Selections from the Work of Voorhees
H.F. Voorhees was a humorist and cartoonist who published pieces in Signs of the Times magazine from 1919 to 1933. Although his work is full of twenties slang, we feel that the humor transcends his own era. Below are links to three of his piecesyou can also read a short biography from the September issue of 1923, which reveals something of his life in addition to his peculiar personality.
Flannel Mouth Fallen," by H.F.Voorhees Ever Hear of Flannel Mouth Fallen, George? Well He's the Guy I'm Working With
H. F. VOORHEESDecember 1923
Well, Geo., I am working again; not a bad place, only there is not enough to keep a guy's brush in shape before they tell you to go letter a fence or something. You got to carry razor blades in your overall pockets, and then it's liable to be a wagon to stripe when you get there.
Only the other day, Geo., I am just about to go around the dangerous curve of an "S" when the boss tells me to drop it and go out. That's the trouble with that bird, Geo.;he walks around on his tiptoes like an undertaker; you don't know when he's standing behind you. If I'd known he was there I could have stalled on a straight letter and not tackled the "S" till he passed on. "Well," I says, "shall I finish this 'S,'" I says. "No," he says, "anyone can finish it now with the start you gave it. I have seen you make about ten strokes on that half of it already." Just one of his wise crevices, Geo., and I am supposed to laugh at them because I work for him, and I do. Because what the coupla hells, Geo., he who laughs last may be working when some are eating snowballs, heh, Geo.
I am to go and mark a trunk for a guy that had just got over the grip or something and was going to Canada, and guess he figured just the valise wouldn't hold all he was going to bring back. I no more than finished when the boss calls me up and tells me to go help a new guy put up a stage that don't know the ropes. This new man's a card, Geo. Do you know him? Flannel-Mouth Fallan, they call him. But he ain't a bad scout at that, Geo., you know. If I had a shop I wouldn't give him palette space, but to work with him makes a comical companion, what I mean. Guess he comes from not a so bad family, too. He was telling me his folks kicked him out when he was young for slapping the cook and not going to the store for his mother. After he's a way for a while he thinks he'll take up art. He writes his father he wants to join a sketch class and he gives him a drawing account. He got married, he says, when the war broke out, so did he, and went to Washington as a dollar-a-year man. He didn't say, but I think the government is suing him for the sixty-seven cents. This dollar was more spending money than he ever had in any married year, so he didn't no never come back again, Geo., and starts floating around the country as a sign plunk. He's a card. He's a regular he belle, Geo., and when he gets down on the sidewalk off a wall and takes off the skins and the trick hat and the flappers get a slant at his simonized hair, plus the spats, they just forget their superstitions and walk right under the ladder, or into it, as the case they have on him may be.
Well, Geo., he was at the job, but that's all, as the pelican in the top flat says, "Nothing doing on getting on the roof to swing." We explained that we are just going to letter a strip across the flat below his, but he has his mind all made up, like a man going to buy a crutch. So I calls up the shop and says: "Well," I says, "there is no place left to put the hooks," I says. "Well, what do you want me to do?" says the boss, "tell you to put them in the basement and come in and work by the stove? Get up on that roof!" That's easy enough and all that for him to sit at a phone and tell me to get up on that roof, Geo., but there is nothing in any correspondence course I ever took that tells you what to do when the guy is standing with a baseball bat ready, and you might say anxious, to wrap it around your Adam's apple if you make a roof move.
Well, Geo., I went back to the job and Mouthy's been chinning to this egg and told him he would show him how to get central without putting a nick in the phone, and he said we could have the roof. Well, we are going along nice, Mouthy telling me what a hero he was in the war when he helped make the world safe for democrats, and what a wise pineapple he was to free himself from his ball and chain. "Yes," says Mouthy, "if I never see her again it will be soon enough." Well, I am just making the hitch on the next swing and Mr. Mouthy is spotting in and he hollers: "I'll say this is luck; this 'O' will go right around this little window." It was a bath room window, Geo., and the shade was up and there was a lady in there and she yells, "Oh!" and is about to grab for the curtain when she takes a look at Mouthy and lets out another "Oh!" opens the window and lets out a pail of hot water right in Mouthy's mush, with: "Oh, you dirty tramp!" I made a poor hitch but a darn good jump, and Mouthy had to carry on the little talk with his wife as he hung to her window sill.
I will write you, Geo., from whatever town I decide to stop at.
