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The World Of Gluyas Williams
He was more than just a cartoonist. He was the Hogarth of the American middle class.
December 1984 | Volume 36, Issue 1
He was also cautious. Fearing that the ramshackle building he used for a studio would catch fire, he kept his reserve pile of drawings in the local bank. Each week he would take out a week’s supply and send them to the syndicate. But in 1933 Roosevelt declared a bank holiday. “My deadline was at hand, and I couldn’t get to my drawings,” Williams later re-called. “The Boston Globe had to pull strings and arranged for me to go under guard to my bank to get the drawings. The guard was supposed to make certain I didn’t take any gold out.”
The bank-holiday story was one Williams told over and over. It was an incident that must have seemed like high adventure in a life that was otherwise prosaic: marriage, children, a home in the suburbs, a summer place in Maine, grandchildren, and retirement at the age of sixty-five. He is quoted as saying: “I was sixty-five. It seemed like a great age to retire, so I did.” But some friends believe he was afraid that further drawing would cost him his sight.
Whatever the reason for putting aside his drawing tools, the world that was taking shape in 1953, the year he retired, was a world far different from the one he had up until then chronicled. The upper middle class was beginning to feel uncomfortable about its conformity, and some people had even stopped wearing hats. Nineteen fifty-three was a good year to call it quits.
The world had changed even more by the time he died in 1982 at the age of ninety-three. The thousands of drawings he left behind remain a superb guide to manners and customs during three decades of the American saga. They are also, to a large extent, his autobiography.