Robert Jerome Dean was born on August 28, 1875; his full name and birth date were recorded on his World War I draft card. Two family trees at Ancestry.com place his birth at Buffalo, New York. The New York Times obituary said he was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
|Ad from Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 10/16/1908|
In the 1880 U.S. Federal Census, Dean was the oldest of three sons born to Charles and Martha. They lived in Titusville, Pennsylvania at 199 Walnut. Nothing is known of how he became an artist and writer. A curious bit of information appeared in the Trenton Evening Times, on July 19, 1932; O.O. McIntyre wrote in his column, New York, Day by Day, “Thingumbobs:…Bob Dean, magazine illustrator, was once a circus contortionist.”
In the 1900 census Dean was married to Laura, who was five years his senior, and they lived with her mother, Anna Cook, the head of the household. The trio resided in Blasdell, New York, which was near Buffalo. Dean’s occupation was insurance agent; his parents and siblings were in the same town. According to the New York Times obituary, Dean was a cartoonist for the Buffalo Times and the Atlanta News. In 1908 he joined Uncle Remus’s—The Home Magazine.
The move to Atlanta did not suit his wife. The New York Sun published the following article on August 4, 1909:
She Won’t Live in AtlantaArtist Dean Asks Divorce Because Wife Harks Back to New York.Atlanta, Aug. 3—Charging that his wife scorns Atlanta and Atlanta people and for that reason refuses to live with him here, Robert Jerome Dean, the artist of Uncle Remus Magazine, has filed suit for divorce on the ground of desertion.Dean came to Atlanta from New York in 1905 and his wife followed in a few months. Dean alleges that from the first Mrs. Dean disliked Atlanta, and said she could not live here. Mrs. Dean soon returned to the home of her parents at Blaisdell [sic], N.Y.She came to Atlanta, however, a second time, but finally declared life was impossible with Atlanta people and then returned to Blaisdell for good. Dean says the only provocation for Mrs. Dean leaving him was that she could not endure the Atlanta spirit.
|Detail from ad in Atlanta Constitution, 11/1/1908|
The first appearance of Dean’s Zotwots may have been in the October 1908 issue of Uncle Remus’s—The Home Magazine, which advertised the new feature in newspapers; the ad included some of Dean’s verse and an illustration. The magazine, which was based in Atlanta, ran one-third page ads in the Atlanta Constitution newspaper; the ad detailed the contents of the current issue.
In the 1910 census Dean was single; he was one of seven lodgers at 50 Cone Street in Atlanta. His occupation was writer and illustrator at a newspaper. Only this census recorded his and his parents’ birthplace as Tennessee.
His second wife, Sallie Conwell, was born, raised and educated in Georgia according to the Elberton Star obituary published in November 1969. She went into newspaper work, met Dean and married him.
The February 1913 issue of Uncle Remus’s—The Home Magazine was its last. With the loss of a steady income, Dean looked north and found a new home for the Zotwots. On April 12, 1914 the New York Herald published Zotwots in its Sunday comics section. Zotwots final appearance was on November 1, 1914. Presumably the Deans had moved to New York that year or earlier. By the time Dean registered for the draft, he had been working as an illustrator at the Morning Telegraph newspaper.
|Zotwots New York Herald page, 10/11/1914|
In the 1920 census the couple lived at 352 West 46th Street in Manhattan. Dean gave his occupation as writer for magazines; artist had been included but crossed out. The Elberton Star obituary reported that, “In 1926 she and Mr. Dean retired to a farm in southern Dutchess [County, New York] where they lived until 1946 when they moved to Hughsonville [New York].”
In the 1930 census, the Deans lived in Wappinger, New York on Hopewell Junction Road. His occupation was artist. The New York Times reported his passing on January 28, 1949:
Robert Dean, 72, Once CartoonistFormer Artist Here for Herald and Journal Is Dead—Also Worked for MagazinesPoughkeepsie, N.Y., Jan. 27—Robert J. Dean, retired newspaper cartoonist, died yesterday of a heart attack at his home in Wappinger Falls. He was 72 [sic] years old.Born in Chattanooga, Tenn., Mr. Dean was a cartoonist for The Buffalo Times and later for The Atlanta News. He joined the Uncle Remus Magazine when Joel Chandler Harris was its editor. Later, in New York he was employed by Collier’s Magazine, The New York Journal and The Sunday Herald.On The Herald he had a weekly page featuring “Zotmot” [sic] Elves, with drawings and verse for children. Later he became associated with the New York Telegraph, eventually becoming its assistant publisher. He left The Post in 1926 to make his home in Dutchess County.Surviving are his widow, the former Sally [sic] Conwell; a sister, Mrs. Norman Blackwell of Torrence, Calif., and a brother, Jesse H. Dean of Torrence.
According to the Elberton Star, Sallie passed away on November 4, 1969 in a Princeton, New Jersey hospital.
[Alex Jay gathered this biographical material for the upcoming book Forgotten Fantasy: Sunday Comics 1900-1915 to be published by Sunday Press Books. As with all their books, I can confidently place it in the Highly Recommended list before even seeing it. Thanks to editor Peter Maresca for the Zotwots newspaper page image reproduced above.]