Jules Feiffer and Jamie Gilson talk with Studs Terkel
BROADCAST: May. 13, 1960 | DURATION: 00:42:24
Cartoonist Jules Feiffer discusses his book "The Explainers" and his thoughts on American society, gender roles, and political corruption as is satirized in his cartoons; cartoon strips are read throughout the program with Jamie Gilson.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel It seems in every time there's an artist who seems to point out the the frailties and the foibles of a particular society. In France, in the time of Louis Philippe, there was Domeye. At the turn of the century, it was Art Young; more of a political cartoonist yet touched on various other aspects of our time, of his time. The idea of of punching holes and bubbles of pomposity, of jabbing at boils and carbuncles of society. I can't think of anyone of our day who does a more effective and eloquent job and moving job than Jules Feiffer. Now, many of us Chicago, a great many of us read his cartoon strips in the Sunday Sun-Times. Remember his book, "Sick Sick, Sick"? And now a new work of Jules Feiffer has come out McGraw Hill the publishers of "The Explainers." And Jules Feiffer is our guest and we are delighted of course to have him. Jules, what about "The Explainers"? The, even the phrase itself the specific reason for your choosing this title, "The Explainers".
Jules Feiffer I had a rough time trying to figure, figure out what the title of the book was going to be and then I started reading anything anybody had written about me to figure out what it was I did so I could find the title and the London edition of "Sick, Sick, Sick", which was published last fall had an introduction by Ken Tynan and his description was that my people explain themselves to each other, explain themselves to themselves, explain themselves to the world and there it was. Finally I found out what I was doing. Explaining and it, it seemed to be you know just the right title and then I began to go through the strips because I really wasn't too conscious of this and check to see how well it fit. And to my amazement, it fit almost everyone in one way or another. Your people being very vocal about themselves but rather than legitimately explaining what they felt often what they were saying had nothing to do with what they really felt. This is what really what interests me about doing the stuff.
Studs Terkel You say there were rationalizing really?
Jules Feiffer Yeah.
Jules Feiffer Inaction, maybe? The more you explain the less you do?
Jules Feiffer Well, the. I think probably my favorite piece of writing is "Notes from the Underground" and something, another Dostoevsky work like it called in "Double". Because in it you see the inside view of a man how he thinks everybody sees him and he talks about it himself being a kind, generous, very understanding man and this is in "The Double" and, and then you hear him in conversations with people and you can see how people react to him and how they really can't stand him and how the man himself is a measly miner, unhappy, miserable person but he never gets his view of himself. And, and, and, the interesting thing and I would love to be able to get it and pinpoint it more accurately in cartoons is to show the difference between the inside view people have of themselves and the outside view others have of them and somehow show it at the same time.
Studs Terkel You seem to do this so, so, so elo- powerfully and bitingly. At the same time, there's always there's a sadness in some of these works too, the sadness of the human comedy itself I suppose. Just as Dostoevsky did it. Dostoevsky did it.
Jules Feiffer Yeah. I. Yeah this business about sadness or in in humor. I think one of the things that I find most disgraceful for instance is someone who takes off on a Chaplin kick and he says I will now get pathos in the comedy and this is the way I'm going to do it. I will have sad music behind. You know show a dumpy little man and if anybody takes a, a casual look at any of the great Chaplin films, you will find the most heartbreaking sequences had usually very happy music and there was no buildup behind it. The, the dance of the shoes, the the bread, the bread rolls-
Jules Feiffer And the gold rush rather which when I saw for the first time I cried at and I took it for granted there was probably some very sad music behind it and I saw it again a second time, I was amazed because it was very happy. And it's because you can't break sadness, happiness, you know it's the whole spectrum of, of emotion and when something sad happens to a cipher you don't give a damn. It's something happening to a human being, and whether it's sad, whether it's happy. If it happens to a, to a man, then you care. And then, then, it becomes important.
Studs Terkel Thus far you've touched, you've, you've, you've given away two of your sources thus far, Dostoevsky and Chaplin. I I think, I think it's interesting that both, the presence of both. There's also Feiffer himself in the time we live, 1960. Because what you're, what you're hitting at is not what Domeye hit in another century.
Jules Feiffer No because this was the outside looking in. These were, or nor what Art Young did. By the way, there was another very fine cartoonist at that time who I like graphicLy better than Art Young. And that was Robert Minor, who was a tremendously strong political cartoonist at the oh the early 1900's and did some of the most effective black and white graphic things. There was one brilliant, brilliant cartoon about a cop dragging a woman before a judge and saying, "Your honor, this woman is guilty of giving birth to a naked child".
Studs Terkel You mention Minor and Young and yet they differ from you and they were primarily political cartoonists.
