Search for content in message boards

100th Anniversary of the Birth of Darrell Craig McClure

Replies: 0

100th Anniversary of the Birth of Darrell Craig McClure

Judy Klee (View posts)
Posted: 1062987693000
Classification: Biography
Edited: 1062998846000
Surnames: McClure
“An Artist and adventurer: Memories of Darrell McClure linger in his back country Greenwich home”


Richard Cryer knew nothing of the man who built his back country Greenwich stone Cape when he bought it for $85,000 in 1969.
“I decided to look him up,” said Cryer, a 69 year-old-retired computer database publisher. “I finally figured out from Town Hall records that a man named Darrell McClure built the house in 1940. It was a real estate agent, I think, who told me that McClure was a cartoonist.”
Curiosity compelled Cryer, an MIT graduate who had traced his own family’s genealogy back 300 years, to research McClure, the illustrator of “Little Annie Rooney,” a popular newspaper cartoon strip conceived in the 1920s.
“He was a great cartoonist,” Cryer said. “When I was young, I read ‘Terry and the Pirates’ and 'Dick Tracy,’ and when I had my own kids I got interested in McCClure’s work." The problem was that the cartoon ‘Little Annie Rooney’ was basically copied.
“Little Annie Rooney”---a name borrowed from a 1890 song and a 1925 Mary Pickford film --- was King Features syndicate’s attempt to compete with the feisty “Little Orphan Annie” created by legendary cartoonist Harold Gray of the rival Chicago Tribune syndicate.
Like Gray’s moppet, Annie Rooney was an orphan. Following the fantastic storylines of the strip’s writer, Brandon Walsh McClure drew Annie and her canine companion, Zero, a fox terrier, as they dodged the omnipresent Miss Meany --- a cruel orphanage administrator who was determined to get her hands on the little girl.
“It was beautifully drawn but really sappy,” said cartoonist and comic historian Brian Walker of Wilton. “It was an imitation of ‘Little Orphan Annie.’ ""The strength of the comic was not in its writing. Brandon Walsh was not known for his storytelling.”
Strengthened by McClure’s drawing, the cartoon ran from 1930 until 1966. In 1970, Cryer finally managed to obtain McClure’s address in California and wrote the retired cartoonist, then 67.
“I said, ‘I am the owner of your house; it’s really nice.'" " I really like the north window, and can you send a picture?" Cryer recalled. “And he sent a picture back to me.”
That sketch has been hanging in Cryer’s family room ever since. McClure knew the room well because it was his studio when he lived in the house from 1940-1947. He drew from memory the room’s distinctive north window, which follows the general shape of the cathedral ceiling. In the sketch, Annie leans across McClure’s drafting board, pointing at the snow outside and addressing her dog: “Look Zero, last night Old mister Jack Frost painted our nice big window all solid white. I wonder how he did it?” The caption reads,”Once upon a time on Riverside Road.”
That wasn’t all that McClure sent Cryer.
“He also wrote a note,” Cryer recalled, “saying, ‘I'm sorry that I have to charge you $20,'" and ‘I’m embarrassed about this;' Of course, I was glad to give it to him.”
McClure’s humble request endeared the old cartoonist to Cryer, and piqued his curiosity. Did something terrible happen to McClure that he was hard up for 20 bucks? What did McClure do with himself after "Little Annie Rooney” was canceled? Why was it canceled?
Months of diligent research finally brought Cryer answers he sought: McClure, who died in 1987, was much more than a cartoonist. He was a husband, tailor, lumberjack, adventurer, painter, and an accomplished sailor.
The wild frontier of his native Ukiah, Calif., may have instilled a sense of adventure in young Darrell, who was born to a hardware-store clerk, Arthur McClure, and his wife Ethel, on Feb 25, 1903.
A feature story in the local Mendocino County, Calif., newspaper a month after McClure’s birth described the hunt for a murderous stagecoach bandit: “Sheriff Grace’s bloodhounds... let the posse in a roundabout way to a large clump of young redwood trees. Here a camp was found and the remains of several fires...it is possible that he may be captured before morning.”
