Bill Mauldin Biography

Born William Henry Mauldin, October 29, 1921, in Mountain Park, NM; died of pneumonia, January 22, 2003, in Newport Beach, CA. Cartoonist. Pulitzer Prize–winning editorial cartoonist Bill Mauldin received thousands of letters from fellow World War II veterans in the months before his 2003 death expressing enduring gratitude for his morale–boosting cartoons that ran in the Army newspaper. Mauldin's "Willie" and "Joe" were a pair of disheveled, long–suffering American soldiers with a wicked insubordinate streak, much like their creator. "Mauldin's characters offered a counterpoint to the clean–cut, gung–ho fighting man put forth by the Army publicity machine," declared Los Angeles Times writer Mike Anton.

Mauldin hailed from Mountain Park, New Mexico, where he was born in 1921. His handyman father drank, and his parents' marriage was a tempestuous one. Afflicted with rickets as a child, Mauldin was a gaunt, weak child and once overheard his father's friend say of him, "If that was my son, I would drown him," a Times of London article reported. He never forgot the sting of the remark, and later credited it with instilling in him a determination to make something of himself. By his teen years, when the family was living in Phoenix, Arizona, Mauldin was taking a correspondence course in drawing, and after being ejected from his high school for a prank involving a lit cigarette and a biology–classroom skeleton, Mauldin headed to the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts with a loan from his grandmother.

Mauldin began earning a modest income from magazine–illustration work, and considered himself ineligible for military service—because of his sickly childhood—once World War II began in 1941. He became a member of the Arizona Guard, which required no physical exam, but when it was federalized, he found himself a member of the Oklahoma–based 45th Division of the U.S. Army. Sent overseas in 1943, he participated in the invasion of Italy, was wounded at Salerno and earned a Purple Heart, and attained the rank of sergeant. He also served on the staff of Stars and Stripes, the Army newspaper, and his comical cartoons about the daily grind of Army life in Europe soon attracted a cult following. His soldiers, Willie and Joe, were ordinary infantrymen fighting the Nazi German menace, and when not dodging enemy fire were plagued by the soldiers' everyday miseries: bad food, rain, and the officious inanities of their superior officers. "During the war, he excoriated self–important generals, glamour–dripping Air Force pilots in leather jackets, and cafe owners in liberated countries who rewarded the thirsty G.I.'s who had freed them by charging them double for brandy," noted Richard Severo in the New York Times. "He was nothing short of beloved by his fellow enlisted men." Even the Allied commander in Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was a fan of the strip, and shielded Mauldin when the cartoons came under fire from General George S. Patton, who thought the duo served to depict the rank and file of the United States military in a unflattering light.

Mauldin's work also ran Stateside in several daily newspapers, and he earned his first Pulitzer Prize in 1945 for what Washington Post staff writer Claudia Levy called "a typical Mauldin effort showing dispirited infantrymen slogging through a downpour and was captioned, 'Fresh American troops, flushed with victory.'" He had actually planned to have Willie and Joe become casualties in the final days of the war, but his editors talked him out of that idea. The series made his name, but Mauldin later said he was uneasy with the fame that it brought. "I never quite could shake off the guilt feeling that I had made something good out of the war," the New York Times quoted him as saying.

After the end of the war, Mauldin found work as a syndicated newspaper cartoonist and revived Willie and Joe during the 1950–53 Korean War. He appeared in a few films, including The Red Badge of Courage, and worked for the St. Louis Post–Dispatch as its editorial cartoonist after 1958. He won his second Pulitzer Prize the following year for a cartoon sympathetic to the plight of harassed Soviet writer Boris Pasternak, author of the Nobel prize–winning Doctor Zhivago. In 1962, Mauldin joined the Chicago Sun–Times, and his cartoons remained faithfully subversive over the next quarter–century: he poked fun at segregationists in the American South during the civil rights era, the politicians involved in the 1974 Watergate scandal, and even the staunchly conservative bent of some United States veterans' organizations. Perhaps the most famous image of Mauldin's career appeared just after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, a captionless illustration showing the subject of Washington, D.C's stately Lincoln Memorial collapsed in grief.

Mauldin made a tour of Vietnam in 1965 when his son was serving in the military, and visited American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. His pen satirized the United States' involvement in the first conflict with Iraq, and sometimes mocked the American president at the time, George H. W. Bush. Hampered by a hand injury, he retired from the Sun–Times in 1991. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and living in a nursing home in Orange County, California, in 2002 when a campaign was launched by a longtime fan of Wiille and Joe; veterans' organizations publicized his plight, and he received thousands of letters from former soldiers and fans of his World War II work.

Mauldin was married three times (and divorced twice): a brief union during World War II, a second one to Natalie Evans in 1947, who died in an automobile accident, and to Christine Lund after 1972. Mauldin died on January 22, 2003, of complications from Alzheimer's disease, pneumonia, and other ailments; he was 81. He is survived by seven sons; his daughter died in 2001. One of his sons told Anton in the Los Angeles Times, that his father's "philosophy in his work was always, 'If it's big, hit it.' He grew up a little guy. He understood the little guy."

Sources: , (January 23, 2003); Los Angeles Times, January 23, 2003, p. A1, p. A8; New York Times, January 23, 2003, p. B7; Times (London), (January 24, 2003); Washington Post, January 23, 2003, p. B6.

Carol Brennan

User Contributions:

I just found this biography particularly interesting. I knew little about Bill Maudlin except seeing reprints of his classic cartoons. I was fortunate to find an original copy of "Up Front" in a used book stack. I enjoyed it cover to cover. History written as it was being made and his very human take on his beloved dogfaces.

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: