Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Which way: Norman Rockwell on the state of light-hearted humor

Norman Rockwell was a member of the Monday Evening Club from 1961 until his death in 1978. He presented the following paper to the Club about 1967. It is transcribed from an undated manuscript in the collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. The manuscript is typed in all capital letters, with some handwritten notes; the orthography is revised in this transcription to standard capitalization, but spelling and punctuation is generally left as it is in the original. The transcript was originally contained in an envelope on which was written “Monday Evening Club / Is light heart humor.” Throughout the paper, the word is spelled “humour,” which may have been the habit of Rockwell’s wife Mary L. (Molly) Rockwell, the likely typist. ADDENDUM: The original can now be viewed at the Norman Rockwell Museum's online digital archives.

The Club is grateful for the assistance of Corry Kanzenburg and Jessika Drmacich of the collections staff at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. for providing access to the manuscript of this and other papers Rockwell presented to the Club, to the museum's director, Laurie Norton Moffatt, for alerting us to their existence (via a Facebook comment!) and to the Norman Rockwell Licensing Company for permission to publish the papers.

Licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL.

First of all, I want to apologize for the title of this paper – “Which Way.”

When Joe [Joseph C. Nugent, then Club secretary] called me to get the title I had two subjects that interested me. But Joe needed a title right away to I told him my predicament and suggested the title “Which Way.” He said that was all right but now it does not describe the theme. I apologize.

The subject of this paper is “What Has Happened to Light-Hearted Humour in America?”

[handwritten:] First and foremost I want to say, I am, personally, convinced we are making a better America for all Americans to live in. But we live in an age of change and change is painful and it just ain’t funny. Now to the paper. [marginal note: Nuclear]

I do not know the exact date of what I feel is the demise of our good-natured humour, but I suspect it was about 5 or 6 years ago.

It did not die suddenly but I believe suffered a long and slow decline.

We do know that our brand of humour was born with the birth of our country. Ben Franklin was certainly at the birthday party and contributed many wise and funny comments.

America was a strong and lusty youngster and from the writings and records of those early days we find loads of stories and jests that attest to the fact that a good sense of humour was one of our happy birthrights.