Thursday, January 31, 2019

A Time Magazine Cover Signed by James Thurber

A copy of Time magazine with James Thurber's inscription and signature on the July 9, 1951 cover shows his hand to be sadly shaky and unsure in the extreme. His failed vision surely was responsible for this. His self-portrait with dogs is endearing enough, but just think of what he could have done with this space a mere decade earlier! Time's editors outdid themselves with the headline "James Thurber: A Sure Grasp of Confusion."

Time, July 9, 1951
Signed by James Thurber

James Thurber
eBay Listing Retrieved January 10, 2018

James Thurber
eBay Item Description

Note:  At press time this signed magazine cover is still available on eBay and Amazon. Only the eBay listing has the Make Offer option.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

James Thurber: The Dance of Life

Two James Thurber figures dancing in tandem lead off "The Talk of the Town" section of the New Yorker for May 15, 1954. Spring, evidently, was in the air.

James Thurber
Spot drawing
The New Yorker, May 15, 1954, page 29

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The Cartoon Collections Caption Contest #8

Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's the Cartoon Collections Caption Contest #8. The drawing is by Ellis Rosen. My entries follow.
"Where do you see yourself five minutes from now?"
"Silly me! I forgot my own balloons."
"The helium is expensive, but we save a ton on rent."
"Well, now that you mention it, it is ironic that we manufacture pins."
"I'm glad you floated this by me."

February 6, 2019 Update:  The Winner

February 9, 2019 Update:  Seven-time New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest winner Lawrence Wood, in his new Cartoon Collections feature "Caption Contest Commentary" writes:

Like I did, many of you thought of typical interview questions (or clever variations on these questions) that took on different meanings in the context of the drawing. The best of these included, “Tell me about a time you were in a stressful situation” (similar to but better than my own “work-related challenges” caption), “Where do you see yourself in five minutes?” and “Any problems finding us?”

Thanks for the mention, Lawrence Wood.

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Ellis Rosen

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

eBay 101: A Thurber Façade

No doubt the place to be on Wednesday, January 19, 1949 was in the auditorium of the Museum of Modern Art. There the first complete American performance of Façade took place, an "entertainment" with words by Dr. Edith Sitwell and music by William Walton. The performance was introduced by Sir Osbert Sitwell, Edith's brother. Two sketches of the Sitwells at the performance document the noteworthy evening. These sketches are currently listed on eBay with the jaw-dropping price of $2,000, a price justified only, it would seem, by the unsupportable assertion that they are from the hand of James Thurber.

Thurber was a world-class cartoonist, but he was not a caricaturist and he certainly was not one to be relied on to capture a likeness. These drawings do not resemble his work in the slightest; they try too hard and they clearly fall short. They lack his effortlessly-flowing lines and his irreproachable simplicity. They bear handwriting that is clearly not Thurber's, and they are, as one might guess, unsigned. In 1949 it is doubtful that Thurber's failing vision would allow him even to attempt any sort of live sketching at an event.

Osbert Sitwell and Edith Sitwell
eBay Listing Retrieved January 10, 2019

Osbert Sitwell and Edith Sitwell
eBay Item Description

Façade:  An Entertainment
Poems by Edith Sitwell
Music by William Walton
Edith Sitwell and Peter Pears, reciters
Anthony Collins conducting The English Opera Group Ensemble
British Decca recording, 1953
Orchestral Fanfare
Poem 3, Mariner Man ("What are you staring at, mariner man..."), recited by Sitwell; 
Poem 6, Tango-Pasodoble ("When Don Pasquito arrived at the seaside..."), recited by Pears
Poem 7, Lullaby For Jumbo ("Jumbo asleep! Grey leaves thick-furred as his ears..."), recited by Sitwell
Poem 16, Valse ("Daisy and Lily, lazy and silly, walk by the shore..."), recited by Sitwell
Poem 21, Sir Beelzebub ("When Sir Beelzebub called for his syllabub in the hotel in Hell..."), recited by Pears

August 5, 2019 Update:  Six months later and this post has come to the attention of Gabriel Boyers of Schubertiade Music & Arts, LLC, the seller who, according to eBay's terms, "assumes all responsibility for this listing." On July 22 he wrote:

It saddens me to see that it is no less than the immediate past President of the Professional Autograph Dealers Association (PADA) who is still trying to pass these amateur drawings off as the work of James Thurber. The autograph trade is rife with hucksterism and fraud. PADA should exist to establish standards so buyers will have faith that what they're purchasing is genuinely what it's stated to be. Instead apparently the standards are just for show; the deception goes to the very top of the trade.