Jules Feiffer They're primarily political cartoonists. And I think it was just this strong affiliation which blinded them you know in so many other directions because clinging to dogma, you know. Well it's it's very important for a political cartoonist but for social cartoonists it's, it's it's crippling and I and, it's corrupting.
Studs Terkel That's how you describe yourself then. If- we don't want any labels but in a way [unintelliglible] that you cover the whole spectrum.
Jules Feiffer I. Yeah except the only way I could describe it is I do pretty much as I please without figuring out what the category is. It's funny how some of these cartoons are like a Rorschach test to, to the people who like them.
Studs Terkel [laughter]
Jules Feiffer I have friends who are very, very political who don't know I why waste my time doing this boy- girl junk. And others, some, one, one of the editors on the "Village Voice" is least interested in the political things and thinks because of his problems with women that the boy-girl stuff is really the best. [laughter]
Studs Terkel Well it seems though you touch everyone more than touching them you hit a certain core. You tried to, I know there's was no point trying to analyze why this is because of what you obviously touch is a basic truth here, in our world today. It's the problem of a individual. There's the, I suppose the impersonality of our day also bugs you a great deal doesn't it?
Jules Feiffer The, the business of there not being anybody to blame anymore. See, corporations have so beautifully protected themselves from responsibility so that somebody can fire you and still be a nice guy. Now the guy who fires me from a job is not a nice guy no matter, no matter whether he says it's not me I'm just doing my job here. But it's the people on top and oh I had a I have had a number of experiences like this and they kept reminding me of this great passage in "Grapes of Wrath" where a Tom Joad is complaining about, "Who do you blame?" because the people who are driving them out of the homes say it's, it's not us. We don't, you know the deputies. We don't want to do this because we've known you people all our lives. It's the banks and the banks if somebody else goes out east. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Studs Terkel And the guy with the tractor says don't blame me.
Jules Feiffer Yeah yeah yeah. It's a marvelous copping out and process you know nobody's responsible.
Studs Terkel And yet throughout I'm sure, I'm I'm, I haven't read Kenneth Tynan's introduction, to your work. I'm sure somewhere he touches on your judging the value is testing valu-accepted values of a day. We read of scandals in every field whether it's TV or among police and we say we're going to reform and do it. Well I think a best way is to. See, I have a theory about you I'm sure I shared with many others that you're not only an excellent cartoonist but a remarkable writer. Now we're on radio. We're not going to see your cartoons but with your permission, if we may Jules, you and I and Jamie Gillson whom we've drafted, a member station staff,
Jamie Gilson [laughter]
Studs Terkel If we can read, some of the works of yours, from "The Explainers".
Studs Terkel This will be an audition cause it's going to be a revue on Broadway next season. Whenever I get it done, called "The Explainers".
Studs Terkel Oh, there is going to be revue?
Jules Feiffer Which will be made up of, of some of the cartoons from "Sick, Sick, Sick", "The Explainers", and I hope one of the stories from "Passionale" called, "George's Moon". I have to work on it all summer and figure out some way of making this thing workable but-
Studs Terkel It'll be in, in sketch form?
Jules Feiffer Yeah, yeah. I guess so. I don't know yet. Linda
Studs Terkel Linda said, "Well, what with Thurber's.
Jules Feiffer The Thurber Carnival
Studs Terkel Carnival. Yours is wholly different but it occurs. These seem like naturals for actors. We'll try.
Jules Feiffer Okay.
Studs Terkel You and I. Now here's that case since you've touched on values. Father, offering his son advice.
Jules Feiffer Yeah.
Studs Terkel Right?
Jules Feiffer Now, may I try the father since I'm older than you?
Jamie Gilson [laughter]
Studs Terkel I'll try the father and you be the boy
Jules Feiffer And I'll be the son because I have a high pitched voice.
Studs Terkel Now listen to me. ALWAYS look out for yourself. You look out too much for the other fella and when he gets to the top, he'll only kick in the teeth for, for thanks.
Studs Terkel And listen to me. Learn to be watchful. Never trust anybody not even me. The world's out to get you.
Studs Terkel Now, now now listen to me! Develop sincerity or a strong handshake and a good eye stare. Always be attentive to strangers. They might do you some good.
Studs Terkel And now, now listen to me! Don't ever feel sorry for yourself. You're eating good and you've always got a chance and with the right mental attitude, you always got a chance. You can take anybody.
Studs Terkel Now, now for crying out loud, LISTEN to me. Don't do favors. Don't be a patsy. The smart guys laugh at the nice guys. Never expect too much, you won't be disappointed.
Studs Terkel Will you PLEASE listen to me. NEVER talk politics. You only make enemies and nothing YOU'RE gonna say will ever change the world.
Jules Feiffer OK
Studs Terkel Come on, come on. You're not listening to me. Respect EVERY girl like she was your own mother. But when you got to fool around, do it out of a neighborhood. Never play in your own backyard.
