John Russell Cross was born in Clarksville, Tennessee in 1901. His birth year was found at the World War II Army Enlistment Records at Ancestry.com. His birthplace is based on the residence of his parents, John and Adele, in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census.
In the 1910 census, he was the first of three children. Around 1909 his mother remarried to Dr. Roland Macon; the family resided in Clarksville at 610 College Street. The fate of Cross’s father is not known.
In 1920, the family remained in Clarksville at 314 North Second Street. Curiously, there was a “John Cross” in Clarksville, who resided at 320 Main Street, about three blocks away. “John Cross” was boarding with Dr. John and Augustine Sladyen, who were the parents of John Russell Cross’s mother. Apparently, he was counted twice in the census. He enrolled at the Chicago Art Institute in the fall of 1921. Artist Everett Gee Jackson wrote about his encounter with Cross in the book, Goat Tails and Doodlebugs: A Journey Toward Art.
from pages 170 and 171
In the registrar’s office of the Art Institute of Chicago, I found many art students not only paying their fees but also being assigned to rooms in nearby locations in the city. One young man in the line introduced himself to me.
“I am John Cross,” he said, “I am from Clarksville, Tennessee, and I am here to learn to be a newspaper cartoonist.”
I told him my name and that I was from Texas A&M. I said that I was hoping to learn how to draw and paint.
“You had better go into cartooning,” he advised me. “If you become a painter, you will starve to death.”
Right then we decided to room together. The room assigned to us was on North State Street in an apartment owned by a little black-eyed Irish lady. When she showed us our room, we found that it was on the second floor of a building, right up above the street and above the streetcar track. Every few minutes a streetcar would come grinding by, making so much noise I felt sure we would never be able to go to sleep in that room. But we had already paid a month’s rent in advance, so we decided to try to stay there at least one month.
That first night the noise was unbearable, but to our surprise, we did not hear any noise the second night, nor thereafter. Apparently one can get accustomed to noise and not notice it at all. However, we did observe later that whenever a friend dropped by to see us, he would invariably say, “How can you stand to live in this noisy place?”
Johnny Cross and I were in several of the same classes at school, one of which was life drawing….
from page 175
Johnny was wondering what I had in the box. When I opened it, out came the lively monkey. The first thing he did was scamper up to the ceiling of our room, going up the white curtain that hung on each side of our window. I had not even noticed those curtains before. The monkey must have been frightened, for he stayed up there, looking down at us and chattering a long time. I started calling him “Coco,” and I kept begging him to come down. Finally he must have responded to the kindness in my voice, for he descended and jumped upon my shoulder. We became friends. He also became friendly with Johnny, who was as delighted with our new roommate as I was.
from page 187
One night we went to a party in Evanston at the home of a girl named Pauline Graf. That night, everyone got so interested in a game we were playing that the party did not break up until quite late. Since Johnny and I were now living on the south side of Chicago, we would have a long trip home. The main reason we had moved to the south side from our State Street address was that Pauline’s father had insisted upon it. He had told us we were in great danger where we were living. He had said that we were surrounded by members of the Mafia whose boss was a notorious individual by the name of Al Capone. Partly because of this information Johnny and I had moved…
Cross married in 1926; his wife’s name was Helen. The 1930 Census recorded his occupation as cartoonist at the Tennessean. The couple lived with an aunt, Jennie Lee Waldkirch, and two roomers in Nashville at 2814 Belmont Boulevard. Cartoonists were highlighted in the 1939 book, Tennessee: A Guide to the State, which was produced by Federal Writers’ Project of the Work Projects Administration.
Outstanding among Tennessee cartoonists are Carey Orr and Joe Parrish, now of the Chicago Tribune, Tom Little and John Cross, of the Nashville Tennessean, and Jack Knox, of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal.
The 1940 census recorded the couple in Linton, Tennessee on Fernvale Road. He was a cartoonist for magazines and newspapers. The 1941 and 1942 editions of Polk’s Nashville City Directory listed “Cross John R 613 1/2 Church R417” under the Advertising Agencies heading. He enlisted in the army on June 20, 1942 at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. His marital status was “separated, without dependents.” He stood five feet, ten inches and weighed 188 pounds. He produced the daily panel Dippy in October 1947.
Two other Cross efforts were Lulu and Cross Sections.
A 1964 issue of The Record by the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity said: “Tennessee Zeta (Southwestern) — John Russell Cross, ’20, at Clarksville, Tenn., May 3, 1964. He was a retired editorial cartoonist. He was found dead in his room at the Hotel Montgomery.”