Noted Preacher-Editor’s Son Won Success in Cartooning
Burris Jenkins, Jr., Whose Father Edited K. C. Post, Noted for Sports Work, Sees Big Field for Pro and Con Editorial Cartoons
Burris Jenkins, Jr., of the New York Journal-American, who has an enviable reputation as a sports cartoonist and also does outstanding work on news assignments in his serious moments, is one of the few metropolitan newspaper artists who writes as cleverly as he draws.
Son of the one-time preacher-editor of the Kansas City Post who today is the Missouri metropolis’ “first citizen,” 42-year-old Burris Jenkins, Jr., inherited his father’s ability to drive home a point. Dr. Jenkins still is spellbinding the largest congregation in Kansas City every Sunday. In New York, every day except Sunday, his son uses pen and ink to send home to readers his unusual sports ideas with the impact of a baseball against a catcher’s mitt.
A literary sentimentalist if ever there was one, Mr. Jenkins long ago left the beaten path of sports cartooning and many of his verses turned out with his daily cartoon sparkle with a spontaneity seldom displayed by writing artists.
His wide following among sports readers of the old New York World, where he broke into metropolitan journalism in 1921, and of the New York Journal and the Journal-American since 1931, has grown with a succession of rib-ticklers like one he did last May on the eve of the Kentucky Derby. Entitled “If Wishes Were Horses,” it was Jenkins’ parody of the current song hit, “Three Little Fishes,” illustrated cleverly with Chico, Challedon and Technician in piscatorial roles as the “Three Little Wishes” looking down from the opening bars of the song on the verse and an equine shark named Johnstown. Here’s how it ran:
Burp Burp Gittem Uppem Gettem Whoa!!
THREE LITTLE WISHES
(NOT by Saxie Dowell, to Whom We Apologize)
Down in a meadow where the grass grows blue
Stood three little WISHES (and a Big Wish too!)
“Run,” said the little Wishes, “Run if you can,”
And dey ran and dey ran and dey ran and dey ran.
One little Wish is for “Chico” (So?)
One is a “Challedon” fan (Well!)
One loves a horsie called Technician (Whew!)
So dey ran and dey ran and dey ran and dey ran.
“Stop!” said a little Wishie, “This is far enough
“You must lay it on the line or I’ll call your bluff!”
Then the three little Wishers went out on a spree
And dey dwank Mint Juleps till half past three.
One had Bourbon in his Julep (Bloop)
One had 40 year Rye (Gulp)
One had mountain dew corn (Burp)
And dey dwank and dey dwank without batting an eye.
“Whee!” yelled the little Wishes, “Here’s where I win!”
“We’ll dwink and we’ll dwink till my wish comes in!”
So they dwank and they dwank from dawn till dark
Till all of a sudden they met The SHARK!
Clop clop whatten what-tha hel-lum (Whoa)
Clop clop-gettum up and gettem (Go)
Clop clop-just try-em ketchum (Oh)
And dey ran and dey ran and dey ran and dey ran.
“Help!” cried the little Wishes, “Gee! he’s out for blood!
“He swept past us like the Johnstown flood!
“But we’ll keep on running just as fast as we can.”
So dey ran and dey ran and dey also ran.
Gulp gulp give-em up-em ketchem!
Gulp gulp justem gottem quittem!
Gulp gulp fillum up-em and drinkem!
So dey dwank and dey dwank until it didn’t
make any difference any more . . .
Writes as Spirit Moves Him
A “daily double” like that may wow the sports fans, but it’s a little too much to expect any newspaperman to do the trick every day. So his contract with the Journal-American – his fourth signed with the Hearst evening paper – requires Jenkins to do a twin trick at typewriter and drawing board only twice a week. In recent months, however, the artist has done fewer than two articles weekly. Instead of a story or verse he turns in an extra cartoon, under an arrangement with the newspaper. He writes as the spirit moves him, several times a month.
