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Obituaries

Lou Grant, 81; Wry Cartoonist

September 12, 2001|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lou Grant, award-winning political cartoonist for the Oakland Tribune and the Los Angeles Times Syndicate whose caricatures grace the National Archives and the libraries of presidents he skewered, including Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, has died. He was 81.

Grant, who had been nominated for this year's Charles Schulz "Sparky" Award as outstanding U.S. editorial cartoonist, died Friday in his Oakland home of heart failure.

His nationally acclaimed work and his bright, wry outlook on life frequently landed him in the columns of The Times' Al Martinez, an old friend and former colleague, and the San Francisco Chronicle's late Herb Caen.

In 1996, Caen gave Grant "a Hemingway grace under pressure award," writing: "After being diagnosed with throat cancer, he was asked by the surgeon just before a laryngectomy: 'Any questions, Mr. Grant?' Lou: 'Just one--is it too late for acupuncture?' "

Martinez, who patterned an irreverent character on Grant in his recent novel "The Last City Room," said Ed Asner's popular television series and character, "Lou Grant," was named for the cartoonist, who also dabbled in radio and television.

A Los Angeles native, Grant began his career at the age of 17 as a copy boy for the now-defunct Los Angeles Examiner. He learned to draw by hanging around the art department and cadging lessons from staff cartoonists in exchange for mowing their lawns.

He worked as a cartoonist during Army duty in World War II at Ft. MacArthur in San Pedro and moved to Carmel as Jimmy Hatlo's inking assistant on the syndicated strip "They'll Do It Every Time."

Grant drew a sports cartoon he dubbed "Swine Skin Gulch" for the Milwaukee Sentinel and made sketches for the Milwaukee Brewers AAA baseball team. He also designed logos--a seal swinging a bat for the San Francisco Seals AAA baseball club and a fist seizing a lightning bolt for the Oakland Invaders of the short-lived United States Football League.

Returning to Hollywood, Grant worked with Army buddy Bob Schiller writing the radio comedy "Duffy's Tavern" and moved north to become a sports cartoonist for the now-defunct San Francisco Call-Bulletin.

Grant drew political cartoons for the Oakland Tribune from 1954 to 1986 and was syndicated by The Times to many newspapers and often reprinted in Time and Newsweek magazines.

Among his memorable images was a 1990 cartoon showing a monster emerging from the slime of the San Francisco Bay and heading toward Oakland, captioned "Creature from the silver and black lagoon." It was Grant's greeting for Al Davis' return to Oakland from Los Angeles with his Raiders football team.

In 1995, when the "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strip ended, Grant sent Caen his own final panel for the little boy and his imaginary tiger, depicting Calvin's knit cap on the snow and Hobbes the tiger licking his lips, saying "I got sick and tired of that obnoxious brat so I ate him."

Among Grant's presidential cartoons, a favorite of exhibitors was one of Richard M. Nixon, with both arms raised high in his traditional victory gesture, wearing a T-shirt reiterating "I am not a crook" but also, subtly sketched, a burglar's mask. Grant declined an invitation from the Nixon Library to contribute a cartoon to its collection, citing a difference in political opinions.

The Oakland Museum staged a 25-year retrospective of the cartoonist's work in 1980. His awards over the years included the National Headliners Award, National Conference of Christians and Jews Brotherhood Award, a National Safety Council Award and others from the San Francisco Press Club and the Los Angeles Newspaper Publishers Assn.

Grant is survived by his wife of 28 years, Florenzi; a son, Bill; a daughter, Josie; and two grandchildren.

A memorial service will be planned.

Memorial contributions may be sent to the American Cancer Society, the Cartoon Museum of San Francisco or the Oakland Museum of California.

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