Garry Trudeau, born Garretson Beekman Trudeau in 1948, is the creator of the comic strip Doonesbury. He was born in New York City and raised in Saranac Lake, in upstate New York. Doonesbury grew out of a comic Trudeau created while attending Yale University, called Bull Tales. In 1975, he became the first cartoon strip artist to win a Pulitzer Prize for his work. Today Doonesbury continues to be one of the most popular comic strips in America. Trudeau has also written and produced films and television shows including Tanner ’88 and the political satire Alpha House. He married journalist Jane Pauley in 1980 and has three children: Ross, Thomas, and Rachel.
Next to the door of my father’s studio stood a lacquered mahogany grandfather clock that didn’t work. It faced down a hall that ran the length of our tenth-floor apartment in New York. If the studio door was closed, I would sometimes open the clock’s cabinet door and set its brass pendulum swinging, producing a resonant tick-tock that softened as gravity took its course.
“Just a minute, Rossy.”
Dad only ever seemed to shut the studio door on Fridays. His slate of six dailies and one nine-panel Sunday strip were due to the inker by 6:00 P.M., and he rarely finished a minute before. And just as his professional anxiety reached its weekly zenith, we three children would burst back into the pre-war Central Park West co-op with typical weekend-anticipatory zeal. The few times my father could have been said to have snapped at me unfairly occurred at the threshold of his studio, in mid-afternoon on a Friday: deadline day (or, as my sister called it, “Daddy’s Mad Day).
While it was by no means off-limits, the studio was a serious place, and held an appeal that, for most of my childhood, defied naming. For although it was a space for hard work and sustained concentration, it was at the same time filled to bursting with objects that looked for all the world like toys: Framed, full-color Little Nemo and Krazy Kat originals; a carved wooden Dan Quayle figurine that ejected an erect penis when you picked it up; a hand-carved didgeridoo; a life-sized, paper-mache sculpture of Mike Doonesbury’s head and torso; USO press lanyards from Iraq and Kuwait; amorphous, gummy wads of gray eraser material that went white and shredded like dough when you stretched them out.
The studio had the power to subtly transform my father. He was an affectionate man, an enthusiastic rough-houser, and capable of unabashed silliness. But inside the studio, he seemed to me perceptibly more solemn, more focused, more staid. More like Grandpa.
Dr. Frank B. Trudeau was a Columbia-trained country physician, a committed outdoorsman, and a decorated veteran of a U.S. Navy sub-chaser. He was reserved, but not aloof. Patrician, but not domineering. Above all things he valued honesty, respect, and integrity. And like my father’s studio would years later, Grandpa’s study in the Saranac Lake house where he raised his family served as a neat metonymy for the man.
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