It’s archyFest! 100 Years of Archy and Mehitabel!

archyfest logoIt was 100 years ago, on March 20, 1916, that Don Marquis added a fanciful bit of filler material to his daily newspaper column in The Evening Sun. He claimed that a cockroach had crawled onto his typewriter the night before and left a message by diving on the keys, one at a time. Many more messages would follow from the labors of Archy the cockroach, including wild tales of a neighborhood alley cat, Mehitabel. It was brilliant stuff, and it’s still with us today. Let’s celebrate!

Plans in New York City include performances of actor Gale McNeeley’s one-man show, “Archy and Mehitabel”; a walking tour of New York’s old Newspaper Row on Sunday, March 27; and a special gathering of Marquis fans on the evening of Tuesday, March 29, at Jimmy’s No. 43, a bar/restaurant in the East Village, where tales will be told, Archy poems will be sung, and toasts will be raised to Don Marquis, Archy and Mehitabel.

Further events and exhibits will take place throughout 2016, all under the banner of archyFest! See below for event details: Continue Reading →

Barsotti Draws Archy in The New Yorker

Archy the cockroach has reappeared quite a few times in newspapers, magazines and blog posts in the decades after Don Marquis’s death. Check out this classic scene, drawn by the ace New Yorker cartoonist Charles Barsotti in 1973:



Barsotti was one of the most prolific and best-loved of The New Yorker’s stable of cartoonists. He drew 1,400 cartoons for The New Yorker, from the 1960s until his death in 2014, and was famous for simple line drawings of dogs and kings, outlaw snails and talking pasta. Here’s an appreciation, with lots of classic images, from the magazine’s cartoon editor.

A New Anthology: ‘The Best of Archy and Mehitabel’

Alfred A. Knopf today published “The Best of Archy and Mehitabel,” a new anthology of Don Marquis’ popular Archy and Mehitabel poems and sketches.

The new hardback is an abridged version of “the lives and times of archy and mehitabel,” first published in 1940 by Doubleday, Doran, Marquis’ longtime publisher. Doubleday and Knopf are both part of the Random House publishing group.

“The Best of Archy and Mehitabel”sells for $13.50 ($15.95 in Canada) and is part of the Pocket Poets series from Knopf’s Everyman’s Library imprint. The book has 256 pages, measures 4 1/8 by 6 1/4 inches, and includes George Herriman’s beloved cartoon illustrations and E.B. White’s introduction to the 1950 edition of “the lives and times of archy and mehitabel.” Continue Reading →

Welcome to the New

Hello world.

You’re looking at a redesigned and expanded web site, which goes live today, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011. The site has a fresh new look and lots of new content, including a scrolling display of aphorisms on the home page and a blog that will be updated frequently with stories from Don’s rich life and extraordinary imagination. Most of the photos and drawings added to the site are making their first appearance online; some haven’t been published in more than 100 years. homepage, 2002-2011. homepage, 2002-2011.

The blog is a handy vehicle for sharing some fascinating tidbits that were lost to history until now. It draws on 10 years of research incidental to my work on a full, descriptive bibliography of Don’s publishing history — an effort (still ongoing) that has taken me to research libraries across the United States and countless web pages hidden in the far corners of the Internet. But these aren’t dusty stories fit for an encyclopedia entry. They are flashes of wit and warmth and life from a clever man who, in the words of Christopher Morley, “was, in his own circle, the best loved man of his time.”

This marks the third version of this web site, which first appeared online in October 1995. Many thanks to web programmer Kai Christiansen, who designed this version and engineered its construction using open-source WordPress software.

Christopher Morley Pens a Paean to a Cockroach

Christopher Morley

The essayist and novelist Christopher Morley (1890-1957) was one of Don Marquis’ dearest friends. As a young writer Morley was an unabashed fan of Don’s breezy, brilliant humor, and Morley looked to him as a mentor. They became frequent lunch companions (the Three Hours for Lunch Club), fellow collaborators (“Pandora Lifts the Lid,” 1924) and lifelong boosters of each other’s works.

It’s no surprise that Morley would dedicate a poem to Marquis, but the subject matter makes the poem copied here a special treat. It first appeared in Morley’s Bowling Green column in the New York Evening Post and was reprinted in his 1920 book of light poetry, “Hide and Seek.” Enjoy.

