Caspar Milquetoast

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Christmas card with Caspar Milquetoast by H. T. Webster

Caspar Milquetoast was a comic strip character created by H. T. Webster for his cartoon series The Timid Soul.[1] Webster described Caspar Milquetoast as "the man who speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick". The character's name is a deliberate misspelling of the name of a bland and fairly inoffensive food, milk toast. Milk toast, light and easy to digest, is an appropriate food for someone with a weak or "nervous" stomach.

Origins[edit]

In 1912, Webster drew a daily panel for the New York Tribune, under a variety of titles—Our Boyhood Ambitions, Life's Darkest Moment, The Unseen Audience. In 1924, Webster moved to the New York World and soon after added The Timid Soul featuring the wimpy Caspar Milquetoast. In 1927, Webster trained himself to draw left-handed in three months after a severe case of arthritis impaired the use of his right hand.

In 1931, the World folded, and that same year, Simon & Schuster published a collection of The Timid Soul reprints. Webster then went back to the Tribune, where he launched a Timid Soul Sunday strip. He alternated his various features throughout the week: Caspar Milquetoast was seen on both Sunday and Monday. Webster continued to produce this syndicated panel until his death in 1952, after which his assistant Herb Roth carried it on for another year.[1]

Cultural icon[edit]

Because of the popularity of Webster's character, the term milquetoast came into general usage in American English to mean "weak and ineffectual" or "plain and unadventurous". When the term is used to describe a person, it typically indicates someone of an unusually meek, bland, soft or submissive nature, who is easily overlooked, written off, and who may also appear overly sensitive, timid, indecisive or cowardly. Milquetoast appears in most American English dictionaries, but is not in many other English dictionaries.[2]

Television[edit]

On June 22, 1949, the DuMont Television Network adapted The Timid Soul to television as the premiere presentation of their Program Playhouse series. Caspar Milquetoast was portrayed by Ernest Truex.

Cultural references[edit]

  • In the 1954 film Carmen Jones (based upon the musical of the same name), Sgt. Brown (Brock Peters) flirts with the vixenish factory worker Carmen Jones (Dorothy Dandridge). When her boyfriend Joe (Harry Belafonte) objects, Brown insultingly refers to him as "Lieutenant Caspar Milquetoast". A fight ensues and Brown is beaten into unconsciousness by Joe, a soldier under his command.
  • The 1976 song "The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me) (An Evening with Pete King)" by Tom Waits has the line, "As the bouncer is a sumo wrestler creampuff Caspar Milquetoast".
  • Casper Milktoast, a rock band which was active in Wisconsin from 1993 to 1998, took their name from the character.
  • The character is referenced in the 1998 musical Reefer Madness.
  • United States v. Gartmon, a case in the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit (1998), says that avoiding prejudicial evidence doesn't "provide a shield for defendants who engage in outrageous acts, permitting only the crimes of Caspar Milquetoasts to be described fully to a jury.”

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Don Markstein's Toonopedia. "Caspar Milquetoast". 
  2. ^ Not in Chambers, Collins, or even Longman (which includes most US expressions), and Compact Oxford English Dictionary says "chiefly N. Amer."

Further reading[edit]

  • Webster, H.T. Introduction by Ring Lardner, The Timid Soul, Simon and Schuster (1931).
  • The Best of H. T. Webster: A Memorial Collection, Simon and Schuster (1953), hardcover, 254 pages.

External links[edit]