It’s the birthday of James Thurber, born in Columbus, Ohio (1894). His father was an underpaid civil servant who worked too hard; his mother was a funny woman who loved to play jokes. When he was seven years old, he was playing with his brothers and was shot in the eye with a bow and arrow; he went completely blind in one eye, and struggled with his eyesight for the rest of his life.
He dropped out of Ohio State University, spent a couple of years during World War I working as a code clerk, and in 1925, he moved to Greenwich Village in New York City, getting a job as a reporter for the New York Evening Post. He joined the staff of The New Yorker in 1927 as an editor with the help of his friend and fellow New Yorker contributor, E.B. White. His career as a cartoonist began in 1930 when White found some of Thurber’s drawings in a trash can and submitted them for publication; White inked-in some of these earlier drawings to make them reproduce better for the magazine, and years later expressed deep regret that he had done such a thing. Thurber would contribute both his writings and his drawings to The New Yorker until the 1950s.
Thurber was married twice. In 1922, Thurber married Althea Adams. The marriage was troubled and ended in divorce in May 1935. Adams gave Thurber his only child, his daughter Rosemary. Thurber remarried in June 1935 to Helen Wismer.
He died in 1961, at the age of 66, due to complications from pneumonia, which followed upon a stroke suffered at his home. His last words, aside from the repeated word “God,” were “God bless… God damn,” according to Helen Thurber.
An annual award, the Thurber Prize, begun in 1997, honors outstanding examples of American humor. In 2008, The Library of America selected Thurber’s New Yorker story “A Sort of Genius” for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American True Crime.
Thurber said, “Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.”