James Grover Thurber was born on December 8, 1894 in Columbus, Ohio. His father, Charles L. Thurber, was a clerk and minor politician, who went through many periods of unemployment. Mary Thurber, his mother, was a strong-minded woman and a practical joker. He became known as both a humorist and cartoonist throughout the United States. Thurber was best known for his contributions (both cartoons and short stories) that often appeared in The New Yorker magazine.
When his brother William shot an arrow at him Thurber was partially blinded by the childhood accident. Since he was unable to participate in games and sports with other children, he developed a rich fantasy life, which found its outlet in his writings. Thurber began writing during his years at secondary school. Due to his poor eyesight, he was exempt from serving in World War I, but instead studied between 1913 and 1918 at Ohio State University. He also worked as a code clerk in Washington, D.C. and at the United States embassy in Paris. In the early 1920s he began his career as a journalist while working for several newspapers. He also wrote for the Chicago Tribune while living in Paris.
Thurber married Althea Adams in 1922. The marriage was unhappy most of the time and ended in divorce in 1935. After moving to New York City in 1926 Thurber joined Harold Ross’s newly established The New Yorker, where he found his clear, concise precise style.
Thurber worked hard throughout the 1920s, both in the United States and in France, to establish himself as a professional writer. He became unique among major American literary figures, for his simple, surrealistic drawings and cartoons. Both his writing and drawing skills were helped along by the support of, and collaboration with, fellow New Yorker staff member E. B. White. It was White who insisted that Thurber’s sketches could stand on their own as artistic expressions which prompted Thurber to go on to draw six covers and numerous classic illustrations for the New Yorker.
Until the 1930’s he was able to sketch out his cartoons in the usual fashion but then his failing eyesight later required him to draw them on very large sheets of paper using a thick black crayon (also, on black paper using white chalk, from which they were photographed and the colors reversed for publication). Regardless of whatever method, he used his cartoons became as notable as his writings; they possessed an eerie, wobbly feel that seems to mirror Thurber’s idiosyncratic view on life. The last drawing Thurber was able to complete was a self-portrait done in yellow crayon on black paper, which appeared on the cover of the July 9, 1951, edition of Time Magazine.
Thurber eventually married again and had one daughter. In his later years he lived with his wife Helen Wismer, who was a magazine editor, from West Cornwall, Connecticut. He suffered greatly from alcoholism and depression, but Helen’s devoted nursing enabled him to maintain his literary production. Thurber died of a blood clot on the brain on November 2, 1961, in New York at the age of 67.
A list of his works includes:
• Is Sex Necessary? Or, Why You Feel the Way You Do, 1929
• The Owl in the Attic and Other Perplexities, 1931
• The Seal in the Bedroom and Other Predicaments, 1932
• My Life and Hard Times, 1933
• The Middle-Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze, 1935
• Let Your Mind Alone! and Other More Or Less Inspirational Pieces, 1937
• The Last Flower, 1939
• The Male Animal (stage play), 1939 (with Elliot Nugent)
• Fables for Our Time and Famous Poems Illustrated, 1940
• My World–and Welcome To It, 1942
• Many Moons, (children) 1943
• Men, Women, and Dogs, 1943
• The Great Quillow, (children) 1944
• The Thurber Carnival (anthology), 1945,
• The White Deer, (children) 1945
• The Beast in Me and Other Animals, 1948
• The 13 Clocks, (children) 1950
• The Thurber Album, 1952
• Thurber Country, 1953
• Thurber’s Dogs, 1955
• Further Fables For Our Time, 1956
• The Wonderful O, (children) 1957
• Alarms and Diversions (anthology), 1957
• The Years With Ross, 1959
• A Thurber Carnival (stage play), 1960
• Lanterns and Lances, 1961