Eli's Corner

Charles Preston 1921-2020


I was very sorry to hear that Charles Preston passed away on October 2nd, at the age of 98.

He was the cartoon editor of the "Pepper . . . and Salt" humor panel in The Wall Street Journal. As a matter of fact, he was the instigator of the feature, which in the old days consisted of a gag cartoon and a sidebar of humorous prose in every issue. Apparently it took a great deal of effort on his part to convince the managing editors that the paper needed a touch of levity. The first appearance of a cartoon was on June 6, 1950, and they are still appearing daily, although now greatly reduced in size.

As far as I know, Mr. Preston stayed active in choosing the cartoons for all those years, and he hardly ever repeated the same cartoonist for two days in a row. I think it's safe to say that many hundreds, maybe even thousands, of gag cartoonists (like myself) have appeared there over the decades. Mr. Preston was a renaissance man in every sense of the word, but he also found time to edit and compile many anthologies of cartoons, both of Wall Street Journal reprints and of original gag cartoons on a variety of topics.

I still prefer to remember him the way I first met him, as I entered his office sometime in 1956. In those days he cut an impressive figure of a dashing young man (he was just a few years older than me), and he seemed to be in constant motion -- just couldn't sit still for a minute.

Unfortunately, the only photo op I had with Mr. Preston was many years later, on November 1, 1999. The occasion was a celebration and exhibit of 50 years of "Pepper . . . and Salt" that was held at the World Financial Center in Manhattan (one of the World Trade Center buildings that no longer exists). Here are some photos of the two of us at that event. Sorry to say I can't identify the woman standing next to Mr. Preston in the last photo.

Charles Preston. RIP.

 






A Note About My Note to New Yorker Cartoonist Henry Martin in 1988


I was totaly saddened to hear about the passing of New Yorker cartoonist Henry Martin. He died on June 30th, 94 years young.

I always looked forward to seeing Mr. Martin's cartoons in The New Yorker and other publications, and they usually brought smiles to my face. I consider him to be a giant in the field of gag cartooning.

Although I never met Mr. Martin, on one occasion in 1988 I sent him a short note. The reason for the note was a cartoon of his that appeared in the July 18, 1988 issue of The New Yorker. It happened to be amazingly similar to a cartoon of mine that appeared a few months before in the National Business Employment Weekly, on October 18, 1987. These are the two cartoons:

 

Henry Martin, The New Yorker, July 18, 1988

 

Eli Stein, National Business Employment Weekly, October 18, 1987

 

For those of you who aren't familiar with the National Business Employment Weekly, it is a long-defunct publication of Dow Jones & Co. (the same organization that publishes The Wall Street Journal). The weekly publication printed only one cartoon per issue, and I was fortunate enough to have had over a hundred cartoons in their pages over the years of its existence. Other cartoonists who appeared regularly were Henry Martin and another New Yorker cartoonist, Tom Cheney. Many of our cartoons were even included in a booklet published in 1992 by Dow Jones, "The Best Cartoons from the National Business Employment Weekly".

I sent my note to Mr. Martin simply to let him know about the coincidence, and I didn't expect an answer from him. But he did answer, with this hand-written note:

"Dear Eli, Thanks for your note and for the two cartoons. I guess the idea was a natural and these things happen. Be assured it was not intentional. I gather you are the cartoonist Stein. Good to meet you. Best. Henry"

As I said, I never did meet Henry Martin in person. By the time I started going to the offices of The New Yorker on Tuesdays (to show my cartoon roughs to then-editor Bob Mankoff and to hobnob and eat lunch with the other cartoonists), Henry Martin had already "retired" from active cartooning. My loss.

Rest in peace, Henry Martin. Your cartoons brought great joy to the world.






Just One More -- P. G. Wodehouse's Grave


This has absolutely nothing to do with Mad Magazine, or for that matter, with magazine gag cartooning.

While I was searching through my son's blog, Literary Kicks (literarykicks.com, or litkicks.com) for my review of the biography of Mad Magazine cartoonist Al Jaffee, I came across another article I wrote for Litkicks back in 2005. It's about the famed British humorist, P. G. Wodehouse. I'd like to share it with you, so I'm putting it into Eli's Corner and here it is:

Wodehouse in Remsenburg

Eli Stein • September 22nd, 2005

 

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, the British author of cultishly-popular humorous novels, short stories and plays (Jeeves and Bertie Wooster are probably his most famous fictional creations, and he worked on musicals with composers like George Gershwin and Jerome Kern) became unexpectedly controversial at the height of his popularity.

