Snowmen in popular culture

 Images Snowman-With-Bottle-And-Stick-3
This image of a threatening snowman is from a 1927 postcard. It was reproduced in a Smithsonian magazine feature about the history of the snowman in pop culture. From Smithsonian:
While no one knows for sure when exactly the snowman began smoking a pipe and drinking hard liquor, it may have started as early as 1890, based on a label from a bottle of whiskey from that year. An 1898 postcard shows a snowman carrying two bottles of champagne off to an office party. On holiday greeting cards from the 1900s through and on (up to the 1930s), the snowman often has a drink in one hand and a pipe in the other, mirroring our society’s changes and America’s fascination with smoking and drinking. This would eventually escalate to the snowman cavorting with women and offering drinks to minors. One could argue that these depictions were, in a way, humanizing, but seeing a tipsy snowman chasing a girl with a stick is disturbing at best.

By 1908, there was clear evidence of his partying ways were out of control. In the silent movie The Snowman by Wallace McCutcheon, a chain-smoking snowman is swigging whiskey and appears in the rest of the film sloshed, inspiring a flogging by the townspeople. This behavior would continue on film and media through magazines and postcards as a pickled, skirt-chasing, under-the-table lush. In other words, he had become a frozen W.C. Fields. By the ‘30s and ‘40s, there is no question, the two started to look alike, both wearing straw hats, putting on more weight and looking more round and sporting crimson noses. And both enjoyed prolific silent movie careers based on their reputations as charming drunks. It’s hard to say if either had copied from the other but they were both enhanced by the other’s notoriety. Ironically, W.C. Fields hated the holidays and passed away on Christmas Day, 1946.
Snowman Gone Wild

Snowman940669 UPDATE: In the comments, Bob Eckstein, the author of the Smithsonian article, points out that his book, The History of the Snowman, explains how snowmen developed their drinking problem. He says that his book is filled with many more fun images and deep insight into the secrets of snowmen. Bob also suggests we check out his Webzine, appropriately titled Today's Snowman.

44

  1. Fields didn’t despise Christmas. That’s just another tall tale spun by the Great One to confuse his biographers. He didn’t hate dogs, children, or Christmas.

  2. …but seeing a tipsy snowman chasing a girl with a stick is disturbing at best.

    It’s just not possible to disagree strongly enough with that statement. I would have said “awesome at worst.”

  3. Up until today, I had thought snow, freezing conditions and alcohol were a happy mix. Now I know better. Thank you, Drunk Snowman!

  4. Let’s be fair. We don’t know what the little girl did to rile him. Serves her right for not knowing that snowmen are mean drunks.

  5. Give the guy a break! He’s only got a few short days or weeks of life left in which to smoke, drink, terrify children, etc…

    1. You cursed brat! Look what you’ve done! I’m melting! melting! Oh, what a world! What a world! Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?

  6. “They’re snowmen prophets of doom.”

    What is up with the Bill Watterson bashing in the comment section of the link? It seemed very unprofessional and uncalled for. The man created Calvin and Hobbes, cut him some slack.

  7. Just thought I should mention (since it’s not mentioned and no one asked my permission to use my picture) but that’s my writing and picture and it comes from my book, The History of the Snowman. The book does actually explains how snowmen developed a drinking problem.

    (and I actually dealt with Bill Watterson in regards to including his cartoons in the chapter of the book “World’s Best Snowman Cartoons.” I won’t go into here as I’m guessing no one cares what I say and that’s cool but you’re welcome to ask me and any other snowman questions at my online magazine, Today’s Snowman http://www.historyofthesnowman.com )

  8. Bob,
    I’m gonna be a dick, and point out that unless you are 100 years old, it probably isn’t “your” picture either, unless the caption above is wrong.

    OTOH, thanks for stopping by – it’s a very interesting read, I never had anything but good associations with snowmen and was surprised by this history.

    I might even buy your book :)

  9. Malignant snowmen predate me, and I sculpted my first one over 70 years ago. I have no memory of the dark side of those winter statues that we all love so much. Very in.ter.est.ing.

  10. In 1998, as a college sophomore enamored of the growing functionality of the Internet and missing my favorite comic strip, I looked up any Wattersons in what I knew to be the artist’s hometown. I found a listing on the Yahoo people search for a person I presumed to be Bill’s father and I snail-mailed the one and only fan letter I have ever sent to anyone, ever, though I addressed it and wrote it to Bill Watterson’s father (whose name escapes me now). I received a polite response, printed out on a computer but signed by hand. I knew even then that most likely it was a form letter, but I remember being impressed by how classy it seemed. Already a bit embarrassed at having written my letter in the first place, I never followed up, and just put the reply in a drawer.

    So, while I can’t speak to Bill Watterson’s personality beyond what anyone else could find out by reading Wikipedia and a few links, I can offer at least one data point suggesting he comes from good people.

  11. First, Bob I just ordered this book from my local Park Slope book shop. FWIW, they didn’t have it in stock and it was a special order. So direct $$$ from me. Looking forward to this!!!

