Comic Creator with a Star-Spangled Life

Article excerpt

JUD HURD LIVES within walking distance of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, but being close to movie stars is nothing new to the Connecticut resident.

In the 1930s, Hurd met John Barrymore, Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper, Betty Grable, Cary Grant, Bob Hope, Tyrone Power, Lana Turner, John Wayne and other film legends while doing a Hollywood comic strip.

During the years, Hurd also met such cartooning legends as Walt Disney (1901-1966), "Mutt and Jeff " creator Bud Fisher (1885-1954), "Little Orphan Annie" creator Harold Gray (1894-1968), "Krazy Kat" creator George Herriman (1880-1944), "Bringing Up Father" creator George McManus (1884-1954) and "Happy Hooligan" creator Frederick Opper (1857-1937).

Meanwhile, Hurd carved out a career in various areas of cartooning. Currently, he draws the "Health Capsules" panel for United Feature Syndicate and edits Cartoonist Profiles magazine.

It's all made for a fascinating life, which Hurd chronicles in a new Profiles Press book called To Cartooning: 60 Years of Magic.

Sixty years ago, Hurd was in his hometown of Cleveland, studying economics at what later became Case-Western Reserve University. He graduated in 1934 and then enrolled at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.

In 1936, Hurd moved to Hollywood to work as an "in-betweener" animation artist at the Charles Mintz Studio.

"The salary was only $16 a week, but I was never short of money," Hurd said. "I had a room with a family for $7 a week and you could buy a double-thick chocolate malted for 10 cents in those days."

Soon, the low-paid young cartoonist was interviewing high-paid movie stars for the "Just Hurd in Hollywood" comic distributed by Central Press Association, a King Features Syndicate subsidiary.

Hurd, whose given first name is Justin, initially approached Grant to see if the actor would give him an anecdote for the strip.

"He was pleasant," Hurd said. "He told me if he could get his publicity department to OK it, I could come on the set the next day."

Approval was obtained and Hurd visited Grant on the set of Bringing Up Baby, which co-starred Katharine Hepburn.

It was a little tougher getting Barrymore to talk. Hurd said he approached him about the comic, but the actor's wife kept pulling him away. " |I've got to set up an appointment with this young man,'" Hurd remembered Barrymore protesting.

Hurd said he greatly enjoyed his interviews with Barrymore and other high-octane actors.

"Being by nature sort of shy myself, I always got a charge out of people who sort of swashbuckled their way through life' " he remarked. "I also was interested in what made these movie stars tick, an interest that extended to what made cartoonists tick."

One creator straddling the movie and cartooning fields was Disney, who used to play in Sunday afternoon polo matches that Hurd watched. During a 1937 match, Hurd struck up a conversation with the animator's father and lavishly praised the abilities of his famous son. "Yes, Walter's done well" was Elias Disney's understated response.

Another day, Hurd hitched a ride back to Hollywood in Disney's Cadillac after the polo match ended. "I got in the front seat beside Walt and he talked for a solid 45 minutes," he said, adding that Disney discussed his view that many fairy tales couldn't be handled properly by live actors but could be made into great animation films. Disney was working on Snow White at the time.

Hurd also visited a number of cartoonists at their homes. One of them was Herriman, whose Hollywood Hills abode had pots of cacti outside reminiscent of the plants in "Krazy Kat" cartoon landscapes. Inside, Herriman did his offbeat comic on a modest card table in the living room.

"Those days, he wasn't thought of as the genius cartoonist he is thought o now," Hurd said. "|Krazy Kat' wasn't anywhere near as widely syndicated as other features. …