He was residing in France in 1940 when the Nazis over-ran the country. As a British citizen, he was interred as an enemy alien. The Nazis knew they had a prize catch, however, for Wodehouse was famous throughout the world, and they were anxious to use him for propaganda purposes. They transferred him to a prison in Berlin and made him an offer: he would be treated decently if he would just make a few pro-German radio broadcasts. He agreed to do so -- to save his skin, he would later say -- he would also claim that they were harmless broadcasts in which he simply joked about his imprisonment.

But he didn't anticipate the repercussions. After the war, the good-natured comic author was branded as a traitor and collaborator by most Britons. He was never actually tried for treason, but in effect he was "drummed out" of his native land.

He came to the U.S., eventually settling in Remsenburg, Long Island, where he resumed his interrupted literary output. He became a U.S. citizen in 1956 and was eventually forgiven and even knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1975. He died in 1975 at the age of 94 and was buried in Remsenburg.

Why this history lesson? Well, my daughter and I were recently visiting the Hamptons, near Remsenburg, and decided we had to take time out to pay a respectful pilgrimage to P.G.'s gravesite.

Easier said than done. If you research it on the internet, you will learn that Wodehouse is buried in the "Historic Remsenburg Cemetery", and you will even find a photograph of his gravestone. Remsenburg is a small (but very affluent) town near the Hamptons -- we figured it would be a cinch to find the gravesite.

Three of us set out to do so -- me, my wife and our daughter -- one day this past July. Arriving in Remsenburg, we drove around the largely residential community for a short time, hoping to get lucky. We sighted no cemeteries and finally decided to ask directions at the Remsenburg Post Office. An elderly woman was just leaving the Post Office, carrying her mail -- obviously a local resident -- so we asked her for help (remember, Wodehouse was Remsenburg's most famous resident for many years). She said, oh, sure, he's buried in the "historic cemetery" and we could walk there from the Post Office. She gave us directions, we thanked her profusely and walked off, relieved that our quest would be over so easily.

In a few minutes we arrived at the cemetery, and, believe me, it was "historic". First of all, it was tiny, about the size of my living room/dining room area. And second, every stone there looked like it was from the Revolutionary War era. With one glance, it was obvious that P.G.'s gravestone was not going to be found there.

Dejected, we searched around the immediate area carefully, walking a few blocks in each direction to make sure we weren't missing anything. Then, back to the Post Office.

This time we went inside and spoke to the clerk (no other customers were around). She called her boss in from the back for additional help. They both agreed that Wodehouse HAD to be in the "historic cemetery". We assured them that he was not there and wondered if there were other cemeteries in the area. They couldn't think of any, but referred us to a community center across the street, where people might be able to help us. After more thank you's, we went across the street where we were lucky enough to find five people of various ages who were planning an upcoming social event. After we explained our quest to them, they went through the "historic cemetery" routine with us. When we explained that we just came from there, they began to seriously try to locate other cemeteries in town, using ancient wall maps that were hanging in the room.

Gathering all the info we could from the maps, and with many thanks, we continued on our way. To make a long story just a little shorter, in the end we couldn't locate any of the cemeteries that were indicated on those old wall maps -- don't know what happened to them, but they simply weren't where they were supposed to be.

By this time, we were getting antsy -- who needs this aggravation, it's only a gravesite! But a quest is a quest.

What we decided to do was drive out of town slowly, keeping a sharp lookout for anything that might hide a cemetery. We were at the point of giving up in defeat, when we passed a church building we hadn't seen before, the Remsenburg Community Church. With hope all but gone, we walked behind the building and saw gravestones! Not just a few, but many, and lots of new ones, at that. The graveyard extended in a thin line behind the church and went back a long way. What the heck, we all agreed, let's give it a try. Slowly we made our way back, checking stone after stone. Toward the rear of the grounds, there it was -- P.G.'s gravestone.

We spent about fifteen minutes at the site (big photo opportunity) and then happily returned to our car, our Wodehouse pilgrimage successfully completed.

 
5 Responses to "Wodehouse in Remsenburg"

 

by Billectric on Thursday, September 22, 2005 12:11 pm

Enjoyed this!Some interesting history topped off with an exciting modern-day search/adventure. Nice report.I was caught up in the suspense of wondering if you would find the grave. Glad you did!It's hard to know what one would do if captured by an enemy and ordered to say things on film. One likes to believe they would blink their eyes in Morse code, like Jeremiah Denton did when he was a prisoner of war in Viet Nam, spelling out "torture" when he was made to speak on camera - but damn it, I don't even know Morse code.

