Staggering along the east side of Manhattan’s Third Avenue on a mid-1940s evening in search of local color, one could find it in spades at The Inkwell bar and grill, owned and operated by Dan and Genevieve O’Connor. Open for business at number 693 (between 43rd and 44th Streets) The Inkwell catered to an elite clientele of cartoonists, newspapermen, photographers, models, actors and all manner of other 20th-century media workers (plus thirsty curiosity seekers.) It was celebrated in its heyday for its pork chops, raucous Thursday night theme parties, and after hours jam sessions — but above for all its unique décor, courtesy of some of the greatest cartoonists of the era.
Perhaps the earliest existing shot of The Inkwell, c. summer 1945, before the hordes of thirsty cartoonists descended on its pristine walls. Behind the crowd, Dan O’Connor sits and ponders the future.
Ladies who lunch with cartoons. Framed group left to right: Milt Gross (Dear Dollink), Gus Edson (The Gumps), George McManus (Bringing Up Father). The frescos: A singular jam by George Baker (Sad Sack), Milton Caniff (Miss Lace), and Jay Irving (Willie Doodle) with a Russell Patterson girl relaxing on the outskirts. Further along: Dow Walling (Skeets), Gus Edson (The Gumps), Bill Holman (Smokey Stover), Paul Frehm (Ripley’s Believe It or Not), Ernie Bushmiller (Nancy), Otto Soglow (The Little King), Bela Zaboly (Thimble Theater).
Barkeep O’Connor himself (at 286 lbs) chews the fat with Mr. “Tarzan of the Apes” (Rex Maxon) and the great E. Simms Campbell (Cuties, Esquire, et al).
They got all kinds in here. Dan O’Connor’s notes the respective resumes on the reverse:
1. Jim Cummings / crime editor for New York Post
2. Mrs. Cummings / rehabilitation exp.
3. Jas J. O’Brian Aide to Mayor O’Dwyer. Deputy water commissioner. Former professor of modern and romance languages at Fordham University N.Y.C.
June 1948: The Inkwell power lunch. John McVane was a respected newsman who began his broadcast career in 1940 and according to his New York Times obit “while stationed in London, he provided United States listeners with their first live radio coverage of a major war, often broadcasting along with Edward R. Murrow of CBS, eye-witness accounts from London rooftops of the German air raid.” McVane was NBC’s chief correspondent to the United Nations at the time this photo was taken. According to Editor and Publisher, shortly after this photo was taken Bill Falvey left his gig at the N.Y. Mirror to help promote the alcoholic beverage industry.
Charles Penman was a busy Detroit-based radio actor, announcer, producer, and director in the 1940s (appearing in scores of soap operas, dramas, thrillers, and anthologies) who would transition to television by the end of the decade. Jim Stevenson transitioned from ringside announcing to announcing TV husband and wife sit-coms, which he was doing for Mary Kay and Johnny (one of the earliest known specimens) at the time of this photo.
Mrs. Vera Acton and an unidentified mug. Vera was the widow of the apparently beloved Harry Acton of the New York American’s “Harry Acton On the Gangplank” fame. Yes Virginia, metropolitan newspapers once employed steam ship columnists.
Right: Fred Birmingham served as editor of Esquire magazine from 1952-1956, and later as fashion editor of Playboy, among other careers. Left: Lawyer plays comedian. The actual comedian here (Peter McDonald) is still beloved as Ajax “not long for this world” Cassidy on The Fred Allen Show.
1946. Hey lady, you’re blocking the proprietor’s caricatures. At left: Jimmy Hatlo (They’ll Do It Every Time) … or a reasonable facsimile. At right: I’d take that home too, whatever it is.
Dope (but not dimwit) free New Year's Eve party double-exposure, with a personal endorsement from Martin Branner’s Denny Dimwit (pal of Winnie Winkle‘s kid brother Perry and member in good standing of the “Rinky Dink” gang.)
That’s entertainment? According to Esquire The Inkwell was “favored by musicians towards midnight.” Behind the piano: a sketchy rendition of John Q. Public by John Q. Unknown.
Dan O’Connor (signing as DOC) created scores of these mimeograph cartoon handouts promoting The Inkwell’s Thursday night free-eats parties. Recurring characters included the bar’s mascot “Inkie,” a bloated Chef Oscar, Mousie the barroom cat, plus smiling cartoon pre-slaughterhouse specials.
Oscar the unflappable prepares for another Thursday night event.
Vince Nolan: One million laffs. Other gaggy shots inform us that this Inkwell bartender was an “ex-vaudevillian,” but there the trail goes cold.
First date or last? Behind “model”: a glimpse of the celebrated house honor roll. “Selected guest list of regular members of ‘The Inkwell’” visible here include cartoonists Rex Maxon (Tarzan of the Apes), Jeff Keate (Today’s Laugh), and Gregory D’Alessio (The New Yorker, Esquire) plus several helpings of assorted writers, reporters, publishers, photographers, editors, agents, actors, and even a lone judge.
Life imitates wall. The Inkwell’s décor included characters from the short-lived adventure strips Barry Noble (drawn by Al Plastino) and Jack Sparling’s Claire Voyant. Plastino later went on to Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, and Supereverythingelse glory; later still he returned to the daily press to extend aging syndicated gag strips like Nancy and Ferd’nand. Sparling also transitioned to the comic book industry and found work there for another forty years, ending his career at Marvel drawing Silver Surfer stories. The reclining nude is by Paul Frehm (Ripley’s Believe It or Not).
J. Wellington Wimpy and soul mate, April 6, 1947. One the wall, lower left, wartime magazine gag by the venerable Henry Boltinoff.
By popular request: Dan O’ Connor’s coveted Zombie Grass cocktail house recipe. Mess with this at your own risk.
Barland, USA: The Inkwell.
That’s C.D. Russell’s Pete the Tramp sandwiched by two unidentified characters (behind two other unidentified characters.) Happy New Year and goodnight folks!
A special tip of the Inkwell cap to Matthew Thurber and to Daniel Seward without whose generosity these pictures would remain unseen. Images © 2018 Daniel Seward, all rights reserved.