Will Cuppy in 1937
August 23, 1884|
|Died||September 19, 1949
New York City
|Occupation||Satirist, book reviewer|
|Alma mater||University of Chicago|
|Notable work(s)||The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, How to Be a Hermit, How to Become Extinct, How to Tell Your Friends from the Apes, How to Attract the Wombat|
Cuppy was born in Auburn, Indiana. He was named "Will" in memory of an older brother of his father's who died of wounds he received as a Union officer at the Civil War Battle of Fort Donelson. Cuppy's father, Thomas Jefferson Cuppy (1844–1912), was at different times a grain dealer, a seller of farm implements and a lumber buyer for the Eel River branch of the Wabash Railroad. His mother, Frances Stahl Cuppy (1855–1927), was a seamstress and worked in a small shop located next to the family home in Auburn. Young Cuppy spent summers at a farm belonging to his grandmother, Sarah Collins Cuppy (1813–1900), on the banks of the Eel River near South Whitley, Indiana. He later said that this was where he acquired his early knowledge of the natural world which he satirized in his writings.
Cuppy graduated from Auburn High School in 1902 and went on to the University of Chicago, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1907. As an undergraduate, he belonged to Phi Gamma Delta, acted in amateur theater and worked as campus reporter for several Chicago newspapers, notably the Record Herald and the Daily News. He lingered at Chicago seven more years as a graduate student in English literature. He did not show much interest in his studies, but in 1910 produced his first book, Maroon Tales, a collection of short stories about university life. In 1914 he pulled together a short master's thesis, took his degree and left for New York.
Cuppy supported himself in New York by writing advertising copy while he tried unsuccessfully to write a play. He served briefly stateside in World War I as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Motor Transport Corps. Later he began contributing book reviews to the New York Tribune, where his college friend Burton Rascoe (1892–1957) was literary editor. According to Rascoe, it was his assistant Isabel Paterson who "coaxed and coddled" Cuppy into writing reviews and making a success of his career as a writer. In 1926, Cuppy began writing a weekly "Light Reading" column, later renamed "Mystery and Adventure", for the Tribune's successor, the New York Herald Tribune. He continued writing the column until his death 23 years later, reviewing a career total of more than 4,000 titles of crime and detective fiction.
Seeking refuge from city noise and hay fever, Cuppy "hermited" from 1921 to 1929 in a shack on Jones Island, just off Long Island's South Shore. The literary result of Cuppy's seaside exile was How to be a Hermit, a humorous look at home economics that went through six printings in four months when it appeared in 1929. The book's subtitle, A Bachelor Keeps House, reflects the fact that Cuppy never married. The crew at the nearby Zachs Inlet Coast Guard Station shared their food and recipes with Cuppy and helped him repair his shack.
Encroachment by the new Jones Beach State Park forced Cuppy to abandon full-time residence on the island and return to New York's noise and soot. A special dispensation from New York's parks czar Robert Moses (1888–1981) let Cuppy keep his shack. He made regular visits to his place at the beach until the end of his life.
From his Greenwich Village apartment, Cuppy continued to turn out magazine articles and books. He always worked from notes jotted on 3x5-inch index cards. Cuppy would amass hundreds of cards even for a short article. His friend and literary executor Fred Feldkamp (1914–1981) reported that Cuppy sometimes read more than 25 thick books on a subject before he wrote a single word about it.