 

by brooklyn on Thursday, September 22, 2005 09:54 pm

more about wodehouseThanks, Eli. One reason I find this story amusing is that everybody was sure he was buried in the Historical Cemetery. I've written a bunch about P. G. Wodehouse on LitKicks ... it's my personal theory that his stuff can be read as more subversive and multi-layered than is commonly thought. I really dislike the whole "Ask Jeeves" trivialization of Wodehouse's sharp sense of humor. It's similar to the cliche that Sherlock Holmes has become -- Holmes is another character written with a lot more depth than his eventual cartoon image would show. My favorite twist on the Jeeves mystique is the film Remains of the Day. Which would lead into another question: if this is Bertie Wooster's grave, where would Jeeves be found?

 

by Stokey on Sunday, September 25, 2005 03:01 pm

Beech from Wodehouse's Blandings Castle is actually a better butler than Jeeves, I think. He drinks, gambles, doesn't like aristocrats; he only rescues Lord Emsworth from scrapes because that's his job.

 

by john shirley on Wednesday, October 16, 2013 03:56 pm

Am a fan of Wodehouse. How can these rather silly people in the town he's buried in be so misdirected? Wodehouse is probably their most, or one of their most, famous "residents"...Interesting piece...

 

by Niraj on Thursday, September 4, 2014 02:18 pm

Thanks for this - My entire family (well almost) loves Plum's work! I recently moved to Long Island and my dad is coming to visit. We thank you for doing the ground work and writing about it as it will make our pilgrimage easier

 

 

 
 





The Decline and Fall of Mad Magazine (continued)


My son, Marc Eliot Stein (also known by his pen name of Levi Asher), has a blog that will soon be celebrating its 30th anniversary. It's called Literary Kicks (literarykicks.com, or litkicks.com). A few years ago, he asked me to review a new book by Mary-Lou Weisman, a biography of Mad cartoonist emeritus Al Jaffee, entitled "Al Jaffee's Mad Life". My son posted the review on litkicks on November 11, 2010 -- and here it is:

Al Jaffee's Mad, Sad Life

Eli Stein • November 11th, 2010

 

(Whenever a book about classic cartooning comes in, I ask my father Eli Stein to review it. This time I bought him a copy of the book as a birthday present -- I wanted to keep my own copy -- to help seal the deal, and he came through. Enjoy! -- Levi)

Al Jaffee's Mad Life is Mary-Lou Weisman’s heartfelt biography of her friend of many years, cartoonist Al Jaffee. Jaffee, now 89 years old, is still going strong, still producing his famous “Fold-In” page for MAD magazine and still coming up with “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” and other humorous features.

Ms. Weisman devotes about two-thirds of her book to Jaffee’s childhood, roughly from when he was six years old to his high school days. And what a dysfunctional childhood it was! (More about this later). I only bring up this fact because, in choosing to read this book, I was hoping to learn all about Jaffee vis-à-vis the glory days of MAD magazine and William Gaines, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder et al.

As Ms. Weisman says:

Due to a coincidence of longevity and talent, Al Jaffee has been with MAD magazine longer than anyone, staff or freelancer. He was there nearly from the beginning. In a sense, he was there before the beginning ... One might even say, at least in retrospect, that given his artistic gift, Al’s mad childhood seems to have led him inevitably to satire and to MAD. For more than 50 years he has spoken to the awkward social outcast and the nerd in every MAD reader.

 

I was slightly disappointed that I had to wait until about page 165 of this 224-page bio for Ms. Weisman to get around to the 1950’s and for MAD magazine to finally make its appearance. But I have to admit that, for me at least, the comparatively few pages devoted to the MAD years were worth the wait. They were enlightening and entertaining.

Aside: My interest in MAD magazine is more than casual. In 1967, as a fledgling magazine gag cartoonist, I submitted an unsolicited two-page spread to MAD. It was fully written but only sketchily laid out. It was a gag idea that I couldn’t adapt to a single-panel magazine cartoon format, but I had the feeling that it would make a pretty good spread for MAD. To my utter amazement, I soon received a letter from Nick Meglin, one of MAD’s editors (his name comes up frequently in the book -- he was one of Al Jaffee’s editors). He said he was interested in the basic concept, and the writing, but wanted to assign it to one of his staff artists to draw. Since I had sent it to them as a complete package, they wanted my permission to do so. I estimated what my chances of success would be if I insisted on drawing the spread myself (absolutely zero), so I agreed. The spread appeared in the October 1968 issue, drawn by Joe Orlando. I was credited as the writer. And that’s how I became one of MAD’s “usual gang of idiots”.

