Will Cuppy

Will Cuppy

American satirist and literary critic
Date of Birth: 23.08.1884
Country: USA

  1. Biography of Will Cappi
  2. Early Life and Education
  3. Early Career
  4. Writing Career
  5. Later Life and Legacy

Biography of Will Cappi

William Jacob 'Will' Cappi was born on August 23, 1884, in Auburn, Indiana. He was an American satirist and literary critic known for his satirical books about nature and historical figures. Despite cultivating a miserly image, Cappi had many friends in literary circles in New York.

Early Life and Education

Cappi's name, Will, was given to him in memory of his older brother who died from wounds received in the Battle of Fort Donelson. His father traded grain, sold farm implements, and purchased lumber for the 'Wabash Railroad' branch, while his mother worked as a seamstress in a small studio. Cappi spent his summers on his grandmother's farm on the banks of the Ugrina River near South Whitley, Indiana. It was here that he developed his interest in the natural world, which became fertile ground for his satire. He graduated from Auburn High School in 1902 and went on to attend the University of Chicago, where he received a Bachelor's degree in 1907. During his time as a student, he performed in amateur theater and worked as a reporter for several Chicago university newspapers.

Early Career

Cappi continued his education in graduate school, studying English literature. In 1910, he published his first collection of stories, 'Maroon Tales', about university life. In 1914, Cappi successfully defended his dissertation and moved to New York. In New York, he worked as a copywriter, creating advertising texts, and unsuccessfully attempted to write a play. During World War I, he served briefly in the U.S. Army's Motor Transport Corps as a second lieutenant. Later, Cappi contributed to the creation of a book of critical reviews for the 'New York Tribune', where his friend Burton Rascoe served as literary editor.

Writing Career

According to Rascoe, Cappi ended up working at the newspaper thanks to flattery and persuasion from Isabel Paterson. Cappi's fruitful collaboration with the 'New York Tribune' paved the way for his success. In 1926, he began writing for the weekly column 'Light Reading', which became known as 'Mystery and Adventure' in the successor newspaper, the 'New York Herald Tribune'. Cappi wrote for the newspaper for the next 23 years, until his death, and wrote about 4,000 reviews of detective novels. Seeking refuge from the city noise and hay fever, Cappi lived in a shack on Jones Island from 1921 to 1929. The Coast Guard station from the nearby 'Zach's Inlet' shared food with him, gave him recipes, and helped him restore his cabin. The result of Cappi's "banishment" to the seaside was his humorous work 'How to be a Hermit' in 1929.

Later Life and Legacy

Due to the expansion of Jones Beach State Park, Cappi was forced to leave his settled place and return to New York with its "noise and soot." However, "park czar" Robert Moses granted Cappi a special permit allowing him to keep his shack on Jones Island. Until the end of his days, Will constantly visited the island. Working in his apartment in Greenwich Village, Cappi continued to write magazine articles and books. He always made notes on 7.5x12 cm cards, accumulating an enormous amount of them even for a short article. His friend and literary confidant Fred Feldkamp stated that Cappi sometimes reread more than 25 thick books on a particular topic before starting to write something himself.

Cappi had an amazing ability to create funny but fact-based articles. In 1933, he gained some popularity with a humorous radio show on NBC. Shy by nature, Cappi found true happiness digging through scientific journals to extract exhaustive information for his cards. According to Feldkamp, one of Cappi's favorite places was the Bronx Zoo, where he felt truly relaxed. Many of Cappi's articles for 'The New Yorker' and other magazines were later collected into books, such as 'How to Tell Your Friends from the Apes' in 1931 and 'How to Become Extinct' in 1941.

One of Cappi's most famous works was the satirical history book titled 'The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody'. The work was completed in 1950 by Fred Feldkamp, who studied about 15,000 cards left by his deceased friend. In addition, Feldkamp edited Cappi's comical almanac 'How to Get from January to December', which was published in 1951.

In his final years, Cappi's health deteriorated, and he became increasingly depressed. When he learned that he was being evicted from his apartment, he took a fatal dose of sleeping pills and died seven days later on December 19, 1949, at St. Vincent's Hospital.

One of his friends, poet William Rose Benét, wrote the following in memory of the satirist: "He was a true humorist with a troubled gaze. All his friends loved him."

Newspapers with Cappi's articles, along with thousands of his cards, are now housed in the library of the University of Chicago. Several of his letters, addressed to his friend and 'Herald Tribune' colleague Isabel Paterson, among other documents, are in the possession of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. Two letters from Cappi to Max Eastman, along with other Eastman documents, are included in the collection of the Lilly Library at Indiana University. Four letters from Cappi to children's writer Anne Carroll Moore complement her other documents held by the New York Public Library.