October 24th, 1925 to April 29th, 2014
October 24th, 1925 to April 29th, 2014
"Soul of Mad Magazine, Al Feldstein Dies at 88"
May 1st, 2014
The New York Times
Al Feldstein, who took over a fledgling humor magazine called Mad in 1956 and made it a popular, profitable and enduring wellspring of American satire, died on Tuesday at his ranch in Paradise Valley, Mont. He was 88.
His wife, the former Michelle Key, confirmed the death. In recent years, he was a wildlife and landscape painter in Montana, outside Livingston.
Mr. Feldstein had been a writer and illustrator of comic books when he became editor of Mad four years into its life and just a year after it had graduated from comic-book form to a full-fledged magazine.
The founding editor, Harvey Kurtzman, established its well-informed irreverence, but Mr. Feldstein gave Mad its identity as a smart-alecky, sniggering and indisputably clever spitball-shooter of a publication with a scattershot look, dominated by gifted cartoonists of wildly differing styles.
Sources disagree about Mad’s circulation when Mr. Feldstein took over; estimates range from 325,000 to 750,000. But by the early 1960s, he increased it to over a million, and a decade later it had doubled.
He hired many of the writers and artists whose work became Mad trademarks. Among them were Don Martin, whose cartoons featuring bizarre human figures and distinctive sound effects — Katoong! Sklortch! Zazik! — immortalized the eccentric and the screwy; Antonio Prohias, whose “Spy vs. Spy” was a sendup of the international politics of the Cold War; Dave Berg, whose “The Lighter Side of ...” made gentle, arch fun of middlebrow behavior; Mort Drucker, whose caricatures satirized movies like Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” (“Henna and Her Sickos” in Mad’s retelling); and George Woodbridge, who illustrated a Mad signature article, written by Tom Koch: a prescient 1965 satire of college sports, criticizing their elitism and advocating the creation of a game that could be played by everyone. It was called 43-Man Squamish, “played on a five-sided field called a Flutney.” Position players, each equipped with a hooked stick called a frullip, included deep brooders, inside and outside grouches, overblats, underblats, quarter-frummerts, half-frummerts a full-frummert and a dummy.
“The offensive team, upon receiving the Pritz, has five Snivels in which to advance to the enemy goal,” Mr. Koch wrote, part of a nonsensical and hopelessly complicated instruction manual that nonetheless inspired the formation of squamish teams on campuses across the country.
In his second issue, Mr. Feldstein seized on a character who had appeared only marginally in the magazine — a freckled, gaptoothed, big-eared, glazed-looking young man — and put his image on the cover, identifying him as a write-in candidate for president campaigning under the slogan “What — me worry?”
At first he went by Mel Haney, Melvin Cowznofski and other names. But when the December 1956 issue, No. 30, identified him as Alfred E. Neuman, the name stuck. He became the magazine’s perennial cover boy, appearing in dozens of guises, including as a joker on a playing card, an ice-skating barrel jumper, a totem on a totem pole, a football player, a yogi, a construction worker, King Kong atop the Empire State Building, Rosemary’s baby, Uncle Sam, General Patton and Barbra Streisand.
Neuman became the symbol of Mad, his goofy countenance often intruding, Zelig-like, into scenes from the political landscape and from popular television shows and movies. He signaled the magazine’s editorial attitude, which fell somewhere between juvenile nose-thumbing at contemporary culture and sophisticated spoofing.
Mad made fun of itself as well. The staff was referred to on the masthead as “the usual gang of idiots,” and the magazine warned readers not to take it seriously even as it winkingly promoted its importance. Its irreverence made it especially popular with teenagers — many comedians have confessed to slavering over issues in their adolescence — and in its tone and fearless targeting of sacred cows it anticipated social satire vehicles like The Harvard Lampoon, National Lampoon, “Saturday Night Live,” “The Simpsons,” “South Park” and The Onion.
Albert Bernard Feldstein was born on Oct. 24, 1925, in Brooklyn, to Max and Beatrice Feldstein. His father made dental molds. Attracted to drawing as a boy, Al won a poster contest sponsored by the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
He attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan and, after graduating, took classes at the Art Students League. He also worked part time for a studio that produced comic books. During World War II, he served stateside in the Army Air Forces.
After the war, Mr. Feldstein was a freelance writer and illustrator before going to work for William M. Gaines, the publisher of EC, short for Educational Comics and, later, Entertaining Comics. At EC, Mr. Feldstein created Weird Science, Weird Fantasy, Tales From the Crypt and several other horror and suspense titles.
Mr. Gaines also published a comic book, full of irreverent and sometimes juvenile humor, called Mad, the brainchild of Mr. Kurtzman, and a second humor-based comic, Panic, an offshoot of Mad, edited by Mr. Feldstein.
The early 1950s were a grim time for comic books. Moralizing newspaper columnists and eventually Congress attacked them as having a corrupting influence on America’s youth. When Mr. Feldstein’s horror books were singled out, EC nearly went out of business, and in 1955 Mr. Feldstein temporarily lost his job.
Mad began to flourish under Mr. Kurtzman, but he and Mr. Gaines clashed, and when Mr. Kurtzman left in 1956, Mr. Gaines hired Mr. Feldstein to replace him. He was its editor until 1985.
By then Mad was a victim of its own success. With its brand of satire increasingly available in many other publications and on television, its circulation had been in decline for a decade. Mr. Gaines, who died in 1992, sold the magazine in the early 1960s to the Kinney Parking Company, which went on to buy Warner Brothers and the company now known as DC Comics as well.
Today, Mad, published by the DC Entertainment division of Warner Communications, has a much lower circulation than it did at its peak, but an active and popular website.
After his retirement from Mad, Mr. Feldstein pursued a painting career in Montana and had exhibitions in galleries in the West.
His first marriage, to Clair Szep, ended in divorce. His second, to Natalie Lee Sigler, ended with her death in 1986.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by five children, a stepdaughter, three grandchildren and two step-grandsons.
As editor of Mad, Mr. Feldstein had a palpable influence on popular culture at large. To cite just one example, in 1965 Mad published letters and photographs from college students who said they had been inspired by the squamish article to field teams. (Whether this was true or not is difficult to prove.) One letter writer, from Marquette University, said the school had its own squamish team, and that “at last tally, we have lost two Deep Brooders and one Dummy, who were suspended for sportsmanlike conduct during the course of play.”
Al Feldstein [Wikipedia]
Al Feldstein [Home page]