Studs Terkel Yes sir. We'll put our heads together. We'll make a man out of you. You listening boy?
Studs Terkel That's sketch number one and I suppose the tragedy of this one. It's hilarious. The tragedy is it's so true.
Jules Feiffer Yeah, well also the concept of manhood have been so screwed up. [laughter] It is just shameful. I don't know what else I can say about it without crying.
Studs Terkel Go ahead. You're a. We-
Studs Terkel The idea of virility-
Jules Feiffer The idea of virility in a, The Hemingway business. The, the
Studs Terkel [Can be?] little brutal to be a man.
Jules Feiffer Brutal. Cruel. Lover of baseball.
Studs Terkel And tenderness. Tenderness would be. Watch out for it, in a way. Tenderness might be a little
Jules Feiffer And it means that now some of these attributes of course you know are necessary. There's nothing wrong with any of them except that the balance has gone so far in one direction that when kids or adolescence, the integral and they feel certain sensitivities they can't ever admit them to their friends who can't ever admit them to them because it doesn't fit the image and the images are the thing that they have to go into. And so you have these, these nebulous shapes growing into images and the image is created by, by completely phony picture that which presents itself from the outside.
Studs Terkel Even in this? In this? I don't know how to describe it.
Studs Terkel Cartoons script. Before the one we just did the father and son you were the boy. Only says "okay dad". Perhaps we should point out the drawings.
Jules Feiffer It was just a father holding his son by the shoulders and talking very sincerely to him and the father somehow talking himself into an increased state of panic. You know while a kid is just passively standing.
Studs Terkel Passively and yet wide-eyed and yet you sense a terror in
Jules Feiffer Yeah and an increasing tension.
Studs Terkel The tension. You spoke of the kid. The inability to articulate. Remember "400 Blows"? You see that by chance?]
Jules Feiffer Yes.
Studs Terkel In a way. The wall. Only here, here you go deeper.
Jules Feiffer That scene in "400 Blows" which is one of the most effective I've ever seen. This long soliloquy of the boy talking to the social worker. I have no idea how they filmed that. It's impossible. So it wasn't done. I don't believe it. [laughter]
Studs Terkel We. Let's continue then since we talked about virility, the there's the, there's the caricatured version of virility in Superman.
Studs Terkel What of Superman? You will, you will, as- say this role.
Jules Feiffer Yes it's always [in?] my dream. [laughter]
Studs Terkel What of Supe-, well I guess it speaks for itself.
Jules Feiffer It's a massive, muscular, very confident man coming out dressed in a Superman costume and he begins, "I used to be Superman. I used to go rescuing people all the hell over the place. Wherever you looked, I was saving somebody. Then one day, I pulled this chick from the river. You think she's thanked me? No. She just wanted to know why I had this compulsion to rescue. She accused me of doubting my masculinity and hence my exhibitionist tendencies. She wanted to know why I didn't spend more time reading. She took one look at my cape and said I was a latent transvestite. And why was my costume so skintight. And did I rescue more men than women. I try to tell her she shouldn't judge me the way she judges earth people. She just patted my head and smiled. So after a lot of argument back and forth I finally got her to admit that although I might not be super I was a lot better than average". And then the last panel, the man, Superman is now in a gray flannel suit, pinstripe tie, attache case and wearing and having a crewcut and smiling weakly he says, "Now I have a regular office job in the city and a house in the suburbs. We're both very happy". [laughter]
Studs Terkel Superman becomes suburbanite. And I-, here's a case of what I suppose caricaturing the caricature. The accepted. I suppose this will be the [unintelligible] of virility, Superman himself.
Jules Feiffer Yeah.
Studs Terkel Let's try some- to go through. I know there are there are other, other trains that you mount and ride and we'll, I think perhaps through the various readings. We draft Jamie now. There's one of-. Oh togetherness is one of your favorite targets. Anything you care to say about togetherness or, or does it speak for itself here?
Jules Feiffer I think it's been pretty well worked to death. The idea here is not just of togetherness but the feeling which has always bugged me of intelligent people being more intelligent and more sensitive and more insightful than someone else. Therefore, if a concession must be made in a situation since, since the other person is less sensitive, the intelligent one should make the concession because he sees the whole situation. I have had more friends on more issues give in because they understood the whole framework of the thing, and somebody has to make a concession after all.
Studs Terkel So the civilized man will give in to the primitive.
Jules Feiffer Yes
Studs Terkel 'Cause after all he sees more and of course you could stretch this beyond this card, obviously the implications are much broader than this. So Jamie, you will be the, the lady and you and I will be man one and two. We'll come a little closer and we have a sketch. Number two.
Jamie Gilson All right everyone, let's join hands!
Jules Feiffer The voice of togetherness.
