Right after posting yesterday’s Tad cartoon, what should pop out of my slush pile of material but his obituary, written by none other than the great columnist Westbrook Pegler. Unfortunately I’m missing the last few paragraphs of the obit, but we can all guess what happened at the end, know what I mean? Here ’tis:
TAD IS DONE, SERIOUSLY (Washington Post, 5/3/29)
By WESTBROOK PEGLER
NEW YORK. May 2.-Tad Dorgan, the great American phrase-maker, gave up and died today. He was the sports page cartoonist of the Hearst Service who originated or popularized more slang expressions than any other man of his time, not excepting the late Theodore Roosevelt. Ever since the time of the Dempsey-Carpentier fight, eight years ago, he had lived a hushed existence in the suburbs on Long Island, broken only by rare, cautious trips into New York because he was in momentary danger or dying from heart failure. There was some definite mechanical weakness in his heart and in order that he might realize just how careful he must be it was necessary for him to know just how serious the trouble was. He had to be made to understand that the slightest excitement or overexertion might strain his weakened valve in his heart and kill him.
The Bum Ticker, He Called It, Quits After 52 Years
Realizing this thoroughly he resigned from the crowds at the prize fights and ball games and the places around town and immured himself in his home, but, instead of becoming a pensioner, he continued to draw his pictures for the sports page. His humor was never brighter in his gallivantin’ days and, all in all, without any idea that he was being heroic, Tad carried on more gamely for those last eight years than any of the brute-game prize fighters that he eulogized now and again in his reminiscent pictures.
Tad had bronchial pneumonia a few days ago and seemed to have recovered, but today he lay down to rest and just didn’t get up. The bum ticker, as he called it, quit going at last, after 52 years.
Tad fought so gamely against misfortune early and late and self-pity was so foreign to his nature that it makes a man ill at ease to use fine language on him or go into heroics over him now that he is gone. It seems like taking advantage of him to say things about him now that he is dead which he would have turned off with some humiliating twist of a word if he were here.
Met Tad at 1912 Convention Sketching Elihu Root.
Anyway, no flights of language could eulogize him better than a plain recountal of what he did and the disasters he had to overcome. I met him at the steam roller convention of the Republican party in the Coliseum in Chicago in 1912. I was defiling good white bristol board with some of the most grevious smears ever committed to paper in a fantastic hope of becoming a comic artist like Tad, but my job at the convention was to run Arthur Brisbane’s profound reflections on the farce back to tho telegraph room under the platform.
There was a tall, gawky fellow with a conspicuous nose hanging around the Hearst section of the press section and every now and again he would up with a little pad of paper palmed in his right hand and scribble something on it with his left. I thought he was merely taking notes, but presently I glimpsed the pad and saw that he was drawing a picture of old Elihu Root, with the unmistakable bartender’s bangs down over the forehead, the motheaten moustache and the collar-button wart on the nose without which no caricature of Mr. Root was legal in those days. At the bottom of the sketch was the name, Tad.
Tad Was Left Hander Because Fingers Were Off Right
So this was Tad and he was a left-hander and not only that but he was a left-hander because the first two fingers and half of the palm of his right hand were missing. I established relations with Mr. Dorgan at once and before the convention was over I contrived to show him some of the sketches I had drawn.
“Are these any good?” I asked feeling pretty sure that they were and desiring mere confirmation of my own generous estimate.
“What else can you do?” Mr. Dorgan was not exactly carried away it seemed.
“Well,” I said, “I am pretty good at writing.”
“You had better talk to this dude here then,” Tad said.
‘This Is Richard Harding Davis. Show him some of your writing, because you are a lousy artist.” He had no tact.
Put “No Bananas,” “Bunk” and “Apple Sauce” in Dictionary
Tad learned to draw twice. First he learned with his right hand, and when he lost most of it in a saw, he learned all over again with his left. Artistically his drawing was not exactly ideal, but it was his analysis, done in the gruff humor of a fellow who dealt strictly in candor, that made him great. And the kid cartoonist who lost his hand in the buzz saw went on to write the pat retorts of the American mob for more than twenty years, including eight years when he knew that the present moment might be his last.
It was Tad who put “skiddo” on the American tongue and “Yes, we have no bananas” and “What? No spinach?” and “bunk” and “applesauce” and “bone-head.” In fact, Tad’s language became so familiar through usage that there must be many of his pet words and turns of expression, originally slang, which now are part of American speech and eligible for dictionary rating.
Shunned the Heavy Editorial Stuff For Human Character Hypocrisy
Now and again Arthur Brisbane tried to make him draw sermon pictures for the heavy editorial in the Sunday supplement, showing a young man struggling up a rock-strewn pathway toward a mountain peak with a sunburst spelling “success” glowing behind the height. Tad did them occasionally, but, I think, reluctantly, because that was not to his taste, and he got better results by drawing recognizable, human characters in hypocrisies that were familiar to all and left the reader with a personal sense of shame.
When the doctors told Tad he couldn’t cover the Dempsey-Carpentier fight, couldn’t go around to Jack’s cafe at night, could never again sit in the press box at the Polo Grounds to conjure new predicaments for bonehead Barry, the bush league bear, he might have brooded over his doom if he hadn’t been Tad. But instead he retired to Great Neck to get his fights by radio and his gossip of the old familiar but gradually dwindling night-side mob by phone, and suddenly in the lower left-hand corners of his drawings there began to appear such legends as “Tad, Shanghai” or “Tad, Paris” or “Tad, Moscow.”
Eased Down Town Twice a Year To Listen In At “Dago Joint”
His world was bounded by his suburban patch and that was his way of laughing it off. Once or twice a year Tad’s wife and his brother Ike the prize fighter’s press agent would ease him into an automobile and drive him cautiously into town.