Monday, June 21, 2021

Under Cover: Kunen Books


The Publisher
Kunen Publishers, Inc. worked with Harvey Kurtzman, René Goscinny, Fred Ottenheimer, Evelyn and Dellwyn Cunningham, and Elliot Liebow to produce several children’s books between 1946 and 1950. Most of the books had jigsaw puzzles and four titles were irregular-shaped, die-cut books. Here are the known titles. 

1946
Two Way Educational Book. Learn to Spell. Fit Together Puzzle
Illustrated by Fred Ottenheimer

1948 
Illustrated by Fred Ottenheimer

1949
Playtime Numbers: Jigsaw Puzzles with Real Numbers and Related Animal Stories
Illustrated by Fred Ottenheimer

Playtime Plays: Jigsaw Puzzles of Six Plays for Children Portrayed in Two Scenes
A Playtime Puzzle Book
Illustrated by Fred Ottenheimer
Cinderella, Aladdin, Pinocchio, Robin Hood, Little RedRiding Hood, and Rip Van Winkle

Playtime Reader: A Jigsaw Puzzles Reader with Cut Out Figures and a Farm Story
Illustrated by Harvey Kurtzman

Jigsaw Puzzle Book
René Goscinny

Jigsaw Puzzle Book
Harvey Kurtzman

Jigsaw Puzzle Book
Harvey Kurtzman

Jigsaw Puzzle Book
E. & D. Cunningham

Jigsaw Puzzle Book
E. & D. Cunningham

Jigsaw Puzzle Book
René Goscinny

Jigsaw Puzzle Book
René Goscinny

1950
Elliot Liebow
Illustrated by René Goscinny
Cover by Harvey Kurtzman
A Bright Book

Elliot Liebow
Illustrated by René Goscinny
Cover by Harvey Kurtzman
A Bright Book

Elliot Liebow
Illustrated by René Goscinny
Cover by Harvey Kurtzman
A Bright Book

Elliot Liebow
Illustrated by René Goscinny
Cover by Harvey Kurtzman
A Bright Book

Apparently the first article about Kunen appeared in Publishers Weekly, January 4, 1947. 
Kunen Publishing Company Issues First Book
A publishing firm, the Kunen Publishing Company, has issued its first book, a juvenile, and is making plans for other books next year. The firm is a partnership of two veterans of the Army Air Corps, Charles W. Alexander and Alfred E. Kunen. Their first book is a toy book called “Playtime Speller,” which is spiral bound in heavy boards and has six removable, inlaid puzzles. Under the pieces of each puzzle is a short story for the child of 3 to 7. The book retails for $1.50. Distribution to date has been limited to stores in New York City, and selling elsewhere will begin in earnest in the spring.

A story book for the 3 to 6 age group is planned for spring publication. The publishers want to concentrate on juveniles and hope to keep their prices to one dollar. 

The firm has recently moved to 1933 Mott Avenue, Far Rockaway, Long Island. The telephone number is MU 2-5792.
Playtime Reader had a December 9, 1946 copyright date and might have been released for the Christmas season. The spiral-bound, oblong book measures 10.5625 by 7.9375 inches or 26.83 by 20.16 centimeters. When the puzzle pieces are removed, a story is revealed. I believe the title page is missing in my copy below.
















Publishers Weekly, February 8, 1947, printed a full-page advertisement for Playtime Speller.



In the same issue was this item
Change in Name
Far Rockaway, N.Y.—Kunen Publishing Company has changed its name to Kunen & Alexander, Inc. and will specialize in juveniles. The address is 1931 Mott Avenue, and the telephone number is Far Rockaway 7-8419.
Also in the same issue was the Spring Book Index which had this listing.
Ottenheimer, Fred, il. Playtime speller.
Jan Kunen Alexander 1 50
According to their World War II draft cards, Kunen and Alexander lived in Far Rockaway, New York so they may have known each other. One connection is clear: their wives were sisters. Kunen married Gloria F. Landau on May 29, 1942. Alexander married Rhoda Landau on June 16, 1944. 