Jamie Gilson Let's go gang. Let's all hop to our and feet dance.
Studs Terkel Tell her to shut up.
Jules Feiffer She doesn't know how.
Jamie Gilson Come on guys and gals. High, high, high on your toes! 1 and 2 and 1 and 2.
Studs Terkel Does she actually feel she accomplishes anything?
Jules Feiffer She thinks she's spreading love.
Jamie Gilson I see 2 stragglers, Up, up, up on your toes, stragglers.
Jules Feiffer Shall we take a stand?
Jamie Gilson Join hands stragglers. High, high, high on your toes!
Studs Terkel I'm not sure I want to hurt her.
Jules Feiffer She's only doing what she feels is right.
Jamie Gilson Come now stragglers don't spoil everyone's good time.
Studs Terkel She, she wouldn't understand our point anyhow.
Jamie Gilson Hands up. High, high, high!
Studs Terkel Why cause trouble?
Jules Feiffer She does have a good heart.
Jamie Gilson 1 and 2, and 1 and 2 and
Jules Feiffer It's we who have insight, who must make the concessions.
Studs Terkel And of course we wind up with our hands raised high.
Jules Feiffer Hopping after and dancing along.
Studs Terkel Makes its point. So we come to sketch number, number 4. Oh this is Jules and Jamie 28. We have this cast.
Jules Feiffer [laughter]
Studs Terkel Oh this is. Here's your boy-girl.
Jules Feiffer Should we do boy, girl
Studs Terkel Is anything you, anything you care to say about it?.
Jules Feiffer This is, this has got an amazing reaction. Some women hate it. Others look at me very strangely after and want to know what gave me the idea. Where it really happened. You know that sort of thing. And I discovered, now that the cartoon is appearing in London that this was one of the things that caused the greatest comment. It's a huge brutal very virile type guy. The Brando type and he's got his coat over his shoulders and he's obviously in his own apartment and he's with this chick and he's saying put on your shoes, I'll walk to the subway.
Jamie Gilson You needn't bother. I've never met anyone so crude in my life.
Jules Feiffer Yeah crude. Now, put on your shoes. I'll walk you to the subway.
Jamie Gilson You want everything your own way. You're spoiled.
Jules Feiffer Yes, spoiled. Now, put on your shoes. I'll walk you to the subway.
Jamie Gilson I don't like being pushed into things. I need a little time, you know.
Jules Feiffer Yeah. Time. Now put on your shoes. I'll walk you to subway.
Jamie Gilson I knew we hardly even talked.
Jules Feiffer Yeah, talk. Now put on your shoes. I'll walk you to the subway.
Jamie Gilson You're certainly anxious to get rid of me.
Jules Feiffer I'm hip. Now put on your shoes. I'll walk you to the subway.
Jamie Gilson Isn't there time for a cigarette?
Jules Feiffer Sure. Now just put on your shoes. I'll walk you to the-.
Jamie Gilson You're a very strange boy, Huey. You take me so seriously. I know I'd feel more relaxed after a few beers.
Studs Terkel [laughter] Here again I think you're touching another as- of commercial virility, the accepted kind of
Jules Feiffer Well there's another thing here. There's the, the educated college girl. At least in the New York area for a long time has, has flipped gone completely out of her head over the Tennessee Williams type of masculine, violent, you know, guy. This, too, gets back to this, you know, old phoney pictures so maybe we better drop it because I think we've worked it over enough.
Studs Terkel And yet each time, you, you cast a new light as you do in this instance, too, where we've talked how values or you ta- the phrase juvenile delinquency we hear so often about. The comment about what's youth coming to. Youth today is more sadistic than ever it was. Before I read my friend the bartender or, or, the restaurant owner here, anything you care to say about-
Jules Feiffer It's not clear in the picture. I really meant him to be a candy store manager-
Studs Terkel Candy
Jules Feiffer The one with the gumball machine.
Studs Terkel Oh, it's a candy storeman.
Jules Feiffer Yeah, yeah, yeah. And the inadequacy of background art. But. And he's the philosopher of the neighborhood. The trouble in writing this was I knew what I wanted to say and yet I wanted to be and this man's language somehow. This was after a great burst of juvenile crime and at the same time there were big exposures of corruption in, in New York and they're not unknown here in Chicago, I understand. Why don't you do it?
Studs Terkel So he's philosophize-
Jules Feiffer He's philosophizing.
Studs Terkel OK.
Studs Terkel OK you want to know what's causing juvenile delinquency? The breakdown of the system. That's what's causing juvenile delinquency.
