Who are Archy & Mehitabel?

Although the artist George Herriman of Krazy Kat fame drew cartoons of them for the first three Archy books of poems, they are not cartoon characters.

They are you and me.   

Archy is a poet trapped in the body of a cockroach.  He does not let his size or physical limitations keep him from writing some pretty amazing stuff.

Mehitabel is a liberated woman in the body of an old alley cat.  She claims that in a former incarnation she was Cleopatra.

Unlikely friends, they play with abandon in a body of more than 500 poems and sketches that humans like us can still enjoy.

Born in the daily newspaper column of Don Marquis, the most beloved wit of his day, they entertained and educated readers from 1916 to 1936 in newspapers and magazines read widely in the early 20th century.

Yet they are creatures of our time, speaking of the human condition in all its ironical twists and turns.  Life and death are dealt with in such a way that we recognize their inevitability with a knowing smile. Archy and Mehitabel don’t preach.  They speak directly to what we are all thinking.

Their lives are as rich as ours can be, and many times are.  But, as is true of many great writers, Archy puts things in words that open our eyes and hearts in a new way.  Yes, his poems of 100 years ago can do that.

So, sit back a get ready for the wit and wisdom of a “poetic” cockroach and a “morally careless” alley cat, along with all their other friends in Shinbone Alley, in the heart of New York City.  Enjoy the ride.

Gale McNeeley

 

“Gale did a great job bringing the characters to life! He was very expressive and had a wonderful rapport with the audience. I really liked the background commentary Gale shared about Don Marquis and the events that occurred in his era. Everyone had a great time.”

 --Sandi Banks, Library Manager, Camarillo CA Library

Archy & Mehitabel

THEY ARE THE MOST UNLIKELY OF FRIENDS: Archy is a cockroach with the soul of a poet, and Mehitabel is an alley cat with a celebrated past — she claims she was Cleopatra in a previous life. Together, cockroach and cat are the foundation of one of the most engaging collections of light poetry to come out of the twentieth century.

Archy and Mehitabel

“expression is the need of my soul,” declares Archy, who labored as a free-verse poet in an earlier incarnation. At night, alone, he dives furiously on the keys of Don Marquis’ typewriter to describe a cockroach’s view of the world, rich with cynicism and humor. It’s difficult enough to operate the typewriter’s return bar to get a fresh line of paper; all of Archy’s dispatches are written lowercase, and without punctuation, because he is unable to hit both shift and letter keys to produce a capital letter.

“boss i am disappointed in some of your readers,” he writes, weary of having to explain the mechanics of his literary output. ” … they are always interested in technical details when the main question is whether the stuff is literature or not.”

It is.Archy and Mehitabel

Don Marquis, a writer form The Evening Sun, introduced Archy the cockroach in his daily column The Sun Dial on March 29, 1916. For six years Archy’s prodigious output found a home in The Evening Sun (later renamed The Sun), and for four years after that in the New York Tribune.

When Marquis left newspapering in 1926 he took Archy with him, to Collier’s magazine and a handful of other publications. In all, he wrote nearly 500 sketches featuring Archy, Mehitabel, Pete the pup, Freddy the rat, and assorted fleas, spiders, ghosts and martians. The vast majority of the sketches were written under daily deadline pressure, but the simplicity of their style and the humanness of cockroach and cat give them timeless appeal.

Archy and Mehitabel

Archy’s appearance came at a time of great public interest in the supernatural: Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle had recently claimed to see fairies, and spiritualists held sway at elaborate seances. Marquis used Archy to poke fun at this latest fad, and also at free-verse poetry, which then was spreading like influenza through New York’s Greenwich Village.

This first Archy column also introduces an alley cat of questionable character. Marquis wouldn’t give a name to the cat for several months yet, but eleven years later Mehitabel’s name was slipped into the opening text when it was republished in a book, the first of many editions of the beloved “archy and mehitabel.”

First-edition covers for the original Archy and Mehitabel books, published in 1927, 1933 and 1935


 


“Gale's verbal and physical versatility beautifully served Don Marquis' characters and verses. Audience members both familiar with and new to Marquis were privileged to enjoy the antics and wisdom emanating from his and Archy's typing.”

 --Phil Wilcox, President, The Friends of the Montecito, CA Library.


“One could only wish we had more performances like this one available to us on the library circuit. I cannot recommend Gale and his work highly enough. How often does one leave a performance inspired to actually read the author later?” 

 --Carey McKinnon, Supervisor Solvang, CA Branch Library


 “I highly recommend Gale McNeeley's Archy & Mehitabel for an adult library program -- he's on my A-list now.”

 --Chris Gallery, Reference Librarian. Santa Barbara Public Library

Happy 100 Years, Archy and Mehitabel!

It was 100 years ago — March 29, 1916 — that Archy the cockroach first spoke to the world. Don Marquis had come into his office at The Evening Sun earlier than usual and discovered “a gigantic cockroach jumping about upon the keys” of his typewriter.

“He did not see us, and we watched him,” Don wrote in his newspaper column that day. “He would climb painfully upon the framework of the machine and cast himself with all his force upon a key, head downward, and his weight and the impact of the blow were just sufficient to operate the machine, one slow letter after another. He could not work the capital letters, and he had a great deal of difficulty operating the mechanism that shifts the paper so that a fresh line may be started.”

“We never saw a cockroach work so hard or perspire so freely in all our lives before. After about an hour of this frightfully difficult literary labor he fell to the floor exhausted, and we saw him creep feebly into a nest of the poems which are always there in profusion.”

It was the first of hundreds of stories, poems, japes, jests and epigrams by Archy that would appear in Don’s writings over the next 20 years, often accompanied by comments from Mehitabel, an alley cat of questionable morals and impeccable taste.   *

* From John Battegier’s wonderful website donmarquis.com

 


“Gale McNeeley's performance of Archy & Mehitabel was outstanding. The audience was amazed at how many characters he could bring to life.” 

 --Cesare J. Muccari, Greensburg Hempfield Area Library Director

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