‘Happy Jayhawk’ creator had no idea of drawing’s future prominence
Wilda Sandy says neither she nor her husband are much in the way of sports fans.
“We don’t know one kind of ball from another,” she explained recently.
This wouldn’t be noteworthy if Wilda Sandy’s husband weren’t Hal Sandy, the man behind the pen and ink that came together as the wildly successful Happy Jayhawk. The Happy Jayhawk, of course, is the current mascot of Kansas University.
The Jayhawk was drawn in 1946 when university leaders decided they needed a Jayhawk that looked less warlike than the one that represented the university through World War II. A friend, R. Edwin Browne, approached Hal Sandy, a war veteran who was trying to get through KU as quickly as possible, and asked him to draw a new Jayhawk.
Browne said there wasn’t money to pay for the job. But Sandy could sell decals with the logo as a way to pay himself.
“They were primarily for the rear windows of cars,” Sandy said. “It had one large Jayhawk on it, followed by four smaller Jayhawks.”
When it was all said and done, he had sold a few thousand decals at a dollar apiece.
Sandy paid $25 to copyright the logo and netted $250 when he sold it to the KU Bookstore about a year after drawing it. And then he forgot about it.
That’s much easier to do if you don’t know a basketball from a football and have no use for watching sports on TV.
It wasn’t until a trip to Europe with a group of KU alumni in the 1970s that the Jayhawk he drew was brought up again.
Sandy, now 84, tells the story like this:
“Someone was along who said we have an illustrious person on board. She said, ‘I want you to stand up. This is the man who designed the happy Jayhawk for KU. He probably doesn’t know, but last year the royalties on that Jayhawk earned the university over $400,000.'”
And that was decades ago. That Jayhawk now rakes in millions of dollars in royalties.
“It became something people talked about a little then in 1972,” said Wilda Sandy, a University of Missouri graduate. “It was very hot stuff during basketball season last year.”
Being an MU grad, does it bother her that her husband is the man behind the mascot that torments her alma mater so? Not in the least.
“I went to MU simply to get out of school,” she said. “I have no allegiances there whatsoever.”
Music to every Jayhawk fan’s ears.
After graduating from KU, Sandy went on to work for advertising agencies before creating his own, based in the Kansas City area. Throughout that time, he focused on designing advertisements, but he never drew another cartoon. The Jayhawk is the only one.
“It was drawn completely without computers – they weren’t even imagined at the time,” Hal Sandy said. “I drew it all using India ink and then did all the coloring myself.”
But Sandy still draws. Wilda says one of the things she treasures most is a pen and ink drawing of a rural farmhouse the two saw while driving through the country. Hal drew it for her and gave it to her as a gift.
It rests on an easel in their home in Westwood Hills, much the same way one might treat a special piece of sports memorabilia.
But not the Sandys. They don’t know the difference between a football and a basketball.