Edmund Duffy's pointed cartoons earned him prizes and invective

WAY BACK WHEN

January 30, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

As a copy boy at the Sun in the late 1940s, S. L. Harrison was able to observe celebrated Sun editorial cartoonist Edmund Duffy up close. His daily routine included carrying Duffy's finished cartoon to the paper's engraving room.

Now an associate professor at the University of Miami (Fla.) School of Communication, the former copy boy has pursued a lifelong study of newspaper cartoonists and written widely on the subject. His most recent book is "The Editorial Art of Edmund Duffy."

The 310-page book reproduces more than 250 of Duffy's most memorable and dramatic drawings. In assembling this work, Harrison has revived the memory and work of a man who was one of the most celebrated cartoonists of his time yet has been overlooked and largely forgotten since.

While Duffy left no book of his cartoons behind, a collection of them is part of the permanent collection of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library of the Johns Hopkins University. However, a large number of Duffy's estimated 6,500 cartoons remain unaccounted for.

Duffy, who joined The Sun in 1924 after working on several New York newspapers, went on to earn Pulitzer Prizes for his work in 1931, 1934 and 1940. He would remain the newspaper's cartoonist for a quarter-century.

At first, he used crayon and chalk for his drawings, but at the suggestion of his colleague H. L. Mencken, switched to brush and pen and used a lithographic crayon for background and shading.

It was said that Duffy spent no more than three hours a day in his office off the city room. After getting approval for his finished sketch, he would stand by the water cooler chatting with colleagues for 10 minutes before returning to his drawing board. He worked with amazing speed and precision and often finished a final cartoon in 30 minutes.

His first Pulitzer was for "An Old Struggle Still Going On," which depicted a Russian tearing down a cross from the dome of a church. "California Points With Pride," which earned him his second Pulitzer, showed a double lynching that had been condoned by that state.

"The Outstretched Hand," which showed Hitler with blood dripping from his hand and a torn treaty, earned him his final Pulitzer.

Duffy's 1931 cartoon "Maryland, My Maryland," depicting the brutal lynching of a black who had confessed to the murder of a white businessman on the Eastern Shore, was so powerful that demonstrations broke out there.

Provoked by Mencken's invective in such articles as "The Eastern Shore Kultur," which noted the Eastern Shoreman's propensity for keeping a lynching rope next to his Bible, and by Duffy's cartoon, angry Shoremen boycotted the paper and attacked Sun delivery trucks and drivers.

Reknowned journalist Gerald Johnson observed that Duffy "contained an immense capacity for hatred, but his hatred does not rise to incandescence except when it is turned on injustice."

Considered liberal for his time, Duffy took on the Ku Klux Klan and became an advocate for civil rights years before there was an organized civil rights movement. He was an early environmentalist who often used conservation themes as the subject for his work. He took on Prohibition, Teapot Dome, Republican scandals and the infamous Scopes-Monkey Trial of 1925.

"Duffy's view on the national scene was equally prescient. He sounded early warnings about the rise of Hitler and the Nazi menace; his art mourned the delivering of Germany into the hands of military madmen," writes Harrison.

Harrison explains that for many readers, "the cartoonist was the newspaper. Newspaper cartoonists had a clear advantage: Their message required little or no reading, their art was concise and straightforward, conveying meaning that was graphic, powerful and easily understood.

"Edmund Duffy possessed all these characteristics as well as a keen and perceptive mind that could skewer the foibles of people and political events."

"Around Baltimore," Johnson observed, "he was regarded with the uneasy delight that a zoo-keeper has in a particularly fine Bengal tiger, a municipal asset, unquestionably, but everybody shuddered to think what would happen if he ever went on a rampage."

Born and reared in Jersey City, N.J., the son of an Irish policeman, Duffy, who began drawing as a child, attended school through the eighth grade. At the age of 13, he enrolled in the Art Students' League in New York City.

There he studied with artists John Sloan, George Bridgeman and Boardman Robinson, a noted Brooklyn Eagle cartoonist, who exerted a profound influence on his development.

Duffy was as highly regarded as many of his famous contemporaries, which included Rollin Kirby, Daniel Fitzpatrick, Nelson Harding and Charles Macauley.

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