Incidentally, copyright for the images resides with the artist and the artist's estate; it does not transfer automatically to the owner of the drawings. I would doubt these images were ever technically under anyone's copyright, but even if they were I would still have the right to display and discuss them publicly under the doctrine of fair use. For the seller to assert that he can post these images publicly on eBay and call them the work of Thurber—or, for that matter, of Picasso or of Rembrandt—without any supporting evidence but that for me to point out the spuriousness of his claim is "disparaging" and a violation of his copyright is simply ludicrous. Actually, I think that even as anonymous drawings these are valuable as a historical record of the first complete American performance  of Façade. I merely object to them being falsely called the work of James Thurber. It is the seller who is "disparaging" Thurber's reputation.

The burden of proof of authenticity lies with the seller. Numerous examples of Thurber's midcentury handwriting and drawing are available for comparison with these two drawings and anyone can look them up, even a professional autograph dealer. I personally would love to see what served as the basis for "our analysis of the work as by Thurber." I think Mr. Boyers should go public with his evidence and his analysis.

In the meantime, I would not recommend buying a Strad from Schubertiade Music & Arts.

July 19, 2020 Update:   Schubertiade is hoping to unload this piece at auction tomorrow. They have reduced the $2000 price to an estimate of $800-$1200, with an opening bid of $400. That seems fairly reasonable for a unique document from an American concert premiere. They continue to attribute the work to Thurber against all reason, but it's becoming clear that even they don't believe it. Thus we get to learn a bit more of the history of their acquisition forty years ago and we get a lot of new caveats—"the penmanship and drawing style are plausibly Thurberesque to our eye"—while they acknowledge his severely impaired vision at the time of this drawing and state, for once, the obvious: "...we cannot make a definitive attribution." Of course you can't. There's nothing "plausibly Thurberesque" about it. But good luck with the sale.
Auction Listing Accessed July 19, 2020

Auction Item Description Accessed July 19, 2020

July 21, 2020 Update:  No sale.

Note:  If you are able to recognize the artist or the handwriting, do tell.

At press time the sketches remain available on eBay.

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Monday, January 28, 2019

My Entry in The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest #648

All aboard for my entry in The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest #648 for January 28, 2019. The drawing is by Amy Hwang.

"They added a stop just for Henry."

These captions left the station without me:
"I thought it was serious but he was just passing through."
"Promise you'll let me know if my model railroading ever gets out of hand."
"We had to learn about eminent domain the hard way."

February 4, 2019 Update:  The Finalists

February 11, 2019 Update:  I voted for the third caption. Sorry, New England.

February 25, 2019 Update:  The Winner

Note:  Last week cartoonist P. C. Vey took a magic wand to the shredder. My caption failed to levitate. Presto! It's Contest #647.


Sunday, January 27, 2019

Charles Addams: Here at The New Yorker Dust Jacket

A current eBay listing for the dust jacket—and only the dust jacket—to Brendan Gill's Here at The New Yorker (1975) provides a full if somewhat glare-laden image of the excellent wraparound cover illustration by Charles Addams. Thirty-six of the individuals who contributed preeminently to the magazine's success during its storied first half-century are framed in the arcades of an hermitage while the New Yorker's mascot Eustace Tilley walks by and surveys them through his monocle. Who are these monastic individuals abiding serenely in their cells yet united in their literary and artistic cause?
Charles Addams
Dust jacket to Here at The New Yorker (New York:  Random House, 1975) by Brendan Gill

