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"The Man Who Made Pigs and Pups Famous Tells How He Did It" from New York Times

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from New York Times
The Man Who Made Pigs and Pups Famous Tells How He Did It
by Ellis Parker Butler

An intense humorous-literary atmosphere became at once noticeable to me as I was ushered into the workroom of Ellis Parker Butler in his Flushing home. The author rose and greeted me courteously, as is his wont, and bade me be seated.

Ellis Parker Butler from a sketch made in Paris by Leo Mielziner

My experienced eye swept across his face, and I was able to make a hasty analysis.

Mr. Butler started life in Muscatine, Iowa, a town otherwise famous for its catsup and pickles, and his frame, sturdy, if not noble in its proportions, bespoke a healthy boyhood spent out of doors among the tomato and cucumber orchards of his native heath. A twinkling, kindly eye told plainly of a humorous, all-embracing sympathy that made no distinction between pigs, pups, or interviewers. The other eye told the same story.

Above the eyes rose the dome of his brow, denoting an intellect of the highest human order, that nevertheless possesses the peculiar characteristic of being able to comprehend the motives and feelings of intelligences more canine and porcine than itself.

Large cheeks spoke of strength of character and perseverance, while between them nestled a manly nose, with nostrils ever a-quiver with suppressed emotion. Each side, from nostrils to mouth corners, ran the grin lines, while the mouth itself was of that democratic, lovable, generous type known as the great American Pie.

"The American public," said I, "is thirsty for information about their favorite funny man. My mail is filled with queries about you. People want to know how you make up your stories, whether you are really as funny yourself as the stories would seem to indicate; what your favorite recreation is, your favorite pudding, and your style of neckwear; whether you are an earnest literary worker, or whether you toss these things off between breakfast and train time, instead of weeding the geranium bed; what bright things you said when you were a little boy; if any, and whatever possessed you to think of that dreadful pig thing."

"As to neckwear," said he, interrupting me as though the upward rush of his ideation would not permit him to be a mere listener any longer, "I affect a collar and necktie, being like Vice President Fairbanks and Chancellor Day in that respect. If we fellows could think of a funnier way of adorning our necks and upper chests, we would adopt it at once. Some other humorist got ahead of us in the invention of the linen collar and the four-in-hand tie. Vests are another funny thing," he continued. "I have often thought that I could convulse my friends with laughter by wearing mine hind-side before, but my wife won't let me. They are funny because they don't seem to realize that everybody knows how dishonest they are. And take the silk hat --"

"Pardon me," said I, "but wouldn't you be willing to give me something a little more personal -- something about your life and methods of work?"

Thereupon he plunged into a discussion of the total depravity of gas meters, and I was forced finally to give up. From the milkman, however I learned some interesting facts.

Mr. Butler came to Flushing after he had had a story printed in The Century, and his fame was assured. His neighbors know little of his previous existence, except that he wrote poetry on brown wrapping paper when he was a poor grocer's boy in Muscatine. After the local paper had given him courage he sold some of his poetry to Truth, and although that periodical soon afterward gave up the ghost, he was encouraged to take up literature as his calling. He came to New York, sold a story, married, and then got a job. For six or eight years he led an honest but romantic existence in the great city.

Although he sold several stories to various magazines and newspapers, it remained for Ellery Sedgwick, then editor of The American Magazine, to discover this new humorist and place him properly before the public. Mr. Butler thrived in the sunshine of Mr. Sedgwick's editorial smile, and lo, "Pigs is Pigs" was born, and royalties came to bless the home and buy the socks of Ellis Parker Butler.

Mr. Butler's methods of work vary from those of Theodore Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller, or any other author. He rises at 2 every morning, smokes a pipe for ten minutes, and then goes back to bed again. This gives him the needed stimulus to dream the germ of a plot. At 8 he rises again, has coffee and buns, and reads the morning paper. During this time -- all day long, in fact -- he continually drops what he is doing to jot down an idea, a pun, or a new funny name for a man, in a lavender notebook.

After his paper and pipe he opens his mail and sorts out the checks. This takes two hours, including the time given to balancing up his account books and making the proper entries in his book of manuscript records.

A walk and a smoke bring him to lunchtime. After lunch he smokes a cigar and reads a little Artemus Ward or Joe Miller. Then maybe he does a little work, correcting manuscript, reading proof, answering letters, or taking a nap.

After dinner he has a cigar, and then, lighting a pipe, he goes to his den and writes a story. Usually these are ordered in advance, but his best ones he does on his own hook. He has a big diary in which he enters the titles or suggestions for stories under the dates on which he has promised them.

Finding the day's page in the diary, he takes out the lavender notebook and writes the story required on that day, This is done with a short lead pencil on yellow paper, such as anybody can buy. He writes about 1,500 words an hour, so that it takes him from two to five hours to write a story.

Last year Mr. Butler spent several months in Paris, improving his Irish dialect. He is now at work on a play, a humorous version of Euclid, a series of short stories with long laughs in them, and an ingenious critique of Ibsen, all in words beginning with S, A, or T.

Mr. Butler's next book will be "The Thin Santa Claus."



Saturday, October 07 at 1:17:14am USA Central
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