Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Graphic Grandeur (Technology Edition)

Cartoonist Rube Goldberg was born on this day in 1883. During his long life, Goldberg drew comic strips, funny postcards, and political cartoons, but is best know these days, and in fact was best known in those days, for a series of cartoon inventions in which a simple end was accomplished through an unjustifiable means. Most of these fanciful machines appeared in a once-popular now-defunct general interest magazine called Collier's under the title The Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but Goldberg seems to have done similar-type strips (including some of the aforementioned political cartoons) both before and after that time frame, though minus the Butts name. Actually, it was the cartoonists own name that we now associate with such devices. I'm sure somewhere or other you've come across the term "Rube Goldberg machine", but perhaps didn't know what it meant. Well, here's some examples:

If you squint (sorry, but part of the cartoon is cut off if I try to make it any larger) you might see the names Marcantonio and Faye Emerson, two people well-known in their day but largely forgotten about now. Vito Marcantonio was a liberal Republican (you read that right) congressman back in the 1930s. His New York City district was the same district that propelled Fiorello La Guardia, another liberal Republican, into the mayoral office. Marcantonio seems to have been to the left of La Guardia as he quit the Republican Party and joined  the socialist-leaning American Labor Party as the '30s gave way to the '40s. His constituents didn't seem to mind this walk on the radical side, as he served in Congress another ten years. Goldberg, a Republican but not a liberal, did seem to mind, as I can't can't think of any other reason the cartoonist would have placed him behind the Japanese emperor. As to why the latter is in a baseball uniform, it probably has something to do with the his country being under U.S. occupation, and thus undergoing a process of "Americanization". Faye Emerson was a movie and early TV actress who got as much attention for her personal life as for any film or series that she starred in. Emerson's second husband was Elliot Roosevelt, son of  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Her inclusion in this cartoon, however, may not have been a political jab as she had divorced the New Dealer's son by the time this appeared. She was one of TV's first sex symbols and known for wearing low-cut gowns, most likely the object of the photographers attention. 

Skitch Henderson was an up-and-coming TV band leader when he married Miss Emerson.  He later on conducted the Tonight Show Orchestra for Steve Allen, Jack Parr, and, until he was replaced by Doc Severnson, Johnny Carson.

Gorgeous George was an early TV wrestling star known for his humorously flamboyant preening. Like a lot of ex-presidents, Hoover spent his retirement (which lasted some 35 years) making speeches.

Born on the Fourth of July, Goldberg was an American original who got one of the highest accolades that can be bestowed on an American original: his own postage stamp in 1995. Of course, you have to be deceased to get that particular accolade. Fortunately, there were a few others that came Goldberg's way while he was still around to bask in the glory.

The above won Goldberg the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning 

Goldberg was the first president on the National Cartoonist Society, and in 1954, the award given out by the society--sort of like an Oscar or Emmy--was renamed the Reuben (what "Rube" is short for.) That's Goldberg on the left  handing the Rueben to Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz in 1955. Goldberg himself won the award in 1967, but I can't find any photos of that, so you'll just have to settle for this one of him and Sparky.

Rube Goldberg died in 1970. He spent his childhood in the horse-and-buggy era and lived long enough to see a man walk on the moon. No wonder he was so obsessed by technology.


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  2. Fixed the typo. Goldberg won the namesake award in 1967, not '87

  3. The elephant cartoon was my fav

  4. I think Goldberg may have prefigured the Flintstones, John.