The Brooklyn-born cartoonist,Walter Berndt, is best known for the well-loved comic strip ‘Smitty’, which first appeared in the Chicago Tribune in 1923 and was syndicated to numerous newspapers across America for over 50 years. Walter Berndt was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 22 November 1899. His career as a cartoonist began at the age of 16 as an office boy in the art department of the New York Journal. Here, he was influenced by the numerous cartoonists whom he met, including E C Stegar, Winsor McCay and George Herriman. In 1915, he began drawing sports cartoons for the Journal and by 1919 he had taken over the gag panel, ‘Then the Fun Begins’, from Milt Gross. He left the Journal in 1920, moving to the World Telegram for a year.
After leaving the Journal, Berndt also began working on his own strip, titled ‘That’s Different’.
However, it lasted just a year before he joined The New York World in 1922, working on the strip, ‘Billy the Office Boy’. He worked on this cartoon for just a few weeks before he was fired for insubordination. However, this allowed him to refocus on his own comic strip. Under the new title ‘Smitty’, he sent the cartoon to the Chicago Tribune, where it would become a mainstay. Through the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate, ‘Smitty’ appeared in numerous newspapers across the country for over 50 years, before its final appearance in 1973.
‘Smitty’ told the story of a typical American Office Boy, just how Berndt had been at the start of his career. In the strip, Smitty’s stratified existence in a bureaucratic world is a form of security, much like Frank Dickens’ Bristow. Though Smitty grew up from 13 to about 23 over the course of the strip’s run, and got married in the process, the little corner of the world that he occupies does not change. Berndt also produced the strip ‘Herby’, starring Smitty’s brother, from 1938 to 1960. In 1969, he won the Reuben Award for Cartooning for the ‘Smitty’ strip.
During the 1960s, Walter Berndt began to join the Long Island branch of the National Cartoonists Society, including DC Comics cartoonist Creig Flessel and Marvel cartoonist Frank Springer, at a monthly lunch. After his death in Port Jefferson, New York, on 15 August 1979, the monthly lunch was renamed the Berndt Toast Gang in his honour.