As you know, I have been pouring over a pile of New Yorkers from the 1940s. The cartoons by Helen Hokinson really stand out to me–probably because I relate to the women in them. Never say that I cannot laugh at myself.
I have an old book of Hokinson cartoons so she has been on my radar for some time.
Her ladies remind me of Josephine Hull as Veta Louise in Harvey (1950) which I just watched recently. Her portrayal has Hokinson written all over it.
“Oh, Myrtle Mae, don’t be didactic. It’s not becoming in a young girl. Besides, men loathe it.”
Anyway, Helen E. Hokinson (June 29, 1893 – November 1, 1949) was an American cartoonist and a staff cartoonist for The New Yorker. Over a 20-year span, she contributed 68 covers and more than 1,800 cartoons to The New Yorker.
Born in flyover country–Mendota, Illinois– she studied art in Chicago at the Academy of Fine Arts and began drawing fashion illustrations for department stores including Marshall Fields. From Chicago she went to New York where she continued her studies, worked as a fashion illustrator and tried cartooning with a comic strip which failed.
When The New Yorker was founded in 1925, Helen submitted one of her drawings to the editors. She was asked to continue sending drawings each week for possible publication. In 1931, she met James Reid Parker with whom she formed a business relationship. She created the drawings, he wrote the captions.
Her drawings for The New Yorker featured plump well-to-do club women who wore high heeled shoes and were conscious of hats, fashions, caring for pets, and gardens. Eventually she became worried that people were laughing at, rather than with, the buxom, strong-minded (but occasionally befuddled) women whom she had stamped as her own, and launched a crusade to defend and explain them. She was en route to one such public-appearance on November 1, 1949, when she died in the Eastern Airlines Flight 537 mid-air collision at Washington National Airport.
In the next issue of the magazine after her death, “The Editors” wrote:
“The news of Helen Elna Hokinson’s death in an airplane accident last week was as sad as any that has come to this office. Miss Hokinson’s first drawing appeared in The New Yorker on July 4, 1925. The magazine was less than five months old then, and it was singularly fortunate in finding, at its difficult beginning, an artist of such rare and gentle distinction. In the years since then, her pictures have appeared in these pages almost every week, and the ladies she drew have become perhaps the most widely known and certainly the most affectionately cherished of any characters we have introduced to our readers. If satire is defined as an exposure of anyone’s weakness, she was not a satirist at all, or even a humorist, if there is any implication of harshness in that. Her work was the product of loving observation and a boundless delight in all absurdity, none more than that she found in herself, and the pleasure she gave other people was really a reflection of her own. We can remember no unhappier duty than writing this final paragraph about an irreplaceable artist and a woman whom some of us have fondly admired half our lives.”
Well, what do you say we have a glass of wine and needlepoint?