Crockett Johnson was born David Johnson Leisk on October 20, 1906, in New York City. Crockett was a childhood nickname and so he chose it for a pen name. He studied art at Cooper Union and New York University.
Like Barnaby and Harold, his most famous characters, Johnson was bald. “I draw people without hair because it’s so much easier! Besides, to me, people with hair look funny.”
Before he became a well-known writer and illustrator of children’s books, he created some of the most beloved comic strip characters of the 20th century.
Johnson’s first book, Who’s Upside Down?, was published in 1952. Harold, the protagonist of his best known series, began his many journeys in Harold and the Purple Crayon in 1955.
A previously unpublished manuscript was recently found. The Magic Beach was published by Front Street in 2005.
He married author Ruth Krauss in the early ’40s and lived on the shore of Long Island Sound, where Maurice Sendak would “apprentice” in his early twenties. Johnson finished out his career as a fine artist, painting over 100 large, vivid canvases of geometric forms. He died in 1975.