Published On: Sun, Jun 16th, 2024

Don Madden Left This Week for Studio in Heaven, But My Brother’s Cartoons Will Live on Forever

Almost a quarter century ago, when still only in his early seventies, my brother Don Madden would be too busy illustrating, painting and drawing up a storm at his home in upstate New York to write to me.

“Sorry for the delay,” he once wrote to me in longhand on legal tablet paper. “But I’m sure you know all about colliding deadlines.”

Yes, I know what he meant, how fame has a way of eating into precious time we have for personal stuff. 

Having been one of Hugh Hefner’s favorites, Don’s full-page cartoons appeared in Playboy Magazine every month for 50 years.  The fame it generated kept him steadily busy right up until just a few years ago when in his mid-90’s he finally put down his pens and brushes and let his once frenetic life draw to a quiet close. He passed last week at age 96. 

In a letter to me, he once wrote “One of these days I’m going to shed the ‘semi’ from my semi-retirement status and sail out into full retirement where I can write, draw or paint what and when I want. He was then 72 years young.

“After freelancing for more than 50 years, it is sometimes hard to break the pattern and say ‘no,’ but I’m learning fast,” he wrote.  His rare letter went on.

“I suppose it’s the same whether one is an illustrator, a public relations man or somebody who makes car parts day in and day out—except that freelancing, as you know, has that extra built-in feeling that if you say ‘no’ to one assignment there may not be another waiting just around the corner when you feel like saying ‘yes.’”

In that same letter he told me he liked the upbeat style of my writing.  “You have a way with words,” he said and coming from him, it meant a lot to me.

Don graduated from the Philadelphia Museum School of Art, which was his well-known concert violinist dad’s idea.  Our father, William J. Madden, was also a magician.  When he saw Don’s creative flair, he envisioned pulling a talented artist son instead of a rabbit out of his hat.    

Soon after graduating, Don’s talent manifests in his humorous drawings and illustrations appearing in magazines and in national advertising.  He became a well-known illustrator of children’s books, including “The Wartville Wizard.”

Don’s work was selected for the National Painting Exhibition at The Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, the city where he met his wife, the fashion illustrator Jeanne Hardman Madden.

In his early 30’s, Don’s charming work appeared in where else? Charm Magazine, also in Seventeen Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, Graphis, Good Housekeeping and TV Guide, a magazine I copied when I created Cable TV Magazine.

I tried, alas unsuccessfully, to sell my mag to the billionaire Walter Annenberg who owned TV Guide, just before I went to the graduate school he founded in Philadelphia, The Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania.  I earned a master’s degree from Annenberg while working as a reporter at another business Walter owned, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Besides being a talented artist, my dear departed artistic brother Don Madden was an effective writer whose works he drew from knowledge he had amassed from such diverse interests as nature, archeology, literature, music and history. 

We Maddens cover a lot of ground creatively, from playing violins to conducting orchestras, from doing amazing magic tricks to drawing clever cartoons, from conducting PR campaigns and to writing books like my latest Planetary Lifeguard, Blowing the Whistle on Climate Change, which came out too late for Don to read.

God bless my bro, and may he continue being artful in his new studio above.

Don is survived by a son, Kyle Madden, a daughter, Tiya Madden-Cotter and me. 

“I thought I told you to stay off that subject”

One of Don Madden’s Cartoons in Playboy Magazine.

About the Author

- Sharing timely, newsworthy weekly blogs by the one and only Thomas J. Madden at and other newsworthy topics from his mighty PR firm TransMedia Group.

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