The Fairfax, Missouri, boy who lived his dream by becoming a cartoonist, died last week in Brooklyn, New York.
George Booth grew up in Fairfax with his father, Billy (a teacher and school administrator), his mother, Irma (Swindle) Booth, and two brothers, Gaylord and James Booth. George graduated from Fairfax High School in 1944.
He later became a famous cartoonist for The New Yorker.
Here is one of his creations.
George Booth, who made a name for himself in the Big Apple by drawing cartoons for The New Yorker, passed away at the age of 96 at his home in Brooklyn, New York.
George grew up in Fairfax, Missouri, with his father, Billy (a teacher and school administrator), his mother, Irma (Swindle) Booth, and two brothers, Gaylord and James Booth. George graduated from Fairfax High School in 1944. He enlisted in the Marines following high school and later studied art in college.
According to The New York Times, “In a half century at The New Yorker, Mr. Booth drew roughly a score of covers and hundreds of zany cartoons for the inside pages. He became one of the most popular stars of a magazine whose readers relished sophisticated cartoon wit. He depicted a quirky cast of people and pets – notably his mad-as-a-hatter bull terrier, which became a reader favorite and the magazine’s unofficial mascot. An affable artist who mostly resisted commercial offers, Mr. Booth was once asked to draw his trademark bull terrier as a gift for an anonymous celebrity. Instead, he recalled, he defiantly drew a ‘diseased chicken.’ Later, he learned the gift was for President Ronald Reagan, who was ‘very gracious’ when the two met in the Oval Office, he told The New York Times in 1993. ‘He never had me shot.’… Mr. Booth’s pen-and-ink cartoons were collected in a dozen books, reproduced as artworks and sold in galleries. He lectured widely and joined discussion groups at schools, museums and cartoon-art exhibitions until he slowed down in his 90s… He last contributed to The New Yorker in 2019, but his most recent appearances there, all in January this year, were the cover drawing of the Jan. 24 issue, an interview with his daughter and a short online documentary about his life and career. His cartoon collections included “Pussycats Need Love, Too” (1981), “Omnibooth” (1984), “Booth Again!” (1989), “The Essential George Booth” (1998) and “About Dogs” (2009). His work was also featured in anthologies, including “The New Yorker Book of Cat Cartoons” (1990) and “The New Yorker Book of Dog Cartoons” (1992). The National Cartoonists Society recognized his work with its Gag Cartoon Award in 1993 and its Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010… George was married to Dione Babcock in 1958. She died on October 26, 2022, at their home in Brooklyn from pancreatic cancer… Mr. Booth was inducted, now posthumously, into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame on Thursday, November 3, at the organization’s annual awards banquet in Manhattan.”
In 2018, the Atchison County Mail ran a story on George, thanks to the research of the late Betty Wennihan. The story follows:
George Booth’s comics are known for their witty, sarcastic and ironic captions that accompany his creative drawings. He is known for depicting husbands and wives in funny situations and for including his infamous pets in his stories.
George grew up on a farm in Fairfax, on the north end of town, but his extraordinary artistic talent led him east, where he made a name for himself in New York as a famous cartoonist.
Booth’s father was William Booth, the Fairfax school administrator in the 1930s and 1940s. His talent for drawing most likely came from his mother, Irma, who was an artist and cartoonist herself and recognized George’s talent when he was just three and half years old. He drew a sketch of a truck stuck in the mud and she immediately recognized his talent.
His parents made sure he had plenty of paper, which George put to good use. In an interview on The New Yorker Radio Hour program in 2015, George explained to fellow cartoonist Matt Diffee that when his father saw his first drawing, he said, “Let him have as much paper as he wants, as long as he doesn’t waste it.”
George said, “I drew all the time at home and in school.” (Wall Street Journal, 2015)
George enlisted in the Marines in 1944, serving in the 4th Marine Division. He started his magazine career by working for Leatherneck magazine.
In an article published by Jane Mattimoe for her blog, A Case For Pencils, he explained how he got the job:
“When I was drafted in ’44, the recruiting sergeant said, ‘What do you want to do in the Marine Corps?’ I said, “I want to draw cartoons.” I didn’t happen to notice there was a world war going on! And so at the end of the war, they sent a telegram to Pearl Harbor, everyone was getting out, it was VJ day, and they sent a telegram from Washington because I had said I wanted to cartoon. They were losing their staff [at Leatherneck], and the telegram said PFC Booth can come to Washington as Staff Cartoonist.” (A Case for Pencils, 2014)
After his discharge, he moved to New York City and worked publishing for many years. He sold his first cartoon to The New Yorker in 1969. He’s been delighting readers with his witty, sarcastic cartoons ever since.
Now at the age of 92, he’s been contributing to The New Yorker for nearly 50 years. His work has been on the cover of several editions. The National Cartoonists Society recognized his work with the Gag Cartoon Award in 1993 and the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. He is the author of several books and collections of his cartoons. In 2009, he illustrated one of best selling children’s author, Sandra Boynton’s books, called “Here, George.”
It’s easy to see that some of his cartoons echo the rural lifestyle that George grew up in. Many drawings depict farm houses with porches filled with chickens, dogs and cats. During his interview with The New Yorker Radio Hour, George explained where some of his inspiration comes from:
“I believe greatly in drawing cartoons of what I see in real life, people recognize it and they love it. They laugh at themselves.” He also said that his New Yorker cartoons featuring a fictional “Mrs. Ritterhouse” are inspired by his mother.
In 2001, all of the cartoonists were notified that in the September 11 issue, there would be no cartoons in light of the tragedy at the World Trade Centers, but George submitted a drawing anyway and the editors decided to run it. It was the only drawing in that week’s magazine. It was a sketch depicting Mrs. Ritterhouse, who is usually jovial, energetic and playing her fiddle, doing something loud or musical. In this cartoon, however, she was sitting in a chair with her hands folded in her lap in prayer, with her fiddle laying silent on the floor and a cat at her feet, covering his eyes with his paws. There was no caption needed.
George lives in New York City and continues his artwork. His Facebook page is full of humorous stories and inside looks of his daily life.
George is most remembered by his classmates at Fairfax High School for his cartoons and contributions to the yearbook and newsletter. He also designed prom invitations and more.