Monday, May 25, 2009

Bill Mauldin

" I can't git no lower, Willie. Me buttons is in th'way."


Cartoonist and author Bill Mauldin (1921-2003) is one of my heroes. He's the creator of World War II's weary, sardonic, and just plain tired dogfaces, Willie and Joe. Mauldin's political cartoons won two Pulitzer Prizes (1945 and 1959) and his take on the WWII G.I. was respected by many who served. Mauldin's humor was not the laugh-out-loud kind, but the knowing, gallows humor that made the foot soldier nod his head in weary agreement. His cartoons for Stars and Stripes made Mauldin a hero among the dogfaces and reviled by the brass, including General George S. Patton who threatened to "throw his ass in jail" for "spreading dissent." The cartoonist followed the troops in the horrific Italian Campaign and his art reflected--albeit with a dark humor-- what every infantryman experienced. Mauldin was wounded during combat, a minor wound, and was embarrassed about receiving the Purple Heart. Mauldin's life was a fascinating one, with many ups and downs. I recommend his autobiography, The Brass Ring. Another excellent book of his, Back Home (1947) chronicles in words and cartoons the issues of the day like the housing shortage, the American Legion, the Red Scare, veteran's issues, and racism. Back Home is fascinating reading in that it's a diary of the United States as it was in the two years immediately after World War II.


Today being Memorial Day, I'm reminded of a story Mauldin told in a World War II documentary, America In the 40s, about a Memorial Day ceremony he attended. Mauldin saw an officer standing in a cemetery, speaking to the graves marked with crosses and Stars of David, and the officer broke down and wept, apologizing to the men for getting them killed. Mauldin vowed that after witnessing that moment, he'd never go to another Memorial Day ceremony. He wanted to--and would--remember that moment forever. Mauldin himself was in tears while recalling the tale.

Two movies were made based on the Willie and Joe characters. 1951's Up Front and 1952's Back at the Front. Both films failed to capture the gritty spirit of the comics and were largely played for laughs (AMC aired them many, many years ago and naturally I didn't record them). Mauldin began a short-lived acting career of his own, earning a role in John Huston's Civil War epic, The Red Badge of Courage (1951) and acquitted himself as an actor rather nicely.

Bill Mauldin: "I was born a troublemaker and might as well earn a living at it."

5 comments:

  1. Great stuff, C.K., particularly for somebody like me who knew nothing about Mauldin. I have seen bits and pieces of various Willie and Joe cartoons, but really didn't know anything about their context or who created them. Very interesting.

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  2. I've read Up Front, Back Home and The Brass Ring and highly recommend all of them. Mauldin was a great writer.

    Retro Hound

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  3. Hey, CK

    I have awarded your blog the Friendly Blogger award!

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  4. Great post. I had heard some about him, but not that much. I hope you had a good holiday weekend.

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  5. Saw your post on Maudlin's book, Back Home, on the Fedora Lounge and surfed on over. Great blog! I'll be adding you to my blog roll. ;-)

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