Here is some fabulous material for Krazy Kat, from Michael Tisserand, the authorized biographer of George Herriman, who created the Krazy Kat comic strip. Enjoy!
“SLIP ME A LITTLE INFORMATION ON WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO OPERA BALLETS AND I ARE TOTAL STRANGERS HELP.”
This was, in part, the text of a November 1920 telegram that cartoonist George Herriman sent to composer John Carpenter, as Carpenter was securing rights to transform Herriman’s masterpiece comic strip “Krazy Kat” into a jazz ballet, which would be staged at The Town Hall in New York City in January, 1922.
Early cartoonists were often a rowdy lot that usually went in for boxing over ballet. But Herriman, who had received a classical education and had even written theater reviews in his early newspaper years, knew more about opera, ballet and other highbrow pursuits than he let on. So it’s no surprise that Carpenter turned to Herriman to collaborate on the production. The program for “Krazy Kat: A Jazz Pantomime” credits Herriman for the scenario, as well as for scenery and costumes.
Herriman and Carpenter had been in contact at least since 1917 , when Herriman sent an original comic drawing as a gift to Carpenter’s daughter, Genevieve. In an undated letter to Genevieve probably sent in the early 1940s, Herriman fondly recalled a musical evening with the Carpenters as they were developing the ballet.
“In your Chicago home one evening your Father was going over this music - on the piano,” he wrote (with his typically idiosyncratic use of capitalization and punctuation). “- and his sound effects of the winds - all vocal, was amazing - The way he Bassooned - pump-horned, & saxophoned would have made the Mills Brothers all go out and get whooping cough - and that’s what a really fine man of music - gets when he attempts to raise a strip cartoonist to his level - I do hope your amiable father has lived it down -- and will you please tell him that I still cherish the honor that he did me -----”
Carpenter also cherished the collaboration and maintained a lifelong friendship with the cartoonist. In 1944, Carpenter learned that a production of Krazy Kat was being staged in California -- on ice. He wrote Adolph Bolm, who staged the Town Hall production and danced the role of Krazy Kat, suggesting he look up Herriman and attend the performance. Then Carpenter shortly sent a second letter to Bolm.
“Just before receiving your letter I had the sad news of the death of our beloved friend George Herriman,” Carpenter wrote. “He was such a lovely little man and certainly one of the most interesting creative artists that this country has managed to produce.”
AUTHOR BIO New Orleans writer Michael Tisserand is currently completing a biography of George Herriman for HarperCollins.