Saturday, January 21, 2012

Al Capp's sex scandals

Brit Hume remembered the conversation that took place on 1971 between cartoonist Al Capp and reporter Jack Anderson as follows:
Angered over rumors of impropriety, Anderson allegedly confronted Al Capp, a conservative political cartoonist and radio host, whose lectures at universities across the country gave him easy access to female students. 
As Hume described it, Anderson, a devout Mormon with nine children - including a college-age daughter - questioned Capp about these activities. 
Capp's response to Anderson was a pleading, "You know how these college babes are," which turned to panic when he saw Anderson's face turn red with rage. 
"After that, the world never heard very much from Capp again," Hume said.

Jack Anderson's 1971 investigation about Al Capp being asked to leave the University of Alabama in February 1968 (where he was invited as a lecturer) after being accused of making "indecent advances" to four college students in the space of a few days is available in Google News. The complete article follows:




22 Apr 1971
Jack Anderson
Al Capp Hustled Off U Of A Campus After Coeds Charge He Made Indecent Advances
WASHINGTON - Al Capp, the famed cartoonist and caustic critic of college students, was shown out of town by University of Alabama police a few years ago after he allegedly made indecent advances toward several coeds. 
The incident, hushed up for three years by the university administration, is both ironic and significant. For Capp's scathing denunciations of college students and their morals have made him one of the most controversial commentators of the day. 
He now has a syndicated newspaper column and his broadcast commentaries are heard on some 200 radio stations. He was even approached to run for the Senate. But his principal forum has been the campus where some of his biting remarks have become famous. 
In a widely quoted speech at Princeton, for example, Capp said: "Princeton has sunk to a moral level that a chimpanzee can live with, but only a chimpanzee. It has become a combination playpen and pigpen because it disregards the inferiority of the college student to every other class." 
"President Nixon," Capp has said, "showed angelic restraint when he called students bums." On another occasion, he said: "Colleges today are filled with Fagin professors who don't teach... They just corrupt." 
Although Capp denies any misconduct and says he cannot remember being asked to leave Tuscaloosa, we have confirmed the Alabama incident with a number of high-level university officials. 
They include Dean of Women Sarah Healy and University Security Director Col. Beverly Lee. On instructions from then University President Dr. Frank Rose, Lee went to Capp's hotel, asked him to leave and followed his car to the town line. 
- Capp On Campus - 
In addition, we have established the details of Capp's alleged encounters with the four young women involved. Two of them have given us notarized affidavits recounting their experiences. 
Based on our interviews and affidavits, here is what occurred: Capp arrived in Tuscaloosa Sunday, Feb. 11, 1968, to make a speech as part of the university's annual arts festival. 
Late that afternoon, a coed, active in the arts program went to his room at the Stafford Hotel to deliver a university yearbook and other materials he had requested for his speech the next night. 
Capp told the young woman he was impressed with her and discussed the possibility of hiring her to help produce the "Capp on Campus" radio series, then in progress. 
He began making forceful advances toward her and exposing himself to her. She tried to leave but found she could not get the door open. She finally broke free and locked herself in the bathroom until he agreed to let her go. 
Although she was not injured, she was sufficiently upset by the experience to be admitted a few days later to the university infirmary where she remained under sedation for several days. 
That evening, another coed, whose job it was to greet visiting speakers, went to see Capp at his hotel. He exposed himself to her and made suggestive comments. She, too, found she could not open the door, but he let her go when she threatened to open a window and scream. 
The next afternoon Capp was introduced in his room to another woman student who had just completed a taped interview with his staff for a planned broadcast called the "Now Morality." Capp exposed himself to her and made suggestive comments. She immediately left. 
Late that night, he brought another coed to his room where he said a party was planned. There was no party, however, and Capp made an unsuccesful pass at the girl. 
- Exodus From Town - 
By the next morning, reports of the four incidents had reached the university administration and Dr. Rose sent Col. Lee to Capp's room. "He was asked to get and he did get out and went to Birmingham," Lee told us. 
Asked why no charges were preferred against Capp, Dean Healy explained: "The young women were not physically harmed and we felt that the publicity and notoriety should be avoided." 
Reached at his studio in Cambridge, Mass., Capp told my associate Brit Hume that the Alabama allegations made him sick and he would neither confirm nor deny them. Instead, he immediately boarded a plane and flew to Washington to discuss the matter with us. 
In our office, he repeatedly declined to discuss the episode, claimng it made him ill. All he would say was: "I have never become involved with any student." Pressed, he finally listened to a review of the allegations and, when questioned about them specifically, denied them. 
It gives us no pleasure to make these revelations about a man whose legendary "Li'l Abner" cartoon creations have amused millions of Americans for generations. 
But Al Capp today is much more than a gifted cartoonist and a brilliant humorist. He is a major public figure, whose views reach and influence millions. He even seriously considered running against Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. 
Therefore, we believe the public has a right to any information which may bear on his qualifications to speak, particularly when the incident involved is so obviously relevant to the selfsame subjects on which he has been holding forth.

