Saxon was born Charles David Isaacson in Brooklyn; both his parents were musicians, and his great-uncle had been court violinist to the British Queen Victoria. He played drums and worked in jazz bands while at Columbia University, which he entered at 15; he became editor of its humor magazine, Jester.
After earning his B.A. he worked at Dell Publishing as editor of the satire magazine Ballyhoo before serving as a bomber pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II, flying 40 missions over Germany. After the war he rejoined Dell, left to edit This Week for a year, and returned to edit Modern Screen. He also began drawing cartoons on weekends, selling them to The Saturday Evening Post. His first appearance in The New Yorker was a spot illustration in 1943; after becoming a full-time cartoonist in 1955, he joined their staff in 1956 and over more than 30 years drew 92 covers and more than 700 cartoons for the magazine. Much of his New Yorker work gently pokes fun at the privileged denizens of prosperous suburbs; unusually, he wrote his own words, often highlighting clichés, as in an image of well-fed executives in a boardroom, the chairman stating "Of course, honesty is one of the better policies." After The New Yorker was taken over and William Shawn left the editorship, his work was rarely published there. He published three collections of his cartoons for the magazine: Oh, Happy, Happy, Happy! (1960), One Man's Fancy (1970), and Honesty Is One of the "Better" Policies: Saxon's World of Business (1984).
Saxon also drew numerous ads, including for Chivas Regal, American Airlines, Bankers Trust, I.B.M., and Xerox. As his New York Times obituary noted, "So ubiquitous was his advertising work in the late 1970s that one edition of The Wall Street Journal featured ads by Mr. Saxon for three different companies."
Saxon had one-man shows at the Nicholls Gallery. He was awarded a gold medal by the Art Directors Club of New York in 1963 and an honorary doctorate by Hamilton College in 1972. He received the National Cartoonist Society Advertising Award for 1977, and their Gag Cartoon Award for 1980, 1986, and 1987. For his work with The New Yorker, he received their Reuben Award for 1980.
Saxon died of heart failure on December 6, 1988, at St. Joseph Medical Center in Stamford, Connecticut. He spoke his last words to paramedics after suffering a heart attack at home: "I guess I'd better die; I just broke our best lamp."
- Cullen Murphy (2017). Cartoon County: My Father and His Friends in the Golden Age of Make-Believe. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-374-29855-5.
- Edward Sorel (November 1997). "'It Was Nice'". American Heritage. 48 (7).
- Glenn Collins (December 7, 1988). "Charles Saxon, 68, a Cartoonist For 92 Covers of The New Yorker". The New York Times. p. D24.
- Murphy, p. 103.
- Murphy, pp. 186–87.
- Murphy, pp. 188–89.
- "Charles Saxon". National Cartoonist Society. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
- "NCS Awards: Advertrising Illustration". National Cartoonist Society. Archived from the original on January 6, 2006.
- "NCS Awards: Gag Cartoons". National Cartoonist Society. Archived from the original on January 15, 2006.
- "NCS Awards: The Reuben". National Cartoonist Society. Archived from the original on January 6, 2006.
- Murphy, p. 189.
- Charles Saxon papers at Columbia
- Obituary by Lee Lorenz, The New Yorker, December 26, 1988, p. 98 (subscription required)
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