Writer and car­toon­ist Jules Feif­fer

Variety - - Contents - IN­TER­VIEW BY STEVEN GAY­DOS

LAST YEAR, A PIECE IN THE WASH­ING­TON POST RAISED THE QUES­TION, “Is Jules Feif­fer Our Great­est Liv­ing Car­toon­ist?” To which Pulitzer Prize-win­ning “Maus” cre­ator Art Spiegel­man replied, “He’s cer­tainly near the very pin­na­cle, wher­ever that is.” All of which sounds rather com­pli­men­tary if it weren’t a some­what in­ad­e­quate de­scrip­tion of the 89-year- old so­cial satirist ex­traor­di­naire’s myr­iad cul­tural ac­com­plish­ments.

As well as cre­at­ing decades of cel­e­brated work as car­toon­ist for the Vil­lage Voice and Play­boy, Feif­fer also penned nov­els and works for stage and film, in­clud­ing screen­plays for noted au­teurs such as Robert Alt­man, Mike Ni­chols and Alain Res­nais. More re­cently, Feif­fer penned the screen­play for di­rec­tor Dan Mirvish’s ac­claimed 2017 film, “Bernard and Huey.”

Plays de­rived from his work or writ­ten by Feif­fer have gar­nered mul­ti­ple Tony nom­i­na­tions, in­clud­ing one over a half- cen­tury ago for a young ac­tor who’s get­ting the SAG Life Achieve­ment Award this month: Alan Alda. Back in 1959, Va­ri­ety first noted Feif­fer for his graphic de­signs for the short-lived mu­si­cal, “The Ner­vous Set.”

You did the poster for “The Ner­vous Set” in 1959, but you were al­ready well-es­tab­lished by your work at the Vil­lage Voice. My book “Sick Sick Sick” was out and my work in the Vil­lage Voice led to get­ting syn­di­ca­tion into the Lon­don Ob­server, which was a big­ger deal in terms of get­ting my name known than the Voice, and that led to get­ting into Play­boy.

What lured you into work­ing as a poster de­signer for “The Ner­vous Set?”

Robert Lantz asked me to do this and I think it might have been the only thing he ever pro­duced. It only ran two or three weeks. But Lantz was a great guy and a ma­jor fig­ure in the agency world. He rep­re­sented every­body from Bette Davis to Leonard Bern­stein.

Your script for “Bernard and Huey” was made into a film that got some very nice no­tices. When did those char­ac­ters first ap­pear? Those were char­ac­ters who ap­peared in early strips in the Voice back around that time.

Did Play­boy rep­re­sent a ma­jor ad­vance in your ca­reer at that time?

I loved work­ing for Play­boy be­cause it gave me more free­dom to deal with the sex­ual sit­u­a­tions which were so key to the kind of work I was do­ing, which was re­ally all about what goes on be­tween men and women.

Look­ing back from where we are now in the time of the #Metoo move­ment, how do you feel about what you were writ­ing about then?

I think men of that era felt like they were mem­bers of a club and no­body would tell them what they were do­ing was wrong. My car­toons dealt with that kind of guy who wasn’t sat­is­fied with just f--king women, but had to tell other men who they had f--ked and what they did to them. They saw them­selves as de­cent, but they were rep­re­hen­si­ble be­cause women didn’t have power.

Your script for “Car­nal Knowl­edge” holds up well be­cause we don’t wind up en­vy­ing Jack Ni­chol­son’s char­ac­ter, or Art Gar­funkel’s for that mat­ter.

I was very in­flu­enced by a pro­duc­tion of Strind­berg’s “Dance of Death” star­ring Lau­rence Olivier and there was a lot of anger and rage in that, which I put in my weekly strips and into “Car­nal Knowl­edge.” You know, we all need to find some­one who gives us the per­mis­sion to break through and tell the truth and for me that per­son was Lenny Bruce. I think there was more play­ful­ness in my strips and they were more satiric, but more than any­one else Bruce sort of showed “I can do this now” and you got that per­mis­sion for your­self when you saw it. I vis­ited Bruce at his first ob­scen­ity trial and I was very af­fected by the free­dom he took on for him­self. I re­al­ized I wasn’t us­ing all of my abil­i­ties. I think it was Lenny Bruce that gave Philip Roth per­mis­sion to do “Port­noy’s Com­plaint.”

And the ’60s was just around the cor­ner.

The “sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion” was just about to start and when it did my work was a kind of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of some­one on the out­side look­ing in try­ing to fig­ure out what the f--k was go­ing on.

RE­NAIS­SANCE MAN Car­toon­ist, au­thor, play­wright and Pulitzer Prize win­ner Jules Feif­fer works on proof sheets from his first book, “Sick, Sick, Sick.”

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