The 1943 Cleveland, Ohio, city directory listed Kunen and his wife at 4923 Bader Avenue. His occupation was engineer. Alexander was employed at the Department of Parks before his military service. Why they chose to enter publishing is not known. How they met Fred Ottenheimer, who illustrated the first and second books, is a mystery. 

The second book was published by Kunen Publishers, Inc. in 1948. Alexander’s name was dropped from the firm’s name for reasons unknown. The company moved from Far Rockaway. The 1948 New York, New York city directory listed “Kunen Alfred E” at 17 East 42nd Street, in Manhattan. The listings included Kunen Engineering Company and Herbert K. Kunen, both with the same address and telephone number as Alfred. Herbert, the oldest of three brothers, was an engineer who, before the war, was employed at the Anemostat Corporation of America, which published his A Treatise on Acoustics in Air Conditioned Enclosures in 1939. George Kunen was a lawyer who worked at a different location. Presumably the two brothers shared the same office, with Herbert managing the engineering projects and Alfred handling the publishing. Another person might be connected to the Kunen brothers and Alexander. 

In the 1948 directory Florence Bibo Alexander was a literary agent at the same address as the Kunens but with a different telephone number. She was at the same location in the 1945 and 1946 directories. The New York Times, December 3, 1993, said
... Mrs. Alexander began her career in publishing in Philadelphia and later moved to Manhattan, where she entered the advertising business. She later set up her own agency, which represented artists and cartoonists. ...
Florence E. Bibo married Joseph Alexander on August 6, 1927 in Brooklyn, New York. He was a salesman. It’s not clear if he was related to Charles Alexander. Florence was also a writer who wrote at least three children’s books in 1945: I Knew a Kangaroo Named Sue! How About You?, Once a Leopard Saw His Spots, and Nancy and Jane: A Dress-Up Doll Story. The Big Game Hunter was published in 1947 and Jolly Jingles in 1949. Florence’s main business was an artist representative. Two prominent illustrators she represented were Tomie DePaola and Gail Gibbons

Florence had an established business at 17 East 42nd Street. It seems more than a coincidence that the Kunen brothers moved to the same place. If there was a business relationship between them it remained a secret. 

In 1949 three more Playtime titles were published. Each book had a title page and series list.



In 1950 Kunen published four books and, apparently, stopped production on further projects. 

Of the available directories, the last appearance of Kunen Engineering was in 1953 and neither brother was listed. Florence continued to be listed for many more years. 

Kunen Publishers, Inc. had a brief existence and produced a small number of delightful books. 


The Kunen Brothers
Herbert Kenneth Kunen, engineer, March 2, 1915, Brooklyn, New York – August 19, 2005, Florida. 
George L. Kunen, lawyer, May 22, 1916, Brooklyn, New York – July 3, 1967, New York. 
Alfred Edward Kunen, engineer and publisher, February 22, 1920, Brooklyn, New York – July 21, 1991, New York, New York. 

The Business Partner
Charles Washington Alexander, May 23, 1923, Far Rockaway, New York – November 27, 1999, New York. 

The Agent and the Salesman
Florence Bibo Alexander, writer, literary agent and artist representative, July 24, 1904, Woodbury, New Jersey – November 30, 1993, New York, New York.
Joseph Alexander, salesman, November 15, 1895, Troy, New York – November 12, 1978, New York. 

The Artists
Fred Ottenheimer, artist and violinist, April 15, 1924, Stuttgart, Germany – September 9, 1999, New York.

Kunen Books

A passenger list at Ancestry.com said “Fritz Ottenheimer” and his parents, Albert and Alize Ottenheimer, departed aboard the S.S. Mouzinho, on August 20, 1941, from Lisbon, Portugal. They arrived in the port of New York City on September 2. Their final destination was Woodmere, Long Island, New York, where Hugo Kauffmann, Albert’s brother-in-law, lived. Ottenheimer’s sister, Sara, remained in Germany.

