Friday, January 25, 2013

New Yorker Cartoonists Sell Liquor

Past posts in this blog have celebrated such well known figures as Dr. Seuss and Andy Warhol for their ads merchandising liquor.  A number of well-known cartoonists, many of them made famous in the New Yorker magazine,  have also done their part to advance the cause of alcoholic beverage sales.   My immediate impetus for exploring this topic was the discovery that James Thurber, the great American author, wit and cartoonist in 1930 had done a whiskey cartoon, one with a back story.

Shown here is a typical Thurber effort, a simple line drawing in which a standing character says to a scowling man behind a desk,  “What, Another Whiskey!”  The reply is “Yes, but NOT.  The line below emphasizes what it is not, declaring “It’s Irish American--An absolutely New Good Taste.”  The brand was a short-lived whiskey, meant to meet the post-Prohibition thirsts of Americans.  The William Jameson Company of Ireland had closed its operations in Ireland in the 1930s as the result of the Great Depression.  The remaining Jameson stocks were quickly bottled and shipped to the United States. As supplies dwindled, and as American distilleries ramped up production, the Jameson company began blending its own whiskey with American product as a way to stretch its inventories–voila!, Irish-American whiskey.

Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1894 and worked on the staff of the New Yorker as a writer and illustrator for many years.  He had failing eyesight that caused him to draw on very large sheets of paper using a thick black crayon or on black paper using white chalk, which were photographed and reversed upon printing.  He once wrote that people said it looked like he drew them under water. Dorothy Parker, a contemporary and friend of Thurber, referred to his cartoons as having the "semblance of unbaked cookies.” Thurber died in 1961.

The next cartoon is of the same vintage, advertising Martin VVO Scotch.  The cartoonist was Otto Soglow,  born 1900, better known for his comic strip, The Little King.  It was syndicated across America  from 1934 until Soglow’s death in 1975.   His resulting fame caused McKesson & Robbins, the U.S. importers of Martin’s Scotch to do a series of cartoons that emphasized that most Scotch whiskey was no more than eight years old, while Martin’s VVO was aged for ten.    In this instance, a Soglow character is disturbing a woman in a Pullman car, mistaking her No. 8 berth for his own No. 10.  Note the politically-incorrect porter entering at right.

The Peter Arno drawing skips us ahead to 1944.  That is when Arno, born in 1904 in New York City, appropriately was hired by Calvert Distilleries to do a series of cartoons under the heading “Metropolitan Moments.”  All of them ran in the New Yorker and most featured Wall Street types.  Here one of them is in a cab with three other gents telling the driver, “I never saw the blighters ....they got in when I mentioned going to Louie’s for a Whiskey Sour made with Calvert Reserve.”  Arno’s cartoons were published in the New Yorker from 1925 until 1968, when he died.

No cartoonist achieved more fame in the New Yorker than Saul Steinberg.  Born in Romania in 1914, he left his native land to avoid a fascist government during World War II. Sponsored for entry into the U.S. by the New Yorker,  Steinberg had more than a 50 year relationship with the magazine, contributing nearly 90 covers and more than 1,200 drawings before his death in 1999, age 84.

In 1955, the distributor of Noilly Pratt French Dry Vermouth in the United States hired Steinberg to do a series of ads around the theme that no martini would taste as good as one made with its vermouth mixer.  The disengaged head is holding a swizzle stick and stirring an drink with a series of  eye-catching squiggles and arabesques.  The slogan in this and other Steinberg ads for the company was “Don’t Stir without Noilly Pratt.”

William Steig was a prolific American cartoonist, born in Brooklyn in 1907.  He began drawing illustrations and cartoon for the New Yorker in 1930, producing more than 2,600 drawings and 117 covers for the magazines.   Late in life Steig became known for his children’s books.  He produced a series of cartoons in 1964 for Chevas Regal Scotch, one of which is shown here.   A newspaper reporter is interviewing a mountain climber who is heading for a bottle of Chevas Regal.  He has stopped to tell the newsman why he is climbing: “Because its there.”

