Biography: Al Capp

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Birth/Death

Alfred Gerald Caplin
Born: September 28, 1909 (New Haven, CT)
Died: (Emphysema) November 5, 1979 (South Hampton, NH

Occupation/Title

Comic Strip Cartoonist, Newspaper Columnist, Radio & TV Commentator
Creator of LI’L ABNER for United Features Syndicate in 1934
Co-creator of ABBIE AN’ SLATS [with Raeburn Van Buren], and LONG SAM [with
Bob
Lubbers]

Bio Summary

Parents: Otto Philip Caplin and Maltida [Davidson] Caplin
Married: Catherine Wingate Cameron
Children: Julie, Cathy, Colin
Brother: Elliot Caplin – Comic book publisher / co-creator of THE HEART
OF
JULIET JONES [with Stan Drake] and BROOM HILDA [with Russ Myers]
Brother: Jerry “Bence” Capp – Licensing, Capp Enterprises Inc.

Early Life/Family

Capp’s father was reportedly an amateur cartoonist.
At the age of 9, Capp jumped off the back of an ice wagon directly into
thepath of an oncoming streetcar. The trolley severed his left leg below
the hip. This childhood accident likely helped shape Capp’s cynical
worldview,certainly darker and more sardonic than that of the average newspaper
cartoonist. Capp wore a prosthetic leg for the next 60 years. Rather than hide the
fact, he openly joked about it all his life.

Education/Training

Bridgeport Central High School
Capp attended several art schools, including the Boston Museum School
of
Fine Arts, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and Designers Art School

Career Outline

Took over the single-panel feature COLONEL GILFEATHER for the
Associated
Press in 1932. Resigned after 3 months.
Apprenticed with Ham Fisher on JOE PALOOKA. (Their stormy relationship
was recounted by Capp in a magazine article for The ATLANTIC, “I
Remember
Monster” – April, 1950)
Began LI’L ABNER for United Features Syndicate in August, 1934. The
strip
was an immediate success. It lasted until 1977.

Comments On Style

“I consider LI’L ABNER the greatest comic strip of all time. Al Capp was a true genius, despite falling apart mentally in his later years. The strip had everything- literate, witty writing, great adventure, wild humor, social satire, fabulous babes. And of course,
Fearless Fosdick… Capp’s “Case of the Poisoned Beans” is my all-time
favorite comics story. The absurdity is wonderful.”
(Mystery Writer / DICK TRACY author Max Allan
Collins – 1999)

By any modern standard, LI’L ABNER was an American masterpiece of cartoon satire. The best of Capp’s great body of work could arguably hold its own against any classic satirical literary work. No less an authority than John Steinbeck once earnestly recommended Capp
for the Nobel Prize in literature, and called Capp “possibly the greatest writer in the world today” in 1953.

“Many have commented on the shift in Capp’s political viewpoint, from
as liberal as POGO in his early years to as conservative as LITTLE ORPHAN
ANNIE when he reached middle age. At one extreme, he displayed consistently
devastating humor, while at the other, his mean-spiritedness came to the
fore – but which was which seems to depend on the commentator’s own
point of view. From beginning to end, Capp was acid-tongued toward the targets
of his wit, intolerant of hypocrisy, and always wickedly funny.”
- Don Markstein’s Toonopedia

Influences

Words, concepts and phrases in the English language, attributed or
partially
attributed to Al Capp:
Sadie Hawkins Day
Double whammy
Shmooing
Lower Slobbovia
Skunk Works
Druthers
Nogoodnik

Fearless Fosdick, Capp’s innovative strip-within-a-strip parody of DICK TRACY, was a direct inspiration to Harvey Kurtzman’s MAD Magazine.

Personality

Volatile, contentious, complex, erratic, iconoclastic, misanthropic, curmudgeonly,
controversial, and sardonically funny.
Frank Frazetta described Al Capp as “exasperating, infuriating,
domineering,
obnoxious, loud, lots of fun, acidic and lovable.”

Anecdotes

JOE PALOOKA creator Ham Fisher and Al Capp waged a famous
feud for
years. It finally came to a head when
Fisher
“doctored” photostats of LI’L ABNER in order to make its panels appear
pornographic. Fisher promptly accused Capp of indecency, and attempted
to
have him expelled from the National Cartoonists Society. An ensuing
lawsuit
revealed Fisher’s duplicity, and culminated in Fisher’s expulsion from
the
NCS instead. (Fisher subsequently committed suicide in
1955.)

Capp is often associated with two other giants of
the medium, Milton Caniff (TERRY AND THE PIRATES, STEVE CANYON) and Walt Kelly (POGO).
The three men were close personal friends and professional associates throughout their adult lives, and often referenced each other in their strips.

Once, Capp and his brother Elliot ducked out of a dull party at Capp’s home – leaving Walt Kelly alone to fend for himself entertaining a group of Argentine envoys who didn’t speak English. Kelly retaliated by giving away Capp’s baby grand piano! (According to Capp, Kelly’s perfectly logical reason was, “because you can’t play the piano, anyway!”)

