Crosby, Percy L.


Controversial creator of the popular 1923-45 comic strip “Skippy”


Autograph ID: 4547
Condition: Very good
Description: “(1891-1964) US author, illustrator and cartoonist, best known for his popular comic strip “Skippy”. Commemorated on a 1997 US postage stamp, “Skippy” was an inspiration for Charles Schulz's “Peanuts”. Crosby won a $75 prize in an Edison Company contest for the best cartoon on the use of electric light and saw his cartoon in every NYC newspaper. That led to a job at the New York World, and, after a few years, he left to freelance, selling cartoons to World editor John Tennant. In 1916, Crosby's 1st feature, the daily & Sunday strip “The Clancy Kids”, was syndicated, earning him $135 a week, and he studied at Manhattan Art Students League. While in Army training, he created a daily comic “That Rookie from the Thirteenth Squad”, for the McClure Syndicate, writing and drawing it from the front in France while in the AEF. After the war, he syndicated a 1921-25 series of panel cartoons, some featuring slum children. One series, “Always Belittlin'”, presaged “Skippy”. “Bugville” and “Bug Lugs” later ran as the supplemental topper feature accompanying the “Skippy” Sunday strip. Crosby concurrently became a prolific contributor to Life, where several of his cartoons featured a child named Timmy, the prototype for Skippy Skinner when Crosby pitched art director Frank Casey about a regular feature. Following a full-page house ad in the March 15, 1923, issue, “Skippy” premiered in Life and was a success. It was syndicated 2 years later, initially by Johnson Features, Central Press Association and Editors Features Service, before Hearst signed Crosby to his King Features Syndicate. King distributed its 1st daily “Skippy” Oct. 7, 1926, and its 1st Sunday April 1, 1929. Crosby retained the copyright, a rarity then for strip artists. The strip focused on Skippy Skinner, a young city boy usually wearing an enormous collar and tie and a floppy checked hat, an odd mix of mischief and melancholy. The popular strip at one point guaranteed him $2,350 a week, an enormous sum then. Crosby published a “Skippy” novel and other books; there were “Skippy” dolls, toys and comic books. The comic was adapted as the 1931 Paramount film “Skippy”, which won director Norman Taurog the Oscar for Best Director, with young Jackie Cooper in the title role. From 1928-37, Crosby produced 3,650 “Skippy” strips, 10 books of fiction, political and philosophical essays, drawings and cartoons, and numerous pamphlets, while mounting a dozen exhibitions in NYC, Washington, London, Paris & Rome of his other paintings and drawings. In the mid-late 20s, Crosby became an alcoholic. A member of several private clubs, after nights at these clubs, he sometimes awakened with no recollection of the previous evening. He continued writing “Skippy” prose vignettes for Life that led to a “Skippy” novel for G. P. Putnam's Sons. With his wife and an agent handling his business affairs, Crosby oversaw a “Skippy” empire that included a radio show, 3 novels, 34 Standard Oil posters, the aforesaid movie and a sequel. In the late 30s, Crosby drew more overtly political and philosophical “Skippy” strips. Following his 3rd “Skippy” prose fiction book, the essay collection “Skippy Rambles”, he used his writing as a vehicle for his beliefs. His 1931 memoir “A Cartoonist's Philosophy” was too polemical for 8 publishers, so Crosby published it himself; future books were published under his name or by Freedom Press, which he founded in 1936. Life dropped him when Crosby agreed to do humorous cartoons only if the magazine would also publish his political work. Crosby lived in McLean, Virginia, outside of Washington, 1929-39. Although he voted for FDR in 1932, Crosby opposed his 1937 “Court-packing” plan and his vitriolic editorials called the President "crazed for power", and referred to FDR’s Fireside Chats as "talking from the Moscow room of the Spite House". When the IRS brought a tax claim against Crosby and his corporation, Skippy, Inc., in 1937, he claimed it was retaliation for his political writing. In 1936, he began drinking again, his behavior increasingly erratic. In Feb. 1939, his 2nd wife divorced him and he never again saw his children. He remarried in 1940. About the same time, a California food packer began to sell "Skippy" peanut butter, labeled without Crosby's permission. Expensive litigation continued into the 2000s. His diatribes in the “Skippy” strip became more frequent and, on Dec. 8, 1945, his 54th birthday, “Skippy” was dropped. Alcoholism contributed to his inability to find employment, and efforts to revive “Skippy” went nowhere. In Dec. 1948, Crosby was committed to the psychiatric ward of Bellevue Hospital after attempting suicide. In Jan. 1949, he was transferred to the Kings Park Veterans' Hospital mental ward, declared a paranoid schizophrenic, and spent the last 16 years of his life institutionalized. On Dec. 8, 1964, after a heart attack left him in a coma for months, Crosby died in the asylum on his 73rd birthday.

ISP, 10 x 8 Underwood & Underwood Studio of Washington DC glossy, slight sepia-toned seated portrait in checkered vest, tie and jacket, signed and inscribed with sentiment. No place or date, but likely McLean, Virginia, ca. mid 1930s.”

Type: Photograph

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