Chevas Regal during the same year commissioned an advertisement from Charles Addams, a cartoonist known from his darkly humorous and ultra weird characters.  Addams’ first drawing appeared in the New Yorker in 1932 and subsequently his cartoons appeared regularly in the magazine.  In 1938, he drew the first of what became known as the Addams Family, which launched a television series on ABC from 1964 to 1968 with reruns up until the present day. 

The Addams cartoon shown here is less macabre than many.  It depicts a fortune teller and her client.  Instead of a crystal ball she is gazing into a bottle of whiskey.  She explains to the gent, “I always use a Chevas Regal bottle.  It conjures up a much better class spirit.”  Addams has been described as “sociable and debonair” and squired celebrities such as Greta Garbo, Joan Fontaine and Jacqueline Kennedy on social occasions.  He died in 1988 at age 76.

Moving forward in time to 1967, the next item is a New Yorker cartoon that could have been an ad.  It shows two African-American gentlemen walking down the street with a large bottle of Fleischmann whiskey while a white man behind them carts off an even larger bottle of the booze.  The punch line is “Sure, there’s still discrimination but it is getting better. The cartoon was lampooning a Fleischmann Distillery advertising campaign showing well-dressed men carry off large bottles of whiskey.

The cartoonist was Eldon Dedini, born in King City, California in 1921.  He was known for testing the edges of social proprieties, frequently drawing for men’s magazines like Esquire and Playboy.  His work often featured wide-eyed, large breasted nymphs and leering satyrs.  Just before Dedini’s death in 1996, he was honored with an retrospective exhibition of his work called “Babes and Broccoli” at a Salinas, California gallery, not far from where he was born.

Although this 1973 cartoon for Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey is not signed, the style clearly marks it as the work of Robert Crumb, who like Dedini, “pushed the envelope of respectability.” Celebrated as a comic book artist, he has been cited as the founder of the underground comix movement,  recognized for his satirical and subversive view of American society.  Here, however, Crumb has drawn a very  benign character, said to be the Oldest Man in the World.  This is emphasized by a banner at his feet that says, “Babylonian U.”   The oldest man wants us to know that Bushmills is the oldest whiskey in the world, founded in 1608.

In contrast to Crumb, James Stevenson,  who drew the next cartoon, was noted for his utterly middle class,  nonintellectual, conformist types.  This was fitting for an individual who illustrated and authored more than 100 childrens' books, as well as regularly appearing in the staid New Yorker.   He has given us a picture of two men dressed only in shorts enjoying a highball made with Passport Mature Scotch Whiskey.  One is saying to the other, “You’re my kind of intellectual, Harry.  You don’t have to curl up with a good book to relax.”   Born in 1929 and to my knowledge still living,  Stevenson did this ad sometime in the 1970s.

Chevas Regal over the years has made use of American cartooning talent to pitch its Scotch.   Here the famous creator of “Little Orphan Annie,”  Harold Gray has served up Annie’s protector and father figure,  Daddy Warbucks.  Depicted as a multibillionaire entrepreneur Daddy moves in and out of Annie’s life, sporting the same kind of “blunked out” eyeballs that she has.

Gray launched his Annie cartoon through the Chicago Tribune Syndicate in August 1924. By the 1930s, Little Orphan Annie had evolved from a crudely drawn melodrama to a dramatic story with multiple plot threads and interesting characters. It was one of my favorites growing up in the 1940s, particularly for Daddy Warbucks sidekicks,  Punjab and The Asp. Gray, known for his conservative views, died in 1968 a millionaire from radio and merchandising spin-offs from his cartoon.  He did not live long enough, however, to see Annie made into a hit musical.

There they are,  ten top American cartoonists from the 1930s to the 1970s, some names more recognized than others. All of them, however, have had their cartoons anthologized in various New Yorker and other cartoon collections.   These artists were not to proud to sell liquor with their drawings and many ads, as some shown here, were truly funny.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I don't buy that the Bushmills artist is R. Crumb. Could it be Gerry Gersten?