Jules Feiffer Look-
Studs Terkel You're living in a world where you got to go with the system. That's civilization. You got no system, you got no rules. You got no rules, whammy! All hell breaks loose. Now we got a system. Our system is corruption. Was like that when I was a kid. It's like that today. You undermine a kid's faith and corruption, you're asking for trouble. So make a big stink out of police payoffs and butchers, fat bums. It's nothing new. Kids have known that stuff for years. Only THEY never knew what was WRONG! You tell kids the values they grew up with are wrong, they lose respect for the system. They go off their nut. OK so you arrest a few people. What do you change? Cops ain't gonna take payoffs and landlords are gonna volunteer your repairs. Look, it's gonna go on anyhow. Stop all the screaming. LEAGALIZE corruption! Give our children back their roots. So that certainly speaks for itself.
Jules Feiffer You're a great candy store manager!
Jules Feiffer You come from the Bronx, maybe? [laughter]
Studs Terkel I understand. I think Chicago has its prototypes.
Jules Feiffer & Jamie Gilson [laughter]
Studs Terkel Every city I think has its prototypes of these neighborhood philosophers.
Jules Feiffer It had to be the candy store because that was always the bookie hangout when I was a kid.
Studs Terkel That was the bookie guy. Candy, candy and horses.
Jules Feiffer Yeah.
Studs Terkel And we come, by the way, since you've mentioned chil-, we'll come to children later. Something you said I think in your talk during the Sun-Times book-author luncheon, you spoke of children. I think you said something about children, are the truth-tellers.
Jules Feiffer Well the point, in sort of a twisted point I was trying to make is that I really don't do an adult comic strip. Despite what people think, I do a strip for children because adults get away from the simpler questions into the more complex ones. And I'm interested in the very simple ones because you know children would ask a child could ask the question is good what is good and what is bad. Which adults have gone be you know have gone beyond that point. A kid would ask is good always good or bad always bad? And another kid will usually answer "yes". You know which is why I like kids. But an adult would answer no good is good when we do it good or bad when their side does it.
Studs Terkel The double standard
Jules Feiffer Yeah, yeah. And bad is bad, bad when they do it. Bad is good when we do it because they forced us into it.
Studs Terkel So there the-, at least there's a clearer light. It's a more, a more simple look and certainly more honest one since you've mentioned kids this may be a teacher or professor who I suppose says in his own way what the candy store owner said in his way.
Jules Feiffer Should we do that?
Studs Terkel Doesn't he? You do that.
Jules Feiffer By the way some of these things were inspired these things on corruption by the series that appeared in "The Nation" by Fred Cook and Gene Gleason, oh about six months ago, called "The Shame of New York."
Studs Terkel New York officialdom.
Jules Feiffer It was just blood-curdling. A blood-curdling series and the reporters got into trouble later for completely other reason. And a number of people tried to discredit the articles because of this. But no nobody, nobody in power ever denied or contradicted a single line in the articles and it's frightening. And he gave me the feeling after hearing it that if you took. Well maybe the cartoon better explains a thing but that everything is based on corruption. As you know, well the, the professor is staring out at the audience and saying, "The evolutionary process in government continues. We have passed from feudalism to capitalism. Our current stage as we all know is corruption. Corruption as a form of government is itself within varying stages of development. In the Soviet Union where you have the state or trickle-down theory of corruption it operates with the most efficiency. In our own country we are in the more transitional, more dynamic phase free form corruption. It is an unpredictable phase because it continues self consciously to deny its existence and fear that where its true nature made known, it would be overthrown. Therefore, in line with the current practices of enlightened leadership it publicly deplores what it privately owes its existence to. As part of this philosophy it offers a regular program of planned exposures to satisfy the public's appetite. A building inspector one month, the city official another month; anything which will misdirect the gaze of an antique corrupt citizenry. Thus the public is encouraged to think of corruption as an unwelcome stranger in its house rather than as the host. In the meantime to soften the public's anti-corruption neo idealism there will be a growing list of peer group exposures. Prominent private citizens, important business leaders leading intellectuals. With so much corruption made so appallingly evident, public response will deaden and withdraw. Acceptance will set in. Corruptions take over will be complete. In every school in the land will be engraved our new moral banner. What can you expect? I do it myself?".
Studs Terkel What can you expect? I do it myself? Offered by the lecturer as his glasses are doffed. So academically, so matter of factly. As I thought of this, I thought of Mark Twain, too. Did you, do you remember "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg? Yes.
Jules Feiffer Yes.
Studs Terkel And how-, the visit, too, for that matter during [that's?] the visit. The same principle.
Jules Feiffer That I didn't see.
Studs Terkel But the man that corrupt the Hadleyburg, how, how corruption is rationalized and how your man does it here.
Jules Feiffer But also the attitude of the people today has gotten to a point where we have lost the thing we once had which was our protection against wrongdoing and that is a total innocence. The feeling that all public officials are basically honest and that everything is basically all right and that these things are occasional. I think that there's a whole group of a or maybe it's the, the you'd call the liberal middle class you know which now accepts that the fix is in, that payola is in everywhere and that you can't do anything about it.