But I digress. I promised to get back to Al Jaffee’s dysfunctional childhood, and the reason the author decided to devote so much of her book to it.

At one point, Ms. Weisman quotes Al Jaffee as saying “I am a reverse immigrant”. Al was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1921. His mother and father were Jewish immigrants to the U.S., both from the same small town, or shtetl, in Lithuania. Al was the oldest of four siblings, all boys and all born in Savannah.

When Al was six years old, his mother inexplicably decided that she had to return to her home town in Lithuania. Her husband, well-established in Savannah, couldn’t agree to that. Mrs. Jaffee left her husband and with the four young children (six years old and under) made the arduous trek back to her old country. She apparently made no plans to ever return to Savannah.

A year passed. Mr. Jaffee suddenly showed up in Lithuania to reclaim his family and bring them back to the U.S. Al’s mother reluctantly agreed and there was another long trek (three weeks or so) to return to America. But the dysfunction continued. The reunited Jaffee family settled in the New York area, but Al’s father was forced to go out of town to find work and he was away most of the time. After another year of this arrangement, Mrs. Jaffee once again decided that she much preferred living in Lithuania. Al was now eight years old. Once again, sans husband and with the four children in tow, she made the long trip back to her beloved home town.

Four more years passed. Once again Al’s father showed up to reclaim his family. This time his wife refused to leave, but agreed that he could go back to America with the three oldest children (Al was 12 years old at this point). She insisted on keeping her youngest son with her. Mr. Jaffee took charge of three of his sons and again traveled back to New York.

Life in America was difficult in 1933 -- the depression was raging. Al found himself being shuffled between relatives in the New York area, under near-poverty conditions and often separated from his siblings. His father tried to scrape out a living as best he could.

Long story short, Al eventually got accepted to the High School of Music and Art in New York, where he befriended Will Elder and Harvey Kurtzman. Both of these future cartoonists figured prominently in the early years of MAD magazine.

Al Jaffee obviously had to do a great deal of adapting, adjusting and assimilating during those incredibly difficult childhood years. He had to come to terms with traumatic events in his life that were absolutely out of his control. I understand why Ms. Weisman focused her biography on that period in his life and I feel she succeeded very well in letting us know some of the influences in his life’s work.

On a sad note, the Jaffee family could never learn for sure what ultimately happened to Al’s mother and brother, but the assumption is that they were both victims of the Nazi holocaust.

“Al Jaffee’s Mad Life” includes plenty of new colorful illustrations by the artist, as well as many reproductions of previously published work.

 
 
7 Responses to "Al Jaffee's Mad, Sad Life"

 

by Gary on Thursday, November 11, 2010 02:28 pm

Great review - it's now on my list of books that I want to read.

 

by Dan on Thursday, November 11, 2010 05:42 pm

Excellent review! I will read the book - was a Mad fan for many years. Levi, you should let your dad write more reviews....

 

by Frank on Thursday, November 11, 2010 07:16 pm

Very informative review that will be appreciated by Mad magazine readers.
It is an interesting human interest story and one I would like to read,

 

by Kelly on Friday, November 12, 2010 08:44 am

Great review. What a bizarre childhood. Can't wait to read the book.

 

by Bill_Ectric on Saturday, November 13, 2010 03:31 pm

I read Mad Magazine for years and Jaffee was one of my favorites. I had forgotten about Mad's phrase, "usual gang of idiots" when referring to their staff. I used to make my own "fold-ins" when I was a kid. Good book review, Eli.
Tell that clod son of yours to let you write for Litkicks more often (remember in Mad, they were always calling someone a "clod"?)

 

by Sharon on Wednesday, November 17, 2010 03:10 am

Thanks for a great review!

 

by Brandt on Monday, March 14, 2011 08:45 pm

Nice article... Al is one of my favorite illustrators and I commemorated his 90th birthday this past weekend with a portrait on my artist's blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/03/al-jaffee-master-of-fold-in-t...

 

 






The Decline and Fall of Mad Magazine


Everybody in the press and social media has been commenting on the recent announcement of Mad Magazine's projected demise, so why not me? As one of "the usual gang of idiots", I certainly have the credentials to at least make note of this sad turn of events on my blog/archive.

Below is a reprint of my posting, dated August 29, 2006, which told of my brief involvement with Mad. In the next few days, I will reprint another Mad-related posting. Sad news indeed.

