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Cross, Stanley George (1888–1977)

by James Kemsley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Stanley George Cross (1888-1977), cartoonist, was born on 3 December 1888 at Los Angeles, California, United States of America, third son of English-born parents Theophilus Edwin Cross, builder and architect, and his wife Florence, née Stanbrough. The family settled in Perth in 1892. An outstanding student, Stan attended the High School, Perth, on a scholarship, but, because of his father's ill health, turned down a scholarship to the University of Adelaide in order to 'help at home'. At 16 he began work as a cadet clerk with the railways while studying art part-time at Perth Technical School.

In 1912, with the help of a 'more or less affluent brother', Cross resigned from the railways to study in London. His first published cartoons appeared in Punch. Returning home, he began freelancing with several newspapers and magazines, among them the Sunday Times and the Western Mail. In 1918 Claude McKay requested samples of his work and offered him a position with Smith's Weekly at £5 a week; Cross accepted and arrived in Sydney in 1919. At the Waverley Methodist Church, Bondi Junction, on 17 November 1924 he married a 25-year-old clerk Jessie May Hamilton (d.1972); they were to have a son and a daughter.

During twenty years with Smith's, Cross developed into one of Australia's finest black-and-white artists and the country's foremost 'single-panel' cartoonist. His bold comic-art presented an array of 'typical' Australians, from farmer and jackeroo to digger and doctor. Cross's first collection of cartoons appeared in Australian Humour in Pen and Ink (c.1921). He created many and varied features, such as 'Things that Make Stan Cross', 'Famous Australian Places that We Have Never Seen' and '''Smith's" Australian History'. Other output included some of Australia's earliest comic strips, 'Story of the Man who Faked his Income Tax Return' (31 July 1920) and 'You and Me' (7 August 1920). The latter, taken over in 1940 by Jim Russell, became 'The Potts' and is the longest surviving comic strip in Australian newspapers. '''Smith's" Vaudevillians' and 'Adolf and Hermann' were further comic strips created by Cross.

On 12 August 1933 Smith's Weekly 'reprinted by request' Cross's celebrated cartoon of 29 July, affectionately known by its caption, 'For gorsake, stop laughing—this is serious!', and took the unprecedented step of publishing a print on 'high-class art paper' for sale at 2s. 6d. (or 3s. posted). The cartoon touched the 'funny bone' of the Australian public as no other before or since. Cross's popularity was such that he reputedly earned £100 a week during the Depression.

On Christmas Eve 1939 Cross resigned from Smith's Weekly. In 1940 he accepted an offer from Sir Keith Murdoch—to work for the Melbourne Herald—that allowed him to remain in Sydney. For the Herald, he created 'The Winks' which by July 1940 had evolved into 'Wally and the Major'. Over the next thirty years in newspapers throughout Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, and in eighteen annual comic books (c.1943-60), readers were able to enjoy the extraordinary, knock-about adventures and lifestyle of Wally Higgins, Major Winks, Pudden Bensen and a company of comedy players—in the army in World War II and afterwards, and on their North Queensland sugarcane plantation. After Cross retired in 1970, 'Wally and the Major' was continued by Carl Lyon.

An imposing man, 6 ft 2 ins (188 cm) tall, with a pencil-thin moustache, Cross had a birthmark on his left cheek and wore spectacles. He was loquacious and enjoyed being funny in company as well as on paper. Regarded by his colleagues as proud, and by himself as energetic (in spurts), he acknowledged that he had a temper which needed to be kept under control. He was the second and longest serving president (1939-70) of the Black and White Artists' Club, Sydney. An 'erudite man of quirky knowledge', he wrote (but did not publish) books on his main interests outside the art world—accountancy, economics and English grammar.

Survived by his daughter, Stan Cross died on 16 June 1977 at Armidale and was buried with Anglican rites in the local lawn cemetery. His humour was that of everyday life, the humour of ordinary Australians. In November 1985 his legendary cartoon was produced in three-dimensional form by the German-born sculptor Eberhard Franke as the statuette for the national awards ('Stanleys') made by the Bulletin and the Australian Black and White Artists' Club.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Blaikie, Remember Smith's Weekly (Adel, 1966)
  • V. Lindesay, The Inked-in Image (Melb, 1970)
  • J. Ryan, Panel by Panel (Syd, 1979)
  • Punch (London), 25 Nov 1914
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 5 Apr 1919, 12 Aug, 25 Nov 1933
  • Bulletin, 12 Nov 1985
  • Herald (Melbourne), 20 Apr 1940, 8 June 1957
  • Australian, 29 Nov 1980
  • Age (Melbourne), 19 Nov 1981
  • H. de Berg, interview with Stan Cross (transcript, 1969, National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

James Kemsley, 'Cross, Stanley George (1888–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cross-stanley-george-9871/text17467, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 14 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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