Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Crowded Life in Comics – Gene Carr

by Rick Marschall

Carr became famous for his kids. They vaguely resembled those of Jimmy Swinnerton, but so did the characters of Dink Shannon and other cartoonists. Eventually they became constant cast members of Lady Bountiful’s adventure, and by the ‘teens virtually took over her strip.

A Used Carr Salesman

(Gene Carr, Pioneer Strip Cartoonist)

An early memory has reminded me, or begrudgingly persuaded me, that one of the wellsprings of my interest in cartoons was my first-grade teacher, when I was growing up in Closter NJ. 

(baseball drawing) Carr’s kids, ca 1908. He became so associated with gamins that a reprint book of his social-commentary cartoons in the 1920s was nevertheless titled “Kid Kartoons.”
Mrs Kuenlin was without a doubt one of the most unpleasant harpies I ever knew beyond the immediate circle of my wife’s family. In appearance, she looked like she had been weaned on a pickle, to borrow Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s description of Calvin Coolidge (in a dozen years I would get to know “Princess Alice” herself; Theodore Roosevelt’s colorful daughter). Anyway, Mrs Kuenlin was a blue-ribbon witch, probably planting the seeds of my subsequent detestation of classrooms and state education. 

I never saw her smile but once… and therein my tale.

Carr illustrated several books in the first decade of the century. These two, 1903 and 1904, were slightly naughty for the day.
One of my classmates’ mothers brought in a scrapbook of her father’s published cartoons. I remember: it was the work of Gene Carr, who at the turn of the century had drawn Lady Bountiful and other pioneering strips. He later drew the social-realist Metropolitan Movies for the New York World. And at this time, a few years before his death, he was still cartooning, selling gags to the Saturday Evening Post.

The scrapbook was never shared with us students, naturally. Even if my friend’s mom would have allowed it, Mrs Kuenlin would have withheld it just to disappoint the little inmates of Hillside School. But the effect of those cartoons on Cruella deTeach astonished me: Mrs Kuenlin’s face lit up; she smiled; she actually laughed occasionally.

“Down By the Sea,” early 1920s newspaper panel. Carr inherited the social-commentary panel “Metropolitan Movies,” originated in the New York World by George Rehse, and later drawn by Denys Wortman. They usually dealt in irony or pathos rather than laughs.

Gee. Cartoons could have that power.

After a Crowded Life as an avid collector – amassing piles of Gene Carr’s Sunday pages for Pulitzer and Hearst; scores of comic post cards; political cartoons and social-commentary cartoons for the dailies; Broadway shows based on his creations; and magazine cartoons into his nonage and my youngage – I cannot see his signature without the ancient but not faded magic associated with his name.

Gene Carr inscribed his “Chorus Girl” book to his fiancee – predictably with a sketch of one his famous Kids, not the Chorus Girl.

And the power of cartoons to make even gargoyles smile. 
Carr advertisement for the Photographer of Celebrities Pirie McDonald featuring his iconic Lady Bountiful, the comics’ version of the Gibson Girl. 1904. She starred in Sunday comics variously in the Hearst and Pulitzer papers before settling in the New York World.



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