Posted by Eli on August 29, 2006 - 2:39am

Gagwriting is one-quarter of the thrill of being a gag cartoonist. The other three quarters are drawing the gag, selling it and finally, seeing it in print. In 1968 I came up with an idea that I couldn't seem to develop into a cartoon, but it occured to me that it could possibly become a pretty good spread in Mad magazine. I roughed out a layout, wrote a lot of copy, and sent it out.

I soon heard from Mad Editor Nick Meglin, who said he was interested in the concept and the writing, but he wanted to farm it out to one of his regular artists to draw. (See my posting about Tom Wesselmann -- the same proposal was made to him by The New Yorker.) I pondered for a while about what leverage I had if I were to insist on doing the artwork myself (absolutely none, I decided), so I said OK to Mr. Meglin's offer.

The two-page spread appeared in the October 1968 issue, illustrated by Joe Orlando. The images below were taken from the reprint of the article in the paperback book Steaming Mad, which appeared years later.

So I got paid the writer's fee instead of the artist's fee, and that's how I became one of Mad's "usual gang of idiots" and a hero to my little kids. mada1068.JPGmadb1068.JPGmadc1068.JPGmadd1068.JPGmade1068.JPGmadf1068.JPGmadg1068.JPGmadh1068.JPG

   






Computer problem


 

It looks like computer problems will delay the start of the next Cartoon Caption Contest for a while.

In the meantime, I'll try to continue to keep posting my published cartoons every few days, as I've been doing all along, to keep my archive going. 

I don't know how long it will take to resolve the problems -- hopefully it will just be a matter of days -- so please keep checking in. The Contest will be back as soon as possible. 






"We All Have To Start Somewhere Department". Case in Point No. 19


Case in point Number 19 in this very irregular feature is . . . me.

In 1946, at the age of 14, I sent a letter to cartoonist Stan MacGovern at the New York Post. The Post in the 1940's was New York City's politically-liberal newspaper, owned and published by Dorothy Schiff, and it had a huge circulation all over town. That's just the opposite of what the Post is today, under the ownership of Australian Rupert Murdoch.

Anyway, one of the Post's exclusive comics at that time was Stan MacGovern's daily and weekend strip "Silly Milly", which ran the humor gamut from the ridiculous to the sublime. MacGovern had many "Departments", and in my note to him I suggested an idea for one of his running gags. In my exhuberance, I even sent him a drawing of the gag so he could see how it could work. 

The next thing I knew, the letter, the drawing and my gag appeared in a Silly Milly weekend strip and MacGovern built the rest of that day's strip around it. Here it is, and I guess I should mention at this point that Eli is my middle name and Isidore is my first name!  

Of course, I was delighted to see the strip and, as they say, the rest is history. So thank you, Stan MacGovern, wherever you are.

I usually finish my "We All Have To Start Somewhere Department" with a photo of the cartoonist, so here's one of me at age 14, give or take a year or two.






Medical Economics, November 27, 1995


In the mid-1990's, the monthly publication Medical Economics started running a feature called "Funny Bones", in which the editors showcased the work of some of the cartoonists who had been gracing their pages. As one of their featured contributors, I was invited to be a part of the running series. It would involve them purchasing a bunch of new cartoons from me, and would also include a photo and a short bio. Of course I was glad to accept and my wife took many photos of me at my drawing board (the photo they used is the one that I still show at the top of this archive/blog).

Here is the two-page spread that appeared. Note that the publication removed my signatures from the individual panels. 

Hopefully, you'll be able to zoom in on the pages for easier reading.






A Word of Clarification about Eli's Cartoon Caption Contest . . .


I generally start a new contest every three weeks, and it runs for a one-week period. I announce it with a post headed "Eli's Cartoon Caption Contest No. --".

In the gap between contests, I continue to add to my archive of my own published cartoons (identified with a heading containing the name of the publication and a date or year), and I also sometimes post other cartoon-related items. So far I've archived over 1,500 of my published cartoons.

Lately, several people have been erroneously sending in captions for my archived/published cartoons. I just want to make it clear that the new contest starts only when you see "Eli's Cartoon Caption Contest No. --" at the top of the posting.

I hate to see anybody wasting his or her caption-writing talent! Thanks again to all of you for participating.






Very, very sad . . .


My dear wife, Lila -- the love of my life -- passed away early this morning, after a protracted illness. She died peacefully, at home, 77 years young.

Please indulge me as I go through a mourning process -- I will not be posting any cartoons or Caption Contests for a short period of time.

This is us in happier times:

 






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