Stan MacGovern's Silly Milly
I first became aware of Stan MacGovern (1903-1975) and Silly Milly
in the mid-1950s when I read Coulton Waugh's The Comics
(Macmillan, 1947). Waugh called the strip "a rococo, girlesque epic... a cross between a turtle and three cashew nuts."
Stan MacGovern's father was George M. Cohan's publicist and his mother was an opera singer. Graduating in 1921, he worked as a copy boy in the art department of the New York Sun-Herald
where he created the strip Dumbell Dan
. After playing with a jazz band, he joined the New York Post
where he launched his strip Extra, Extra
on June 8, 1938. Since he used various news items as springboards for gags, he soon changed the name to Swing Out the News
, and as Milly grew into the star of the strip, the title changed to Silly Milly
. Readers noticed that MacGovern did not like to draw feet. Sinclair Lewis' 18th novel, Gideon Planish
(Random House, 1943), directed satiric jabs at the fund-raising industry. The closing chapter begins:
Carrie cried, "I have my job! Draftsman in a Hartford airplane factory. I'm leaving this evening."
Peony fussed, "You'll never be able to stand it, away from New York."
"With all my young men in the service, I won't miss one thing in New York, except Stan MacGovern's Silly Milly cartoons, and the music on WQXR," said the modern young woman. There was a distinct period in her sentence before she added, "Oh, and you and Daddy, of course."
When Dr. Planish saw her off on the train, when it had slipped away in the mammoth cave of the Grand Central, he felt that it had been years ago that she had gone from him, and that he could not remember her face exactly.
In the strips of the mid-1940s, MacGovern and Silly Milly
would occasionally review Broadway plays. In Leonard Lyons' column, "The Lyons Den," for September 5, 1945, Lyons wrote, "The Encyclopedia Britannica
has invited Stan MacGovern, the political cartoonist and creator of Silly Milly
--the cartoon strip which Sinclair Lewis says is his favorite in all America--to select six of his cartoons for the next issue of the Britannica
The strip prompted a song, "Silly Milly," published by Mills Music with lyrics by Buddy Kaye, music by Ted Mossman and a sheet music cover illustration by MacGovern. As the popularity of Silly Milly
increased during the 1940s, MacGovern was feted with a "Stan MacGovern Night" at Leon & Eddie's nightclub.
MacGovern lived in Malverne, New York, and took the Long Island train into Manhattan where he headed the art department at the New York Post
. One of his friends at the Post
was the journalist Jay Nelson Tuck (1916-1985), a WWII conscientious objector who won the George Polk Award for his coverage of racial violence in Florida in 1952. They sometimes collaborated on gags for The Yuk Yuk Department
in the Post
, such as "987654321012345678 or: Harvard University Unveils World's Largest Calculating Machine --Scientific Marvel of the Century!"
In 1950 MacGovern created a product called Hangover Horrors
(aka Hangover Glasses
), a set of six illustrated tumblers sold nationally. Each tumbler in the set displayed a different MacGovern cartoon about drinking or the morning after. The tumblers were advertised as "hand-painted," although the only color was a small bit of red on the noses of the characters. One unusual gag in the group shows a man looking in the bathroom mirror and saying, "You look awful!" The image in the mirror replies, "You don't look so hot yourself!" The gimmick is that the words spoken by the mirror image are reversed, so they can only be read correctly by looking inside the glass.
With a very limited syndication, Silly Milly
was seen only rarely in newspapers across the country. In the 1950s MacGovern abandoned cartooning and opened an unsuccessful gift shop in East Rockaway, Long Island. In the last years of his life he worked at a Long Island furniture store. He was 72 when he committed suicide in 1975. His style of cartooning was a strong influence on Jack Mendelsohn.
1939 editorial cartoon by MacGovern
Labels: silly milly, stan macgovern