Pittsburgh, Pa.—In his entire life Cartoonist Cy Hungerford has never had to work regular hours. No one in his 40 or so years of graphically satirizing the news has ever asked Cy to come in at a certain time of the day or stay until a certain time. He’s been pretty much on his own. Yet, the biggest ogre in his easy-going life is the clock. The art deadline at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where Cy has been a veritable institution for more than 20 years, is 4 p.m.
Does Cy come ripping in at 8 a.m. and roll up his sleeves and whip out a cartoon? Far from it. Cy ambles in with bear-like gait around noon, carefully takes off his coat—never his hat—sits down and squares off for his daily race with the clock. It ends in a dead heat every day.
“This job would be a cinch if the ideas came easily,” he says gloomily, for he’s lightning fast with the brush and pen.
The truth of the matter is that Cy is one of those peculiar people who work best under pressure. That late afternoon in 1945 when the death of President Roosevelt was announced, Cy was moving into his new home. He carefully put down a Dresden China figure to answer a call from the office. In 45 minutes from the time Cy received the call in his home, the Roosevelt death cartoon, reprinted throughout the nation, was in the hands of the engraver.
Without ever attending an editorial conference, Cy turns out cartoons consistent with the policy of the Post-Gazette. The only person who looks at Cy’s daily contribution before it goes to the engraver, is the copy boy who dashes up the steps to the third-floor with it. The independence which has marked his life, also carries over to his working habits and he admits that he has used only about a dozen suggestions in the approximately 20,000 cartoons he has turned out. “I don’t say that it isn’t good to use suggestions. though,” he adds. One of his closest friends was the late and talented Sports Editor Havey Boyle who every week or so would come to Cy with a sheet of paper upon which was drawn a rough sketch. “Say, here’s a good idea for a cartoon,” Havey would say with sober mien. Havey’s sketch was always the same one—it showed two hands grasped across the ocean. With equal solemnity, Cy would receive it and swear acknowledgement that it was the best idea he’d ever seen.
Success and recognition have had little or no effect on Cy. He’s still “in” to everyone. As a result he takes a pretty steady ear-beating from the crackpots who wander in.
He has kept no records of the honors he received, although the Post-Gazette files show he won the National Headliner Award in 1946 for “consistently outstanding editorial cartoons.” Washington & Jefferson College awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Arts. The Chamber of Commerce cited him for “distinguished service.” Accolades are all right, Cy admits, but his greatest concern is turning out a daily cartoon. A recent survey showed that 81% of the readers of the Post-Gazette scrutinized his work daily.
Cyrus Cotton Hungerford was born on a small farm in Manilla, Ind., the only child of Florence J. Gotten and Addison J. Hungerford. Shortly after Cy’s birth, the senior Hungerford became a salesman of farming equipment and moved his family to Parkersburg, W. Va. For some unknown reason, Cy began copying cartoons from the New York papers and was encouraged by his family and friends. Before he was 12 Cy was delivering newspapers and haunting the office of the Parkersburg Sentinel for a chance to do cartooning. His first published cartoon was inspired by a typhus epidemic, pictured Death floating down the river.
“Original, that,” Cy says with a chuckle. He received a dollar for that job and soon was publishing two or three cartoons a week.
He drew directly on chalk-coated steel plates from which he cast his own lead plate. It was through using that old medium that Cy developed his un-embellished, strong-line style which has become his trademark.
When he was offered $4 a picture, Cy swung over to a news sheet which called itself, appropriately enough, the Social Rebel. Only 13 years old, Cy was portraying corruption in the penitentiary and other such subjects. One cartoon clearly libeled a prominent banker and Cy was excused from school one day to appear before a grand jury session. Taking into consideration his years, the judge let Cy off with a lecture on libel and the responsibilities of genius.
Later, he worked on the Wheeling (W. Va.) Register and then came to the old Pittsburgh Sun. The very first cartoon he drew for the Sun was reprinted in the New York Times.
He was a busy man in those days. In addition to his daily political cartoon, he turned out a syndicated strip “Snoodles” for about five years during the twenties. [actually he started it in 1913 — Allan]
Cy is so amiable and easy-going that he immediately disarms people, a fact that has resulted in some amazing experiences in his three trips abroad. In 1937, Cy, with Paul Block, Jr., went to England then in a fizz over the king’s coronation. While thousands of Americans were running around London looking desperately for some way to get in on the activities, Cy inadvertently found the situation as easy as walking through Central Park.
“Someone told me that outsiders could see the horses in the Royal stables at Buckingham Palace on certain days, so I went around to see them,” Cy recalled. There he happened to become a chum of John Pugh, the Royals Coachman. Out of a clear blue sky, Pugh gave Cy two servant tickets to the Coronation Court.
Cy’s bald head is never uncovered. He began wearing his hat in the city room after he fell asleep one night and a prankster painted a smiling face on his hairless head. Cy was the only one who couldn’t see the point.