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Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front Hardcover – February 17, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Historian DePastino (Citizen Hobo) eloquently memorializes cartoonist Bill Mauldin, who won fame as the leading spokesman for the American combat soldier during World War II, in this authoritative biography. Mauldin (1921–2003) grew up in Depression-era New Mexico in a dysfunctional family. After studying at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts for one year, he joined the newly mobilized 45th Infantry Division of the Arizona National Guard. Mauldin then became the 45th Division News's cartoonist. Deployed to North Africa in 1943, Mauldin participated in the invasions of Sicily and Italy. In 1944, while on staff at the GI newspaper Stars and Stripes, Mauldin created his signature characters, the weary and disheveled infantrymen Willie and Joe. Willie and Joe became soldiers' heroes and anathema to brass such as Gen. George Patton, who threatened to throw Mauldin in jail for his characters' indolence. After the war, Mauldin published bestselling cartoon collections, worked briefly as an actor, ran unsuccessfully for Congress and ended his career with two Pulitzer Prizes for editorial cartooning. Thoroughly researched and sprightly written, DePastino's balanced biography is a solid introduction to an American original. Classic Mauldin cartoons are an entertaining bonus. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Every critic who reviewed A Life Up Front welcomed this biography; apart from Mauldin’s own memoir, Back Home (1947), it is the first full-length biography of the man. Because DePastino was the first to provide such a work, critics were inclined to be forgiving even when they found failings, such as a focus on career over personal life. The book’s sympathetic subject and engaging illustrations couldn’t have hurt either. While a few reviewers suspected DePastino of hero worship, they also appreciated his thorough research and his candor in describing the difficult episodes of Mauldin’s later life. Given the usual glowing treatment of “The Greatest Generation” and “The Good War,” the overall assessment was that A Life Up Front is a respectful but balanced biography.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
Most people interested in WW2 have seen Bill Mauldin's work. Most have no idea of the truly American story that became William Mauldin's life. A sickly child of a family that was poor even by depression-era standards, he simply didn't take 'no' for an answer from anyone.
Todd DePastino set out to write the definitive work on Mauldin's life, a book which like most good histories, couldn't have been written until his passing. It pulls no punches with the reality. Mauldin was an driven man, almost to the point of madness, yet had to prove himself every moment of his life. Re-inventing himself over and over again, his life was a roller coaster of poverty and riches, fame and oblivion. At end of his life, ripped by the pain and the disease which had taken his mind, the GI's who loved his work rallied to his side. There could never have been a more fitting tribute than the hundreds of aging warriors who came to Mauldin in his final hours to pay their respects.
For those who are mostly interested in his wartime experiences, you must realize this is a work about his entire life. While WW2 factored into his life prominently, it wasn't all that Bill Maudlin did. It paints a sometimes humorous, often tragic, and in the end a warm story about a nation he'd thought had forgotten him but showed their love when he needed it most.
Talking with almost everyone who ever knew Mauldin, DePastino has painted a lavish portrait of man few people could ever have really understood. Going back to his roots, we learn of Mauldin's frighteningly Dickensian upbringing and amazing determination to become a cartoonist. This in a world where only "real" work had value, rarely even then. Clawing his way to his goal was sidetracked by the upcoming war. What seemed to be a derailment of his career turned out to be the springboard, launching himself into events he barely controlled. Yet, controlled it, he did. The flame of his popularity flickered through his life after he stepped out uniform. Along the way, he left more than a few people by the wayside.
Truly, a man haunted by his dreams, his past and a future he so desperately wanted yet never seemed to achieve makes for a story that readers will never forget. DePastino does true justice, spending an amazing amount of time with his research. Anyone who thinks they know the Mauldin story will come away with many new insights. This book is valuable in so many ways and will for years to come be one of the definitive works to spotlight the true nature of ambition, fame, and what it really is to both an artist and a real man.
Mauldin really was a genius with a pencil or pen. He was making detailed drawings before he could talk. He got some formal training, but he could not make cartoons pay, and unemployment was bad enough in 1940 that he joined the Arizona National Guard's 45th Infantry Division. His cartoons, featured in the division newspaper, were humorous takes on the sort of things other soldier cartoonists were doing, showing dumb privates peeling potatoes and dumb officers mouthing off criticisms. After he went through battle in Sicily and Italy, however, the cartoons changed, showing generally competent soldiers, doing a bloody, muddy, dangerous, and unappreciated job. The sympathetic accuracy of the portraits was what made them beloved by the dogfaces that recognized themselves in the depictions and the situations. The GIs loved Mauldin's cartoons; the officers were less than unanimous in their admiration. General Patton hated them, and early in Mauldin's army career, he tried pulling rank, telling Mauldin's commander "Get rid of Mauldin and his cartoons". It was one battle Patton lost. Mauldin's cartoons were syndicated stateside. He also began a writing career that was to prove to be successful, starting with _Up Front_, a bestselling account of the Italian campaign. He became a popular editorial cartoonist. His cartoons took down segregationists, the KKK, and the anti-Communist hysteria of Joe McCarthy. He got himself an FBI file for his efforts. His most famous postwar cartoon was the one of the statue of Lincoln from the Memorial, head in hands after the assassination of Kennedy. Mauldin remained a reporter, taking assignments in Vietnam, Israel, and even the Persian Gulf for our first war there. He acted briefly in the movies. He died of dementia, complicated by alcohol, and a severe scalding accident in 2003.
DePastino's wonderful and moving book rightly concentrates on the war years, but details plenty of the post-war career. Mauldin was self-critical enough to write, "I never quite could shake off the guilt feeling that I had made something good out of the war." He didn't like the Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion types who he felt glorified war, and he couldn't stand going to the memorials which brought back gruesome memories. But he died well loved by the soldiers who had loved him for depicting them realistically. In his nursing home, he didn't always recognize family that came to see him, and his marriages and career became blanks. But when the veterans came, just guys who had loved seeing themselves in his work, he seemed to know them. Years before, when Tom Brokaw put to him that the real Willies and Joes were America's "Greatest Generation," Mauldin wasn't having any of it. He replied that "they were human beings, they had their weaknesses and their flaws and their good sides and bad sides. The one thing they had in common was that they were a little too young to die." It was the realistic sort of respect his cartoons had always shown.