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Mauldin, William Henry ("Bill")

MAULDIN, William Henry ("Bill")

(b. 29 October 1921 in Mountain Park, New Mexico), cartoonist, most famous for commentary on army life during World War II, who resurfaced as a potent and challenging political cartoonist in the late 1950s.

Mauldin was the son of Sidney Mauldin, who "collected careers as an Eagle Scout accumulates merit badges" (as Mauldin wrote in The Brass Ring) and Edith Bernis. Mauldin's father took his wife and two children throughout the southwestern United States and Mexico, working as a miner, salesman, apple farmer, and subsistence homesteader. His parents divorced when he and his brother were teenagers. Mauldin attended high school in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where his first published cartoon appeared in the school paper. His style improved vastly after a $20 mail-order course in cartooning with the Landon School in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1937 Mauldin moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and attended Phoenix Union High School; he did not graduate, but he did join the Reserve Officers Training Corps and was encouraged by the cartoonist Reg Manning. With $500 from his grandfather for tuition, Mauldin went to Chicago to take life drawing and political cartooning courses for a year at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.

Mauldin moved back to Phoenix in 1940, living with his mother and stepfather. A friend in Phoenix helped shape Mauldin's life, suggesting that they join the National Guard together. Company D of the Forty-fifth Division became part of the standing army immediately after Mauldin joined. Mauldin served as staff cartoonist of the 45th Division News, beginning his career as soldier and cartoonist. Wanting more authentic action, he was transferred to K Company, 180th Infantry, as a rifleman; meanwhile, he continued to create cartoons, and his work was reprinted in the Daily Oklahoman and other papers. In February 1942 he married Norma Jean Humphries, with whom he had two children.

Just as a court jester safely makes fun of the king, Mauldin's cartoons tweaked the noses of the brass but showed deep respect and empathy for the foot soldiers. The major paper of the U.S. armed forces, Stars and Stripes, began carrying Mauldin's cartoons in 1943, despite complaints by General George S. Patton that Mauldin's characters were too scruffy and disrespectful. Even in the army, sentiment was on Mauldin's side. In 1945 he won a Pulitzer Prize for his Willie and Joe cartoons, was featured in a Time magazine cover story, and had his best-known book published—Up Front, a collection of World War II cartoons and reminiscences. Mauldin made a short tour of Korea, covering the war for Collier's magazine, and this resulted in a book in 1952. Some of his short stories were published, and he had a minor role in the 1951 movie The Red Badge of Courage.

At the suggestion of Herbert Block, Mauldin was hired as a political cartoonist by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1958. From the first, he tackled issues that would disturb and divide the country during the coming decade: racial equality, capital punishment, environmental damage, union scandals, and the war in Indochina. Some of his cartoons in the late 1950s and early 1960s seem decades ahead of their time, as Mauldin took on the overzealous antibiotic industry, television violence, the cigarette manufacturers, the censoring of the word "nigger" in Huckleberry Finn, and world overpopulation. In 1959 he won another Pulitzer Prize for a cartoon decrying the banishment of Russian intellectuals to Siberia, while the National Cartoonist's Society gave him an award for best editorial cartoon of the year in 1960 and the Reuben Award as cartoonist of the year in 1961. United Features syndicated his work to newspapers nationwide.

In his 1960s work Mauldin became the court jester of a nation. Like his army cartoons, his political cartoons show deep affection and pride mixed with a keen sense of egos that needed reducing and problems that deserved public attention. For instance, the cartoon that gave its title to his 1965 collection, I've Decided I Want My Seat Back, shows a determined American Eagle about to take back the top of a flagpole from a huffy bird labeled "Jim Crow." Mauldin's most famous cartoon from the 1960s, on the occasion of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, is pure poignancy: a picture of the Lincoln Memorial statue, its head in its hands, weeping.

In 1962 Mauldin moved to the Chicago Sun-Times, his home newspaper for the rest of his career. One controversial cartoon showed a dark form labeled "Black Muslims" as the shadow of a hooded figure representing the Ku Klux Klan. Pieces critical of U.S. involvement in Vietnam appeared as early as 1962, but Mauldin also produced many cartoons supportive of America's actions in Cuba and elsewhere. Mauldin visited South Vietnam, where his oldest son was serving as a member of the U.S. Army, as a correspondent for the Sun-Times in January 1965. He later wrote in a 1973 article that as the bombs fell, he was "hollering [his] head off in approval," and the resultant cartoons earned "Americanism awards from Legion posts." He was persuaded back to the opinion of his "long-haired offspring," however, and "the plaques dribbled off and the familiar old protests began again." By 1965 he and his first wife had divorced and he was married to his second wife, Natalie; they had four children. In 1967 he went to Israel to report on the Six-Day War.

Mauldin's cartoons continued in the Sun-Times and over 250 other newspapers until 1992, when he retired and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. However, his fame was at its peak in the early 1960s. The Brass Ring, a memoir published in 1971, ends in 1945. Mauldin occasionally made the news—for example, when he taught a course in political cartooning at Yale University in 1974; when Up Front was reissued in 1984; and when he traveled to Saudi Arabia in 1991. He divorced again and married a third time, but in 2002 he was alone, divorced once more, and incapacitated, in a nursing home in Orange County, California.

Perhaps only a cartoonist as familiar and loved as Mauldin was could have taken on the issues he did, creating such controversy, while retaining his wide public platform. Another part of his success, in the early 1960s as well as during World War II, was that he always drew what his mind and heart determined, and was neither guided by fashion nor deterred by it.

The Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., has collected Mauldin's published cartoons from 1946 to 1987, as well as memorabilia and correspondence. Mauldin's memoir, The Brass Ring (1971) only covers his life until 1945, but presents photos, cartoons, his early history, and a strong sense of his personality. His cartoons from 1958 through 1961 are collected in What's Got Your Back Up? (1961), and those from 1961 through 1965 in I've Decided I Want My Seat Back (1965). Mauldin's article, "Ain't Gonna Cover Wars No More: Evolution of a Dove," appeared in the New Republic (10 Feb. 1973). Bob Greene, "Bill Mauldin Is in Need of His Buddies Now," Chicago Tribune (11 Aug. 2002), describes the elderly cartoonist's problems.

Bernadette Lynn Bosky

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