    Second, I think the Bill Watterson comments are a bit baffling. I’m not pro or con, but I think that people should face the fact that just because someone creates something one likes doesn’t mean that person is personally likable. I love Picasso but all signs point to that guy being a bit of a pain to say the least. Charlie Chaplin and Peter Sellers: Amazing performers who were horrible in their personal life. The list is fairly endless so let’s stop that there. But ultimately the best thing about most famous artists/creators is the art/work they create. If they themselves happen to be personally fine, all the better. But I’m just constantly shocked at how few people really grasp that idea: You’re consuming the art and not the person.

  12. I have no problem accepting that artists tend to be dicks in real life. I usually assume as much. I took offense to the fact that Bob Eckstein’s comments seemed to come completely out of left field. One of the commenters praised the snowmen in Calvin and Hobbes, and Eckstein responded by calling Watterson “difficult” and “egotistical.” It just seemed to me that the comment was unnecessary and needlessly mean-spirited.

    Other than that, I actually enjoyed the article a lot.

  13. @ Frankieboy 23:

    Bob, how can you tell if it’s a snowman or a snowwoman? That’s what I wanna know, man.

    I know this one!

    Snowballs?

  14. What the artist owes the public was summed up by Humphry Bogart: “The only thing I owe my fans is a good performance.”

  15. HEY! What the hell, Pescovitz? I submitted this Smithsonian article to BB weeks ago! And I don’t even get a nod? Pffft.

  16. W.C. Fields hates holidays? The man was a walking holiday.

    “Women are like elephants. I like to look at ’em, but I wouldn’t want to own one.” – W.C. Fields

  17. Just to respond…in retrospect I see that my response regarding Bill Watterson was too harsh and it was wrong to share my personal experience (which could have been him having a bad day or being suspicious of the project–but I don’t know him personally and it was wrong for be to draw conclussions from one conversation). I like to be honest and not spin doctor so I was just sharing what exactly happened and should have exercised discretion…not because I feel he owes me or anyone anything except his art (and I understand your point) but I was addressing the question of why his cartoons were not in the book (from emails not posted here but I thought originated from commenters on this post). Glad to hear your personal story went better than mine to the one commenter (my involved his agent so it started on the wrong foot if you know what I mean).

    As far as the pictures not being owned by me, Arkizzle, I thought the same way until I wanted to post or use them in the book, some images of which were as old as 500 years. I was under the wrong impression that since I wanted to use pics that were very old everything would be public domain and I’d be scot-free. Unfortunately, I kept buying the “rights” to images so it’s a sore subject.

    More than one source claimed W.C. Fields didn’t like Christmas. I’d be happy to correct this in future printings if this is indeed wrong. I assumed I myself would learn new things with the release of the book and welcome any suggestions backed with proof (thanks!).

    Thank you to the commenter who purchased the book…I sincerely hopes it brings you some enjoyment. And thanks to all for listening.

  18. Bob, I hear ya. I believe the original pictures are in the public domain, though. Just not the photos/scans of those pictures, is that right?

    I hope the exposure your Smithsonian article got, and the subsequent attention your book got, make the posting of the image and your words, above, ‘worth it’.

    Blogs, and their fair-use of snippets of copyrighted material, are an important medium of advertising stuff-we-probably-wouldn’t -hear-of-otherwise. You have reached a new audience without financial penalty, win-win?

  19. I wrote this, based on the pictures in the article.

    http://blacknewblack.blogspot.com/2008/12/drunky-snowman.html

    Drunky the Snowman

    Was a jolly happy soul

    With a corncob pipe and a button nose

    Bleary eyes made out of coal.

    Drunky the Snowman

    Is a fairytale they say

    He was made of snow

    But the children know

    How he came to life one day

    There must have been some magic

    In that bottle of Gin they found

    For when they placed it in his hand

    He began to drink it down

    Drunky the Snowman

    Was alive as he could be

    And the children say

    He could weave and sway

    Just the same as you and me

    Drunky the Snowman

    Thought the sun was hot that day

    So he said let’s run

    And we’ll drink some Rum

    Now before I melt away

    Down to the liquor store

    With a six pack in his hand

    Running here and there all around the square

    Saying “You’ll never take me alive, coppers!”

    He led them down the streets of town

    Right to the traffic cop

    And he didn’t pause a moment when

    He heard him holler stop

    Drunky the Snowman

    Had to hurry on his way

    But he waved goodbye

    Saying “I love you guys, I reealy love you guys. I’m not just sayin’ that. You guys are the best. We should get together and do this more often. Don’t tell me when I’ve had enough, I’ll tell you when I’ve had enough. Is it hot in here? I gotta go lay down somewhere. Can I crash on your couch, or your front lawn? I love you guys.”

    “And I’ll be back again someday,

    probably next weekend!”

    Thumpety thump thump

    Thumpety thump thump

    Look at Drunky go

    Thumpety thump thump

    Thumpety thump thump

    Over the hills of snow

Comments are closed.