Ask Dan Martin about cartoonists that have had connections to St. Louis and he'll give you a list that reads like a Who's Who. He is, after all, a part of that tradition. He currently does the Weatherbird cartoon, which is a legacy in itself. It appears daily on the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as it has for over a hundred years. The cartoon is said to be the longest continually running daily cartoon in American journalism (move over Beetle Bailey and Blondie). Dan is the sixth cartoonist to draw the 'Bird since it's creation in 1901 and the third Martin to draw it. Dan quickly points out that none of the Martins are related, nor is it a prerequisite to draw the cartoon. (Rumor has it, however, that Dan is grooming his son to be the fourth Martin.)
Who's the Weatherbird? In 1901 he first appeared as a "chirpy meteorologist" that coincided with the daily forcast. Eventually, he would dress in "20s attire" with straw hat, bow tie, vest, and yellow and black bird-leggings, and would spread his wings, beyond the weather forecast, to comment on the events of the day.
Harry B. Martin created the 'Bird' and shortly afterward turned it over to Oscar Chopin in 1903, and in 1910 the second Martin (S. Carlisle Martin) took over. The next cartoonist, Amadee Wohlschlaeger, took over in 1932 and would go on to do the 'Bird for almost fifty years. After Amadee's retirement, in 1981, Albert Schweitzer (no, not that Schweitzer) drew the cartoon until 1986. The third Martin, Dan Martin, took over drawing the Weatherbird and is the current "bird-keeper" of the Post-Dispatch. Dan made a few changes when he took over. He got some extra points from bird fans when he eliminated the cigars from the drawings and a 'Bird that looks more ornithologically correct.
Above, L: A visit to the 1904 World's Fair. R: Looking like Clark Gable, the Weatherbird goes to the Gone With the Wind premiere in Atlanta.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is no stranger to great cartoonists. Just ask Dan Martin, he has a slough of knowledge on the subject. Dan clipped off several names: You've heard of George McManus -- you know, the one that did "Bringing Up Father." Well, he grew up in St. Louis and worked at the Post-Dispatch and so did Phil Davis. Davis was Lee Falk's assistant with "Mandrake the Magician." Al Frueh also worked at the Post-Dispatch. You mean the guy that was an institution, at the New Yorker? Yep, that's the one. Who can forget the legendary editorial cartoonist Daniel Fitzpatrick? He was at the Post-Dispatch for fifty years garnering two Pulitzers. Dan said with a twinge of disappointment: "We had editorial cartoonist extraordinaire, Bill Mauldin, for a while, but lost him to the Chicago Sun-Times." Speaking of the Sun-Times, the Post-Dispatch also lost, Pulitzer-winner Jacob Burck, to the windy city.
Nearby newspaper rival Globe-Democrat also had their share of cartoonists who made it big. Dan mentioned names like Clare Briggs and Clare Victor Dwiggins. I must have been a little slow on the uptake and missed my opportunity to ask Dan if the Globe-Democrat had a thing for names too. Anyway, Clare Briggs created dozens of cartoons including the "Piker Clerk" which was a favorite... well... to the folks in the early part of the twentieth century. Clare Victor Dwiggins, about the same time, created several features including the popular "School Kids" and "Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn" as well as "J. Filliken Wilberfloss."
The list goes on! Carl (Harold Teen) Ed, Harry (The Bungle Family) Tuthill, Chic Young, Al Hirschfeld, Lee Falk, Ray Moore (who drew Lee Falk's Phantom), Mike Peters, Simms Campbell, Glen McCoy and Elzie (Popeye) Segar have all lived in, or close by, St. Louis. St. Louis likes to claim Segar as one of their own, but residents of Chester, Illinois (a mere sixty miles south of St. Louis) have a different opinion on that matter. Just ask anyone in town, especially Ernie Schuchert, the great-great-nephew of J. William Schuchert, (the self-proclaimed inspiration for Wimpy). The people of Chester, however, might be a little biased, after all, it's Popeye's 75th birthday celebration this year. Dan also threw in another name: Fred (Moon Mullins) Willard who grew up in Anna, Illinois. Wait a minute, Dan, Anna's 100 miles from St. Louis. I suppose you're going to tell me Walt Disney was born close by too. Marceline, his birthplace, is just outside the St. Louis area only 160 miles away.
Above, L: Apollo 8 prepares to orbit the moon; R: Peanuts creator Charles Schulz retires, then dies shortly thereafter.
In the above list, I threw in the name Carl Ed who just happened to be from my neck of the woods. Carl moved to St. Louis and spent a few years at the World Color Syndicate and while he was there began a baseball strip, "Big Ben." Carl soon got homesick and went back to Rock Island to work as a reporter for the Rock Island Argus for a few years. In the meantime he was laying the basics of the strip "Harold Teen." He then went to the Chicago American and then to the Chicago Tribune and shortly afterward, in 1919, launched the comic strip, "Harold Teen," and had a successful run for decades.
We can't forget about the university connection. Dan also pointed out that Washington University in St. Louis boasts of an impressive list of elite alumni that have made it big in cartooning: Mort Walker, Mike Peters, Dan Piaro and Jim Meddick.
How much of an impact did the Weatherbird have on budding cartoonists? Not sure if we will know. Mike Peters gives us an insight in his forward to Dan's book, "The Story of the First 100 Years of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Weatherbird." He stated: "It taught me that a cartoon no bigger that a postage stamp could convey a totally different idea and emotion every day, and...how important a cartoon character can be to your daily routine."
The Weatherbird even inspired people to put the 'Bird to song. In 1923, Jazz legend, Louis Armstrong, wrote the "Weatherbird Rag." John Hartford, of Gentle on My Mind fame, wrote "Weatherbird Reel." During the St. Louis World Fair, the Weatherbird reported daily from the Fair. Could he have influenced St. Louisan Sally Benson in her famous Kensington Papers and script: "Meet me in St. Louis?" The setting takes place in the St. Louis World's Fair. Does it matter that she once lived a few doors down from future theatrical cartoonist, Al Hirschfeld, on Kensington Place?
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Story and title art © 2004 Jim Allen
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