McClure described his childhood in an article for 1949’s “Famous Artists and Writers of King Features.”
“I was not a precocious child. The word wasn’t even known in those days, and any ‘precociousness’ was promptly and effectively discouraged with a hairbrush.”
McClure’s drawing, however, was encouraged. He had inherited an artistic streak from his mother, who fostered his ability by buying him five-penny tablets to scrawl on.
“From the age of six, I never once swerved from the ambition to be a newspaper strip artist,” he recalled in the same article.
McClure fulfilled that ambition after working, between 1918 and 1924, as a logger, stock clerk, tailor and sailor. The last was his greatest love.
“Oh, he loved sailing,” said his 88-year-old widow, Mary Alice Luce-McClure, from the Ukiah home she and her husband shared after they married in 1973. “He made his first trip from San Francisco to Hawaii as a common seaman.”
That was in 1820, when McClure was 17. While on board, he painted the Annie Johnson -- a talent he had developed a few years earlier, studying nights at the California School of Fine Arts.
In 1822, McClure left California for New York aboard a freighter, traveling by way of the Panama Canal. When he could not find a job illustrating for the big city syndicates, he indulged his love of the sea again, this time crossing the Atlantic to northern Europe.
When he returned, McClure finally secured a job with King Features. He made an immediate impact when he began drawing “Little Annie Rooney” for the New York Journal in 1930.
In the 40s, the cartoon strip was at the height of its popularity and McClure temporarily settled in Greenwich, working out of his home at 469 Riverside Road.
“Annie Rooney owed its longevity,” wrote Maurice Horn in “100 Years of American Newspaper Comics,to Walsh’s imaginative and often suspenseful plots and McClure’s sinuous line and effortless evocation of mood." When both men were at their best in the Depression years of 1930, they often transcended the shopworn conventions of the genre. McClure also proved surprisingly adept at storytelling when he also took over the writing of the strip following Walsh’s death in 1954.
In the years when McClure was responsible for both storytelling and illustration, Annie’s adventures often took her out to sea. Among aficionados, McClure is remembered for his accurate depictions of ships.
“Darrell McClure is an expert yachtsman,” wrote Coulton Waugh in 1947’s “The Comics.” “He has done a lot of work for Yachting Magazine and is very well thought of by the sailing fraternity, being the rarest of cartoonist, one who knows the difference between topping lift and a martingale.”
Despite McClure’s efforts, however, the comic was canceled in 1966.
“In the 1870s and even by the beginning of the 1960s, the style kind ofchanged,”Walker explained. “Comic strips like ‘Beetle Bailey', 'Peanuts', and ‘B.C.,’ witty humor strips, became popular, and the old adventure strips started to fade away.”
Still, McClure, who spent the majority of his last years furthering his already accomplished career in seascape oil painting, did not forget Annie Rooney.
“He used to say she was a pretty little girl,” Luce-McClure said of her late husband, “and he always made fun of Little Orphan Annie." He used to say, “Look, she has no eyes!”
McClure, who lived on his yacht for months at a time, was proud that he never missed a cartoon deadline, regardless of where he was docked, Luce-McClure said. When he died his ashes were deposited in San Francisco Bay.
For Cryer, relaxing by the north window at home, thoughts of the old cartoonist transcend his death.
“I guess this family room -- his old studio -- is alive with his presence,” Cryer said. “The more I learn, the more I see that he was such an incredible guy. He’s so meticulous, and I’m so meticulous. I’m just enthralled with him.


By Michael Dinan
Special Correspondent
Greenwich Time Newspaper
Greenwich, CT
Issue Tuesday, September 2, 2003
Front Page
Vol. LXVI NO. 265

Find a board about a specific topic