Grace Gebbie Wiederseim Drayton, Creator of the Campbell Kids and Comics Pioneer

24 December 2004

   “M’m, m’m good! M’m m’m good! That’s what Campbell’s soups are. M’m m’m good!” I remember hearing the young voices of a boy and a girl singing the Campbell’s Soup song when I was a small girl in the 60s, watching their round, chubby smiling faces beaming from the television screen. The Campbell Kids have been cheerfully promoting the company’s products since 1904, when Grace Gebbie first brought the famous cartoon duo to life with her pen. Grace was a pioneer in cartooning as one of the first women to successfully make her mark in the art form.

   Grace was born to parents George and Mary Gebbie on October 14, 1877 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her father was an art publisher who encouraged her early artistic talents. She had a sister, Margaret (who was also grew to be a skilled artist and writer). Grace’s artistic career began at a young age, freelancing as a commercial artist by the time she was 18 years old. *(1) She married for the first time in 1900 to Theodore Wiederseim, an advertising executive for a Philadelphia streetcar company. During that time, Grace was creating comics for the Philadelphia Press entitled “Bobby Blake” and “Dolly Drake”.

    At her husband’s urging, Grace designed two plump and adorable little kids for a series of streetcar ads for the Joseph Campbell Company. Campbell liked what they saw and began using the Kids in their marketing promotions on the streetcars. Their first magazine appearance was in the Ladies Home Journal in 1905. Before long, the beloved Campbell Kids were everywhere, in books, on pyjamas, postcards, games, dishes, banks, dolls and much more. *(2) Over time, Grace crafted more than 300 drawings for the Campbell Company. She worked with the company, assisting with ad campaigns until 1936.

    As her work in cartooning expanded, Grace developed “The Terrible Tales of Captain Kiddo” in collaboration with her sister, then known as Margaret G. Hayes. (In the midst of this, Grace divorced her first husband in 1911 and married Heyward Drayton III.) Grace created “Dolly Dingle”, a cartoon special that appeared in magazines as a line of tremendously popular paper dolls from 1912 to 1933.

    Bursting with creativity, Grace wrote and illustrated children’s books, drew magazine illustrations, designed dolls, created fine art and comic strips. Many of the books by Grace are now hard to find: *(3)

“Mother Goose Rhymes”
“Golden Hours with Mother Goose”
“Bobby Blake” and “Dolly Drake”;

“Kaptin Kiddo & Puppo”
“Vegetable Verselets”
“Baby’s Day”
“Little Chum’s Book”

“Babykins Bedtime Book”
“Little Pets Book”
“Happyland Book”
And many more.

Campbell kids 2

    Grace divorced her second husband in 1923. She created “The Pussycat Princess” comic strip in 1935. Published by King Features, it became her most famed work at the time. A year later, on January 31, 1936, the dedicated and gifted artist died at age 58 of heart failure in New York City. “The Pussycat Princess” carried on in publication until 1947 under artist Ruth Carrol and writer Ed Anthony. *(4)

    The still-nameless Campbell Kids emerged on radio with their memorable song in the 1930s under the Campbell Playhouse series. They bounded merrily into television ads in the 1950s. In 1990, they were revived for new Campbell’s Soup campaigns and continue today in popularity on calendars, toys, bobbleheads, kitchen gear, keychains, magnets and more. There is a book celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Kids, entitled “Campbell Kids: A Souper Century” by Aric Chen, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2004. There is also a book by the Campbell Soup Company, “Campbell Kids Alphabet Soup: An Alphabet Book” published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2004.

    Over a hundred years and counting of enchanting art, poured from the pen of one abundantly imaginative woman. Grace Gebbie Wiederseim Drayton was an artistic leader ahead of her time, hugely successful as one of very few women in cartooning. Though long gone, she continues to be an example for both women and men on the art and possibilities of cartooning.

    Her fascinating work is still “M’m m’m good!”

Campbell Kids Book Cover

Read more about Grace and see samples of her toons:

*(1) http://lambiek.net/artists/d/drayton_g.htm

Campbell's information about Grace:
*(2) campbellsoup.ca/en/about/news_release.asp?
press_release=1 (Link no longer available)

An interesting biography of Grace G. W. Drayton:
*(3) http://www.olypen.com/ticn/articles.htm

The Comics Project page, a wonderful source of details:
*(4) http://hometown.aol.com/comicsproj/creditsLP.html

A sample page of the Dolly Dingle paper dolls:
http://www.rare-posters.com/p534.html

See an example of Grace’s fine art skills, called “Beautiful Young Woman in Bonnet:
http://www.p4a.com/itemsummary/123601.html

Look at the vast range of Campbell Kids stuff available to purchase:
http://www.campbellshop.com/?cpovisq=Mw2qiZKAyTAIHIhNgtsNuKZVY3xIInCk

© Susanna McLeod 2004
TheCartoonists.ca  
       
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)