|http://o.mfcreative.com/f4/file13/objects/7/f/b/f/d7fbf270-6065-478d-b010-beee6699e5f4-0.jpg The link is to an image of Will Cuppy that appeared in Publishers Weekly in 1937. The picture is from a Bobbs-Merrill party for Marjorie Hillis, author of Orchids on Your Budget, which became the number-five nonfiction bestseller of 1937. Shown from left to right are: 1) an unidentified model dressed as "Miss R," one of the "case histories" in the book; 2) Marjorie Hillis; 3) Will Cuppy (standing); and 4) author Constance Lindsay Skinner.|
|http://o.mfcreative.com/f4/file01/objects/a/d/e/8/1ade8c52-d5a4-4486-958a-f45c5494c87f-0.jpg The link is to an image of Will Cuppy that appeared on the dust jacket of the first edition of The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody. It is captioned, "One of the last photographs taken of Will Cuppy in his New York City apartment."|
|http://earchives.lib.purdue.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/earhart&CISOPTR=3585&CISOBOX=1&REC=4 The link is to an image of a telegram from Will Cuppy received by Amelia Earhart in London on May 22, 1932, after she flew solo across the Atlantic.|
Writing funny but factual magazine articles was Cuppy's real talent. He enjoyed a brief success in 1933 with a humorous talk show on NBC radio with actress and gourmet cook Jeanne Owen, but he flopped on the lecture circuit. Basically shy, Cuppy was happiest when he was rummaging through scholarly journals prizing out facts to copy out on his note cards. According to Feldkamp, one of Cuppy's favorite places was the Bronx Zoo, "where he felt really relaxed."
Many of Cuppy's articles for The New Yorker and other magazines were later collected as books: How to Tell Your Friends from the Apes (1931); and How to Become Extinct (1941). Cuppy also edited three collections of mystery stories: World's Great Mystery Stories (1943); World's Great Detective Stories (1943); and Murder Without Tears (1946). His last animal book, How to Attract the Wombat, appeared two months after his death in 1949.
Cuppy's best-known work, a satire on history called The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, was unfinished when he died. Its humor ranges from the remark that, when the Nile floods receded, the land, as far as the eye can see, is "covered by Egyptologists", to the detailed dissection, quotation, and parody, in the chapter on Alexander the Great, of the picture of Alexander as an idealist for world peace. The book's appeal can be gauged by the fact that CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow and his colleague Don Hollenbeck took turns reading from it on the air "until the announcer cracked up."
The Decline and Fall was completed and published in 1950 by Fred Feldkamp, who sifted through nearly 15,000 of Cuppy's carefully filed note cards to get the book into print within a year of his friend's death. Feldkamp also edited a second posthumous volume, a comic almanac titled How to Get from January to December, that appeared in 1951.
Cuppy's last years were marked by poor physical health and increasing depression. Facing eviction from his apartment, he took an overdose of sleeping pills and died ten days later on September 19, 1949, at St. Vincent's Hospital.
Cuppy's cremated remains were returned to his hometown and buried in a grave next to his mother's in Evergreen Cemetery. His grave was unmarked until 1985, when local donors purchased a granite headstone with the inscription, "American Humorist". In 2003, Cuppy received another memorial when a committee of the International Astronomical Union approved the name "15017 Cuppy" for an asteroid.
Although Cuppy was reclusive and cultivated the image of a curmudgeon, he had many friends in New York's literary circles. One of them was the poet William Rose Benét (1886–1950) who, writing in the Saturday Review of Literature, penned this remembrance of him:
|“||He had the haunted look of the true humorist. All his friends loved him.||”|
Cuppy's papers, including thousands of his notecards, are archived at the University of Chicago Library. A number of his letters to his friend and Herald Tribune colleague Isabel Paterson are among Paterson's papers archived at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa.  Two of Cuppy's letters to Max Eastman are among Eastman's papers at Indiana University's Lilly Library. The Frank Sullivan Collection at Cornell University also contains correspondence from Cuppy. The papers of John Towner Frederick at the University of Iowa include letters written by Cuppy in the 1940s relating to Frederick's Of Men and Books series for CBS Radio.
