Uncle Wiggily and J.D. Salinger

 

Uncle Wiggily is not an Easter bunny. He is a gentlemanly old rabbit who always wears a suit and a silk top hat. 

The character was created by Howard R. Garis. I just discovered this year that Uncle Wiggily has some roots in my home state of New Jersey and even in my birthplace of Newark.
 
Garis was a reporter for the Newark Evening News and he wrote hundreds of children’s books, many of them as a ghostwriter. He published his first Uncle Wiggily story in a newspaper in 1910, and it was so popular that he ended up publishing an Uncle Wiggily story six days a week for more than 30 years. By the time he retired, he had written more than 10,000 stories about the rabbit. 
 
According to Garis’ obituary in the Chicago Tribune, it was a walk in the woods in Verona, New Jersey that inspired him to write about the rabbit. I now live in the town next to Verona. The Uncle Wiggily connection is very strong with me.
 
I don’t really remember the stories, though in my childhood the Newark Evening News was dropped on our front porch every night and I did read the comics, so it’s likely I read some of those stories. I was a big fan of rabbits and we had them as pets.
 
I do remember playing an Uncle Wiggily game. I found the original game selling online for $100. I guess I should have kept my childhood game – and kept it in good shape.  They do sell today a much more reasonable version of the game.
 

Uncle Wiggily Longears – his full name – appeared in the paper every day (except Sundays) from 1910 to 1962 and Garis published 79 books in his lifetime illustrated by a variety of artists. 
 
I left Uncle Wiggily behind when I got a bit older, but he popped up again in my early teen years.
 
Eloise and Walt are characters that appear in the short story “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” which is one of the stories in J.D. Salinger‘s collection Nine Stories which I read many times. In that story, Eloise recalls a time when she and Walt were running to catch a bus and she sprained her ankle. Walt says, referring to her ankle, “Poor Uncle Wiggily.”
 
I guess Jerry Salinger read some of those stories. Uncle Wiggily is lame from rheumatism and uses a candy-striped walking stick.
 
The 1949 film My Foolish Heart was based on this story and is still the only authorized adaptation of Salinger’s writings into a film. The film’s plot bears little resemblance to the original story – which might be why Salinger never allowed his fiction to be used again.
 
The story is about how Eloise is trying to come to terms with her life with her husband Lew when her true love was Walt (a member of Salinger’s favorite family, the Glass family) who died during his service in the army.
 
Poor Uncle Wiggily. 

Crossposted at One-Page Schoolhouse

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Ken Ronkowitz

A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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