Harry Samuel Palmer was born in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, on December 26, 1882, according to a family tree at Ancestry.com. Other records recorded his birth year as 1879 and 1881. The 1880 U.S. Federal Census recorded his parents, Don and Ida, and brother, Homer, in Mt. Vernon. His father was a “grocers clerk”. In 1895, Palmer was in the seventh grade.
In the 1900 census, Palmer’s mother was a widow. Palmer, his mother and brother, Charles, resided in Mt. Vernon at 300 13th Street. Palmer was a student and his birth year was recorded as 1881.
The Miami Daily News (Florida), August 18, 1955, said Palmer “studied art in Chicago, New York, Munich, Germany and Paris”. He illustrated news dispatches of the Spanish-American War, and “during the Boxer Rebellion he went to China to sketch the action there.”
A 1903 Memphis, Tennessee city directory listed Palmer at 59 Madison Street and his occupation as artist at the Commercial Appeal newspaper. In 1904, Palmer was in Denver, Colorado at 133 Grant Avenue and a Denver Post artist.
The book, New Mexico Territorial Era Caricatures (2014), mentioned the Las Vegas Daily Optic newspaper which published Palmer’s work. The February 12, 1906 issue said: “Mr. H.S. Palmer, the celebrated cartoonist and newspaper illustrator, late of the New York Journal and Pittsburg Press.”
It’s not clear if Palmer resided in Rock Island, Illinois in 1906. He produced a number of drawings, for the front page of the Rock Island Argus, under the title “Pen Pictures of Prominent People”. They appeared from September 8 to November 17, 1906.
Portland, Oregon was Palmer’s home in 1907. He was a cartoonist with the Telegram and resided at 415 Yamhill. New Mexico Territorial Era Caricatures said Palmer was in Boise, Idaho, to cover the sensational murder trial of William Haywood, in May 1907.
The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) noted Palmer’s whereabouts on October 17, 1909: “Mr. and Mrs. Harry S. Palmer, of Seattle, who have been the guests of Mrs. Palmer’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. R.J. Campbell, left on Monday for New York, where they will reside.”
According to American Newspaper Comics (2012), Palmer’s first strip was He Just Couldn’t Help It, which ran twice in early November 1909. It was followed by Babbling Bess on November 11 and ended April 6, 1912. A third strip, Twas Ever Thus, ran from January 22, 1910 to April 8, 1911. All the strips appeared the New York World.
A follow-up article appeared in the April 24, 1910 Oregonian.
Mr. and Mrs. Harry S. Palmer have returned after a year in New York, and are with Mrs. Palmer’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. R.J. Campbell. When in the East, Mr. Palmer connected with the New York World, doing illustrations and cartoons. Best known, perhaps, are the Babbling Bess series.
In the 1910 census Palmer and Lillian lived with her parents in Portland at 390 Clay Street. His occupation was newspaper cartoonist. At some point, Palmer returned to New York. The 1915 New York State Census listed Palmer, his wife, son, James, and mother in Manhattan, New York City on West 107 Street.
The New York Dramatic Mirror, August 5, 1914, reported Palmer’s move into animation.
Humorist with Horsley
Harry Palmer, Newspaper Cartoonist, to Supply Material for One-Reel Comedies
Mr. Harry Palmer, author of “Babbling Bess,” the daily newspaper serial comics, has been placed under contract to David Horsley and commenced work for the Centaur Film Company this week. Mr. Palmer will make his headquarters at the Bayonne studio.
Arrangements have already been made through New York daily in which the drawings originally appeared to resume their publication in its columns and to have them appear simultaneously in fifty-one of the leading newspapers throughout the United States and Canada.
This is the first step in Mr. Horsley’s plan, recently announced, to produce seven one-reel comedies a week, and the only case on record of a prominent newspaper humorist conducting his entire campaign from a motion picture studio.
The film company had other plans for Palmer as reported in the New York Tribune, August 31, 1914:
War Artist for Films
American Sent to Europe to Sketch Siege of Liege.
