Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dorothy Kunhardt's BRAVE MR. BUCKINGHAM

Dorothy Kunhardt's Pat the Bunny is a classic. Published in 1940 by Simon & Schuster, I'd be willing to bet it is one of those books that has never gone out of print. We got it for our daughter when she was a baby and read it lots of times.

In early June, I learned that Dorothy Kunhardt also did Brave Mr. Buckingham a book that Emily Temple of Flavorwire listed in "10 of the Most Terrifying Children's Books From Around The World."

Note: 5:30 PM CST, June 14---Brave Mr. Buckingham is an OLD book published in 1935. It isn't new, and it is hard to find.


"Terrifying" is right! 

 Here's the cover:







And here's a page from inside the book:




Doesn't that illustration just creep you out?! Temple wrote:
As a child, I knew her best as the craziest mothereffer on the planet.   Mr. Buckingham is a Native American gentleman who just can’t win.  He puts his FOOT NEXT TO A BUZZSAW because it gives him “a nice tickly feeling.”  Bam!  Bye-bye, foot.  He goes to the aquarium to visit the fish, jumps in and BAM!  A fish eats the other foot.  You know.  Like they do.

The pattern continues as Mr. B’s curiosity (or general lack of awareness) gets the better of him:  he loses an arm to a gardener, gets sliced in two by a passing truck (while sunbathing, natch), and so on.  After each and every accident, he smiles and says, “That didn’t hurt!”  And in the end, when Brave Mr. Buckingham is nothing but a severed head–wearing a crudely drawn cartoon headdress because Ms. Kunhardt was not just a sadist but an enemy of cultural competence–still he is feeling just fine, thank you.
I'd love to have more info on this book! What was Kunhardt thinking? Why did she pick an Indian?! I've got lots of questions. The book is titled Brave Mr. Buckingham. Is Mr. Buckingham a British gent? A British gent playing Indian?   

Apparently, the story is one meant to prove to Billy that it won't hurt to pull on his loose front tooth. Such an odd way to persuade him, don't you think? 

The Kirkus review in 1935 was:
This doesn't measure up to her earlier books, Junket is Nice, etc. But on the sale of those, this will be in demand. A picture story book with a moral -- the story of the Indian who lost first a leg, then an arm, then another leg, and so on until nothing but his head was left, and who still said ""That didn't hurt"".
It looks like there's a copy of the book in the University of Illinois Rare Books library. I'm going to request to see it!

Update, 3:34, June 14, 2012
In Mary-Lou Weisman's Intensive Care: A Family Love Story is some of the text of Brave Mr. Buckingham (note: I don't know what Weisman's book is about):
"Once there was an Indian named brave Mr. Buckingham. He was called brave Mr. Buckingham because he was very, very, very brave, and no matter how frightfully terrible an accident was that happened to him, brave Mr. Buckingham just smiled a brave smile and he said, 'That didn't hurt!'"

"One day Mr. Buckingham was playing a blindfold game, and he held his foot up to see if he could guess what it was that made such a nice tickly feeling like air blowing... all of a sudden he felt another feeling, only not tickly, and it was his foot being cut off."

"But brave Mr. Buckingham smiled a brave smile and he said "That didn't hurt."

"One day Mr. Buckingham went to the aquarium because he wanted to find if fishes can tell time, and he jumped in with a quite large fish and he asked, "What time does my watch say?" And the fish said, "Dinner time!" and he bit Mr. Buckingham's foot right off and ate it. But brave Mr. Buckingham smiled a brave smile, and he said 'That didn't hurt!'"

Weisman goes on:

Page of page, picture by picture, limb by limb, "That didn't hurt" by "That didn't hurt," brave Mr. Buckingham loses his parts. While he is trimming the hollylocks, the pincers slip and pinch off one of of his arms. A kitchen accident burns brave Mr. Buckingham's leg off, right to the top of the thigh. A saw, carelessly thrown from an airplane, saws Mr. Buckingham's hand off. Finally, one day when a handless, footless, armless, legless Mr. Buckingham is taking a sunbath in the middle of the road, a truck comes along and slices his body off.

On the last page there's nothing left of brave Mr. Buckingham except a head. Just a head, a neatly severed head, set on a kitchen table. He is wearing a headband with eight jaunty feathers. His lips smile. His eyes twinkle merrily. A little girl stands nearby, spooking large ripe strawberries into his mouth.

"And that was the very last terrible accident that brave Mr. Buckingham ever had. After that he lived happily, happily ever after, and whenever he was hungry, his dear little granddaughter would help Mr. Buckingham to eat a big plateful of beautiful red strawberries, because strawberries were brave Mr. Buckingham's favorite thing. And brave Mr. Buckingham was so used to saying, "That didn't hurt," that as soon as he had eaten the last beautiful strawberry, he smiled a very, very brave smile, and he said, 'That didn't hurt!'"