By Christopher Morley
From “Hide and Seek,” 1920

Dedicated to Don Marquis

Scuttle, scuttle, little roach —
How you run when I approach:
Up above the pantry shelf,
Hastening to secrete yourself.

Most adventurous of vermin,
How I wish I could determine
How you spend your hours of ease,
Perhaps reclining on the cheese.

Cook has gone, and all is dark —
Then the kitchen is your park:
In the garbage heap that she leaves
Do you browse among the tea leaves?

How delightful to suspect
All the places you have trekked:
Does your long antenna whisk its
Gentle tip across the biscuits?

Do you linger, little soul,
Drowsing in our sugar bowl?
Or, abandonment most utter,
Shake a shimmy on the butter?

Do you chant your simple tunes
Swimming in the baby’s prunes?
Then, when dawn comes, do you slink
Homeward to the kitchen sink?

Timid roach, why be so shy?
We are brothers, thou and I.
In the midnight, like yourself,
I explore the pantry shelf!

Don Marquis (Disambiguation)

“Don Marquis and Rosita Alvarado in a pulsing dance of Spanish blood.” — photo caption on the cover of the Los Angeles Times’ Rotogravure section, May 1, 1927.

An online search for the name “Don Marquis” can yield some surprising results.

Perhaps you’ve seen links to those strident anti-abortion essays Don wrote. And maybe you’ve been tempted to read what Don had to say on the history of jazz since, after all, he wrote that biography of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden. But if what you wanted was new insight into the life and times of the creator of “archy and mehitabel,” you would have been mistaken.

“Disambiguation” is the term used by Wikipedia, the online reference site, to distinguish among various entries bearing the same title or keyword. And it might be useful here, near the start of this blog, to disambiguate among the several Don Marquises who have made a name for themselves in disparate endeavors.

Don Marquis is indeed an opponent of abortion rights. He is a philosophy professor and medical ethicist at the University of Kansas, and his 1989 essay “Why Abortion Is Immoral” is widely quoted by adherents.

Don Marquis is also the author of “In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz,” a 1978 biography of the cornet player who, in the words of Wikipedia, “is regarded by contemporaries as a key figure in the development of a New Orleans style of rag-time music which later came to be known as jazz.”

Confusing Don Marquis the columnist and humor writer with other men of the same name is nothing new. Don himself once wrote, with perhaps just a bit of exaggeration, that he had been inundated with angry letters from women in California claiming that he had promised them love and marriage and then abandoned them at the altar. In fact, at least two other Don Marquises are known to have lived in California during the 1920s and ’30s, one of them a Latin dancer in Los Angeles and the other a Stanford grad and car dealer in Oakland.

And then there is Don Marquis the director of the 1923 silent movie “Blood Test.”

Except for his name in the credits of that one movie, virtually nothing is known today about the director of “Blood Test,” itself a forgettable Western melodrama that was released in April 1923. Yet IMDb, a leading Internet movie database, has linked “Blood Test” director Marquis to the writer responsible for the 1926 silent movie “The Old Soak,” the 1937 talkie “Good Old Soak” and the 1971 animated movie “Shinbone Alley” based on the Archy and Mehitabel stories.

Other online movie databases have followed IMDb’s lead, further compounding the confusion, even though a look at Don’s life in 1922 and early 1923 makes it clear that he had no time to dabble in silent movies.

Besides writing six newspaper columns every week, Don was busy at the time shepherding his first play, “The Old Soak,” through a successful 10-month run on Broadway. The comedy opened August 22, 1922, and a few weeks later Don took a new job writing a daily column for the New York Tribune. That Tribune job was a big, big deal for Don, and he certainly wouldn’t have risked it, or the success of his play, by tackling a whole new undertaking — a silent movie, and a guns-blazing Western, at that.

(Apologies, by the way, to all you other Don Marquises whose accomplishments haven’t been acknowledged!)

A Photo From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1920

Here’s a bittersweet photo from the pages of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, published January 11, 1920, showing proud papa Don Marquis and his two young children. Daughter Barbara, on Don’s knee, is just 16 months old, and Bobby, standing, is 4 years old.

The photo appeared on a feature page of the Eagle that Sunday under the headline “Brooklyn Kiddies Smile at the Camera-Man.” Among other celebrities smiling for the camera that day was former President Theodore Roosevelt, holding his Brooklyn granddaughter Edith Derby.