"Bull in the Chinee Shop," by H. F. Voorhees Listen George I Made a Bull in the Chinee Shop Over a Girl I Fell ForHard
H. F. VOORHEESJanuary 1924
Listen, Geo., I am working in another shop now and everything is jake, see. He likes my stug and I could say I am his right hand man, only this guy is left-handed. Yeh. He tells me that when he started in the game he worked for a bird who was his uncle, through no fault of his own, on his father's side. When they had to paint an index on a sign and they were short handed they would use his for a pattern. He got so tired holding his mitt up for the guy to draw it that he got model's cramps in it and had to do his practicing with his left one. Now, he says, he can work with either. If, as they say, you shouldn't let your right hand know what your left is doing, he should do some of his stuff while one hand is asleep, because it's terrible. Maybe, Geo., he is trying to kid somebody. I think he's full of mush and milk myself. He can't kid me. I've been to the store after dark, without a note even, long before I saw this joint. They better wake up and smell the coffee, heh, Geo. I'm no boob. I guess he thinks quite a lot of me at that, because the other day a firm called up and wanted some work done and he sent me down to see what's what. It was one of those classy auction stores that sell off the furniture and bric-a-brac of the late rich.
When I got in I find a girl in charge who ain't no eye-strain to look at, what I mean, Geo. She says they want plain black lettering on the rear window, and the whole thing covered with white. I am not following her atall about the work, but am trying to put on the Ritz for her special benefit. "Oh," she says, "are you a sign painter, too?" "Oh," I says, "I just do some of the special stuff, like paint pictures and sketches," I says. "It must be dangerous to get up on a tall building," she says. "It is," I says, " and leave a good looking wren like you down here on the ground," I says to her. She kinda gives me a look, Geo., as much as to say, "Well." Either that or "Hell," I couldn't tell from where I sat.
So I went back with the order and the boss sent some one down to do it. After a bit I gets to thinking maybe if I go down there I could get in this doll's way and fix things up. So I go up to the boss and suggest I better go down there and see that the job is getting done right. "Yes," he says, "he just called up; he's finished the lettering. You go down and stipple on the white." Stippling on big globs of white ain't going to get me any place with that little lady, but I have to go through with it.
The store was filled with people, mostly women, and the auctioneer was doing his stuff. The window was at the other end of the room. It took a tall ladder, and when I had to juggle it around amongst the flock of women and that trick glassware I felt like a wet macintosh. I didn't dare look to see if the girl was there, but hoped she was out in the front office, where she belonged. I didn't want her to see me in that mess of paint, but got to thinking it wouldn't go half bad if a thug would come in there while she was all alone and I would rush in and save her life and get shot someplace where it would not hurt much, say in the head or something. And she would kneel down and hold my hand while they figured out some nice cheap hospital where they could ship me to.
With these ten-twent-thirt thoughts, Geo., I started up the ladder. The women and I were all exclaiming what a chance I was taking, and I was. I gets about half way up, Geo., when"BAM"down I comes, plunk into a chest of fancy glass goblets that I'll bet would cost five bucks before you could stretch a lip over any one of them. Talk about bulls in a china shop, Geo.! You should see a sign plunk in an antique aquarium with his colors flying.
Yes, Geo., the girl was kneeling beside me, just like in the story books, only she was about 'steen hundred dollars' worth of her firm's trick crockery out of the pure goodness of my much. I kept my lamps closed and pretended I had passed out of the picture, you know, Geo., to kinda give the thing a little pathos, like they say in the movies.
She got up from her kneeling beside me and called up the shop, and said: "I think this is one of your men lying here; could you identify him?" The shop girl said, "Has he got a mole on his neck?" "No, its a ladder," said the antique girl.
"Good Yoke," by H. F. Voorhees
Good Yoke Says Pretty Swede Girl; Eggsactly, and Shell Too, Heh Geo.
H. F. VOORHEESJuly 1924
Well, Geo., I got out of that last town quick and if anybody starts teasing me to go there again they could join a minstrel show when they get through; because they will be black in the face. So I get in a shop that has plenty of parade signs for the 4th. I don't like breaking in a new shop because you know. There is always a couple of them wise Bozos who think because they've worked in the joint over two paydays they are the works. You know the brand. They look at you when you come in as though you were taking the bread and butter right out of their mouth. Then they get a coupla their block heads together and buzz about what they saw you do with their pet letter of the alphabet. Then they can't wait till they get home to tell their old woman what a punk man they is at the shop and they better ask for more money. If I was a sign painter's wife Geo. I wouldn't be, but would marry a deaf and dumb well-digger that ain't much interested in his work. And if he did start to talk about it I could pretend we are just going together again and start holding hands. Heh Geo.!
But it wasn't so bad here because they were so busy with this parade stuff that they would be glad to see a truck painter come in and give them a hand. But this country could join the league of nations and celebrate all its holidays with trick parades and you see me holler for help! Heh Geo.!
Well, every store that had a car and some that delivered with bicycles ordered signs for the parade. If all the signs that were painted in that shop were put end to end they would reach to the limit of punk looking signs. No fooling Geo., they were awful. Except some that I did when they wanted a little better class of stuff.