Studs Terkel Well, we come to since you've you've been the academic figure here explaining things and this is not meant to be a take-off Lionel [unintelligible] but many of the critics assume- You
Jules Feiffer Yes, yes. The book review. Well, the way that happened. Gilbert Millstein of the New York Times did a book review of my first book, "Sick, Sick, Sick." He did it not for the "Times,", who would have none of me but for the "Village Voice" and in the review he mentioned that I seemed to take care of everybody in "Sick, Sick, Sick" except book reviewers and their clichés. And he wondered when I would finally get around to them and so I did the following week. [laughter]
Studs Terkel Let me try the book reviewer.
Jules Feiffer He's a man obviously out of the monastery. He looks like a one of the men from centuries and centuries ago with a long beard and a hooded monk's robe and he's carrying a very, very thick black book and he's looking very, very professional, which to me always means ponderous.
Studs Terkel Today's book is a rather bulky but promising first attempt by author or authors unknown. It's called "The Bible". It is written in a narrative rather than an introspective style which may perhaps make for quicker reading but leaves something to be desired on the level of character motivation. It purports to be a theological and historical document. And while this reviewer does not question its sincerity, you can only regret the publisher's failure to include a bibliography. But these are minor criticisms and one cannot deny the power, sweeping range of the subject matter. One might even call it epic. The subtle allegorical nuances touched at times with what seems to be an almost metaphysical insight. It will undoubtedly cause controversy in the literary field but the authors while writing in a quasar journalistic form show occasional flourishes of stylistic daring which makes one impatient to view their later efforts. I shall await their second book with great interest.
Jules Feiffer That's pretty good writing.
Studs Terkel & Jamie Gilson [laughter]
Studs Terkel On the matter of writing, you were, you're considered a cartoonist, yet, Jules, you have written, haven't you? I mean-
Jules Feiffer This, up until recently was the only writing I had done. Since the strips began to go well I've done several articles and written the book for a musical version of "Passionella," but and I'd like to get more and more into straight writing but I've never either had the courage or, or had the direction to do it before.
Studs Terkel 'Cause certainly it seems to me that offhand, it seems to me that a book by Jules Feiffer is a natural. This is a book? Of course it is. I think we should point out "The Explainers" is available now and published by MacGraw Hill but-
Jules Feiffer It came out about a month ago.
Studs Terkel About a month ago, teaching me that off-hand a novel or a, a satirical. It's silly of me to suggest this to you cause you've been thinking about. I'm sure you're writing in many forms. You're a writer who happens to be a cartoonist.
Jules Feiffer But before I go to something as straight writing, I want to just to be natural in that form. You know I just don't want to do it because I feel like doing it somehow. And, and at this point doing it in the script form is very very convenient because it makes me condense my thinking and really figure out what it is I intend to say and as intensely when you're just writing straight and there isn't the space problem to just let go. Which means that you're writing very nicely on the surface and you you you are having a delightful time but you're not forced to get to the root of what it is. And, and sometimes the root can escape you.
Studs Terkel Here's the matter of economy then. Economy
Jules Feiffer Economy forces me into a, a mode of thinking that I wouldn't ordinarily be in because until I got trapped into this space trap doing it every week for the "Village Voice" and having a limited amount of space available, I was writing longer stories which didn't go nearly as deep simply because I didn't have to work that hard.
Studs Terkel Obviously then, there's a, you have several advantages over say a more traditional writer, one who has been trained more traditionally in that economy is with you all the way. [unintelligible]
Jules Feiffer But I get wordier
Studs Terkel & Jules Feiffer
Studs Terkel and [laughter] What about? This. I think it should be pointed that you hit many of the boy-girl other boy- girl issues and small boy, small girl, chil-a lot of children themes are here throughout. And mother-son relationships are involved here too. You can touch on that later, if you wish. Here's the children. As you mentioned the child. Jamie, little Girl. I think this, this sort of speaks for itself, too, doesn't it?
Jamie Gilson So I was just standing on the corner waiting for somebody to cross me because I'm not allowed to cross myself and this lady she comes by and says, "Here is bubble gum sample. Do you chew this brand," and I says, "I don't like bubble gum". So this lady takes out a pad and she starts writing and then she says, "Why don't you like it? Is it the design of the wrapper?" And I says, "No it's because I can't blow bubbles". So she writes that down on her pad and then she says, "How would you like a bubble gum which was guaranteed to blow bubbles?" And I says, "I don't know. I can't whistle through my fingers either and I can't cross the street by myself. My teachers say I don't try. And when we play games I'm always it and I'm never allowed to watch what I want and my father keeps calling me by my older sister's name". All of a sudden I'm crying like mad and this lady is writing away on her pad and she's crying, too, and I say, "So you see, it has nothing to do with your bubble gum it's me, all me!" And I'm shouting and crying. And the lady is writing away and a crowd comes along and some big guy says"Is this lady bothering you, girly?" And the crowd turns ugly. So the lady gets very nervous and she starts handing out bubble gum to everybody and she drops her pad in the street and she's asking everybody, "Why don't you like it? Is it the design of the wrapper?" And nobody knows what she's talking about. So then I went home.