Because his batting average for timely topics is 1.000 and his cartoons with few exceptions pack the punch of a ring champion, it was surprising to hear that this outstanding sports cartoonist seldom attends sporting events. To him every baseball game is the same old story – something he’s seen before. He hasn’t seen many full baseball games in recent years, and even World Series games fail to interest him after the 7th inning.
Jenkins attends principally the championship fights and the most important races and football games, yet his cartoon always has the dramatic touch of a dyed-in-the-wool devotee of that particular sport.
His own sports cocktail consists of yachting and golf – and frequently he delays work on the next day’s cartoon while he pursues the elusive pill and an even more elusive 80 on a golf course near his home in Pelham, N. Y. He has broken 80 but several times in his life and it’s a sure bet his copy will arrive late at the Journal-American on the day he thinks he’s going to break 80 again.
Deadline a Daily Adventure
Making his deadline is a daily adventure for Jenkins and his secretary, Herbert Storlie. His cartoon is supposed to be at the Journal-American office at 9 each evening, but it seldom arrives earlier than 11 p.m. Sometimes it’s the wee small hours of the morning of publication that Storlie dashes into the Journal-American to catch a bit of engravers’ hell to be passed on to his boss.
Jenkins has an unusual temperament when it comes to his drawing board. Often he cannot get started until darkness descends on the Hudson River and casts its peculiar spell on the artist fighting his deadline in a thirteenth floor studio on Riverside Drive. His mind works best at night, and the late sunsets now often find him just beginning his next day’s cartoon after long pursuit of an idea through the afternoon.
Right now cartoonist Jenkins is trying to “reform” with respect to his unorthodox working hours, and has set 11 a.m. as the time for his arrival at the studio from his home at Pelham, Westchester county. He reports progress but the 9 p.m. deadline is still a daily bugaboo.
Occasionally Mr. Jenkins delves into serious topics. At such times he faces his ever-recurring dilemma- whether to hit heavy subjects daily or to continue skimming the cream off the sports subjects upon which his reputation has been built.
A night of indelible memory for newspapermen and parents, May 12, 1932, when the body of kidnapped Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr., was found, brought this cartoonist’s pen into swift action. After hearing the radio bulletin in his home, Jenkins poured a father’s hatred of the unknown murderer into a dramatic cartoon which he rushed to the Journal for publication the following day. It depicted Uncle Sam holding aloft Old Glory and the battered body of the Lindbergh child above the quotation:
“My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”
During the trial of Richard Bruno Hauptmann, Mr. Jenkins did a notable series of cartoons on courtroom scenes. For here he was in his element – interpreting the drama of a significant news event into a news cartoon with a few pungent captions to give the busy reader the entire situation for the day at a glance. Last year, at the trial of Jimmy Hines, he also found an opportunity to do his unusual reporting in keynote sketches and captions.
Sees Big Field for News Cartoons
Mr. Jenkins believes there is a big field for news cartoons and for pro and con editorial cartoons-giving both sides of a question presented to the reader.
“I couldn’t say that cartooning in general needs a renaissance,” he said in answer to a question, “but I do think a fresher and more forthright presentation in cartooning would be more convincing to a public educated above the old-fashioned school of cartooning.”
Cartooning, he continued, is the “quickest way” of putting over an idea. “The visual reaction can hit you so much quicker than a column of type. A well thought out cartoon can tell the reader the story in a second. One that sticks out in my mind is one Rollin Kirby did after a submarine disaster some years back. It showed a diver tapping on the side of the lost submarine and was titled ‘Taps.’ One word and a picture, and you’ve got it all.”
By an “educated public,” the cartoonist explained, he means “a public, brought up on radio, that is greatly interested in and is familiar with politics.” People have a more thorough knowledge of what is going on about them, “so that if you throw the old type of cartoon at them with only one viewpoint presented, they just don’t believe it.
“The public’s got to believe again that a newspaper can have ideals and a heart. There are two sides to any argument and the side a newspaper has decided is right can be stressed along with a fair presentation of the other side in such a way as not to insult the public’s intelligence.