A Persian translation by Najaf Daryabandari of Cuppy's The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody was published in 1972 under the title of Čenin konand bozorgān (چنین کنند بزرگان, Thus Act the Great). The good quality of the Persian prose and the fact of Cuppy's being unknown in Iran led to speculation that the book was not a translation, but an original book by Daryabandari and possibly a collaborator, who was speculated to be Ahmad Shamlou. It was guessed that this had been done in order to bypass the Pahlavi era censor. Daryabandari denied it several times, even after the Iranian Revolution. The issue was not publicly settled until the satire magazine Golagha ran an article about their "discovery" of Cuppy, which proved Daryabandari right.
- (1951) How to Get from January to December, New York: Holt. Edited by Fred Feldkamp. Illustrations by John Ruge.
- (1950) The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, New York: Holt. Edited by Fred Feldkamp. Illustrations by William Steig.
- (1949) How to Attract the Wombat, New York: Rinehart. Illustrations by Ed Nofziger.
- (1944) The Great Bustard and Other People (containing How to Tell Your Friends from the Apes and How to Become Extinct), New York : Murray Hill Books.
- (1941) How to Become Extinct, New York: Farrar and Rinehart. Illustrations by William Steig.
- (1931) How to Tell Your Friends from the Apes, New York: Horace Liveright, Inc. Introduction by P. G. Wodehouse. Illustrations by "Jacks."
- (1929) How to Be a Hermit, New York: Horace Liveright.
- (1910) Maroon Tales, Chicago: Forbes & Co..
- Books, edited
- (1946) Murder Without Tears: An Anthology of Crime, New York: Sheridan House.
- (1943) World's Great Detective Stories: American and English Masterpieces, New York, Cleveland: World.
- (1943) World's Great Mystery Stories: American and English Masterpieces, New York, Cleveland: World.
- Book, contributed footnotes
- Book containing articles by Will Cuppy
- (1948) The Home Book of Laughter, May Lamberton Becker (ed.), New York: Dodd, Mead.
- M.A. thesis completed at the University of Chicago
- (1914) The Elizabethan Conception of Prose Style.
- Book about Will Cuppy
Notes and references
- R.E. Banta (ed.), Indiana Authors and Their Books, 1816–1916, Crawfordsville, IN: Wabash College, 1949, p. 80. Captain William H. Cuppy, 44th Regiment Indiana Infantry, was sent home to South Whitley, where he died July 15, 1862, age 26.
- Another relative, Cuppy's great-great uncle John Cuppy, Jr., an "Indian scout," is reported to have encountered John "Johnny Appleseed" Chapman in eastern Ohio in 1801. Chapman reportedly warned John Cuppy and three of his companions of hostile Delaware Indians in the vicinity. Howard Means, Johnny Appleseed: The Man, the Myth, the American Story, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011, p. 137. ISBN 978-1-4391-7825-6
- Cuppy described his mother as "a singer of great talent." While she sang in the choir of the Auburn Presbyterian Church, Will pumped the old-fashioned pipe organ, an experience that he said led to his membership in the "Guild of Former Pipe Organ Pumpers." Stanley Kunitz, Howard Haycraft and Wilbur Crane Hadden (eds.), Authors Today and Yesterday, New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1933, p. 182. The Guild of Former Pipe Organ Pumpers was a real organization. Cuppy's framed certificate of membership, dated 1929, is among his papers at the University of Chicago Library. See Guide to the Will Cuppy Papers.
- Stanley Kunitz and Howard Haycraft (eds.), Twentieth Century Authors, New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1942, p.341.
- 65 pages titled The Elizabethan Conception of Prose Style.
- Burton Rascoe, Before I Forget, New York: Literary Guild, 1937, p. 178; Thomas Maeder, Afterword to The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, Boston: David C. Godine, 1984, pp. 233. ISBN 0-87923-514-4 Cuppy's draft registration card shows him working in 1918 for the Van Patten company, a prominent advertising firm located at 50 East 42nd Street in Manhattan.
- Cuppy was part of the age group that did not have to register for the draft until September 12, 1918, just two months before the Armistice. See Historical Background of The World War I Draft for a description of the registration system.