Jules Feiffer I used to think these things were funny. I'm beginning to wonder.
Studs Terkel It's both. [unintelligible] and come back to Dostoevsky and Chaplin again. This happens I'm sure to everybody. Old friend you haven't seen for a long time and I guess the destinies of each is different in a material way. Any particular source for this.
Jules Feiffer I was walking down Lexington Avenue and I heard just the trace of opening line which was one guy saying Harriet Charlie whatever it was you know, "Harry! How's the kid? Making any money?" and this was the first thing the guy said to somebody who hadn't seen in a long time. And I remembered having heard this phrase over and over again through a period of years. But it became such a normal phrase that I had never questioned the oddness of, of, of the whole idea. So I began thinking about and doing a strip about two guys meeting who hadn't seen each other for a long time both fairly well-dressed both obviously doing well and one trying to size up the other and seeing you know and see who's ahead. And I was more interested in the beefier of the two because he's the kind of guy who I've met, who will give you a handshake and then, for a couple of minutes, hold your hand while you're talking. You know we live with a [hand clasp?] and then
Studs Terkel It's a strong [hand clasp?],
Jules Feiffer And checking your lapel and always. You, he, somebody described this person to me beautifully once. He said, he always seems to be standing closer to you than to you are you than you are to him.
Studs Terkel I'll be the beefier guy.
Jules Feiffer OK.
Studs Terkel You're the guy. Harry! How's the kid? Did you make any money?
Jules Feiffer I can't complain, Eddie. I can't complain.
Studs Terkel Start with a plutocrat corporate? They can't be paying you anything. What do they pay you? About [7500?]
Jules Feiffer Oh they do all right by me, Eddie. They do all right.
Studs Terkel Or even less. Listen! It's a big secret? Tell me to mind my own business. What is it? About 6000?
Jules Feiffer Well I'm buying a house on the island, Eddie.
Studs Terkel No kidding? Say with what they pay, how much, how much could you afford on a house. 15,000? 20,000? What?
Jules Feiffer It's a nice house, Eddie. Twenty acres.
Studs Terkel Twenty acres? [laughter]. What you pay for your suit? Listen, if I'm being NOSY.
Jules Feiffer It's a pretty good suit, Eddie. Pretty good.
Studs Terkel Yeah. [unintelligible] Well listen I'm glad to see you doing so well.
Jules Feiffer I can't complain, Eddie. You know how it is, Eddie.
Studs Terkel Yeah. Well I'll tell you, a lot of its pure luck. Well, when will my break will come?
Jules Feiffer It's good health that counts, Eddie.
Studs Terkel Hey! What you pay for that tie? Listen, if I'm being nosy.
Jules Feiffer I can't complain, Eddie. [laughter]
Jules Feiffer Oh! The lunch counter. Yeah. I've never. Yeah,
Studs Terkel Do you wanna do the, the a, novelist?
Jules Feiffer Yeah. This is, this is a beefy counterman sitting with a cup of black coffee in front of him, mopping the counter with a dirty rag, of course. He says, "I used to be a short order cook in the diner. All night long these oddballs would come in, always carrying books, always ordering toast in English and water. I mean a little weird but nice. And we talk a lot". So anyhow, they'd always ask me what I did before and I tell them about punching cattle in Texas and mining silver in Colorado, my fruit picking days in Mexico and being a truck driver and a Merchant Marine and all these strange types would sit there listening and they'd say, 'crazy yeah, crazy'. So one day, by accident I take a look at the books they're always carrying, and on the back of the books are these guys are pictures of the guys who wrote them and they all need haircuts and they're wearing army field jackets and other pictures. It tells what they all used to be. Cowboys, silver miners, fruit pickers in Mexico, truck drivers, merchant marines and short-order cooks. So that's how I got wise. Why shouldn't I make some money. So I put on my army field jacket and I go to see this publisher and I tell him I used to be a cowboy, a silver miner, a food picker in Mexico, a truck driver, a merchant marine, and a short-order cook. So he gave me $2,000 dollars advance and that's how I bought this diner. One of these days he'll catch up with me.
Studs Terkel This seems to be a, a paraphrasing every blurb on every book of every new novelist.
Jules Feiffer That was done that out of sheer hate. I've never done anything. I have nothing to put on the back of a jacket. [laughter]
Studs Terkel Anyone tell you, you sound like Wally Cox? A little like?