A 1968 Li'l Abner strip


In a 2008 interview, Brit Hume told how some newspapers decided against publishing the above investigation, and how Capp unsuccesfully tried to cover it up:

BRIT HUME: ”The Post” – ”The Washington Post” didn’t run it. The Boston paper, whichever one we had then didn’t run it. A lot of papers didn’t run it. 
BRIAN LAMB: A Chicago paper out there -- 
BRIT HUME: I don’t remember, but I can’t remember now. But it might be in the book, but ”The New York Post” ran it. We found that the Al Capp lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the ones that – the minute ”The New York Post” hit the newsstands up there, they were all bought up. So, he did everything he could to try to cover it. Now, one of the things – interesting things that happened was that the story ran in a little newspaper out in Wisconsin in Eau Claire, where there’s a branch of the University of Wisconsin. 
It so happened at that very moment that a young woman had had a similar encounter with Mr. Capp out there and she like a number of women across the country, we later came to learn, was agonizing with the local prosecutor about what to do. He didn’t – he was indignant about what had happened and outraged, but there was a question of are you going to put this – her word against his testimony and he’s a famous guy. And you going to put her through that for the sake of something that she managed to wriggle out of anyway. And when that story hit, her resolve was – look, this is obviously happening elsewhere. We got to do this. So, he was charged out there. And an extradition measure was taken. And Al Capp was on the verge of being extradited to Wisconsin to stand charges of assault. And as – I don’t remember all the details, but I think he pleaded out and got it over with. And, basically, he was really never heard from again.

Al Capp ended up being charged with sodomy, attempted adultery and indecent exposure in 1971. Capp tried to blame this on the "revolutionary left" but in the end "as part of a plea agreement, Capp pleaded guilty to the charge of attempted adultery" (quote from Al Capp's Wikipedia page). He retired his Li'l Abner strip in 1977 for health reasons, and died in 1979.

A 1971 Li'l Abner Sunday page


Nevertheless, we know that it's not exactly true that Capp was "never heard from again". More than two dozen reprint volumes of his Li'l Abner daily strips were published by Kitchen Sink a couple of decades ago, and IDW's Library of American Comics is now reprinting the daily strips and the Sunday pages. His talent as a cartoonist and satirist is undeniable, and I'm a big fan of the 1940's episodes of the strip, where many believe Capp did some of his best work.

And there's more. Over at The Beat, one of the blogs about comics where an account of actress Goldie Hawn having a similar incident with Capp was reproduced, publisher and agent Denis Kitchen posted the following in the comments section:

Readers of Heidi’s column who are interested in Al Capp’s fascinating career and personal life (of which Goldie Hawn is but one scandal) will be happy to know that Michael Schumacher (Will Eisner, Alan Ginsberg and many other bios) and I (Art of Harvey Kurtzman, etc.) are hard at work collaborating on a biography of Al Capp. It’s coming in approximately one year from a major publisher. Official announcement will come from them.

Good news. Kitchen definitely has shown himself more than capable of assembling books about cartoonists (though this may be the first time he tackles a straight biography), so I'm looking forward to this upcoming book.

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