Well, I'm glad you asked. I have added my own photo of the key to these figures on the front and back covers. Naturally, founding editor Harold Ross has a position of prominence on the front cover as does his successor William Shawn.
Photo by docnad
This legendary grouping has a few evident quirks as befits a magazine staff which had many. First of all, among the thirty-six figures in the monastery there are only two women, Dorothy Parker and Katharine White, a number equal, oddly, to the number of inconspicuously-placed "unidentified wretches." Furthermore, there are only six artists—Peter Arno, James Thurber, Charles Addams, Saul Steinberg, George Price, and Whitney Darrow, Jr.—as  compared to twenty-nine writers and editors, among whom I will again include Thurber who was, if possible, an even greater figure in the writer's camp than in the cartoonist's. (Yes, E. B. White contributed one naive cover to the magazine, but aside from this curiosity his output was very non-naive words and words alone. James Geraghty was the magazine's art editor and could be counted, if one chose, on the artistic side of the equation, but he was not himself an artist.)

The inclusion of the first and second "unidentified wretch" in the lineup is a mystery. Is there some inside joke here? Isn't there a better use for these two spaces? The omission of Rea Irvin is surely inexcusable. He created the dandy Eustace Tilley who appeared on the very first cover, designed the masthead and many of the section headings, and served as the magazine's founding art supervisor. His profound influence on the New Yorker's look persists to this day. Addams includes his mascot on the cover, but not him.

If we were to be able to include Irvin, there would still be a "second unidentified wretch" to account for. Who should fill his space? This is far from an easy question. There was never any shortage of talent at the New Yorker. It seems obvious that among the artists William Steig surely deserves a place in the pantheon. But what of Otto Soglow and Gluyas Williams? What of Helen E. Hokinson and Barbara Shermund?

Among writers, John Cheever, John McPhee, and Janet Flanner immediately spring to mind. The are each certainly worthy of enshrinement on the monastery arcade. So the strange conceit of having a first and second "unidentified wretch" as placeholders when so many could justifiably be included defies explanation, unless it is to avoid having to make a difficult decision.

There are more worthwhile photos from the eBay seller. It's one hell of a nice dust jacket, and in this case you can judge the (missing) book by its cover.

Note:  In 2017 Michael Maslin wrote about this cover on Ink Spill here.

At press time, the dust jacket is still available for purchase here.


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Saturday, January 26, 2019

Brendan Gill: "The First Rule of Life…"

"The first rule of life is to have a good time." Brendan Gill's indulgent advice, with some further elaboration, leads off Chapter 6 of his 1975 history Here at The New Yorker. He inscribed this motto, adding a personal dedication and his signature, in many a copy of the book. For a self-styled hedonist, Gill seems to have clocked an awful lot of time at the typewriter, but he claimed, possibly alone among writers, that the craft came to him with relative ease.

Here at The New Yorker (New York: Random House, 1975) by Brendan Gill

Inscribed "For Wayne Hanley,
with best wishes.
Brendan Gill
'The first rule of life is to have a good time.'"

Title page

Brendan Gill
eBay Listing Ended August 6, 2017

Brendan Gill
eBay Item Description

Note:  At press time the book remains available on eBay after a year and a half, although with the' cumulation of eBay fees it is not all that surprising that the starting bid, even after Christmas, sits at $26. Still it's a very nice copy of the book and required reading too, one would think, for anyone following this blog.

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Friday, January 25, 2019

Strolling by the Farm: Barbara Shermund and Peter Arno

Cartoonists Peter Arno and Barbara Shermund occasionally found themselves covering more or less the same territory. After the Second World War women gradually started wearing bikinis to the beach and adopting more revealing two-piece summer outfits. It must have been second nature for cartoonists to wonder how such daringly sophisticated summer wear would be greeted down on the farm.

This time it is Shermund who got there first. Her cover for the April 1948 Esquire contrasts not only the rural shepherd with the fashionable woman, it also juxtaposes the older male and the younger female generation. The typical young male Esquire reader would have had no trouble imagining the old man's reaction to the attractive woman walking by even if it weren't so obviously delineated on his face.

