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Lost & Never-Seen Thurber Cartoon: An Emdashes Discovery

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Emily Gordon writes:

We invite you to click on the Thurber cartoon above to see it enlarged. By doing so, you will have been the first people in more than fifty years to ever see this cartoon, which has been lost in time. Until now.

It so happens to be April Fool's Day, when your co-workers lace your latte with laxatives and French schoolchildren attach paper fish to one another's backs--when companies from Google to BBC Radio 4 run elaborate hoaxes on their sites and servers.

But this is not a tradition at Emdashes, which, as much as its staff enjoys a good joke now and again (and some of us not at all), is a serious site with serious New Yorker-centric goals. We don't mess around with certain things.

So ignore for a second that it is the first of April, and focus your attention on this! Emdashes has the distinct honor of coming into possession of a heretofore unpublished drawing by New Yorker cartoonist and writer James Thurber. As you know, I am an ardent fan of another classic New Yorker artist, Rea Irvin, and have conducted various investigations concerning the life and work of the magazine's first art director.

As sometimes happens during the course of research at the New York Public Library, I stumbled across gems that I did not expect to find. One of them was a rare first edition of S. J. Perelman's Pillowbiters or Not--and the other was an original Thurber drawing that I had never seen in any published anthology or collection, online or otherwise.

The drawing, yellowed with age, is vintage Thurber, both in style and substance. It dates perhaps to the early 1940s. No caption was attached, but a caption is unnecessary. The cartoons that Dorothy Parker famously referred to as having the "semblance of unbaked cookies" are works of art, instant collectors' items, and like, well, a plate of freshly baked cookies to the millions of Thurberphiles around the globe.

The New York Public Library will forgive me for what I did next: I smuggled the newly discovered Thurber "unbaked cookie" in a manila folder marked "non-smuggled items" and went straight to my apartment to devise a cunning plan.

To wit, in exactly two weeks, on April 15, 2009, we will be holding an Emdashes Thurber Festival at the Wollman Rink in New York's Central Park. We will be making high-quality, limited edition facsimiles of this untitled Thurber drawing available for sale for the incredibly (under the circumstances) low price of $15 and will also be offering, in honor of Thurber's origins, authentic Ohioan cuisine: Cincinnati Crumblers, Toledo Butterscotch Flan, and Cleveland Cork 'n' Beans. Please join us in this celebration of an invaluable find!

Update, April 3: There is, of course, no S. J. Perelman book called Pillowbiters or Not. There are (perhaps regrettably) no such Ohioan specialties as Cincinnati Crumblers, Toledo Butterscotch Flan, or Cleveland Cork 'n' Beans. We have no plans for an Emdashes Thurber Festival, since Columbus's own Thurber House and Museum has all such celebratory events well and humorously in hand. There are, alas, no uncatalogued Thurber drawings that I know of, but if there were, you can bet everyone at Emdashes H.Q. would run to buy the freshly printed collection. (At least The 13 Clocks was recently reprinted by New York Review Books, a windfall applauded by our friends at the New Haven Review).

Most obviously, I would never take anything from the New York Public Library but a renewed resolution that I should really get back to Tristram Shandy. The drawing above is a fond Thurber homage by our own Pollux, resident cartoonist; the post above, also a close but detectable facsimile, is by Pollux as well. And that's it for another April Fool's Day! Three cheers for James Thurber, who is a continual inspiration and one of the world's unmatchable greats.

And for a nearly Thurber-era New Yorker wavy-ruled infographic about April Fool's--as the abstract describes it, "A list of recent quaint practical jokes and their outcome, as chronicled in the daily press"--get thee to 1929 and the Digital Reader. Enjoy! —E.G.


It looks like the same woman used in his “house as wife” cartoon. She’s obviously worked on stiff horse legs before. Good find. I’ll have to attend the Festival virtually - please post some pics.

Joe LinkerApril 02, 2009

Wow, that’s a great find!

Does this mean the festival is cancelled?

Joe LinkerApril 03, 2009

Yes, I’m afraid so!

So? I still want a poster of this cartoon. What is its (real) provenance?

Pollux (a.k.a. our own Paul Morris) drew it on his lunch hour! He’d be glad to provide you with a print—with his signature, of course, not Thurber’s!

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