Miscellaneous

During and after World War II, Capp worked tirelessly going to
hospitals to
entertain patients, often accompanied by his friend Milton Caniff. Capp especially wanted to cheer up recent amputees, and explain
that
the loss of a limb did not mean an end to a happy, productive life.
Capp was also involved with the Sister Kenny Foundation, which did
charity
volunteer work for crippled children.

LI’L ABNER lasted 43 years, and along the way was turned into a radio
serial
(1939-40), a Broadway musical (1956), two feature films (1940 and
1959),
three TV pilots, and its own theme park, Dogpatch USA in northwest
Arkansas,
which operated from 1968 to 1993.
Perhaps the strip’s most lasting influence on American culture was the
creation of “Sadie Hawkins Day.” The event became an unofficial
holiday, and
begat thousands of real-life chases on college and high school
campuses. In
1952, 40,000 Sadie Hawkins Day events were documented.

Filmography

LI’L ABNER (1940)
KICKAPOO JOY JUICE (1944)
AMOOZIN’ BUT CONFOOZIN’ (1944)
A PEE-KOOL-YAR SIT-CHEE-AY-SHUN (1944)
PORKULIAR PIGGY (1944)
SADIE HAWKINS DAY (1944)
FEARLESS FOSDICK (1952) NBC-TV (series, 13 episodes)
THAT CERTAIN FEELING (1956) cameo
LI’L ABNER (1959)
THIS IS AL CAPP (1970) NBC-TV (special)
LI’L ABNER (1971) NBC-TV (special)
IMAGINE: JOHN LENNON (1988) cameo

“No other comic artist has come close to Capp’s television exposure.
During TV’s infancy, Capp appeared as a regular on THE AUTHOR MEETS THE
CRITICS (1947-54). He was a periodic panelist on ABC and NBC’s WHO SAID THAT?
(1948-55). In 1953 Capp moderated WHAT¹S THE STORY? for the Dumont
network.
The same year he hosted ANYONE CAN WIN for CBS.
He could appear as a celebrity guest on a kiddie show like ROD BROWN OF
THE ROCKET RANGERS as well as Sid Caesar’s top-rated YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS.
For two decades the outspoken Capp regularly entertained millions as a regular
guest on NBC’s TONIGHT SHOW, spanning three hosts (Steve Allen, Jack Paar and
Johnny Carson). And no less than four different times he had his very own TV vehicle:
THE AL CAPP SHOW (1952), AL CAPP¹S AMERICA (1954), THE AL CAPP SHOW (1968),
and AL CAPP (1971-72)”
- Denis Kitchen

Honors

NCS Reuben Award ­ 1947 (Cartoonist Of The Year)
NCS Elzie Segar Award – 1979 (posthumous)
US Postage Stamp – 1995

Related Links

http://www.lil-abner.com/

Bibliographic References

(All by Al Capp unless otherwise noted)
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE SHMOO (1948) Simon & Schuster
THE WORLD OF LI’L ABNER (1953) Farrar, Straus & Young
EIGHT HUMORISTS by George Mikes (1954) Allan Wingate, London
AL CAPP’S FEARLESS FOSDICK: HIS LIFE AND DEATHS (1956) Simon & Schuster
AL CAPP’S BALD IGGLE: THE LIFE IT RUINS MAY BE YOUR OWN (1956) Simon &
Schuster
THE RETURN OF THE SHMOO (1959) Simon & Schuster
FROM DOGPATCH TO SLOBBOVIA (1964) Beacon Press, Boston
LI’L ABNER: A STUDY IN AMERICAN SATIRE by Arthur Asa Berger, Ph. D.
(1970)
Univ. Press of MS
THE HARDHAT’S BEDTIME STORY BOOK (1971) Harper & Row
THE BEST OF LI’L ABNER (1978) Holt, Rinehart & Winston
ABBIE AN’ SLATS by Raeburn Van Buren – 2 Volumes (1983) Ken Pierce, Inc
LI’L ABNER: Reuben Award Winner Series – Book 1 (1985) Blackthorne
LI’L ABNER DAILIES – 27 Volumes (1988 – 1997) Kitchen Sink Press
FEARLESS FOSDICK (1990) Kitchen Sink Press
MY WELL-BALANCED LIFE ON A WOODEN LEG (1991) John Daniel & Co.
FEARLESS FOSDICK: THE HOLE STORY (1992) Kitchen Sink Press
AL CAPP REMEMBERED by Elliot Caplin (1994) Bowling Green Univ. Popular
Press
AMERICA’S GREAT COMIC STRIP ARTISTS by Richard Marschall (1997)
Abbeville
THE ENIGMA OF AL CAPP by Alexander Theroux (1999) Fantagraphics
GLAMOUR INTERNATIONAL #26 The Good Girl Art of Bob Lubbers (2001)
THE SHORT LIFE AND HAPPY TIMES OF THE SHMOO (2002) Overlook (Previous
titles
reprinted in one volume)
AL CAPP’S LI’L ABNER: THE FRAZETTA YEARS – 4 Volumes (2003 – 2004) Dark
Horse
AL CAPP’S SHMOO: THE COMPLETE COMIC BOOKS ­ Ed. by Denis Kitchen
(2008) Dark
Horse
Contributors To This Listing

Mike Fontanelli
Joe Suggs

To make additions or corrections to this listing, please click on COMMENTS below…

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