On June 30, 1942, Ottenheimer signed his World War II draft card. His address was 302 Derby Avenue, Woodmere, New York. Ottenheimer was employed at the Schneider Press, 216 West 18th Street, New York City. (It’s doubtful Ottenheimer attended high school after his arrival.) His description was five feet six inches, 145 pounds, with brown eyes and hair. 


In 1942 Ottenheimer found freelance work with Louis Ferstadt whose studio produced material for several comic book publishers. Ferstadt hired another teenager named Harvey Kurtzman. Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999 said Ferstadt’s clients included Ace Periodicals which published several characters including Magno and Lash Lightning. The cover of Four Favorites #10, May 1943, was initialed, near the spine, “HK FO” (Kurtzman and Ottenheimer). 


This issue had a Magno story by Kurtzman and a Lash Lightning story by Ottenheimer who signed his initials. 


(Special thanks to Jake Oster for pointing out Ottenheimer and Kurtzman’s work for Ferstadt.)

Ottenheimer enlisted in the Army on March 15, 1943. He was a commercial artist who had four years of high school (in another country). Information about his art training has not been found. Ottenheimer was in the infantry and served in the Persian Gulf and European Theater. His veteran’s file, at Ancestry.com, said he was discharged from the Army on December 15, 1945.


Ottenheimer looked for work at book and magazine publishers. He did the cover art for Esquire, January 1947 (above). Ottenheimer illustrated four books for Kunen from 1946 to 1949. 

A few years after the war, Ottenheimer and Kurtzman worked together. Bill Schelly, in his book, Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America (2015), said
... Fred Ottenheimer, a young artist and designer, agreed to take Kurtzman in, probably for about $25 a month, so he carted his drawing board on the train into Manhattan, ready to start his career in earnest. ...
Around 1949, Ottenheimer rented space to Kurtzman. Each of them illustrated books for Kunen. Schelly said Kurtzman did three jigsaw puzzle books which were published in early 1949: The Paper DollLet’s Take a Ride and Playtime Reader. Ottenheimer’s Playtime Numbers and Playtime Plays, also published in 1949, were his last for the company. The Catalog of Copyright Entries, Books, Third Series, Volume 3, Part 1A, Number 1, January–June 1949, said the three Playtime books were published June 1, 1949. 

Ottenheimer illustrated more books including TV Pals (1954) and Peter and Wendy See the New York World’s Fair with Pop-Up Action Pictures (1963). 

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (New York), November 28, 1957, highlighted Ottenheimer’s American Artist Group Christmas card, “Servants of the Muse”, which had a string quartet rehearsing. Ottenheimer was a violinist in a string ensemble

Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999 said Ottenheimer worked on a few comic strips and scripted some horror stories.

He married Mary Calzetta in 1953. 

The Social Security Death Index said his last residence was Flushing, New York. 

Fred Ottenheimer should not to be confused with Fritz Ottenheimer

EH! #4#5#6#7
From Here to Insanity #8, #9, #10, #11, #12
Funny Animals #88, #89, #90
Muggsy Mouse #3#4
Keen Teens #3
Little Miss Sunbeam Comics #1

* * * * * 

Harvey Kurtzman, artist, writer and editor, October 3, 1924, New York, New York – February 21, 1993, Mount Vernon, New York. 

Kunen Books
’Round the World (1950, cover)
Hello Jimmy (1950, cover)
The Little Red Car (1950, cover)
The Jolly Jungle (1950, cover)

Recommended Reading

My Life as a Cartoonist
Harvey Kurtzman
Minstrel Book, 1988

The Comics Journal Library, Volume 7: Harvey Kurtzman
Greg Sadowski
Fantagraphics Books, 2006

Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The MAD Genius of Comics
Denis Kitchen and Paul Buhle
Abrams ComicArts, 2009

Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America
Bill Schelly
Fantagraphics Books, 2015

Adele Kurtzman talks to her daughter Nellie about raising children, being married to Harvey Kurtzman the cartoonist, and working a wide variety of jobs.