Don was a famous columnist by 1920, and the Eagle — where he had worked for a year before moving to the New York Evening Sun in 1911 — took pleasure in tracking his career and also his exploits as a Brooklyn resident. (More on that in a few days.)

The bittersweet aspect to this photo comes from events looming in the future. Bobby, always a sickly child, would die barely a year later, on February 15, 1921. Barbara also suffered from a frail constitution and died of pneumonia on October 24, 1931, at the age of 13.

Absent from this photo is Don’s wife and the children’s mother, Reina Marquis. Her story only adds to the impending gloom. On the evening of Dec. 2, 1923, just a few weeks after she and Don and Barbara returned from a three-month trip to Paris and London, Reina became violently ill and died within an hour from myocarditis, an inflammation of heart muscle.

Don, who would live to also see his second wife die, somehow endured these tragedies while wearing the mantle of a funny man. One can only imagine the heartache that lived inside.

Archy’s Dream Realized: A Tribute in Gold

How many public buildings in the United States pay homage to a lowly cockroach? Just one: the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Public Library’s Central Library at Grand Army Plaza. There, atop a majestic, 50-foot-high entryway, Don Marquis’s Archy is cast in bronze and coated in gilt, standing tall (well, as much as a cockroach can) beneath Mehitabel the cat.

Archy, who always dreamed of public acclaim yet endured a life in lowercase letters, must indeed be proud.

Archy and Mehitabel occupy one of fifteen panels that make a massive screen above the library’s front doors. Cockroach and cat are in the the top row, front and center, near other famous characters from America’s literary past such as Tom Sawyer, Rip Van Winkle, Moby Dick and Poe’s raven.

Brooklyn was proud to call itself home to Marquis during his most creative years. He lived there, with only a brief interruption, from 1910 to 1921, before moving his family to Forest Hills in nearby Queens (and later Manhattan). Marquis died three years before the Central Library opened in February 1941, but he was still fondly remembered and “archy and mehitabel” was still selling strong — and would continue to for another 20 years.

The bronze screen was designed by sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones and the massive pylons on either side by Carl Paul Jennewin. The Central Library, shaped to look like an open book, was designed by the architectural firm Githens & Keally and built of Indiana limestone in the Modern Classical style.

For more on the Central Library and a full description of all 15 panels in the bronze screen, visit the Brooklyn Public Library’s web site at

(Credits: Accompanying photos were found on and used according to their Creative Commons licenses. Wally Gobetz shot the photos of the Central Library entryway and the cropped close-up of Archy and Mehitabel’s panel. Thanks!)

Happy Birthday Don Marquis!


Don Marquis in Atlanta, circa 1903

Happy birthday Don Marquis!

July 29, 2011, is the 133rd anniversary of Don’s birth. He entered the world in Walnut, Illinois, the eighth and youngest child of Dr. James S. and Elizabeth (Whitmore) Marquis.

Growing up in “a little town with muddy streets” on the Illinois prairie, 100 miles west of Chicago, Don spent his childhood fishing when he could, tending the family garden when he had to, and reading every book he could get his hands on. He worked brief stints as a chicken plucker, canal digger, sewing machine salesman, schoolteacher and weekly newspaper editor (and printer) before moving to Washington, D.C., in 1900 to take a job with the Census Bureau. He drifted into big-city newspaper work as a part-time reporter for the Washington Times.

After an exceptionally brief editing job at the Philadelphia North American — it’s unclear whether he was fired or just supremely unhappy — Don moved to Atlanta in 1902 to take a job at the Atlanta News and then the Atlanta Journal as editorial writer.

Don was a popular newspaperman in Atlanta, and his carousings with sportswriter Grantland Rice and columnist Frank L. Stanton were literally the stuff of legends (more on that another day). In 1907 he was recruited by Joel Chandler Harris to join a new publishing venture, Uncle Remus’s Magazine, as associate editor, and his star never stopped rising. But there’s another reason why Don always talked fondly of Atlanta: That’s where he met and married Reina Melcher, a freelance writer at Uncle Remus’s. She was the great love of his life.

Don and Reina moved to New York City in 1909 without a job but with plenty of enthusiasm, and in 1912 — after more than a year at the Brooklyn Eagle and his first book, “Danny’s Own Story,” getting strong reviews — he joined The Evening Sun, where his daily column, The Sun dial, debuted a year later to instant acclaim. Archy the cockroach made his first appearance in print on March 29, 1916, and the rest, as they say, is history. Happy birthday Don!