It’s always fun to discover a previously unknown piece by Davenport. Case in point, is this 1909 editorial extolling the greatness of the then-young Rube Goldberg. He would of course go on to a long career, known mainly for his complex devices designed to perform mundane tasks. Before that, he became known for his “Foolish Questions” series, where an observer asks an oblivious question with an obvious answer, (a predecessor to Al Jafee’s “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” in Mad Magazine.) This article comes to us courtesy Cartoon Historian Paul Tumey, author of “Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny” (IDW Library of American Comics, 2018), and contributor to “The Art of Rube Goldberg” (Abrams ComicArts 2014). – Editor.
Tells How the Young Artist Worked on The Bulletin
By Homer Davenport
San Francisco Bulletin – January 15, 1909: While I was being shaved the other day, the barber asked me to tell him something about Goldberg, the Evening Mail’s sporting page cartoonist. He said a lot of his friends were keeping a scrapbook of his drawing and articles. The barber was so carried away talking about his favorite caricaturist that he scraped for five minutes in the same place, leaving a very tender spot. He said hosts of people were seeking knowledge about this man who has broken in on the New York reading public with such a sparkling crash.
After my jaw healed I decided to supply some real information regarding a real humorist. Reuben Goldberg was born in San Francisco, California about twenty-five years ago, of Jewish parents. Like all of his profession, he began drawing before he began to read. Coming of a race of people that are not well represented in poorhouses, his parents were naturally anxious about his business career, and grew especially nervous when they heard him say he wanted to be an artist. His father told him artists were as a rule poor and inclined to be drunken and cheap.
He suggested to his boy that he be a mining engineer, as the youngster was good in arithmetic. Goldberg reluctantly entered the University of California and finished the four-year mining engineering course in three years. He finally landed in the City Hall at $100 per month, an assistant to the City Engineer. But his heart was not in his work, and he was continually drawing and dreaming. He finally left his position in the City Hall and took a position as cartoonist on the Chronicle at less than half the salary he got as a city engineer.
He use to get up at daylight and walk back and forth in a small park near his house trying to think of an idea for a comic or a cartoon. His work was a hit from the first. What he wanted was a position on The Bulletin, and he finally got it.
On The Bulletin Goldberg commenced to stir up even a bigger dust by even harder work. The above sketch shows him in his shirt sleeves, for he is in his element in this rig. He is an incessant worker.
San Francisco has turned out a great many clever caricaturists and comic artists. Several have attracted great attention in New York City, but though Goldberg is the most recent of the many from the Golden Gate, he has made as big a hit as any.
Mr. Goldberg is a young man bordering on good looks, standing about five feet ten, well built for an artist, with plenty of pluck. I admire him for his pluck as well as for his ideas and drawings. Some foolish persons suggested to him when he landed here from the Coast that his name Goldberg was against him as an artist–for a clothier it would be great, but in art it would hold him back years. He informed this philosopher that he wasn’t ashamed of his name; that it had never held him back in San Francisco, and that he didn’t believe it would in New York. If it did, all right–his name was Goldberg.
Mr. Goldberg is a very happy boy. His head works well, and his ability to portray his weird conceptions is very striking. He has never studied art; caricaturists don’t: they are born, not taught. I sometimes wonder if a person with any real knowledge of anatomy of a horse, for instance, could draw as funny a horse as does Goldberg. Hardly less funny than his horses are the noses he sets on the faces of people he draws. But funniest of all are the questions and answers of these bald-headed and hump-back and knock-kneed people. What a simple creation is a parody, and what a world of reality is there in Goldberg’s Foolish Question series!
I should say that with Mr. Goldberg’s ability for work and his fund of humor ever growing he will develop for many years to come.