Thursday, December 15, 2011

J. Hugh O'Donnell (1899-1977)

John Hugh O'Donnell, better known to readers of the Indianapolis News as J. Hugh O'Donnell, was born on November 20, 1899, in Indianapolis. He won a scholarship to the Herron School of Art in 1916-1917, studying under Otto Stark, T.C. Steele, and William Forsyth. At Arsenal Technical High School, O'Donnell took evening classes from Elmer Tafflinger and subscribed to C.N. Landon's correspondence course in cartooning. The young artists's earliest cartooning credits may have been for The Arsenal Cannon, his school yearbook.

O'Donnell went right to work out of high school, taking a job at the front counter of the Indianapolis News in 1919. He moved up two notches in pretty short order, first to illustrator in the advertising department, then to staff artist in the editorial department, where he rubbed elbows with Kin Hubbard, Charles Kuhn, and Gaar Williams. O'Donnell worked as a staff artist from 1923 until being drafted in 1942. He served in a military police battalion and illustrated Leo M. Litz's Report from the Pacific, published in 1946. O'Donnell switched to the Indianapolis Times after a big shakeup at the Star-News in 1948. He retired from the Times in 1955.

J. Hugh O'Donnell illustrated Hoosier poet Bill Herschell's versifying for the Indianapolis News. He also created "Lucky Dollar," a character for a Red Cross television program. Named a Sagamore of the Wabash and a Kentucky Colonel in the same year, O'Donnell won a Freedom Foundations Award in 1952 and a Lincoln National Life Foundation Award in 1951. John Hugh O'Donnell died on December 30, 1977, and was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Note: J. Hugh O'Donnell the artist should not be confused with Rev. J. Hugh O'Donnell, president of the University of Notre Dame in the 1940s.

J. Hugh O'Donnell's depiction of "The City of Indianapolis," a B-29 that completed a bombing run hours before the cessation of  hostilities between the United States and Japan, August 14, 1945. From Report from the Pacific (1946) by Leo M. Litz, war correspondent for the Indianapolis News.
Here's a Navy airplane, a PBY Catalina, nicknamed "Dumbo," picking up Ensign Calvin B. Yoder, then 22, of Kokomo, Indiana, after his F6F5 Hellcat had been shot down in the Pacific in July 1945. Again, from Report from the Pacific. (Sorry for the blurred images--I have scanned them directly from the book.)
Another ship named "Indianapolis." This one--the U.S.S. Indianapolis--met an unhappier fate, having been torpedoed by a Japanese submarine on July 30, 1945. Of 1,196 men on board, only 316 survived, making the sinking of the ship the single greatest loss of life in the history of the United States Navy. There is a memorial to the Indianapolis in its namesake city today. Coincidentally, one of the survivors was an Indianapolis man, James E. O'Donnell. I can't say whether he is related to the artist. You can read more about the memorial at its official website, here. I'll wager that the person responsible for the website is not from Indianapolis: only foreigners call the city "Indy."

Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley

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