Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: F. O. Alexander

Franklin Osborne Alexander was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on November 3, 1897, according to the Syracuse University Libraries and Contemporary Authors (1978). Osborne was his mother’s madden name.

The 1900 U.S. Federal Census recorded Alexander as the son of Frank and Blanche. They resided in Meriden, Connecticut at 30 Hobart Street. His father was a clerk at a manufacturing company.

Ten years later, the census said the family lived in Evanston, Illinois at 1219 Oak Avenue. Alexander’s father was a manager at a lamp company.

According to Contemporary Authors, Alexander attended Northwestern University during the years 1916 to 1917, and 1919 to 1920. Syracuse University Libraries said Alexander studied at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, and during World War I, he was with the Camouflage Engineers in the American Expeditionary Forces.

In the 1920 census, Alexander and his parents remained in Evanston but at a different address, 207 Main Street. Alexander’s occupation was commercial cartoonist. Contemporary Author said he married Blanche Stanley on December 27, 1924. In the 1920s, Alexander had two copyright entries:

Alexander (Franklin Osborne)* Chicago. Osborne observes. Sheet, illus., 11 by 8 1/2 in. [20090
© May 6, 1922; 2 c. and aff. May 24, 1922; A 676444.

Alexander (Franklin Osborne)* Evanston, Ill. Alexander’s Doofunnies. Sheet. © Oct. 10, 1927; 2 c. Oct.12; aff. Nov. 12; A 1011728. 02009

American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Alexander’s first strip* was Finney of the Force that ran under his name from July 1925 to 1931. The strip was continued by Ted O’Loughlin. Alexander drew L. Franklin Van Zelm’s The Featherheads from December 1926 to 1931; Alexander signed the strip with his middle name, Osborne.

At some point, Alexander moved to Oklahoma. His name and occupation, artist, were listed in the 1929 Oklahoma City city directory. The 1930 census said Alexander, his wife and two children resided at 2709 West 17 Street, Oklahoma City. The 1930 and 1931 city directories said Alexander was a cartoonist.

In 1931, Alexander moved to Cheltenham, Pennsylvania. He took over Charles W. Kahles’s Hairbreadth Harry which was distributed by the Ledger Syndicate. According to American Newspaper Comics, Alexander was on the strip from March 30, 1931 to February 5, 1939. Alexander created the strip’s topper, High-Gear Homer, which started November 8, 1931 and ended July 30, 1939. 

In her book, The Monopolists, Mary Pilon wrote that in 1935, Alexander’s friend, Charles Darrow, asked a favor. Darrow, who had been working on a board game that would evolve into Monopoly, wanted Alexander to provide illustrations for the game. Pilon said:

Alexander didn’t expect to make any money from his drawings. In fact, feeling that he was making only a trivial contribution to the game, he didn’t even sign his name to his work, making it difficult to discern years later his contributions from those of another overlooked graphic designer.

Pilon said it’s unclear if Alexander created Mr. Monopoly; she said many believe the creator was Dan Fox. Pilon has an article about Lizzie Magie, the creator of Monopoly, in The Smithsonian, January 2015.

The 1940 census listed Alexander and his family at 1204 Stratford Avenue in Cheltenham. He was a freelance cartoonist who had two years of college education.

Syracuse University Libraries said Alexander drew editorial cartoons for the United Features Syndicate. Then, in December 1941, Alexander joined the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, where he was staff cartoonist until his retirement in 1967. That same year Darrow died.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 22, 1961, reported the 12th annual awards of the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. Alexander received the Distinguished Service Award, for his cartoon, “Powerful Launching Pad.”

In 1968, Alexander’s book, Joe Doakes’ Great Quest, was published; from the back cover: 

When a top cartoonist dozes off, what does he dream? F. O. Alexander dreams his own version of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. He satirizes human frailties through the experiences of Joe Doakes, the average man who suffers the evils of the world with patience, humor, hope, and considerable grumbling. 

Like Christian in Bunyan’s story, Joe Doakes embarks on an adventure. He meets the contemporary problems of cynicism, apathy, materialism, and bigotry—and even wrestles with a dragon along the way.

Contemporary Authors said Alexander’s address, in 1978, was Beaver Hill Apartments, No. 328, Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.

Alexander passed away January 17, 1993, according to the Social Security Death Index which said his last residence was Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

—Alex Jay

* note from Allan: Further research has turned up two earlier short-lived Alexander strips

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