My father always mentioned Rube Goldberg whenever he heard of some odd scheme or idea. Please tell me about ol Rube. Is he fact or fiction?
-- JRG, Spring Valley
Old Rube is actual and factual. He was one of the most versatile and popular cartoonists ever to pick up a pen. He lived from 1883 to 1970 and during his career drew everything from newspaper sports illustrations, comic strips, and animated films to political and editorial cartoons.
Rube's name is part of the common language because of a series of single-panel cartoons that spoofed man's general inclination to take something simple and make it as complicated as possible Each cartoon diagrammed a wildly improbable system that might include levers, pulleys, ropes, animals, cigars, ironing boards, thunderstorms-- anything you could imagine-- all assembled to accomplish some supremely mundane task. One example is titled "Professor Butss' Automatic Screen Door Closer."
The drawing and accompanying narrative explain that houseflies, on seeing the screen door open, fly onto the porch. A spider descends from the eaves to catch them, startling a potato bug, which is sitting on a hammer. The bug hops off the hammer, causing it to strike the handle of a pancake turner, which flips a pancake into a nearby frying pan. The weight of the pancake tilts the pan and pulls a string attached to the key of a wind-up toy soldier. This causes the key to turn and the toy to march across the table, where it gets its head caught in a noose. The other end of the noose is hooked to a boot sitting on a shelf; when the noose is pulled it causes the boot to kick a bowling ball off the end of the shelf. The ball is aught by a monkey, an expert bowler. The monkey then rolls the ball at bowling pins painted on the screen door, slamming the door shut.
Goldberg admonishes, "The monkey is liable to get sore when he discovers that the bowling pins are phony, so it is a good idea to take him to a real bowling alley once in a while just to keep his good will."