Sunday, September 5, 2010

Frank Crowninshield, One-Liner Wit

Frank Crowninshield.

For those in the know, this name -- or the nickname "Crownie" brings up one thing and one thing only: Vanity Fair magazine. Crowninshield led the mag from its origins as a fashion magazine to one of razzle-dazzle literary stardom, bringing in authors such as Dorothy Parker, Aldous Huxley, Gertrude Stein, and others.

For Louis Untermeyer, Crowninshield means his short work "A Wit With a Whim of Iron."

He got out some pretty good zingers:

Two anecdotes concerned Edward Simmons, the painter, who had long fatigued his fellow members [of The Players Club] by prolix and, often, pointless monologues. Finally, Herford, believing that the time for action had arrived, hand-lettered a sign, which he fastened over the door of the sitting-room. The sign read, laconically: "EXIT, IN CASE OF SIMMONS."

On another occasion, the same unfortunate Simmons had been insulted by a tipsy fellow member who had offered him fifty dollars if he would resign from the Club. Simmons immmediately imparted his grievance to Herford and repeated the insult, con brio. "Don't take it," said Oliver, "you're bound to get better offers."

My goal, folks -- hear it here and now -- is one day to have a sign like that put up in my honor.

It's likely this Herford would have something similar to this to say about some of the shmaltzy art produced today:

Maxfield Parrish had created a poster for St. Nicholas, in which a plump boy was blowing soap-bubbled, in a magical garden -- against an azure sky. Oliver, as he was gazing and the slightly epicene figure, remarked, with feeling, "How beautiful! A youth blossoming into womanhood!"

Lest you think Herford denigrated the venerable St. Nicholas magazine, he, too, submitted a drawing. With this result:

As a young illustrator, he once sold a picture of a two-horned rhinoceros (with an appropriate verse) to Wiliam F. Clarke, the editor of St. Nicholas. Herford had asked $35 for his double feature. When a check arrived for only $25, he borrowed the drawing from a clerk at the magazine and removed one of the horns from the rhinoceros. "I could not," he said, "in justice to an animal doubly favored by God, permit him to be thus humiliated."

I'm curious, now to read more of Crowninshield's stuff. But as my policy is to read only the books I can find at thrift stores, library sales and on the side of the road, I don't know how successful I'll be. Time will tell.

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