John Held, Jr., And His World

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Nevertheless, Held was important to the American scene not as an author or even as a skilled artist, but as the creator of what those now middle-aged will recall as “boop-boop-a-doop,” the light-hearted era of Joe College and his girl, fingers snapping, feet jumping, troubled by nothing very much except yesterday’s hangover and tomorrow’s heavy date. Strangely enough, the man who devised all this wonderful, wry humor was personally its antithesis: quiet, elusive, and a prodigious worker. (Certainly he had nothing in common with the clamorous, happy-go-lucky sheiks and shebas that tumbled out of his India inkwell. Crowds, noise, and parties—especially cocktail parties—distressed him. He was a clubman and a first-nighter, yet he was more interested in his horses and dogs than in his contemporaries. John McNulty described him well as “quietly elegant.”

Held was artist-in-residence at Harvard in 1940 and at the University of Georgia in 1941. During World War II he drew for the Army Signal Corps in Belmar, New Jersey, and bought an old farm nearby. There he died, on March 2, 1958, in time, by the grace of God, to miss pop art and op art, sick humor and sick writing; just in time also to be spared beatniks and Beatles, stretch pants and beehive hairdos, switchblade knives and black leather jackets.