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 →

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.

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!