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Thurber Connection
written by Gazette Publisher Tom Thomson
July/August 2017

Dashing off drawings

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To his dying day, Harold Ross denied that he had rejected Thurber’s first seal drawing.

No matter. Actually it’s a good thing he did, otherwise the later version that became famous might never have seen the light of day.

Shortly after the cartoon appeared in the January 30, 1932, issue of the New Yorker, Thurber received a telegram from famed humorist Robert Benchley congratulating him. High praise indeed. As a token of gratitude, Thurber sent him the original artwork.

A few of Thurber’s drawings had appeared in the magazine over the preceding year and a half. Mostly they were witty caricatures of animals placed under the heading “Our Pet Department.”

The most famous cartoon to emerge from this menagerie was a drawing of a horse with antlers tied to its head.

A horse with antlers tied to its head?

Is that what I just said! What a weird and goofy idea.

Only Thurber could have come up with such a cockeyed concept. Especially back in those drab and dreary days of excessive moral repression.

Aside: I wonder where that word came from? I’m talking about “cockeyed.” Somebody please check it out and let us all know – before the local authorities have it banished from our dictionaries. Put the answer in letter form and we’ll publish it. I promise! This could be your big chance to rub shoulders with the famous and illustrious James Thurber himself, albeit at a considerable distance. So get a move on!

Meanwhile back to the storyline. Where was I? Oh, yes, the famous horse that has a pair of antlers tied onto his head. Like, real obvious.
And, there’s a caption of sorts under the drawing that goes like this:

“Q: My husband paid a hundred and seventy-five dollars for this moose to a man in Dorset, Ontario, who said he had trapped it in the woods. Something is wrong with the antlers, for we have to keep twisting them back into place all the time. They’re loose.
– Mrs. Oliphant Beatty
A: You people are living in a fool’s paradise. The animal is obviously a horse with a span of antlers strapped onto his head. If you really want a moose, dispose of the horse; if you want to keep the horse, take the antlers off. Their constant pressure on his ears isn’t a good idea.”

Thurber’s cartoons were now appearing regularly in the New Yorker.

Thurber drawing

And, he was dashing off drawings everywhere he went. Every day, at work and at play and, seemingly, everyplace in between. The floodgates were open.

At cocktail parties he would scribble drunken likenesses of drunken women on cocktail napkins, menus, the backs of envelopes. Darn near anything.

He would give drawings to favorite bartenders and waitresses. Maybe, in return, he was getting a lot of his drinks on the house. That would be a pretty good deal for all parties concerned.

In a letter to his old friend Herman Miller he once wrote, “I have yet to meet anybody I have ever known, even casually, who hasn’t got at least one of my drawings.”

Around the office, dozens of crumpled-up drawings would end up in the wastebasket. False starts. False farts. Some little tally-wag wrong. Assigned to the city dump. Or, hopefully, salvaged by some savvy janitor or maid.

Before the end of 1931, another collection of Thurber’s cartoons and witty observations on life was published. This one was titled The Owl in the Attic and Other Perplexities. The book was dedicated to his wife Althea.

And, hold onto your hats! On October 7, 1931, Althea presented him with a bouncing baby daughter, Rosemary.

Well, this was certainly a big surprise. They hadn’t been living together since who knows when. Well, he had been visiting her once in a while, going to dog shows and all that kind of bow-wow stuff.

Well, whatever, our boy was on a creative roll of major proportions. New editions of all kinds popping up all over.

To be continued

Reprinted from the April 2005 issue.

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