In March 1945, advertising man Fred Smith had lunch with Henry Morgenthau Jr. in his private dining room on the second floor of the Treasury Building, and noticed the political cartoons of the Treasury Secretary framed on the wall. “They range from gentle damnation to outright libel,’’ wrote the MadMan later, seeming amazed that Morgenthau took such delight in being skewered by cartoonists.
Morgenthau had a thin skin when it came to written criticism in the press, but he did enjoy being the subject of cartoons. Many of these caricatures were reprinted in John Morton Blum’s From the Morgenthau Diaries trilogy, and today they seem pretty tame. Like really tame.
They were the sort of thing that made you smile on a good day, but nothing really funny.
Then this week I found a cartoon (pictured here) that ran in the New Yorker in late 1944, and I burst out laughing when I saw it.
For years now, I’ve been delving into Morgenthau’s negotiations with lots of parties – the French, the English, the State Department, Keynes, the State Department, the Chinese, the State Department – that drove him around the bend. This is how I picture him emerging from a few of them, especially with Cordell Hull’s crew at State.
I researched it thoroughly (OK, I did a Google search) and I believe the artist was Will Cotton, who began doing political caricatures in the 1920s, and continued through years when they were woefully out of style. I have no idea if he’s any relation to the contemporary painter Will Cotton, whose style is somewhat different.
I also have no idea if Morgenthau ever had this caricature framed and placed in the Treasury building.