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Thurber Connection
written by Gazette Publisher Tom Thomson
January/February 2018

Literary and Artistic Star Rising

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Baby Rosemary safely delivered in a New York hospital, Althea didn’t waste any time leaving her on-again-off-again husband in the big city and returning to Connecticut with her newborn. According to friends of the couple, she wasn’t exactly thrilled with her dual role of mother and father – but what’s a woman to do? And, it’s doubtful that anyone ever fully understood Althea’s intentions and motivations.

Thurber, like many a man before him – especially those stuck with a job in the big city – became a weekend father. In a rather surprising critique, his friend E. B. White observed that “Thurber was too egotistical in the early 1930’s to be an ideal father.” He went on to add, “He was the most self-centered man I’ve ever known, but he did love Rosie.” “It showed through,” he said.

After a year or two had passed, Thurber became more comfortable with his role of father, even though it was only on weekends and occasional holidays. In a letter to his old drinking buddy John McNulty he wrote: “ . . . Rosemary used to glance in my direction with about the same interest she had in a window pane or a passing char woman. It wasn’t until she was two and realized she was stuck with me that she said, during a walk through autumn leaves, ‘I love you’ . . .”

How could he not appreciate his role as father after such a heart-warming experience?

During the week, there were editorial features to write and cartoons to draw for the insatiable appetite of The New Yorker. And, that’s not to say he didn’t enjoy the continuation of his carefree bachelor life with all its perks. In the meantime, Thurber’s literary and artistic star was rising. His wonderfully screwy drawing of the barking seal on the headboard above a disgruntled looking couple streaked across the literary skies like a dazzling meteor. Publishers were now knocking on his door. What a change a year can make! Harper & Brothers decided they wanted to publish a collection of his drawings titled “The Seal in the Bedroom and Other Predicaments.”

Thurber worked night and day to complete enough new drawings to fill the book’s projected number of pages. And, he did it. Most of the new drawings were surprisingly good considering the speed with which they were produced. There were a total of eighty-five drawings in the book, only fifty-five which had previously appeared in The New Yorker.

Many of the drawings are autobiographical in that they represent events and episodes in his own life. That a lot of them depict an on-going “Battle of the Sexes” is not surprising. Dorothy Parker wrote the introduction for the little book. We’re talking the Dorothy Parker, fellow member of the staff at The New Yorker, a brilliant humorist in her own right. A member of the famed Algonquin Round Table. That Dorothy Parker.

Here’s some of what she had to say:

“ . . . These are strange people that Mr. Thurber has turned loose upon us. They seem to fall into three classes – the playful, the defeated, and the ferocious. All of them have the outer semblance of unbaked cookies: the women are of a dowdiness so overwhelming that it becomes tremendous style . . . There is about all these characters, even the angry ones, a touching quality. They expect so little of life: they remember the old discouragements and await the new. They are not shrewd people, nor even bright, and we must all be very patient with them. Lambs in a world of wolves, they are, and there is on them a protracted innocence . . . Of the birds and animals so bewilderingly woven into the lives of the Thurber people it is best to say but little. Those tender puppies, those fair-haired hounds – I think they are hounds – that despondent penguin – one goes all weak with sentiment. No man could have drawn, much less thought of, those creatures unless he felt really right about animals.”

The book was a big hit and the rest is history.

Reprinted from the July 2005 issue.

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