“Cartoonists should be on the level and not hold anything back from the public. Nowadays the readers often think there must be something in it for the paper or it would not be plugging a certain policy.”
Two Brothers Are Newspapermen
Burris, Jr., is one of three sons of Dr. Jenkins, who was the Kansas City Star’s war correspondent before he became editor and publisher of the Kansas City Post under the Bonfils and Tammens ownership. All three sons have become newspapermen. Burris’ younger brothers, Paul A., 40, and Logan, 28, are owner-publisher and city editor, respectively, of the El Centra (Cal.) Imperial Valley Post-Press. Paul worked on the Post and Star in Kansas City before he went to California three years ago. Logan started as a reporter on the Denver Post under Bonfils.
Dr. Jenkins was president of the University of Indianapolis when Burris, Jr., was born Oct. 8, 1897. The preacher took the editorship of the Kansas City Post shortly after the war to fight the enemies of the Wilsonian ideals of international relationships. He quit at the end of 1920 when Bonfils fired his son “over his head” for a pessimistic Christmas cartoon which the paper’s owner had described as “the last straw.”
Burris, Jr., didn’t know until 10 years later that he had been fired from his first newspaper job. The cartoonist, then on the road to success, was telling his father in New York that “every newspaperman should be fired from his first job because it does him good.” He was expressing regret that he had never been fired, when Dr. Jenkins let the cat out of the bag. As his son explains the incident, Dr. Jenkins was apparently dissatisfied because Bonfils and Tammens had not given him the free hand that was promised in the conduct of the Post. When the editor heard that Bonfils had told Dick Smith, managing editor, “This is the end! Don’t print another one of those cartoons,” Dr. Jenkins told the owner, “You can accept my resignation, too,” and then induced his son to make a trip abroad.
Got Job on N. Y. World
It was this trip to Europe and the Near East, long planned by young Jenkins, that finally landed him in metropolitan journalism. He had saved $900 from his pay on the Kansas City Post after his graduation from Harvard, and by traveling steerage most of the way he stretched the trip into eight months. He wrote an article, illustrated with his own cartoons, on the Jewish situation in Palestine, and this material was exactly what the New York World had been looking for, so he was hired to do a series.
The late Jack Tennant, managing editor, might have fired Jenkins when the last of the Palestine articles was written, but blustery Jack Rainey, then city editor, liked the newcomer and told him, “I’m going to make you or break you.” He gave Jenkins a job as police reporter. For a year Jenkins covered the West Side and eventually he began to illustrate his own feature stories. Late in 1922 he started doing sports cartoons, modeling his creations after those of the famous Bob Edgren. Gradually he developed his own distinctive style, in which he mixes sentiment with an interpretation of the sports subject covered, and his rise became rapid as sports readers welcomed his deviation from the unemotional cartoons of the old school of artists.
Within a few years his police reporter’s weekly stipend grew into $210, plus $25 for each column he wrote and illustrated-and there were usually two of these every week. His contract with the World had a year to run when the paper was acquired by Scripps-Howard.
Believing himself out of a job, Mr. Jenkins answered a call from E. D. Coblentz, of the New York American, to discuss terms, but landed instead in the office of William A. Curley, editor of the Evening Journal, when he got off at the wrong floor. A contract was signed with the Journal, instead of the American, but there followed a legalistic tug-of-war between the Journal and the World-Telegram over the cartoonist because of the unexpired contract with the old World. After three days Jenkins was released from the old contract and he has been with the Journal and Journal-American ever since.
Reunion in France
Two unusual incidents involving father and son are worth brief mention. While Dr. Jenkins was in France as war correspondent for the Kansas City Star writing stories on the numerous fatalities among aviators, his son was “somewhere in France” with the air service, completing his training before going to the front. Dr. Jenkins, fearing he might never see his son alive again, appealed to the night editor of the Paris edition of the New York Herald to publish a brief notice for his son to meet him for a final farewell. It brought them together.
Young Jenkins became so proficient in squadron flying that he remained behind the lines as an instructor for the duration of the war.