Update, Saturday, June 16, 2012

Published by Harcourt, Brace and Company in New York in 1935, the story is about six year old Billy Buckingham. Time magazine had this to say about it (3/25/1935, Volume 25, Issue 12):

A toy Indian made of Nugg could always say, in spite of calamities, "THAT DIDN'T HURT." Nonsense with a moral for children (and adults) by the author of Junket is Nice.
The copy of Brave Mr. Buckingham that I requested was ready for me yesterday (Friday) at the University of Illinois Rare Books Library. What follows are excerpts and my thoughts so far (my thoughts are in italics).
Billy, the protagonist, has a loose tooth but won't let anybody tie a string around it to pull it out because "Billy was not a very brave boy and cried every time something hurt him." One day, it was very loose:
Billy was playing Indian that day. He had some feathers on his head and they must have been feathers from a very big kind of bird--maybe an eagle or maybe a turkey. Billy had a string of beads around his neck and he had bare feet, like Indians' bare feet. He was seeing how fast he could climb a tree and look around to find out if there was anybody coming, because Indians are very fast at climbing trees and finding out if there is anybody coming.
Debbie's thoughts:
Playing Indian has been popular in the United States for hundreds of years. In Playing Indian, Philip Deloria provides an in-depth analysis of the activity. He starts with colonists dressed in Indian disguises (no feathers or facepaint, by the way) at the Boston Tea Party and moves on through things like the Society of Red Men (founded in 1812) and current day scouting programs. 

What did Kunhardt know about American Indians? In 1930 when the book was published, she was living in New York and had gone to school at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. In her book, she gives us a barefoot Indian who climbs trees very fast. When and where did that barefoot-Indian image start? Interestingly, the former mascot at the University of Illinois went barefoot. And Indians who can climb trees fast is a new one (to me)...

Billy is sitting on a branch in the tree. His mother pleads with him about pulling the loose tooth. This makes Billy cry, but his Uncle Alexander (who always has stories and is just at that moment returning from the store) is surprised Billy is crying and says "Why, Billy, what are you crying about. Have you had an accident? You sound as if you had had a terrible accident."

Billy's mother explains that Billy is "silly to cry" over the tooth and that it would be "very wonderful" if Billy would let her pull the tooth and have Billy smile a brave smile and say "That didn't hurt." That prompts Uncle Alexander to tell Billy that a loose tooth being pulled out isn't a bad accident, and that some people have "terrible, awful, frightful accidents." Then he says "I know a good story. It is a very funny story and it is about an Indian who had lots and lots of terrible accidents. But every time he was just as brave as brave could be."

Billy asks for the story, and Uncle Alexander tells him "...after you hear this funny story you will be brave too--you will be just like the Indian in the stor--you will be as brave as brave can be. This is a story that makes people brave."

And so, Uncle Alexander starts:

Once there was an Indian named brave Mr. Buckingham. His real name was Singing Moon Walking Fox Laughing Water Sitting Bull in the Forest, but everybody called him Mr. Buckingham because Singing Moon Walking Fox Laughing Water Sitting Bull in the Forest was such a nuisance to say. He was called brave Mr. Buckingham because he was very, very, very brave.
Debbie's thoughts
 In constructing that "real" name, Kunhardt is being pretty derisive. Obviously she thought it was funny. I trust most readers of AICL know that Sitting Bull was a leader of great significance. Adding "in the forest" to his name is not funny at all. I wondered about the other names Kunhardt strung together. "Singing Moon," might be from Ralph Hubbard's Queer Person published in 1930 by Doubleday. In Hubbard's ridiculous story (I haven't read it; I'm looking at the information in Gillespie and Naden's Newbery Companion) Singing Moon is a character.  

Mr. Buckingham, Uncle Alexander goes on, had terrible accidents because he was foolish and didn't seem able to stop himself from doing foolish things. He did them again and again. But no matter what happened, he just smiled a brave smile and said "THAT DIDN'T HURT!"

Before launching into the story of all these accidents, Uncle Alexander explains that Mr. Buckingham is not made out of
blood and bones and things like most people. He was made out of NUGG, and NUGG is a kind of stuff that is a little bit like clay and a little bit like iron and a little bit like wood and a little bit like rubber and a little bit like blotting paper. But Mr. Buckingham didn't mind at all being made out of NUGG, he was so used to it, and even when he was a little baby Indian he had been made out of NUGG. And the fact is that being made out of blood and bones and things instead of NUGG would have made Mr. Buckingham feel very queer, but since Mr. Buckingham was lucky enough to be made out of NUGG he didn't feel queer at all, he only felt brave--he felt very, very brave.
The illustration for the page shows Mr. Buckingham as a baby in a high chair. Wearing a headdress with feathers that would be the same height as the baby if he stood upright.