I guess some of those punks were kinda jealous. I could see them giving me a dirty look. So I goes up to one of them, I don't think you know him, he's a kinda short guy, I think he's the apprentice. "Listen," I says to him, "what's the idea of giving me a dirty look?" I says. "I didn't give you no dirty look," he says, "but I didn't give it too you!" Well, I didn't say nothin' to that Geo., because I did have, from just getting in off the road. You know. Besides I didn't want to start no argument and have to punch him in the nose and then go over while they took him to the hospital and lose a lot of time.
Because when it comes to rush work some of them so called classy men were in an awful flop. The paint flowed off their brushes like glue. A job as pathfinder for a lazy snail would be about their speed. And of course, like all parades, everybody wanted a sign at one and the same time. They wait till the last minute and then come in with a piece of string and enough wording to fill a book to go on a sign the size of a string. Of course a guy could stretch those strings so the wording would fit. Then the customer would have one because the sign wouldn't. Heh Geo.
Well, things went along like that till late in the day when who do I see but the boss, who is a tall man for his age no matter how old he is, coming my way. "Listen," he says to me, "how are you at drawing eggs?" "Will one of these guys pose for me or have you got a better copy for me to go by," I says. "You could make them up out of your own head; but you won't have to," he says. "You go down to this butter and egg store tomorrow before the parade and they will have a float there that you are to paint a package of eggs on," he says. "You can put your arch supports in your other shoes and wash your face before you go down and when you are through with the job you will be all dressed up to see the parade," he says.
So I did. And when I gets there the truck was there all dolled up and waiting for me to paint on the eggs. And I was glad I put on the summer scenary Geo. because I have to have somebody hold the package of eggs while I paint them and who should offer to do it but the storekeeper's daughter. I'll admit I have seen better looking girls on magazine covers; but they're not standing in front of me holding eggs for me to paint. Heh Geo.
So she climbs up on the truck and holds this flock of eggs so I can see them nice. Well, I ain't so good on still life like eggs Geo.; but when that pretty swede gal looked with those big eyes at me over that package I had to pinch myself to see if there was still life. Heh Geo.
Well, it's getting along time for the parade to start and a crowd of people is standing around watching me work. So I am thinking I better tell her she don't have to hold the eggs no longer.
Well Geo., I had no more than got the idea in my mouth to tell her when this float I am working on, starts all of a sudden. And my little girl friend with the package of eggs loses her balance and the eggs. And of all the different directions there is in the world those eggs had to pick out mine to go in. I had my freshly washed map upturned and got at least a baker's dozen of those henfruits right where mamma used to kiss her boy good-night.
"That bane good yoke on you," says the swedish egg girl.
"Eggsactly," I says, "and darned good whites and shells too!" Heh Geo.!
Portrait of an Artist
From the September, 1923 issue of Signs of the Times
Who's Who in the Craft: H. F. "Bert" Voorhees
Bringing laughter and happiness to humanity is the gift of the gods, nature's noblest bounty, and of greater benefit to this "mortal coil" than riches. In this gentle art of spreading the gospel of good humor, foremost among the sign fraternity comes the name Voorhees. How long the name Voorhees has figured in sign history does not seem to be knownhe has "just happened," become a fixture in the business of lightening the burdens of his fraternity, and no one ever questioned whence he came nor why.
We were curious to see what he looked like, a man of such cleverness, that we dropped in to see him not long ago, and great was our surprise to see that he was not old, as was the popular belief. We learned another thing which contradicts an age old contention that the humorist is a sour personage. Bert runs true to form in all moods and at all times; his ready wit and natural good humor is so contagious that it spreads around him and envelops those with whom he comes in contact.
Besides being a signist of the quality type on the staff of the Osgood Sign Co., Chicago, Mr. Voorhees is attracting much attention in his clever caricatures in a national "strip" being syndicated in the daily newspapers. He is doing comic art reviews of several theaters in Chicago and is a staunch member of Local 830.
We asked Bert to tell us the story of his life, and the following is what he submitted. It is so typical of the well known cartoonist that we reproduce it verbatim:
"I was born in Wisconsin which is known as the biggest cheese state in the union. I was no more than a day when my Uncle Amos, who was staying with us at that time, looked down in the clothes basket where they had me and said, 'We will hear from that boy some day.' And they did. That night. They tell me that I cried as though my little clothes basket would break. Some of the neighbors suggested giving me a rattle. But my mother told them that I had contracted a cold during the night, and already had a little one in my throat. From there I went to high school. I did not do so very well there, being stung by a spelling bee at the foot of my class. I used to hang around the sign shop in our town; but father said, 'You can't be a sign painteryou ain't no artist.' Well, things went along like that until one day my father wanted a door painted. I got him wrong, I guess. He wanted it white, and I gave him a nice coat of black. He was pretty well peeved about it, and told me to go and never darken his door again. So I came to Chicago."