John Held, Jr. was born in Utah in 1889. He chronicled the spirit of the 1920s, the “Jazz Age,” with his cartoons of the flapper Betty Co-ed, and her friend, Joe College. Held died in New Jersey in 1958.
At fourteen, Held was a cartoonist for The Salt Lake Tribune. In 1910, he went to New York intending to be a sculptor, but his skill as an engraver and commercial artist and his need to make a living took precedence. He was soon at work designing posters for Collier's Street Railway Advertising Company and later for Wanamaker's Department Store.
Held's work appeared in many humorous magazines? Judge, Life, and Collier's, as well as in The New Yorker. He also wrote a syndicated cartoon strip, Merely Marjy, for the Hearst newspapers. His highly stylized drawings captured the spirit of the 1920s;Dancin' in the Jazz Age, a gouache, is an example.
Biography adapted from Springville Museum of Art.
John Held, Jr. was born in 1889, the same year his father, John Held, Sr. formed the fifty-member “Held Band“ that became a Saturday-night fixture on the Liberty Park Bandstand. His mother, Annie Evans Held, was an actress on the stage of the old Salt Lake Theatre, so young “Johnny“ came by his artistic inclinations honestly.
It was reported in Vanity Fair that Held, Jr., as a youngster, had “spent his time drawing in a studio above his father's shop or making sketches and paintings in the theater where his mother was performing.“
John Held, Jr. attended the University of Utah from 1907 to 1909, and while there illustrated the Utonian, the university yearbook. He was also sports' cartoonist for The Salt Lake Tribune. In 1910, with $4 in his pocket, John went to New York to make his fortune in commercial art.
Living first in New York with his friend Mahonri Young, Held found jobs easy to come by at the outset of his career. He initially designed streetcar posters, but quickly advanced to art work for Wanamaker's. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War I. Then after the war, the artist continued his college studies at Princeton, where he was voted “Favorite Artist.“ His best known cartoon character, The Flapper, began to evolve in drawings during those days.
By the end of 1920, a rather pudgy, single-eyed “cutie“ had appeared in the pages of Judge. She went through several stages as she appeared in such publications as Judge, Life, and Collier's, and in a syndicated newspaper strip called Margie. Held continued to work at more personal “easel art,“ (Ma Lives, c. 1924, S.M.A.). However, much of this work did not really surface until after his death.
For John Held, Jr., the crash of 1929 signaled not only the demise of The Flapper, but the destruction of his personal fortune. When Ivar Kreuger's various businesses finally began to fall apart in 1930-31, Held and countless other American investors went down with them.
With his money gone and his most lucrative cartoon character all washed-up, Held simply turned to other, previously untapped talents. Held went to Hollywood in the mid-thirties, and hung out a shingle that read: “Open for screen-writing after 4 years of experience in Hollywood.“ In that same year, he also spent time in Utah giving talks on personal aesthetics at the Art Barn and the Hotel Newhouse. While Held was in the state, a friend and fellow artist, Roscoe Grover, asked the New Yorker what his favorite color was. “Plaid,“ he answered.
Held died on March 2, 1958, in New Jersey.
Biography courtesy Springville Museum of Art.
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