corbett’s trainer and his second. Sportswriter Frank G. Menke wrote that, “Edgren clamoured in vain for admission. When the secret workout was over, none of the parties involved would tell what had transpired.” 

Edgren wrote up a story claiming that sparring partner Jeffries had knocked out the world’s champion in the training camp duel. For thirty years Edgren repeated the story while Corbett denied it. In 1926 Jeffries told Menke “Corbett is right, I never knocked out Corbett in Carson City in any of our sparring battles there, nor did I ever knock him down or make him quit.”

Menke gave a third account of Edgren and Corbett in the ring at Carson City, but did not identify his source for the story. “It’s a story that was told to me by a man in Corbett’s camp in one of Corbett’s later battles.” Menke’s informant said “Bob was a big fellow in those days — weighed over 200 — and was really a great boxer.”
Edgren, made cocky by the showing Corbett let him make, finally began to carry the fight to Jim. He slipped through a couple of punches to the stomach and Jim got Bob in a clinch and told him to go easy. Edgren just sneered some answer reflecting on Jim’s ability to take them in the body and when he got a chance sneaked in another. So Jim grabbed Bob and told him if it happened again he’d have to get a little rough too. Bob, perhaps thinking he had Corbett worried or afraid of him, watched for a chance, and started to sneak through another. But it never landed. For Corbett, watching for just that move, beat Edgren to the punch, drove his fist into Edgren’s body – and Bob went down a crumpled heap before the friends he had brought along to see him show up Corbett.Sport writer Says Jeffries K.O’D Corbett In Practice – Jim Denies It, by Frank G. Menke, in Evening Tribune-Times, Aug 3, 1926
c.1910 [19] James J. Jeffries, front page of My Life & Battles, edited and illustrated by Bob Edgren.
1913 [20] ‘Jim Thorpe As A Giant.’ Microfilm sample in the collection of the Library of Congress in Washington, a newspaper page with large Edgren art. 11 Feb. 
1921 [21] ‘Bob Edgren, Who Will Write For Evening Herald.’ 4 Jan.
 dgren left his post at the World in 1918 when leather goods stocks, a repayment for a friendly loan, made him independently wealthy. He moved to California where he was appointed to the California Boxing commission. During WWI Edgren made a tour of American Army camps organizing boxing and other athletic sports. He followed up with a trip to Mexico and France. He was in great demand as a sporting referee, a task he refused to accept payment for. In his final column for the World he wrote,
There will be no time for column writing for a while. But wherever I go I shall manage to write and illustrate for this page one “feature story” a week, to keep in touch with thousands of friends and with what I believe, after fifteen years of association, to be the finest, cleanest, fairest newspaper published in the wide world. Edgren Will Go To France, in The Fourth Estate, July 27, 1918
1910s [22] Edgren original boxing art plus pasted in photograph of pugilist Bob Fitzsimmons.
THE END. Bob Edgren continued to cover boxing and other sporting events as a freelance up to his death of a heart attack at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club at Del Monte, California on September 10, 1939. He was survived by his wife Helen Maude Edgren, his son Robert Durant Edgren, and three sisters. He was 65 years old.
Bob Edgren, who will be laid to rest tomorrow, is bracketed with Tad Dorgan as the greatest of sports cartoonists and writers. Nobody like ’em has been developed since, with due consideration to the talents of our present-day crop (…) Edgren is the cartoonist who developed those incongruous freckles which were dotted on Bob Fitzsimmons, and artists the world over have been copying them since (…) He did a cartoon and a column daily for twenty years. — Harold Conrad, in Brooklyn Eagle, Sept 12, 1939

Special Thanks to Melinda McIntosh.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Ally Sloper Mask

Publisher, art teacher, and Ally Sloper collector Bill Leach has been collecting Ally Sloper original art since the 1980s. His latest acquisition is a Victorian era papier-mâché Ally Sloper mask created in a factory using a mask mold. The mask has no manufacturer’s name or labeling. The mask is a bit damaged, says Bill, but he intends to repair and repaint the piece. Some might say to leave it as it is But it will bring me more joy when it is nicely painted. The Victorian British establishment was said to be startled by rumors that British railway-strikers were seen wearing Sloper masks at their rallies…

[8] Stereograph photo card of a man in Ally Sloper mask posing with a 3D stereo-view camera.


Friday, May 11, 2018

The Art of Rube Goldberg Exhibit in San Francisco

The Art of Rube Goldberg 
is currently on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, 
San Francisco, California, through July 8, 2018.