Tuesday, April 21, 2009

George Price: Early Years

THE GOOD HUMOR MAN, "A happy array of Cartoons, Sketched and a gay Diary compiled and edited by Richard McAllister." Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., Publisher, New York. Copyright 1940 by George Price.

"Some of the drawings in this book originally appeared in The New Yorker, Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post and the original Life.

"The description of Mr. Price in the title of this book is used with the co-operation of the Good Humor Corporation."


"When we first planned this book we asked Mr. Price if he would write up a few of his experiences.

"... When we finished reading the diary we asked Mr. price whom he thought he was ribbing. Certainly, we stated, there was not the least truth in all this.

"Mr. Price was indignant. 'Every word is absolute gospel,' he said stiffly. 'If you knew anything at all about the cartoon business you wouldn't question that for a moment.'"

Below are some excerpts from Mr. Price's "gay Diary:"

June 22nd

"Made out very well at Collier's today. Gurney Williams held five of my roughs for the art meeting.

"When submitting drawings to Gurney I strike quickly, like a cobra. On top of my batch, I place my strongest idea. Get him in into a good humor from the very start, I find, and he will okay ideas like mad.

"More times than I like to think of, though, I have no 'strong' idea to place on top (on top, or anywhere) and the whole session has dissolved into a fiasco.

"Clip Amory at the Saturday Evening Post I approach differently. In his case it his best use a 'build up.'

"On top of the batch, instead of my best, I place one of my sourest ideas. Beneath that I place the worst, the very worst, of the lot. Usually, it is so bad as to bring from Clip a quiet moan. After an introduction like that the remaining ideas, no matter how mediocre, appear like so many nuggets."

June 25th

"Another milestone passes! I sold a cartoon to Life* today!

"For a long time now I have struggled to make this magazine. It was a tough one to crack. Not that I hadn't received encouragement. It wasn't eight months before the elevator operator was calling me by my first name. Never had I been able to get past the receptionist, however, and my drawings had always come back with a plain rejection slip.

"Life, of course, has long been know for the odd manner in which it is edited. Since its inception the magazine has used its famous 'passerby' system. The publishers reason, with no little logic, that since the man-in-the-street reads the magazine, the man-in-the-street should have some say in the editing of it.

"The cartoons are selected entirely on this basis. A few days before an issue goes to press, the editors lean out the office windows, show the cartoons to anyone who happens to be passing by and ask for a frank opinion.

"Until a few years ago this system worked without a hitch. Life's offices were located on the first floor, and passerby were in easy access.

"Then complications arose. The offices were moved up to the twenty-third floor. In spite of the apparent difficulty of employing the passerby system under these conditions, the owners demanded that this traditional style of editing be adhered to.

"People who happen to be passing the twenty-third floor windows, of course, are few and far between. There remains, in fact, but one type of passerby on whom Life can now try out their cartoons -- the occasional human fly who happens to be scaling the building.

"It is a familiar sight along Bleecker Street (and to me a somewhat amusing one) to see the editors of Life, each clutching a handful of cartoons, anxiously peering from their windows hoping a human fly will begin an ascent in time for them to make a deadline.

"With a set-up like that, if I ever expected to sell a cartoon to Life, my course was clear. The plan was a risky one, but I was willing to gamble. I made up my mind to climb the building, pretending to be a human fly.

"*Mr. Price, of course, refers to the humorous magazine of that name. It has since been discontinued."

"At ten o'clock this morning I began my ascent. I had never before scaled a building and there were several fearful moments during the first stages of the journey when I was tempted to quit. The sight of Life's editors poking their heads out the window spurred me on, however, and I manfully stuck to my task.

"By noon I had reached the eighth floor. Here a little Gypsy Tea Room was located. I lunched leisurely and had my tea leaves read.

"Resuming my climb I passed the twentieth floor two hours later, and fortified by a shot of bourbon from a stenographer with a southern drawl, I started on the home stretch.

"By this time Life's editors, informed of my approach, lined the windows shouting encouragement.

"' ... Er -- young man,' one of them said, 'we would like to ask a favor of you.' He then explained the passerby system and I listened with interest as if hearing about the whole thing for the first time. I agreed, naturally, to look at their cartoons.

" ... Each I rejected. I would shake my head regretfully and hand the cartoon back with some remark like: 'I'm sorry, it just doesn't make seem funny to me,' or, 'Don't get it,' or, at a particularly bad one, 'Ugh.'

"One hour passed. Another. The editors, as the stack of drawings decreased without an approval, became alarmed. 'I do hope he likes one of them,' I heard a layout man say nervously. 'We still have that half-page open in the next issue, you know.'

"Finally, I had looked at all of them. I shrugged. 'Sorry,' I said, 'but none of these hit me.'

"There was an embarrassed pause. Then, as if it were a random thought, I asked if they had any cartoons about camels around. I didn't know why, I said, but cartoons about camels always struck me funny.

"After a hurried conference one of the assistants was dispatched to the mailing room. He rushed back with a cartoon showing two large camels and one baby camel. They handed the drawing to me and anxiously watched my reaction.

"I roared with laughter. I guffawed so heartily that for one breathless moment I almost lost my grip on the gargoyle.

"'It's in!' the editor-in-chief shouted 'Set it up for a half-page!' He handed the cartoon to an assistant. 'By the way,' he said, ' who drew it?' The assistant told him the artist was named George Price.

"'Send him a check,' the editor-in-chief said.

"We exchanged farewells. I continued on my way up to the roof, came down in the elevator and rushed back to my studio glowing with triumph."

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