Saturday, 23 May 2015

Silent Cartoonist Wallace Carlson

Newspaper cartoonists must have looked at the fame of the New York Journal’s Winsor McCay and the success of his animated cartoons of the pre-World War One era and thought “Hey, I can make some money on the side that way, too.” A host of newspapermen got into the animation business. Most were pushed out after sound films arrived in the late ‘20s.

One of them was Wallace Carlson. He came up with original characters—Dreamy Dud (see frame to the right), Otto Luck, Goodrich Dirt—and supplanted in the public consciousness in the 1920s by Felix the Cat and Koko the Clown. He slashed out a 1000-foot cartoon every few weeks for Essenay before leaving in 1917 to work on the Paramount-Bray Pictographs.

New York City was the centre of professional animated cartooning at the time, but he decided to forsake it and return to Chicago. There, he opened a studio. His obit in the Chicago Tribune of May 10, 1967 reveals he was producing “features for the movies.” It’s unclear how long the venture lasted. But it seems Carlson was content to go stick with newspaper cartooning.

Here’s a biography published in the Trib on December 24, 1951, long after his animation days had ended.

Cartoon Career Began When He Was 12

Wally Carlson, who draws Mostly Malarky for The Tribune, has been a professional cartoonist for 42 years, but that doesn't mean that he was around for the Fort Dearborn massacre. It's simply that he began when he was 12.
It takes a lot of insight into human nature—both the saint and sinner parts of it—to keep pouring out cartoons that reflect human foibles as consistently and funnily as do Carlson's; but in 42 years Carlson has done a lot of observing of his fellow human "critters."
The cartoonist is 54 and he was born in St. Louis. His mama was Danish and his papa was Swedish, so it seems a sure bet that he was born in Minnesota. He insists, however, that this is not so.
Baseball Cartoons First
Carlson was 8 when he breezed into Chicago and he got into the newspaper business four years later—the delivering end; but at the same time he began drawing baseball cartoons. A cigar store owner bought them for 50 cents each and hung them in the window.
By the time he was 14, he'd finished with such picayunish tasks and was selling his sports cartoons to the old Chicago Inter-Ocean. But he was a fast moving youngster, and he soon was assigned to do a daily sports drawing. Sometimes, too, he did front page political cartoons.
Thus, at an age when most youngsters are thinking about how to get any kind of a job. Carlson was page one in a metropolitan city. He also was quite a celebrity around Lane Technical High school, but it wasn't enough. So he took a whirl at vaudeville doing "chalk talks" for the customers.
Breaks Into Films
Carlson was 17 when the Inter-Ocean was sold. He bounced briefly over to the old Chicago Herald, then decided that the animated cartoons of the movies were a good field. He was a pioneer at this type of drawing and did the writing for them as well. He was only 19 when he became the star animator at the famous old Essanay in Chicago.
The studios then had such folks as Lewis Stone, Francis X. Bushman, Charlie Chaplin, Ben Turpin, Gloria Swanson, and Wallace Beery on the payroll—names all well known to an older generation of moviegoers. They inspired Carlson to do a "bit" role in a movie.
The young man swore off after seeing himself, altho he still is a good looking gent with wavy hair. He went back to the animated cartoons. He explains that he got the idea for the animation when he was in school. It seems that he drew small skeletons on the corners of the pages in his books. When he flipped the pages, the figures "moved."
Starts Studio In Chicago
At 21 Carlson was in New York City with his animated cartoons—full length features which captivated audiences. By 1929—when he was 33—he had formed his own studios in Chicago.
Carlson's brother, Carl, was a partner in the firm, and it employed some pretty famous personnel. Included were George Clark, Bill Holman, Harold Gray, and some others who still work at the trade in Hollywood. Clark now draws The Neighbors; Holman draws Smokey Stover and Nuts and Jolts, and Gray draws Orphan Annie. All are in The Tribune.
Carlson followed his employes into the fold of The Chicago Tribune-New York News syndicate and his Malarky is read wherever newspapers are published thruout the nation.
Malarky Has Companions
The cartoonist uses many other characters besides Malarky in his work. Sometimes he uses a strip of several drawings and at other times a single panel. All are peopled by such delightful folk as Mazie and Daisy, Weatherby, and the Malarky wife and son.
The creator of Malarky does his work in a small studio in a Michigan av. office building. His studio windows overlook Lake Michigan, and the long, long view helps rest his eyes after long hours at the drawing board.
Carlson loves to fish and hunt. He is in much demand at public functions as an amateur magician and story teller, and his dialects are versatile and funny. He lives in Chicago and is happily married to a southern girl, the former Patricia Edenton. He has a son, Richard, 25, by a previous marriage.
Would Carlson advise aspiring young cartoonists to take art or drawing lessons?
Well, he points out wryly, he sever had a lesson in his life; but he'd be glad to take one right now—if he had time!
Note: Carlson absolutely refuses to tell which of the two cleaning women is Mazie. The other, he points out, is Daisy.

If you want to know a bit more about Carlson’s animation career, Donald Crafton’s Before Mickey is always a good reference book. And you can drop by Tom Stathes’ site “The Bray Animation Project” and read some more here.

1 comment:

  1. I notice the article doesn't mention "The Nebbs," which Carlson drew from scripts by Sol Hess. Perhaps because it wasn't a Trib strip. (There was a short-lived Nebbs radio series, with Gene and Kathleen Lockhart, June's parents.) "The Nebbs" would later be merged into "The Toodle Family," a strip written by Hess' daughter and son-in-law, and drawn by Rod Ruth, so Carlson no longer had that on his workload.