The Press: Fitz

3 minute read

The invitation, from the Associated American Artists, was of the stuffy variety. New Yorkers were invited to view the recent artistic works of “D.R. Fitzpatrick of St. Louis, Missouri.” The Gallery did not let on that the artist was more widely known as Fitz of the Post-Dispatch, probably the most widely reprinted political cartoonist in the U.S. It was the second time in five years that the A.A.A. had honored Fitz with a show.

Daniel Robert Fitzpatrick, lean, carefully tailored and 55, was booted out of high school in his native Superior, Wis. when he was 16, because he wanted to draw “and they made me take algebra and stupid history courses.” He worked his way through the Chicago Art Institute by sweeping floors mornings, working in a cafeteria for his lunch, ushering in a theater at night. On the side, he sold so many cartoons (for $1 apiece) to the Chicago Daily News that he soon had a regular job. In 1913, he went to the Post-Dispatch, has been there ever since.

People Get Mad. His first cartoon for the P-D was an attack on wooden railroad coaches (it showed a coffin on rails). He has been wielding a blunt instrument ever since. As a result, he says: “An awful lot of people are goddam mad at me.” In 1940 Fitz, his managing editor and the chief editorial writer were arrested in St. Louis because their savage pictorial attacks on civic lawlessness and injustice evoked the wrath of a judge.

The P-D pays him $25,000 a year, but it does not ask him to support any policy with which he disagrees. An ardent Roosevelt follower, in 1936 he declined to draw cartoons for pro-Landon editorials. In the final weeks of the campaign, the only Fitz cartoons the P-D carried were innocuous drawings of elephants and donkeys competing. On occasion Fitz has also refused to draw to order for Collier’s, for which he has worked on the side since 1925. He turned down one Collier’s request—for a cartoon to illustrate an article by Willkie—solely because “I think the guy is a stinker.”

Places, Not Faces. Such hog-on-ice independence is half the explanation of Fitz’s success. The other half is his knack of dramatizing a complex issue by reducing it to a one-sided dimension in a few bold and simple strokes. He cannot draw likenesses well, so he almost never caricatures specific politicoes. (Though Fitz is in the forefront of U.S. political cartoonists, he is leagues behind the London Evening Standard’s pixyish little New Zealander, David Low.) Fitz poured out his feelings about Prohibition (he likes liquor as much as he likes crap games) with an angry drawing of the Statue of Liberty taking a nosedive into the Atlantic. He illustrated the current housing shortage by drawing a dilapidated auto with a “No Vacancies” sign (see cut). Other pet Fitz targets: fascism, union haters, public utility holding companies, politicians (usually depicted as bigmouthed, potbellied, loafers).

In 34 years of cartooning and crusading, Fitz has drawn some 12,000 cartoons. In its Manhattan show, the A.A.A. has 46 of the recent best. Fitz cartoons can also be seen in the private collections of his victims all over the world. President Truman has six. The Moscow Museum of Modern Western Art owns some. Others are on view in the faraway Wanganui Museum in New Zealand.

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