I was surprised and dismayed to check in at The Comics Reporter and see that Stuart Hample passed away Sunday at the age of 84. Surprised, because I wouldn’t have guessed that he was 84—he was way too lively, although I suppose anyone who had hung out with Fred Allen and Al Capp couldn’t be that young—and dismayed because that means I won’t get to talk to him again.
I interviewed Stu last November, for an article in PWCW about Dread and Superficiality, a collection of his Inside Woody Allen comic strips. We talked for about two hours, and I took nine single-spaced pages of notes. He had some great stories about working with Woody Allen and other comedians of the time, most of which are in the book or the article, but the off-topic stuff was just as interesting.
“Everything I’ve done has no depth, but I had a wide array of careers,” Hample told me. “I’m a multimedia failure.” That’s not entirely true. In addition to collaborating with Woody Allen on the strip, he had several other newspaper comics, Children’s Letters to God and Rich and Famous. He was a writer for the TV show Kate and Allie, and as an adman, he got Al Capp to do ads for Wildroot Cream-Oil hair tonic. He even did a brief stint on Captain Kangaroo, in the show’s early days, as Mr. Artist. Sometimes Hample reached a bit too far, as when he tried to get James Thurber to draw an ad for General Electric and when he pitched a comic strip based on comedian Dick Gregory. Neither enterprise was a success, but they certainly were interesting failures.
I’m going to let Stu do the talking after the jump; read on for some of the stories he told in the interview, edited slightly for readability but not fact-checked at all.