- Rascoe, p. 179.
- Paterson also wrote Cuppy into her 1934 novel, The Golden Vanity, in the character of playwright Jake Van Buren. Stephen Cox, The Woman and the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2004, pp. 93–94. ISBN 0-7658-0241-4
- Sandra Lieb, "Will Cuppy", in Stanley Trachtenberg (ed.), Dictionary of Literary Biography, v. 11, Part 1 (American Humorists, 1800–1950), Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1982, p. 95. ISBN 0-8103-1147-X
- See generally, How to be a Hermit.
- Maeder, pp. 236–237. Moses gives an account of the Cuppy episode in Public Works: A Dangerous Trade, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970, p. 104. ISBN 978-0-07-043489-9 The Coast Guard station was abandoned by 1934. 
- Fred Feldkamp, Introduction to The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, p. 2.
- The program was called Just Relax. It ran 15 minutes weekly on WEAF, later WNBC (AM). Cyrus Fisher (1933). "Radio Reviews" (PDF). The Forum and Century 90 (64): 254. Retrieved July 23, 2012.
- Maeder, pp. 237–238; Kunitz and Haycraft, p. 342.
- Feldkamp, p. 3.
- A.M. Sperber, Murrow: His Life and Times, New York: Freundlich Books, 1986, p.470. ISBN 0-88191-008-2 A copy of the script is on file at "Edward R. Murrow script". American Radio Archives, Thousand Oaks, California. Retrieved July 23, 2012.
- Barnhart, Clarence L., ed. (1980) . "Cuppy, Will". New Century Cyclopedia of Names. Prentice-Hall. p. 1151. ISBN 978-0-13-611947-0. Retrieved August 4, 2009.
- Lutz D. Schmandel, Dictionary of Minor Planet Names: Addendum to Fifth Edition, 2006–2008 (Springer, 2009), p. 89. ISBN 3-642-01964-1
- Saturday Review of Literature, vol. XXX, no. 42, October 15, 1949, p. 40.
- University of Chicago Library: Guide to the Will Cuppy Papers.
- Isabel M. Paterson Papers Box and Folder Inventory
- Eastman mss.
- Guide to the Frank Sullivan Collection
- Manuscript Register: Papers of John Towner Frederick (Box 32)
- Reviews of the Persian-language translation may be found at Goodreads.com. Darybandari's translation is also listed in WorldCat.
- Does not include reprinted editions.
- Quotations related to Will Cuppy at Wikiquote
- Authors' Calendar: Will(iam) Jacob Cuppy (1884–1949)
- WFYI "Across Indiana" segment on Will Cuppy (Requires Windows Media Player or equivalent)
- Maroon Tales: The Open Library (Flip Book)
- How to be a Hermit or, A Bachelor Keeps House: Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook
- Warren Clements (November 7, 2009). "How to be a Funny Writer". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2012-06-25.
- Will Cuppy, P. G. Wodehouse (2005). How to Tell Your Friends from the Apes. David R. Godine Publisher. ISBN 1-56792-297-X.
- "Urbanity's Insanity". Time Magazine. December 8, 1941. Retrieved 2008-08-14.
- Will Cuppy, Ed Nofziger (2002). How to Attract the Wombat. David R. Godine Publisher. ISBN 1-56792-156-6.
- Will Cuppy, Fred Feldkamp, William Steig (1992). The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody. Barnes & Noble. ISBN 0-88029-809-X.
- Will Cuppy (1937). "I'm Not the Budget Type" (PDF). Scribner's Magazine CII (6): 19–21. Retrieved June 25, 2012.
- Will Cuppy family history on RootsWeb.com
- GetCited.org: Will Cuppy bibliography
- "Will Cuppy". Find a Grave. Retrieved 2009-05-15.
- Wes D. Gehring (2013). Will Cuppy, American Satirist. McFarland & Co. ISBN 978-0-7864-6961-1.