Debbie's thoughts:
What do you think? Is Mr. Buckingham brave? Or just stupid?! Course, Mr. Buckingham is not a real person. He's made out of NUGG. Was that some sort of a modeling clay in the 30s?

Mr. Buckingham's first accident is when he is trying to catch bees and keep them in a bottle so they won't sting anyone. He isn't watching where he's going, and falls into a deep hole with pointy rocks at the bottom. His ear is cut off. The two pages show him falling headfirst into the hole, and the second one shows him standing there, smiling, with his ear at his feet, and saying "THAT DIDN'T HURT!" Along with the headdress, he wears what must Kunhardt's version of a loin cloth, except that it looks more like a grass skirt.


Debbie's thoughts:
And, truth be told, it doesn't cover his crotch. A mischievous kid could add some anatomy to this! (I'd show you the photos if I could, but I signed the standard rare-books-agreements in which you promise not to publish the photos.)

The second accident is when Mr. Buckingham wonders if fish can tell time. He jumps into an aquarium and shows his watch to a large fish. He asks the fish what time it is, but the fish bites off his foot and eats it. Mr. Buckinham smiles and says 'THAT DIDN'T HURT!"

In the third accident, Mr. Buckingham is going to cut off the top flowers of a hollyhock. He's shown on stilts. One foot rests on a stilt and the other just leg (which is missing from knee on down) is just hanging there. The tool (pincers) he uses is the same size as he is. He squeezes it shut using one hand and his mouth. When he opens his mouth to say "There, THAT'S DONE!" the pincers bounce down and pinch off his arm. The next page shows him standing on one foot, looking down at his right arm at his feet (and saying "THAT DIDN'T HURT!").

In the fourth accident, Mr. Buckingham is playing a blindfold game. He is shown in blindfold. He wonders what is making the nice tickly feeling on his face so, standing on the cut-off leg, he holds the other leg up to see if he can guess what kind of machine it is. "...all of a sudden he felt another feeling, only not tickly, and it was his foot being cut off." On the next page, he is shown standing on stumps, looking down at his foot and saying 'THAT DIDN'T HURT!"

Accident number five is when he's cooking. He decides it would be fun to cook in the dark and stands on the hot stove, reaching up to turn off the light. His leg goes down into one of the holes (this is a wood stove) and into the fire and is burned up. He is shown standing on one stump, with just a bit of his burned leg showing beneath his loin cloth. Or skirt.

The sixth accident is when he's out in a field and sees an airplane in the sky. A man is fixing the wing with a saw. Mr. Buckingham shouts out "boo" to tease the man. He drops the saw and it falls down, cutting off Mr. Buckingham's hand. Standing on his stump, he looks down at his hand, smiles, and says "THAT DIDN'T HURT!"

Debbie's thoughts:
Can you imagine being Kunhardt, coming up with ways to have his limbs cut off?

In accident number seven, Mr. Buckingham is riding a horse on a merry-go-round. A friend in top hat, coat and tails, comes along and says he can shoot the horses tail off, even though the horse is going up and down and up and down. He misses, and shoots off Mr. Buckingham's remaining arm. As before, the next page shows him with the dismembered body part, and he's smiling saying "THAT DIDN'T HURT!"

At this point, all he has left is a torso and one leg that ends at his knee. In accident eight, he's shown riding a sled (the hill is so long it takes him two weeks), and to avoid crashing into a flagpole at the bottom, he drags his leg in the snow. That leg is worn off, and he bumps gently into the flagpole, which breaks off his ear (Kunhardt says 'broken off'). On the next page, an armless, legless, and earless Mr. Buckingham says "THAT DIDN'T HURT!"

The ninth accident is when Mr. Buckingham decides to sunbathe in the middle of the road. A truck comes along. The driver thinks someone has put a log in the road as a joke, and runs right over it. This slices Mr. Buckingham's body off. All that's left now, is an earless head in a headdress. After that he lives "happily, happily ever after"and whenever he was hungry, his granddaughter would feed him strawberries. In the illustration, his head in headdress is on a table. His granddaughter is shown standing beside it, feeding him the strawberries. She's wearing a headdress, too, but her skin is a very light pink, not the bright red of his. And she is wearing a dress and red shoes. When he finishes eating the strawberries, he says "THAT DIDN'T HURT" because he is so used to saying it.


Debbie's thoughts:
I'm curious as to why Kunhardt made the granddaughter White. The drawing of the granddaughter (shown above) is in sharp contrast to the drawing of Mr. Buckingham. Kunhardt took more care in drawing her, Billy's mother, Uncle Alexander, and Mr. Buckingham's friend. The two characters shown consistently in crude fashion (like what you'd see in a coloring book) are Billy and Mr. Buckingham. 