To act as war artist for an American moving picture concern, Harry Palmer, cartoonist and war correspondent, is now in Europe. He left here some time ago for Liege, and his first work for the Centaur Film Company is to be called “The Siege of Liege.” He will make 16,000 separate pen and ink sketches for each picture.
As soon as this picture is completed Mr. Palmer’s contract calls for his appearance at whatever big engagement is then in progress. He represented a syndicate of American newspapers during the Boxer uprising, and in the Spanish-American War did work for a number of magazines, and made a reputation for “getting his stuff home.”
The New York Clipper, October 31, 1914, reported what happened to Palmer’s project.
War Negative Stolen.
David Horsley is very much exercised over the loss of the original drawings and working positive of “The Siege of Liege,” which were stolen from the Centaur studios on Tuesday night Mr. Horsley expected to cause a sensation in the trade with the release of this picture.
“The Siege of Liege” was in one reel, and is said to have been the only absolutely authentic picture of the European War thus far produced or received In America.
Mr. Horsley’s regret at the loss of this picture is heightened by the fact that Harry Palmer, the world famous cartoonist and war correspondent, who conceived and carried out the project, is now on his way back from Belgium, and is due to arrive in New York on Saturday.
Mr. Palmer made the original sketches—about twelve thousand of them—on and near the battle ground before Liege and Brussels—risking his life many times in the working out of his scenario. The sketches arrived at Bayonne early last week and were immediately photographed by a new process of Mr. Horsley’s invention, which was given its first practical application on this work.
Mr. Horsley was elated over the results and was counting heavily on the picture for one of his early releases. The negative, which was about 1,100 feet in length, and 1,000 feet of unassembled positive, the only print that had been made, had not been returned to the modern safety film vaults in the main building of the Centaur plant, where prints are customarily stored and guarded during the night, but bad been left in a new building which Mr. Horsley had built and equipped especially for the photographing of these pictures and similar ones to follow.
The Police Departments of Bayonne and Jersey City were notified of the robbery, and detectives were at once set to work in an endeavor to locate the missing film, while a liberal reward for its return, and no questions asked, has been offered by Mr. Horsley.
The Billboard, December 19, 1914, published the release date, December 31, for The Siege of Liege, and labeled it a comedy. The Internet Movie Database said the film premiered December 31, 1914. A review of the film has not been found.
The New York Dramatic Mirror, September 8, 1915, noted Palmer’s next project.
“Keeping Up With the Joneses,” a syndicated cartoon feature that is appearing in newspapers throughout the country, is to be animated and released by the Gaumont Company through the Mutual programme. “Pop” is the cartoonist responsible for the original series, while Harry Palmer, well known in both the screen and newspaper fields, will “animate” the characters.
Judge Thomas, in the United States District Court, last week permitted john Bray, the well-known screen cartoonist, to with draw his suit against Harry Palmer, claiming infringement of the former’s patents on the process of making animated cartoons. The defendant’s attorneys protested the action of withdrawing the suit, and have given notice that an appeal will be taken to the higher courts. Winsor McCay and J. Stuart Blackton were among the prominent witnesses Mr. Palmer was prepared to put on the stand in his behalf had the case gone to trial. The costs of the case were assessed against the plaintiff.
The Moving Picture World, March 11, 1916, reported what followed the Joneses series.
Returning to the cartoon idea which he was the first to present upon the screen, Harry Palmer will now devote the entire time of his Gaumont staff to the making of animated cartoons which are humorous reflections upon the news of the day. This will replace “Keepin’ Up with the Joneses” upon the split-reel with Gaumont’s “See America First” series, a Mutual Weekly release.
The first of the new series was released by Mutual February 27. The work upon them is progressing rapidly at the Gaumont studios. Flushing. An outline of the pictures for the first release will give an idea of the series in general. First on the screen will be that target of all cartoonists, Theodore Roosevelt. He is shown throwing his hat into the ring and laying about valiantly with his Big Stick. Then, of course, there must be reference to President Wilson’s habit of note writing, all in a spirit of lightness and not at all with political bias. William Jennings Bryan is not forgotten. The series closes with some cartoons upon preparedness.
