Tribute to a Once Famous Uncle

The only person in my family even remotely “famous” in the last century or so (apart from a great aunt who dated Jerry Van Dyke — true story) is someone you’ve STILL probably never heard of, so allow me the liberty of filling you in.

I am distantly related (I think he’s my great-great-uncle) to children’s illustrator Harrison Cady, best known for his association with Thorton W. Burgess’s “Peter Rabbit” stories.  This is, of course not the same Peter Rabbit as Beatrix Potter’s more famous creation, which adds a layer of indignity to the obscurity. My maternal grandmother, my favorite and most influential grandparent, was the Cady connection.

Reddy Fox

In high school, I got to play Reddy Fox, one of my own relative’s co-creations, in a  school play based on Burgess’s books. I didn’t tell any of the other kids about the connection because I was afraid they wouldn’t believe me. (There are times when a reputation for habitual, extravagant embellishment of the truth in pursuit of attention has its drawbacks).  But to this day, Reddy Fox — and I mean this — was one of my greatest theatrical creations. But if you weren’t five years old and in southern Rhode Island in 1982, chances are good you probably haven’t seen it.

At NYU film school I was thrilled when my favorite professor John Canemaker named Cady as one of the seminal influences on the young Walt Disney. Something about dressing small forest animals in human clothing, I believe…

Here’s the thumbnail bio:

Cady was born in 1877 (date unknown) in Gardner, Massachusetts where his father ran a local general store. At a young age he entered an apprenticeship with a local painter, and was still a teenager when he published his first illustration. He moved to New York City at age 18 and within a year found work as an illustrator with the Brooklyn Eagle, where he remained for four years, while also freelancing to other publications. From there he joined Life as a staff artist and cartoonist for a number of years.

He association with Burgess spanned five decades, beginning with Baby Possum Has a Scare (c. 1912), The Adventures of Reddy Fox (1913) and Buster Bear Invites Old Mr. Toad to Dine (c. 1914), The series continued into the 1950s with At Paddy the Beaver’s Pond (1950), followed by the reprint The Animal World of Thornton Burgess (1962).

During his 70+ year career he was to illustrate for such publications as Boys’ Life, The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping and Country Gentleman. He passed away in 1970. A lot of material on Cady is on deposit in the collections of the Smithsonian.

At any rate, the knowledge that I was related to this once-famous man, that I actually possessed books full of his illustrations was one of the things that inspired me when I was a kid. And so I write a tribute to him today! He deserves to be much better known! Walt Disney would agree.



7 Responses to “Tribute to a Once Famous Uncle”

  1. Hi- what fun to find this post! Harrison Cady is NOT forgotten, certainly not in my book. He is one of my all-time favorite illustrators. I am a children’s author/illustrator, too, and he was definitely one of my influences.


    • How wonderful to hear! Thanks! And your own work is lovely–I’ve just had a peek. My girlfriend is an illustrator and I’ll share it with her as well. I’m also saddened to hear from your blog about the passing of Governor Garrahy. I saw in person many a time when I was growing up — I grew up in South County and he was always around at public events (he lived in Narragansett). Anyway, thanks again for the vote of Cady support!


  2. I’m doing research on Thornton W. Burgess and Harrison Cady, and am intrigued by your reference to Cady’s influence on Walt Disney. Can you tell me more?


    • Nothing beyond what I wrote here. It was my professor John Cannemaker who made the observation — if you can track him down, he could give you his insights. Please keep me in the loop about your project. I’m of course very interested!


  3. Harrison Cady is also a huge favorite of mine! I grew up with so many of the books he so wonderously illustrated. His strong use of color greatly influenced my obsession with color and delightfully illustrated books. He is not “once famous” he is “always famous and certainly beloved”!


    • Sure! to US! But thanks, it’s really nice to hear. This feedback has inspired me….maybe there should be some sort of appreciation project of some kind. Maybe a facebook fan page for him or something at the very least….


  4. V.E.G. Says:

    Harrison Cady is the distant cousin of the actor of Petticoat Junction actor, Frank Cady! Also, the newest hero in the United States was Alan B. Hall (a descendant of Prudence Cady) gave his life saving a young girl in Florida and remember him, ever!


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