Friday, December 23, 2011

O Rare Harrison Cady

Archive Screen for
O Rare Harrison Cady, published by the Sandy Bay Historical Society in Rockport, is one of the very few sources of biographical information about Harrison Cady that I've been able to find. It is essentially a memoir done in collaboration with the journalist, John L. Cooley. It is a charming book, breezing through Cady's childhood (he loved animals, circuses, and his drawings were praised by P.T. Barnum), his early career struggles, and his eventual successes. Cady's worldview is peaceful and urbane--though he always considered himself a "country boy"--and he had a lot of famous friends, listed at length.

I was hoping to find information that would flesh out his bibliography. Here the book is a mixed success. On the one hand, Cady provides very useful details about the ways he ended up at certain publications. On the other hand, there are serious factual problems with the information he provides, particularly around dates. My concern is that Cady's inclination to just make stuff up--which is an explicit theme later in the book--makes this memoir less than reliable.

With that disclaimer in mind, here is the early career chronology I was able to distill from his account.

During the autumn of 1895, at the age of 18, Cady moved to New York City. (He states 1897 in the book, which is completely inconsistent with his bibliography).

Almost immediately, he sold a drawing to Harper's Round Table--a "gnome with a lily" published in the November 1895 issue. He would end up selling Harpers a handful of similar images.

He sold fifteen decorative initial letters to the humor magazine, Truth. These ran in 1896.

He starved for a little while.

He then got a 3-month position at the New York Journal drawing decorative frames for the comics page. He notes that Hearst had just bought the publication--the first Hearst issue was November 1895, so this would be late 1895/early 1896.

The position ended and he starved some more.

He then got a stable job with an advertising firm, W.H. Wagstaff and Co., that specialized in transit cards. He had a relatively peripheral position but contributed at least one illustration to a widely displayed ad--for a brand of beef extract.  According to Cady's account, he was still at Wagstaff when the U.S.S. Maine exploded (Feb. 1898).
Cady's first published piece in St. Nicholas
While at Wagstaff he put together a package of drawings, including a set of illustrated original poems, which he sold to the children's magazine, St. Nicholas. The first drawing ran in August, 1898. [The poems that Cady indicates were part of this initial batch did not run until 1903 and 1904. Either Cady mis-remembers or St. Nicholas sat on them for an awfully long time!]

After the job at Wagstaff ended (the company was a casualty of restricted ad spending during the Spanish-American War), he "conserved his funds" and picked up a few "odd jobs" but was soon contacted by the advertising manager of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, who offered him a salaried staff position. Eventually, Cady moved to the news department, doubled his salary, and never struggled again. This would appear to have been mid to late 1898.

He describes himself as a pictorial reporter for the Eagle, offering drawings to accompany a wide variety of stories, from fires and murders to special events such as America's Cup and horse shows. He recounts some specific events he covered:
With my pencil I reported the funeral of Henry George, the noted advocate for a single tax....I also recorded the reception given to Angelina Asnoras [sic--a transcription error of "Cisneros"] after her rescue from Morro Castle by Karl Decker, a big story of the day. (p. 41)
Here's the problem: both events happened during the fall of 1897, before the sinking of the Maine that supposedly precipitated the end of Cady's work for Wagstaff.  Moreover, a review of these stories as covered in the Eagle reveals that none of them were accompanied by illustrations. I have to assume that Cady is just making stuff up here. Cady's primary responsibility--well documented--for the Eagle was similar to his work for the New York Journal: the design of decorative frames for photo layouts.
An example of Cady's decorative frame work, 1901.
Cady discusses his most famous work for the Eagle, a series of sketches of typical Brooklyn girls, as well as the nearly fatal illness (pleural pneumonia) that curtailed his work on the project.
The Heights Girl, 1902.
It turns out that this project led directly to an illustration job for one of the leading romance writers of the day, Laura Jean Libbey. Cady does not discuss, however, the series of cartoons that first put his name before the public (in Brooklyn anyway).
The Horse Show as seen by Harrison Cady
A semi-regular feature on Sundays from August 1901 to February 1902, these " seen by Harrison Cady" cartoons were humorous pictorial reports of events and life-style trends around the New York area. I wonder if Cady conflated these later efforts with his recollections of his earliest responsibilities for the Eagle.
Cady's first cartoon for Life, May 21, 1903.
While still working at the Eagle, Cady began to contribute cartoons to the prestigious humor magazine, Life.  After "several months" of successful submissions, he had his first official meeting with the editor, John Ames Mitchell, and according to Cady's account, Mitchell encouraged him to quit the Eagle and join the staff of Life.  Here again the chronology doesn't quite work, unless by "several months" Cady means "a year and a half." (Cady's last credited piece for the Eagle ran in February 1905.) It also doesn't explain why Cady, as a well-paid staff artist for Life, would continue to submit material to Life's direct competitors, Puck and The Judge, throughout 1905 and 1906. Even taking into account the possibility that the other publications held onto material submitted far earlier, it seems likely there was a significant gap between the end of Cady's work for the Eagle and the start of his full time job at Life. Indeed, Cady's account of his meeting with Mitchell suggests as much:
"Have you saved any money?" he asked, with a trace of a smile.
"Yes," I told him. "I have saved a little. I live with my mother and she, a good Yankee, has managed on what I earn."
"Well," said Mr. Mitchell, "I suggest you go back to the Eagle and quit. Life will pay you much better. We can use your talent."(p. 49)
Cady would remain on the Life staff for over two decades (this overlaps with the beginning of his partnership with Thornton Burgess). Eventually he would move beyond the "beetlebug" material he began with and would begin to reflect Mitchell's editorial vision. This included both a strong sense of social justice and an unfortunate tendency toward antisemitism.

Those interested in the earliest stages of Cady's career are invited to check out my Harrison Cady TumBlog, where I have collected the majority of Cady's efforts, in roughly chronological order, up until the end of 1908 until 1923. That project will continue until I exhaust Cady's available public domain work. O Rare Harrison Cady may be ordered directly from the Sandy Bay Historical Society.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

New Harrison Cady Tumblr Blog

Harper's Round Table, January 21, 1896.
I've been collecting public domain images created by Harrison Cady. I thought Tumblr might be a good way to display them. Here's the link.