Given the prominence of Esquire's monthly covers, it would be hard to argue that Arno hadn't seen Shermund's cover illustration. Arno's editors at the New Yorker likely must have seen it as well. Arno's New Yorker cover appeared a little more than four years after Shermund's. He doubles down on the passing women but he also backs off a bit, losing the one-on-one intimacy of Shermund's encounter. The three figures seen here are not so much individual personalities as conventionalized types. The farmer is younger than Shermund's, to be sure, but it is his unexpected behavior rather than his wide-eyed smile that makes this gag memorable.

Peter Arno
The New Yorker, August 2, 1952

Amanda Gormley, Barbara Shermund's niece, responds:

In Shermund’s piece the female, strikingly reminiscent to a later photo of Marilyn Monroe, walks independently alone past all manner of living things that stop to take her in. Even the squirrel has stopped chewing on his nut.
In Arno’s cover, the male is the more central figure, clueless to his wandering thresher and the accumulating steam cloud overhead. 
Shermund’s female “owns it” while Arno’s male “is owned.” 
Two very different voices.

Note:  "Tell Me a Story Where the Bad Girl Wins: The Life and Art of Barbara Shermund" is now on view at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. It will remain on exhibit through March 31, 2019.

Instagram posts hashtagged #peterarno may be seen here.

Posts on Instagram with the hashtag #barbarashermund may be reviewed here.

Back in 2011 my very first post on Peter Arno was about the sale of the original cover art seen here. I have since written more than one hundred posts about the artist.

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Saber Arches: Peter Arno and Barbara Shermund

Peter Arno and Barbara Shermund were leading cartoonists of their day. Both of them honed their craft in the pages of the early New Yorker. Both excelled at depicting sexy situations. Occasionally, as it happened, they arrived at similar scenarios. What if we were to compare how two talented cartoonists, one a man and one a woman, handled a given theme?

The saber arch is a military wedding honor practiced around the world. Bride and groom walk in procession under the raised swords of soldiers. Both cartoonists present gags with a backstory in which the bride herself has a history with the soldiers. As one might expect, Arno and Shermund handle the situation quite differently.

We'll start with Peter Arno, not because he's alphabetically first, but because his cartoon appeared in print first, and by a dozen years:
"…Hello, Edmund. Hello, Warwick. Hello, Teddy. Hello, Poodgie. Hello, Kip. Hello, Freddie…"
Peter Arno

The New Yorker, July 25, 1936, page 14

Arno's New Yorker cartoon was well-known, although whether Barbara Shermund recalled it is anybody's guess. Her cartoon appeared in color on the cover of Pictorial Review, a Sunday supplement syndicated by King Features:
"Do you think it's safe? I jilted most of them!"
Barbara Shermund
Pictorial Review (Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph), June 27, 1948

A critical difference between the two gags is evident. Arno, the male cartoonist, has devised a gag in which the groom is made to feel humiliated by the suggested promiscuity of the bride. Shermund, the female cartoonist, presents a gag which emphasizes the bride's social and even physical discomfort.

Barbara Shermund's niece Amanda Gormley notes:

In Arno's illustration, the groom has clearly been cuckolded and there appears to exist, in the bride's facial expression, [her intention] that he should expect perceived behaviors going forward. The bride is unfettered. 
Conversely, Shermund's bride has "jilted" and renounced her paramours seemingly in favor of her groom. She's less responsible for her beaus' reactions because of her femininity and beauty as she now looks to her groom for protection, something he seems resigned to do.

This pair of cartoons reinforces then how important it is to hear different voices in cartooning. When we do, we are likely to get perspectives which differ from each other, and which differ from our own.

Note:  "Tell Me a Story Where the Bad Girl Wins: The Life and Art of Barbara Shermund" is now on view at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. It will remain on exhibit through March 31, 2019.

Posts on Instagram with the hashtag
#barbarashermund may be seen here.

Instagram posts hashtagged #peterarno may be found here.

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