This is the nerve center of my home, the coffee station. It is where I spend my first conscious moments every day. Above the coffee pot is an original drawing by Jack Davis. Its subject, Alfred E. Newman, and his words are familiar, but this particular rendering has been seen by few. I will tell you its story.
The late Paul Burnett taught journalism at Auburn University. When it came to the basics, he was rock solid. If an aspiring reporter could have but one mentor, there was no one better than Paul Burnett. That was fortunate, because he represented exactly one half of the journalism faculty at Auburn in the early 70s. However, he was stupefyingly wrong about one thing: he liked to tell his students, “All you need to start a newspaper is a typewriter.” My young bride Rheta and I, students of his, bought this clap-trap and departed Auburn for St. Simons Island, Georgia, where we established a weekly newspaper. St. Simons was a young reporter’s dream, an interesting character and an interesting history around every corner. Nobody ever had more fun going broke than we.
One day, someone told us, “Jack Davis is vacationing on Sea Island.” Having derived a significant portion of my education from Mad Magazine, I knew exactly who Jack Davis was. It turned out Jack, a Georgia native, was an annual visitor to nearby Sea Island, the Palm Springs of the deep south. We reached him by telephone, which you could do in those days, and he agreed to let us come out for an interview. We knew nothing about Jack, really, except his work, but we learned firsthand the grace and good nature for which he was famed among colleagues. He sat with us pups on a screened porch, spending over an hour of his vacation entertaining our naïve, earnest probing. After the last note and photograph were taken, and he was home free, he asked, “Would you like me to draw something for your article?” Would we. The next day, a friend of his dropped the above drawing at our office.
It might be my favorite possession. Jack Davis died yesterday at 91. It just now occurs to me, many of you may think you don’t know who Jack Davis is. Google him. You will be amazed.