The animated cartoon is an integral part of any motion picture program, whether the exhibitor places his main dependence upon a five-reel feature or upon pictures shorter in length. It is the exhibitor’s aim to provide variety. The cartoon is the farthest remove from the photoplay in method of depiction, and as such comes as a psychological shock to the spectator. His interest is not only arrested for the animated film, but it is also stimulated for what follows.
In the old days of melodrama the playwright would always put in an Irishman or a Chinaman who was known as “comic relief.” He has been denied comedy in writing features for the screen, and must now provide comedy as a separate entertainment. In pictures comedy now has three divisions, each important: there is polite comedy into which Miss Mabel Normand is being graduated, slap-stick comedy, such as is given in its best form by Charles Chaplin, and animated pictures.
The first and second forms of comedy may not both appeal in the same house. There are neighborhood theaters which prefer genteel comedy, and others which have the risibilities of its patrons aroused only by the slap-stick and the seltzer bottle. It is interesting to note that both classes of houses welcome the animated pictures. This is due to the fact that spectators more readily accept the animated picture convention, recognizing that they are not asked to give the cartoon the same credence they do the comedy. Their surrender to the “make-believe” is easier.
The best place on the program for an animated reel is right after the big feature. This may be a five-reel picture or a three-reel picture. Whichever it is, it is usually of a tense nature. Spectators wish to relax after it is over, and—as was explained in showing how the animated picture appeals to the greatest number of spectators—the greater relaxation for the greatest number is secured by showing an animated picture.
Events of national importance, the coming election, the Mexican situation, and general preparedness, afford such striking subjects for caricature that the cartoonist now makes his happiest hits depicting such events in a gently satirical vein. The ideas are grasped immediately by every one. For these reasons the animated cartoon should have a place on every program.
The Daily Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia), October 22, 1916, printed this factoid: “Harry Palmer, the famous cartoonist of Gaumont-Mutual studios, draws with his left hand.”
Eventually, Palmer went in to business for himself as the New York Dramatic Mirror reported June 16, 1917.
Harry Palmer, the well-known cartoonist, has left the Gaumont Company and the Mutual program, and will produce cartoons under the name of Harry Palmer. Incorporated, which will be released at the rate of one cartoon per week through the Educational Film Corporation of America, beginning June 25. Mr. Palmer was one of the pioneers of animated cartoons, and probably has produced more cartoons for the screen than any other cartoonist. His cartoons have appeared every week on the screen under the General, Kriterion, Paramount and Mutual programs.
Palmer signed his World War I draft card September 12, 1918. His address was 601 West 144th Street in Manhattan. The card said his birth year was 1879 which was incorrect. The line for occupation said: “Cartoonist on New York Newspapers; 110 West 42nd Street, New York”. His description was medium height and build with brown eyes and hair.
The Commercial Register 1919–1920 had this entry: “Palmer Harry S., 601 W. 144th. Cartoonist, Gr. Cent. Ter. [Grand Central Terminal]” Palmer has not yet been found in the 1920 and 1930 censuses.
For the newspaper, The Wave (Rockaway, New York), Palmer drew 21 portraits for the series, “Believers in the Rockaways”, which ran from June 30 to November 25, 1932.
The Cook County, Illinois Marriage Index, at Ancestry.com, said Palmer married “Unice Ross” on May 17, 1934.
The 1940 census recorded Palmer, wife, Martha, and children, Don and Patricia, in Daytona Beach, Florida, at 615 South Atlantic Avenue. In 1935 they resided in Miami. Palmer was an “artist cartoonist” who earned $1,500 in 1939. His education included two years of college. A third child, Bette, was listed in the 1945 Florida State Census.
Palmer passed away August 17, 1955, in Miami. His death was reported the next day in the Miami Daily News.