recess radio program

12/16/04
Johnny Gruelle
    by Rita Smith

You have probably met Raggedy Ann and Andy, but what do you know of Johnny Gruelle, their creator? As a boy, Gruelle had an aversion to formal education and dropped out of high school before he graduated, but that didn't keep him from a learning all he could about art technique and composition and he carried a pen and paper every- where he went. His father was a portrait and landscape painter, but Johnny preferred to sketch people, scenes and actions in a cartoon-ish style. His sketches were lively and animated, capturing gestures and expressions with a simple stroke of his pen.

While visiting his parents in Connecticut in 1910 he saw an item in the The New York Herald announcing a comic drawing contest. He entered several cartoons winning both first and second prizes out of more than 1,500 entries. For his winning entries, he won a cash award of $2000 and a job offer to work as a cartoonist on The Herald.

The character Gruelle created for the contest and who was then the focus of the comic strip he produced for The Herald was Mr. Twee Deedle, a little comic fairy who taught readers the virtues of kindly and compassionate living. Each episode of the comic strip presented an illustrated story in which Mr. Twee Deedle appeared to a brother and sister, Dickie and Dolly, to teach them about generosity, honesty and respect, and in the very first strip that appeared on the front page of The New York Herald Sunday Comic Section, Dolly carries around a small rag doll with yarn hair, a harbinger of a much more famous rag doll.

Gruelle began thinking about the commercial possibilities of a cloth doll, and in the summer of 1915, he submitted a design for a rag doll to the U.S. Patent office and soon thereafter filed a trademark application for the logo "Raggedy Ann." Three years later, he wrote and illustrated a book, Raggedy Ann Stories, based on the adventures of just such a doll, the leader of a nursery menagerie of toys who come alive and enjoy a secret magical life when humans are away or asleep. He redesigned his patented doll to more closely resemble the rag doll as it was depicted in the book and the two objects, doll and book were sold together by the P F. Volland Publishing Company. Two years later, Gruelle created Raggedy Andy and continued to write of their adventures until his death in 1938.

It was Gruelle's philosophy that "books for children should contain nothing to cause fright, suggest fear, glorify mischief, excuse malice or condone cruelty." This overprotective attitude makes his prose seem na•ve, quaint and sentimental. Neither his books nor his name are well known today, but the two dolls he created live on as recognized and enduring cultural icons.

Notes

1 Hall, p. 186.

Sources:

Hall, Patricia, Johnny Gruelle: Creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy. Gretna, [Louisiana]: Pelican Publishing Company. 1993.

Copyright 2004 © Rita Smith

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."