Sunday, March 19, 2006

Life Drawing Sunday II: Percy L. Crosby

Percy Crosby's drawings began appearing in the pages of Life in 1920. In 1923 he created "Skippy" for the magazine. Hearst lured Crosby away from Life to produce Skippy as a daily strip for King Features in 1926. The character would bring him tremendous success; along with the popularity of the strip there was a wide assortment of licensed merchandise, among which a certain peanut butter was not included.

In 1931, two movies were released by Paramount, starring Jackie Cooper as Skippy and directed by Cooper's uncle Norman Taurog. (In an inspired moment of directorial expedience Taurog threatened to shoot Cooper's dog to get him to cry in one scene.Taurog won the Best Director Oscar for the picture.)

The legal difficulties with Skippy peanut butter, which were picked up by Crosby's daughter after his death in 1964 and were finally resolved forty years later were only a part of the troubles that plagued Crosby. Over the years his outspoken cartoons had made enemies of FDR, J. Edgar Hoover, Al Capone and the IRS. Two audits by the IRS hammered Crosby for back taxes, which led to a depletion of his fortune, divorce and estrangement from his children, alcoholism, legal battles with his partners in Skippy, Inc., the company he'd formed to handle merchandising of the Skippy trademark. In 1940 he was hospitalized for extreme stress.

In 1945 Hearst cancelled the Skippy strip. It apparently had become too overtly political, depressing and humorless. (Ironically, some of the qualities that make for a successful strip today.)

In 1948 Crosby attempted suicide. He was committed to a Long Island mental institution where, unable to obtain his release, he spent the last 16 years of his life. He died on his birthday in 1964.

But he left behind some of the loosest, most enegetic drawings Life ever published.


BixDog said...

Awesome post. His linework leaves me speechless, just beautiful stuff.
You need to do a direct link to that peanut butter page, tho'. It's not every day one gets to see such mind-bendingly blatant copyright infringement.

Okay, I'll do it myself! I avenge you, Percy!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for avenging my father, Percy Crosby, by posting a link to our proof of blatant trade forgery by the Skippy peanut butter pirates. However, it should be noted that the link to AP story that my 40 year battle with the Skippy Goliath ended, is incorrect. That version was planted with the media by the defendants' PR dept. to avoid a criminal investigation and stiff fines. Read my website story to understand who held my father hostage in a mental hospital so they could build their illegal Skippy empire. Unilever, posing as an ethical corporate citizen, does not want the true story to be told. But the public and taxpayers have a right to know Unilever lawyers have no conscience about using our courts to defraud consumers and our government by corrupt means. What goes around comes around and Percy Crosby's heirs refuse to be sued into silence. As one lawyer said, "the Skippy case is the most outrageous case of piracy ever to be revealed in the history of cartoons and character licensing."

Joan Crosby Tibbetts
President, Skippy, Inc.

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