* * * * * 

René Goscinny, artist, art director, writer and publisher, August 14, 1926, Paris, France – November 5, 1977, Paris, France. 

Kunen Books

Recommended Reading
The Comics Journal, French and Frisky: The Man Behind Astérix

* * * * * 

Evelyn (Klein) Cunningham, fashion artist, September 30, 1915, Boston, Massachusetts – February 15, 2006, Paoli, Pennsylvania. 

Evelyn Klein, Massachusetts School of Art, 1936

Dellwyn C. “Denny” Cunningham, artist, Cocoa, Florida, August 29, 1921 – May 31, 2007. They married in New York City in 1948. 

Denny Cunningham, Fleischer Studios, World War II Draft Card, 1942

Kunen Books

Illustrations by Dellwyn Cunningham

* * * * * 

The Writer
Elliot Liebow, writer, poet, anthropologist and sociologist, January 24, 1925, Washington, DC – September 4, 1994, Silver Spring, Maryland. 

Kunen Books

Recommended Reading
The New York Times, September 7, 1994
Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania), September 7, 1994 


(Updated October 27, 2021. Next post on Monday: Artie Simek Memoriam by Flo Steinberg)

5 comments:

  1. Thbaks, this is amazing. I did noit know about the Goscinny covers. We should talk. When I interviewed Al Jaffee with Craig Yoe in 2016 or so, we talked about his work in the forties. He mentioned meeting Ottenheimer early on and becoming good friends. I guess that is where I got the notion that he knew him at school (and hence the Kurtzman connection. But that may have been later. Anyway, Jaffee told us they worked together a lot. Ottenheimer always had a new idea, which they would get enthousiastic about. Al mentioned working on an idea for a give-away circus comic book, they worked on al night. He also talked about working all night on another project (or was it the same one?) with a bunch of guys and not selling it the next day. Craig loves Ottenheimers style and I dug into it some more for him. It seems Maurice de Bevere (Morris) hooked uop with Ottenheimer when he was the only French guy to stay in New York in 1952. Some French researchers found out he even stayed at Ottenheimer's place for a while, before moving out to another part of the US. That is probably where he got to do his 1954 choldren's book, published by Ottenheimer (who left comics when he took over his family's publishing house - ending up publishing the Flintstones children's books, for one). I also found that Ottenheimer did tons of fillers (one or even a half page to two pages) for Fawcett. Always western stuff, which makes me wonder if Morris collaborated. Never signed. I think I have a bunch of them on my blog, unsigned but confirmed to be Ottenheimer by Craig, or certainly in a folder here. Contact me at geapelde@upcmail.nl. Maybe we can join up some of these research projects.

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  2. Hi Alex. I suspect Fred Ottenheimer and Harvey Kutzman’s paths crossed, when both did work for Lou Ferstadt, before their service in WW2. See: Four Favorites #10 (May 1943). Altho the Grand Comics Database credits the cover art to Jim Mooney, if one looks at the grisly cover there are very small initials close to the spine which are "H.K." with "F.O." below. This would indicate Harvey Kurtzman as the penciler and, I suspect, Fred Ottenheimer as the inker.

    https://www.comics.org/issue/2923/

    Furthermore, the "Magno and Davey" story in this issue is signed H. Kurtzman and the "Lash Lightning" story splash panel (Page 18, lower left) is signed F.O. F.O. = Fred Ottenheimer!

    https://digitalcomicmuseum.com/preview/index.php?did=11718&page=18.

    In 1943 both men would have been in their late teens, 18 or 19 years old.

    Jake Oster

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  3. Thanks, Jake. I updated the post with your information.

    ReplyDelete