Arts & Culture

Longtime Mad Magazine Editor Al Feldstein Dies At 88

“If you’re not having fun at the party you’re at, go find another party.” Read More

By / May 1, 2014

Al Feldstein, longtime editor of Mad Magazine, has died in Montana at the age of 88.

Feldstein took the reigns from Harvey Kurtzman in 1956, when Kurtzman demanded—and was refused—a controlling share in the irreverent and admired (but not yet stratospherically popular) magazine. Under Feldstein’s editorship, circulation grew to two million, and Mad became one of the most influential satirical publications in the Unites States. (Many of today’s best platforms for satire—from The Onion to Saturday Night Live—owe their existence and success, in part, to the influence of Mad.)

Feldstein had a close working relationship with publisher William Gaines, and together they nurtured the talents of America’s finest young cartoonists and humorists, who created beloved features such as “Spy vs. Spy,” “The Lighter Side of…” and “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.” He also cultivated the character of Alfred. E Neuman as the personification of Mad‘s spirit and chutzpah. Explains Bruce Weber in The New York Times:

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.

Feldstein was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1925. He demonstrated an aptitude for drawing from a young age, and attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan. After graduating, he took classes at the Art Students League, and during WWII he served stateside, painting murals and drawing comic strips for army newspapers. Eventually he found his way to EC Comics, the publisher of Mad. When Kurtzman left in 1956, Gaines hired Feldstein to replace him. He remained its editor until 1985, as competing publications and television satire grew in popularity, diminishing Mad‘s readership and influence.

After his retirement, Feldstein moved to Montana and pursued a career as a painter. In a 2000 commencement speech at Rocky Mountain College, he told students that the “party of real life” was about to begin. “If you’re not having fun at the party you’re at,” he counseled, “go find another party.” Right on.

He is survived by his third wife, Michelle Key, and numerous children and grandchildren.

Image: FELDSTEIN: The Mad Life and Fantastic Art of Al Feldstein! (IDW Publishing)