Kenneth Roberts Memorabilia: 1938 Parker Pen Ad

Today, July 18, is my birthday. As I’ve grown older, and especially when my two youngest daughters were born five days and 10 days after my birthday, I have become rather specific and picky as to what I want for my birthday. Yes, I still get birthday gifts, but I don’t expect to get a lot of gifts (as one does when they are a child); rather, some money to go to Half Price Books or to go to Music-G0-Round for my drums usually fits the bill. However, the previous fourteen birthdays have primarily been gifts toward books for my education. Occasionally would I get something for my drum set or a book that was outside the realm of my studies.

Parker Vacumatic pen ad featuring Kenneth Roberts in 1938

Parker Vacumatic pen ad featuring Kenneth Roberts in 1938

This year is different, however, as I am no longer in school.  I found a couple of Kenneth Roberts items on the web and pointed them out to my wife. One item that I received today for my birthday is a great ad from 1938. It is an ad for Parker Vacumatic pens featuring Kenneth Roberts. This ad is perfect for me in two ways: first, I am obviously a big Kenneth Roberts fan. Second, I really like old Parker pens. I have two Parker 51 pens that are still in working condition, and a Parker 61 pen/pencil set that has never been used (by the way, be sure to visit Parker51.com – a wonderful site on everything Parker 51). So, the Parker Vacumatic ad really combines two things like enjoy collecting: Kenneth Roberts works and old fountain pens (particularly Parker pens).

Several features about this ad stand out. First, it links a best-selling author with the use of a best-selling pen. Roberts had just published the best-selling Northwest Passage in 1937, and by using his likeness, Parker was riding Roberts’ wave of popularity. Behind Roberts’ picture is the first page of Roberts’ manuscript for Northwest Passage. The caption to the left of Roberts’ image reads:

In drafting the manuscript of Northwest Passage, his great novel of French and Indian wars and the gargantuan Major Robert Rogers, Kenneth Roberts wrote more than 2,000,000 words with his Parker Vacumatic; then rewrote and altered his rough draft to its final version of 300,000 words. The same unfailing pen helped Mr. Roberts create his famous portraits of Cap Huff and Benedict Arnold in Arundel and Rabble in Arms; King Dick, Capt. Boyle and Daniel Marvin in Lively Lady and Captain Caution.

While the ad’s mention of Roberts’ manuscript’s 2,000,000 words clearly intends to highlight the Parker Vacumatic’s durability and reliability, it also points to Roberts’ detailed and diligent work he put into his novels. Having just finished a dissertation that entailed editing and revising, I just cannot fathom writing 2,000,000 words, only to cut out 85% percent for a final tally of 300,000. I cringe at such a thought.

A second feature that stands out is the small print to the lower left-hand side of the ad. In small print, one reads:

 No payment has been or will be made to Mr. Roberts, for the use of his name in this advertisement; and the Parker Pen Company, at his and to show its appreciation, will this summer provide funds to send a welfare worker with the Grenfell Mission to Labrador.

No doubt Roberts had every right to accept money from Parker for the use of his name and image; however, I find that this statement sheds light on a side of Kenneth Roberts that is often overshadowed by his outspoken personality. (For information on the Grenfell Mission, visit this link. The mission was started by Wilfred Grenfell to establish permanent medical care in Labrador and the surrounding area.)

This ad is an amazing piece of history, particularly in the information one can glean about Kenneth Roberts the man. So, when looking through old magazines, don’t ignore the old ads. You never know what you may discover!

March to QuebecP.S. I stated above that I found a couple of items on the web. The second item is a first edition copy of March to Quebec with the dust jacket, both in good condition. I’m very excited about this find as well; I’ve been looking for this book for quite some time in antique stores, used book stores, etc., and could not find it. So, I had to resort to the web (thank you abebooks.com!). Nevertheless, I am excited and have it on my nightstand as we speak, waiting to be read.

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K.R. in the Blogosphere: Did Kenneth Roberts help inspire the creation of Pepe Le Pew? Not likely.

Below is a post I wrote back in March of 2011.  I had come across a supposed letter from famous animator Chuck Jones in which it stated that one of Kenneth Roberts’ works was the source of inspiration for Pepe le Pew (The post was originally written 3/10/11).

I stumbled upon a blog post at Letters of Note in which the author provides a facsimile of a letter written by Chuck Jones (a “legendary animator”) to a class of students about the benefits of reading.  In this letter he tells where he received inspiration for several Looney Toones characters, such as Wile E. Coyote, Bugs Bunny, etc.  What’s of interest to this blog is his statement: “I found the entire romantic personality of Pepe Le Pew in a book written by Kenneth Roberts, Captain Hook.”

To my knowledge, Kenneth Roberts has never written a book titled Captain Hook.  If the Kenneth Roberts Jones references is indeed the Kenneth Roberts of this site, then he probably meant to reference Captain Caution.  It’s been a while since I’ve read this book to know which character served as inspiration for Pepe Le Pew, so if you have an idea, let me know.

The real mystery, though, would be if the Kenneth Roberts that Jones refers to is another Kenneth Roberts that wrote a book titled Captain Hook.  However, I have yet to come across a book with such title AND author.

Nevertheless, a fun piece of Kenneth Roberts trivia!

***Update 3/16: The letter had apparently been up for auction on ebay (check here) but, according to the seller, was sold as of yesterday.  Here is an image the seller posted of the letter:

Interestingly, the image at Letters of Note still had the address of those to whom the letter is addressed, but the address was pixelated in order to “erase” the address.

So, in the midst of my studies, I periodically try to hunt down this “Captain Hook” that Roberts did or did not write.  This letter has grabbed my attention!

During my search for the supposed “Captain Hook” written by Roberts, I was able to find out the following (written 3/19/11 but not published):

I recently wrote a post that highlighted a supposed letter written by famed animator Chuck Jones in which he lists several books that inspired some of his characters (the original post I referenced was from Letters of Note).  Of interest to this blog was the mention of Kenneth Roberts and his book Captain Hook.

I had stated in my post that Roberts has never written a book titled Captain Hook, and that perhaps Jones had either written the incorrect title (meaning to say Captain Caution) or had the wrong author.  To search for the correct answer, I had written the writer (Robert) for the blog Chuck Redux – a site devoted solely to Chuck Jones’ memory and works – and asked him about this letter.

According to Robert – whose authority I trust regarding the works and life of Chuck Jones – Jones had never stated that he was inspired by a literary work for the character Pepe le Pew.  In light of Jones’ photographic memory, such a mistake in a letter from him causes concern regarding the authenticity of the letter.  Other aspects of the letter have raised red flags as well.

In short, the Roberts reference is not correct and Roberts was not an influence on Pepe le Pew, and the letter’s authenticity is in question.  Unfortunately, the letter is making its way throughout the blogosphere as many have caught on to the post at Letters of Note AND the letter has been sold from the ebay auction.

Hopefully more to come.

By the way, check out Robert’s great blog on Chuck Jones.  As a fan of Looney Tunes (growing up and now), this blog is a great way to know the animator that created those characters we grew up with.

I’d withheld publishing these posts in 2011 as Robert checked out the authenticity of the letter, and as time passed, I forgot to update. So there you go!  A bit of news that’s more than likely untrue, but interesting nonetheless.

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