Irving W. Phillips; Cartoonist, Playwright, TV Scriptwriter


Irving W. Phillips, eclectic cartoonist, playwright, television scriptwriter, author, illustrator and educator, has died at the age of 95.

Phillips, whose syndicated comic strips included “The Strange World of Mr. Mum,” died Saturday at a nursing home in Santee, near San Diego, according to his niece and guardian, Penny Ward.

“Mr. Mum,” the cartoonist’s best-known strip, ran from 1958 to 1970 in about 180 newspapers in 22 countries. The title character of what one New York critic called an “undeservedly neglected” comic strip was a good-humored, perennially befuddled man who walked through the world’s chaos with a deadpan, Buster Keaton expression. Mum’s core was always shaken but somehow remained stable.


Phillips also syndicated the comic strips “Scuffy,” from 1945 to 1951, and “Barnaby Bungle,” in 1979.

With the versatile Phillips at the drawing board and typewriter, a cartoon character might find himself moving from the comics into one of Phillips’ books or onto the stage.

A supposed cartoon character named Mr. Rumple hit the boards at the Laguna Summer Theater in 1955 in a play called “The Funnyman.” In it, a cartoonist (perhaps Phillips’ alter ego) worries that he cannot maintain his early success with a comic strip, so he decides to cancel it. But Mr. Rumple objects to being scuttled. Rumple must inspire the cartoonist anew to keep both working.

Phillips also wrote and illustrated a 1965 book, “The Strange World of Mr. Mum,” and “No Comment by Mr. Mum” in 1971, based on his long-running comic strip. Another of his books is the 1969 “Twin Witches of Fingle Fu.”

As a writer, Phillips penned stories for motion pictures, including the 1944 “Song of the Open Road,” which introduced a young Jane Powell and featured appearances by W.C. Fields and Edgar Bergen with his wooden Charlie McCarthy. Phillips wrote another Powell vehicle, 1945’s “Delightfully Dangerous.”

Phillips wrote or co-wrote more than 250 television scripts and contributed both scripts and animation art to the ABC children’s program “Curiosity Shop.”

He taught cartooning and humor writing at Maricopa Tech and Phoenix College in Phoenix.

His cartoons and other artwork were exhibited at the New York World’s Fair in 1964-65, at the National Cartoonist Society and in one-man shows at Comedy in Art at Arizona State University, and at the El Prado Gallery in Sedona, Ariz. Among his awards was the International First Prize and Cup of the Salone dell’Umorismo of Bordighera, Italy, in 1969.

Born in Wilton, Wis., Phillips studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. He began his career as cartoon humor editor for Esquire magazine in the late 1930s.

He is survived by a brother, Eugene Phillips of Belleville, Wis.; a sister, Cosette Iselin of San Diego; and several nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his wife, Luci, and daughter, Arden.

Ward said Phillips will be buried in the historic section of the Mission San Luis Rey cemetery near Oceanside. She asked that any memorial contributions be sent to the Mercy Clinic of Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego.