Vanity Fair recently ran a long story on Eric Roberts. In a career spanning over 40 years, he’s amassed more than 400 credits. No wonder the magazine calls him “the hardest-working man in Hollywood.”
Back in the day, he worked pretty hard in Westport too. The article describes what happened in 1966 when Sandy Dennis — nearly 20 years his senior — first saw him. She thought he could be the Next Big Thing.
Vanity Fair says:
What first impressed Eric when he walked into Sandy Dennis’s house in Westport, Connecticut, was her 2,500-book library. Even when he was a boy, disappearing into books was one way Eric handled his social isolation.
Eric Roberts (Photo/Sam Jones for Vanity Fair)
“So I go over to Sandy’s house and we start talking about books. After about a month, I’m over there in the afternoon, just me and her in the house, and we’re having a talk about cats. How many cats on this property? She goes, Probably 30. And her house had 12 rooms, so you didn’t feel cats were an issue. So I was fine with it. And I’m a cat person anyway. . . . The next thing I know we were rolling around together.”
They began “this little book affair,” which turned into a 4-year relationship, from 1980 to 1983. It almost ended, Eric says, after he had a brief relationship with another actress while Dennis was on the road doing a play. Sandy found out and forgave him, but there was another problem: “Too many cats. By now there’s a hundred cats. Not 30, there’s 100,” Eric recalls.
He offered to start an animal shelter if she would agree to keep just 10 or 12, but Sandy refused. Neither would budge, so Eric asked for his engagement ring back. Over the years he had bought her an antique jewelry box and a lot of jewelry, but he wanted her to return only the ring.
“Sandy went upstairs and stood at the top of the winding staircase,” Eric recalls. “Here’s your engagement ring,” she said as she hurled the jewelry box and it crashed to the floor, smashing into pieces.
He never saw her again. (She died in 1992.)
In fact, she died right here in Westport, of complications from ovarian cancer. She was just 54.
(To read the full Vanity Fair story, click here. Hat tip: Susan Iseman)
Over the years, Westport has been known nationally for a few things.
During the Civil War, our onions helped Northern troops stave off illness. In the ’70s and ’80s we were awash in marketing companies.
And for a longer period of time — the 1950s through ’90s — we were part of “the comic strip capital of the world.”
Vanity Fair’s September issue explores that funny period in our history. Writer Cullen Murphy — whose father was one of those illustrious illustrators — looks at all of Fairfield County as the world capital. It was
where most of the country’s comic-strip artists, gag cartoonists, and magazine illustrators chose to make their home. The group must have numbered 100 or more, and it constituted an all-embracing subculture …. In the conventional telling, the milieu of Wilton and Westport, Greenwich and Darien, was the natural habitat of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit — and I was certainly aware of the commuters who took the train into Manhattan every morning from my own hometown of Cos Cob. But, for me, those salarymen with their briefcases seemed like outlandish outliers.
Murphy cites Westport’s “large cluster” of cartoonists Bud Sagendorf (“Popeye”), Leonard Starr (“On Stage,” “Little Orphan Annie”), Dick Wingert (“Hubert”), Stan Drake (“The Heart of Juliet Jones,” “Blondie”), Jack Tippit (“Amy”), John Prentice (“Rip Kirby”) and Mel Casson (“Mixed Singles/Boomer”).
Bernie Fuchs’ famous studio. It was demolished earlier this year.
Murphy’s father compared Bernie Fuchs to Degas. The writer adds: “Fuchs’s career was all the more remarkable because he had lost 3 fingers on his drawing hand in an accident when he was a teenager.”
Murphy does not mention Curt Swan (“Superman”). I’m sure he’s missed others.
From the 2002 book “Curt Swan: a Life in Comics”
Murphy offers a few reasons why this area attracted so many illustrators: lack of a state income tax; affordable homes, and of course the presence of other artists.
It was solitary work — which is why so many Fairfield County illustrators got together in groups, here and on Wednesdays when they brought their art to their editors in the city. They talked about their work. They also ate and drank.
One defining reality about the cartoonists was that although their characters —Beetle Bailey, Snoopy, Prince Valiant, Blondie — were known worldwide, they themselves passed through life more or less anonymously. Unlike actors or sports figures or reality-TV stars, they were never stopped on the street. They didn’t have a “gal” to protect them or “people” to speak for them.
Semi-domesticated, they depended heavily on their families, especially wives, who in many ways held the entire enterprise together, from basic finances to rudimentary social cues…. Life was interrupted mainly by mundane chores. More than a few collectors have bought original comic strips and found notations like “prescription ready” or “diapers, bologna, Chesterfields” in the margins.
Bud Sagendorf, and his most well-known character.
Of course, nothing lasts forever. Murphy writes:
The concentration of cartoon talent in Fairfield County was a product of special circumstances, and those circumstances have disappeared. Newspaper comic strips are not the force they were, and few magazines still publish gag cartoons.
The New York City newspaper strike of 1962–63 led to the demise of the Hearst flagship, the New York Journal-American, whose funny pages were the best in the country. Making it there was like opening at the Roxy. Now it was gone.
New York remains the center of the publishing industry, but the railroad is no longer a lifeline: the Internet has meant that artists can send their work from anywhere. Connecticut has a state income tax now, though that’s not what has made Fairfield County unaffordable — Wall Street is responsible for that.
Westport, of course, is now a financial capital — both as headquarters to the world’s largest hedge fund, and home to many financial executives.
I wonder what kind of cartoon Bud Sagendorf, Stan Drake, Mel Casson or any of the others would draw about that.
(Click here to read the entire Vanity Fair story. Hat tips: Doug Bonnell and Paul Delano)
From comics to capitalism: Westport is now home to Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund.
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Or Zelle: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!)