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One Balmy Evening with Bob Cram

Posted by Jeff Hawley in meetings

The September 2011 CNW Meeting Review

September’s guest speaker admits he’s had a few breaks in life. Top of the list? “Not getting killed in World War II.” A good thing, too!  Thousands of Northwest households were soon to behold a man who could warm their chilly dens and living rooms with nothing more than a smile, a fat marker pen, and the ability to draw noses on clouds. That man, of course, was and is none other than Bob Cram, KING-TV’s legendary “cartooning weatherman”.

Portfolio crammed with examples, Bob treated our group to a free-wheeling glimpse into a fascinating life in cartooning.  A Seattleite for over eight decades, Bob’s history is as colorful and crowded with detail as one of his signature mob-scene drawings. Early highlights included university training in traditional ad art, layout and pasteup, and then producing illustrations at the Martin & Tuttle Agency.  Everything from Grandma’s Cookies, to Nordstroms, to Alaska Steamship and more, got the Cram treatment. (Must’ve been a fun place to work…  Bob recalled his colorful boss, Blanche Tuttle, who once said of some sourpuss: “Poor Charlie, he’s got a mouth like a cat’s ass on a frosty morning.”)  

Then it was on to more lucrative work at Frederick & Nelson, the quintessential Seattle department store, producing “high art” illos under the pressure of retail deadlines.  By 1957, Bob was with Miller, MacKay Advertising, where he was selected, with fellow-luminaries Virgil Partch (a.k.a.,VIP), William Steig, and Robert Osborne, to do a cartoon series printed on Rainier Ale beer cans.  He displayed an actual can for our audience to admire and marvel over…this vintage vessel pre-dates pop-tops and pull-tabs, youngsters! … and this writer can attest: his beer “can-toons” had real fizz.

And then came the big break in 1963: Bob replaced outgoing TV cartoonist-weatherman Bob Hale at KING. The weather may have remained pretty much the same since, but TV weather reporting was never as entertaining. It took him a few months to get comfortable in front of a live camera, where anything could happen, and did.  Once when announcing for a Northern Pacific Railroad commercial, Bob accidentally intoned their slogan as follows: “That’s the Way to Wun a Wailwoad!”  Bob’s cartoon characters included Milli Bar, Big Hi, and Onshore Flo, a cast he would partially draw on large panels prior to air-time and, during the show, he would add the funny details.  His technique and irrepressible cast, plus the aforementioned noses on clouds, ensured an eight-year run enlivening Seattle’s “interesting” weather.

After leaving on-air television, Bob parleyed his TV notoriety into more work, turning his hand to books, signs, TV and radio spots, and more.  He art-directed grocery ads for QFC through his own company, Graphic Studios.  He made an educational piece based on Batman and Robin, called “Flatman and Goblin”.  Bob concluded his talk by advising an enthralled CNW audience, “Never stop!” – – and he is living up to that motto.  A longtime avid skiier, Bob has produced books on the slippery sport, and on backpacking, baseball, and golf, too.  Lately, he holds the title of “Artist in Residence” at his retirement community. The weather never stops and, it seems, neither does Bob Cram.


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