Thursday, March 02, 2023

TEE VEE HUMPHREY A Weekly Reader Book


When I was a kid, The Weekly Reader was newsprinty little newsletter we got in our class at Roosevelt Elementary School in Iowa City, IA. This was, as our teacher Mrs. Panje would command, our "silent reading" time; our give-Mrs.-Panje-a-break-time. We would read about world events, do a puzzle, etc. Weekly Reader was dry, but a welcome respite from the routine of second grade.

The Weekly Reader was more than the name of some newsletter. The WR people also pushed books. TEE VEE HUMPHREY, a hardcover children's book that sold for $2.75 in 1957, was one of them.

The cover opens up into a nice gatefold of Tee Vee.


A crummy commercial!

Here is the page that lets you know that there were hundreds of bad books that were rejected before those Weekly Reader Board people (bless 'em!) deemed this tome, TEE VEE HUMPHREY, as the best one to put their seal on -- oh, and by the way, why not tell your friends they should join the Weekly Reader Children's Book Club. Why don't they? Do they hate America? This will not look good on their transcript!

I bought this book in 2007 at the Community Bookstore in Brooklyn. This divey, dark used bookstore has a lot of junk and, like those Weekly Reader folks, sometimes you have to go through a lot of garbage before your find a treasure there.

Illustrator Kurt Werth has an inky, casual style that I found appealing. It's almost like I'm looking at his sketchbook. Here is Tee Vee asking for a job at the TV station.


Tee Vee gets a job at the local TV Station, show running a program about pets. This is back in the day when a kid could just walk into a TV studio and get a job without a union giving him a thumping.



The sketchiness of the art cloaks Mr. Werth's layout skill. Your eyes are easily drawn to the man at the mike in this one.

Kurt Werth, whose work outside TEE VEE was unknown to me, studied at the State Academy for the Graphic Arts in Leipzig.

"The First World War brought an abrupt end to Werth's studies at the academy when he was drafted into the army in 1915. With sketchbooks in his knapsack, Werth continued drawing throughout the war. Unfortunately, Werth sent his wartime sketchbooks to a girlfriend whom he never saw again, and so the pictorial record of his war years was lost forever." -- from an online bio created by the University of Oregon Libraries

Ugh. I hate it when the girlfriend absconds with a dude's sketchbooks! That's so uncool! Well, Kurt later married an actress, and they stuck together. They moved to the United States in 1939. During WWII, he became a cartoonist for publications like Common SenseThe New Republic, and Harper's.
I hope to find more of his work.


And, in the back flyleaf of the cover, is your own, official Weekly Reader bookmark with silhouettes of horses, a viking ship, 2 musketeers kissing (well, that's what it looks like to me), Charlie Chaplin with a balloon holding his pants up, a witch and a spaceship, all suspended on a clown's nose. You also are being asked to take an oath to tell your teacher and friends about this book, you little corporate schill, you! I think this kind of mentality is what made Mr. Werth move from Germany.

-- This originally appeared on my blog on June 7, 2007.

1 comment:

DBenson said...

I think "Tee Vee Humphrey" was excerpted in one of our 1960s reading textbooks. Was there a chapter about Tee Vee overfeeding a dog while rehearsing for a live commercial, with the result that the dog refused to eat on the air? It was illustrated by somebody else, in the standard full-color realistic style.

In my grade school years the Scholastic Book Club had given way to straight sales. They'd pass out forms with titles and blurbs, collect the orders and money, and the books would be delivered to the school. They were all paperbacks, some "real" (it was a big deal when they offered one of Al Jaffe's MAD titles), most under Scholastic's own banner in odd, non-pocketbook sizes.