That concludes Uncle Alexander's story. Billy's mother comes back with a string. Billy is ready now, to have his tooth pulled. His mother pulls it.  Billy "smiled a brave smile, and he said "That's didn't hurt!" His mother says
"Well, Alexander, this is a nice surprise for me. You said you could make Billy brave with your funny story and you really did. Oh, I am so pleased, now Billy is just as brave as a real Indian."
She gives him a gift of strawberries and the book ends with a drawing of Billy minus the loose tooth and in large letters, 'THAT DIDN'T HURT!"

By counting the stamped date-due on the due-date slip still in the book, I see it circulated 56 times.

I'm currently waiting for a copy of The Dreaming Game: A Portrait of a Passionate Life. It is a biography of Kunhardt, written by her son, Philip. In 1990, he wrote "The Original Touchy Feely: 'Pat the Bunny' Turns 50" for the New York Times Book Review. His article was published on December 23, 1990. In it, he wrote that his mother slept very little and had
many obsessions stirring her heart" including "interest in anything old, in every animal in the world, in Indians, in medicine, in photographs, in Abraham Lincoln, in slaves, in spiritualism, in subways, in freaks, in crime, in death, in love--the list went on and on.
I hope I'll learn a bit more about her that might help me understand this book. 









9 comments:

Beverly Slapin said...

Oh, that is just too creepy for words. I eagerly await the result of your research, Debbie.

Elizabeth Sky-McIlvain said...

I thought that Ximm's Pat the Zombie was over the top sick, but it seems now that Kunhardt might not only have approved, she might have been jealous! The book is sadly contemporary. I wonder if a single reviewer of Mr. Buckingham said "Don't buy this book!" I wonder if a single parent spread the word "Don't buy this book!" This is one of the few time that I think about the usefulness of digital Comments and Reviews. It would be interesting to trace them for one of the contemporary books you have neg-viewed - to see if the crowd has a clue about stereotypes, etc. I guess I am basically a bid glum: seems sometimes things have not changed a whole lot in 75 years.

Beverly Slapin said...

Thanks, Debbie. This description sounds like "Mr. Bill," a parody of children's programming, that was a regular feature on Saturday Night Live. "Mr. Bill" was a clay character made by "Mr. Hands." In each episode, "Mr. Hands" would cause "Mr. Bill" to suffer ever-more-violent indignities, ending up in his being crushed or dismembered. "Mr. Bill's" signature line was a high-pitched scream, "Ohhhh, noooooo."

I wonder if Walter Williams, who created "Mr. Bill," was influenced by BRAVE MR. BUCKINGHAM.

Deacon Tim said...

My mother, who taught art in the 1930's and 40's in the Akron Public Schools, collected children's books. When she married and left teaching to raise her five children, Brave Mr. Buckingham was our favorite of all her books because it was so funny. In the 1950's we weren't sensitive to the discrimination that minorities were enduring.

I still have the book; and in my elementary library, I read it aloud to the 6th graders. It provides me with an excellent discussion starter on the effects of weeding in libraries. After we have laughed, we talk about why this book cannot be found in any elementary library today. Their views and insights are refreshing and surprisingly mature.

It is still hard for me to read this book aloud without laughing. It is a very funny book in spite of its political incorrectness.

If it were not illegal to do so, I would scan the whole thing and send it to my siblings electronically. They are a bit jealous that I have mom's copy of it.

Anonymous said...

This book was actually a classic in our family, but then I was raised in the 50's and the term Politically Correct had never been uttered. We had this book around to read and encourage us before a visit to the dentist or the doctor or maybe after a scrape or a fall. It wasn't traumatic at all to read the story. I think in today's world it appears it would be interpreted totally differently.

Kimberly Cairns said...

I was trying to find this book and through google I found your link. This was my favorite childhood story. I must be clear and tell you that I'm Mohawk as is my family. It was hard to find children's stories featuring Native Americans when I was a child, I'm now 54. My grandfather, a professor of history, told me that the story was really about the fact that even though Mr. Buckingham was left with just his head at the end, he was still whole because he had his mind. He explained that you can travel anywhere in your mind. I still remember the way he explained it, and that's the way I thought of the book....it's really philosophy.

Unknown said...

My girlfriend brought home a copy of this book today . Interesting story about the author and the book. Definitely the weirdest kids books I've ever seen.

Mindy said...

I wish I could find a copy of this book. Like others have posted it was read so often in our family and referred to when any of us were injured. My mother would always say, " What would Mr. Bunkingham Say?" Such wonderful memories.

Travis Parker said...

I have an original first addition,is it worth anything?