Jules Feiffer No.
Studs Terkel You did just then.
Jules Feiffer Oh, you mean, [unintelligible]? [laughter]
Studs Terkel No, it's just like or perhaps.
Studs Terkel Perhaps Jules as a, as a sort of postscript, we just read excerpts and just a few of the excerpts from the explod, "The Explainers", McGraw-Hill, Jules Feiffer. There is another strip that appeared recently, didn't it? That makes its own comment. Well, you-
Jules Feiffer This was a something I did just locally for the "Village Voice" because it was on a very topical matter and by the time you could get out to the other papers around the country, it would have been dated and also it was just too much space. The other papers just couldn't give it to me. This was done just after the nationwide civil defense drill and in New York a number of people who considered the whole business insane because their point of view is that the only civil defense is peace, got out in City Hall Park and refused to take shelter. In past years, whenever these people would be before the courts, they'd, they'd get a lecture on law and so I had this man who did take shelter, you know, explaining the whole idea of obeying the law and he's saying as he's sitting there in a cramped position in the dark, "So I was sitting in the dark feeling very responsible because when the siren sounded I obeyed the law and took shelter. When I realized that we had been there for an awfully long time and some of the others were beginning to grow restless. The all clear certainly should have sounded by now, some people said. So we figured out the time and it had been over for hours. Some of the crowd wanted to go out in the street but I've always been a natural leader so I took charge and said we took shelter because the law told us to. If we leave our shelter before the law tells us to, we're as bad as those people those people sitting out in the park who insist this whole business is insane. Everyone agreed that we certainly wanted to stay within the law. Calm was restored. After two more hours went by, a nervous mother said, "listen I'm sure I hear some movement out there. Maybe the siren is broken". Yes cried everyone. The siren must have broken. But once more, I brought logic to the scene. I said, "The law says we must wait for the siren. If we leave before we hear the siren, even if it is broken, we're as bad as those people sitting out in the park who insist this whole business is insane. Everyone agreed. We began singing hymns and recounting childhood experiences of being locked in closets. After the tenth hour, the group wanted to select someone who didn't mind breaking the law to go out and forage for food. So once more I had to use logic. I simply pointed out that such an act would make us all conspirators and therefore as law defiant as those people sitting out in the park who insist this whole business is insane. It's been three days now and those who are still conscious are beginning to stir. Pretty soon I'll have to speak up again. Without proper respect for the law, society must crumble. That's it. [laughter]
Studs Terkel Perhaps, to end, I think there's one, if we may add one more, Jules, throughout, your book is dotted with a little lady. She's very graceful, herself. Isadora Duncan.
Jules Feiffer In "My Dancer Is"-
Studs Terkel Your little dancer throughout. Tell us about your little dancer. Perhaps Jamie will read the very last strip in your book, want to tell us about your dancer?
Jules Feiffer Just a, a wistful, lovely, unhappy woman who is eagerly and always optimistically searching and although she may end up sometimes on a note of sadness, she always manages to make it all right again because the one thing she's always going after is hope and it doesn't matter what. To me one of the reasons I like "Waiting for Godot" and thought it was not a depressing play or a pessimistic play was because, this for me, was its message. That these two disappointed guys had nothing except they had each other and they had an experience of living so it didn't matter. You know things were going on they would repeat the same thing day after day and there was a quality that if you can just survive, if you just get through, somehow things are going to be alright. I mean just being all right is all right.
Studs Terkel It seems even though you have a bite and your wit is very abrasive here, that throughout I guess why you have such a following and a very devoted one and I'm sure an increasing one is that, there is throughout, as you say, a little element of affirmation here, survival itself that. Your faith in in the human being, really. Earlier, you mention this.
Jules Feiffer Well I, I hate this,
Jules Feiffer This sense of humor. The, the, the destroy everything. You know. Everything stinks. Everything's rotten. Everything's corrupt. From the point of view of your own except, except that of, except of, of a sense of the violence of it all.
Studs Terkel But back to Jules Feiffer and his little dancing lady and life, Jamie.
Jamie Gilson I greet the world with a smile. Hello world. I thought you were my enemy but oh I was wrong. I thought you were my friend. I was wrong again. But now I've researched and read up and spoken to intelligent friends. Now I know where you stand. You don't even know I exist, world. As long as you stay neutral, I stand a chance.
Studs Terkel As long as you stay neutral, I think I stand a chance. Thank you Jamie Gilson and Jules Feiffer. Thank you very much for giving of your art literally giving you your art.
Jules Feiffer Thank you. This has been great. I've loved it.
Studs Terkel Actually, we enjoyed it very much. "The Explainers". Jules Feiffer. McGraw-Hill, available. Thanks again Jules Feiffer.