Russ Westover: Creator of ‘Tillie the Toiler’

RUSS WESTOVER

We knocked timidly on a door, bearing the legend “Russ Westover” — and waited.

“Come in,” the voice had a note of friendliness. So we went in and stood in the room adorned with four bare walls, save that on the wall directly before the cartoonist were two pictures; one in which he was shaking hands with Gloria Swanson, and the other, a picture of Marion Davies as “Tillie.” On a drawing board “Tillie the Toiler” was being shaped into a new escapade by Russ Westover. He is a medium-sized man, between thirty-five and forty, with a quiet amusing personality which impresses one immediately. And (for the special benefit of the “Tillie Sisterhood”) he’s quite handsome.

“Sit down,” said he.

“Mr. Westover,” we said, “we want to know all about you and Tillie.”

“Sounds like a scandal,” said he, a smile playing over his face, and then more seriously, “well, you’ll just have to ask questions —-.”

“Agreed,” we assented, for we like to ask questions. “Now, Mr. Westover, how long have you been cartooning?”

Mr. Westover reflected. Then answered: “For about twenty years, but most of that time I wasn’t really in earnest about it.”

“Not in earnest?” we asked. “What made you take it up earnestly?”

“You should have asked ‘who made you take it up earnestly?’ It was easy. I got married,” and he looked very pleased with himself.

“Oh,” we ejaculated softly, for the answer was a complete explanation to us.

“Well, now,” he said, warming up to the subject, “how did you happen to start cartooning? How long have you been doing ‘Tillie the Toiler’? Do you like your work? Where do you get your ideas? Where were you born? How much do you g—–?”

“STOP!”

We stopped.

“All right,” said the humorist. “You win. I’ll talk.”

He settled back in his chair and began, “I came from a race of merchants. IT seems that our family had an especial gift for organized selling, and so my father put me in one of his stores as cash boy. Well, I used to wrap parcels and I’d draw pictures on them. The customers liked it, but father didn’t. In fact, he scorned it, so we talked it over, and came to a very suitable agreement — I went into the railroad business. I liked that job fine.”

Here Mr. Westover gazed into space with a blissful smile of reminiscence, “I was certainly getting on splendidly, and you’d be surprised how much easier it is to cartoon on the backs of railroad pay vouchers than on wrapping paper, but I guess my boss had somehow neglected to develop an aesthetic regard for superior merits of pay vouchers as art panels; and besides that he pointed out among other things (and not without emphasis) that drawing pay on vouchers for drawing cartoons on pay vouchers is not comme il faut — in the railroad business.

“So we compromised, and I took a job on the San Francisco Post, and there followed out my bent for art work. I had gone to the Hopkins Art Institute of California, but in all my work the comic element crept in. I began discouraged with art and broke directly into the cartooning. While still in California I ran a strip called ‘Daffy Dan’. It was a baseball cartoon and the public liked it.”

Mr. Westover proffered a cigarette, took one himself and went on.

“Well, I had become somewhat heartened by this time and so decided on a career in New York. There isn’t much more to tell. I always had ‘Tillie the Toiler’ in the back of my mind — by the way, peopled who know my wife say that I get the features for ‘Tillie’ from my wife. I always wanted to create a pretty girl of the modern type and put a touch of philosophical fun to such a creation. The other characters ‘Mc’ and ‘Mr. Simpkins’ are also taken from people I know. Well, to put a long story into a nutshell, ‘Tillie the Toiler’ has been running over six years, and I’m still very enthusiastic about her.”

He paused a moment, gazing over Columbus Circle, wit hits throngs of hurrying New Yorkers. Then suddenly he called my attention to a Miss in a dainty blue coat. “Now there’s a rather neat wrap,” said Mr. Westover., ‘you see I get my ideas for “Tillie’s” clothes from actual creations that I see here from my window.”

At this point we couldn’t help but tell Mr. Westover that we considered “Tillie” one of the fairest of the fair in the Kingdom of Fun and he seemed frankly, boyishly pleased.

“What about your hobbies, Mr Westover?” we questioned next.

“Hobbies!” cam the response, “Hobbies? I doubt if I have any. ‘Tillie’ (he repeated the name as if she were his own daughter) — ‘Tillie’ is one of my greatest hobbies. I lie to work. But I do not like to play the piano — for my own amusement and not  other people’s of course.”

“Then, too, I’ve tried horseback riding, but I always seem to be hunting for matches and such things — on the ground. Nope I’m not much of a rider. Golf? Well, at that sport I spend most of my time looking for the ball. What I really enjoy is driving. I like to go on long motoring trips, and I like to stop at small towns and talk with the people. A fellow can get a lot of good information from people like that, and I never tire of engaging them in conversation.”

“One more question,” we asked, and then we’ll go. What do you think is the best plan to ‘get over to the public’?”

The response came immediately, “I don’t know any best plan but in my case I concentrate a lot on my work and I enjoy it. But, of course, the greatest thing is that I’m lucky.”

So we thanked Mr. Westover and left him, firmly convinced that he is not “lucky” but that a vast application of real humor, artistic skill and energetic concentration make him what he is today — one of the ablest and most popular of all comic artists.

San Antonio Light (San Antonio, Texas) Sep 6, 1929

The Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) May 31, 1934

Design a fancy dress and win a trip to the 1938 Beaux-Arts Ball in New York City — Cool prize!

San Antonio Light (San Antonio, Texas) Nov 6, 1938

Wow! Fans could even make themselves a “Tillie” dress!

San Antonio Light (San Antonio, Texas) Nov 6, 1938

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