Watch How a Legendary Cartoonist Cast Light in Dark Times | The New Yorker Documentary


    [car whooshing]


    Okay. We’re squared away.

    Hey look at that scene through the trees.

    Isn’t it?

    Those trees are so beautiful.

    You want to draw all that scene over there

    with the trees in front of the brownstones.

    [car rumbling]

    And the stairs and the cars and then the street.

    [guy yelping]

    So you want to make the cover out of that.

    [indistinguishable chatter]

    You gotta look at it,

    you got to sit and look at it.

    [horn honking]


    Nobody would ever photograph it the way I would see it

    as it covered.

    [car honking]

    [inaudible chatter]

    People used to send him love letters.

    For years and years,

    George Booth would get letters from female.

    I think female readers proposing marriage to him.

    [piano playing]

    He was beloved, he’s been beloved for decades here.

    George Booth.

    He’s a brilliant cartooning that has been a hallmark

    in the New Yorker for 50 years.

    [scattered clapping]

    I’ve loved and known George booths cartoons my whole life.

    His style is so distinctive, different.

    It’s sort of famous.

    It’s a yard sale cartoon where it’s this woman

    and she’s just surrounded by tables

    that are like piled high with crap.

    And then she goes, there’s more inside.

    And you say, I bet there is.

    [soft laughter]

    This one the elephant is lying down.

    [elephant trumpeting]

    And the creditor is saying,

    it seems like some days I make a little progress and other

    days it seems like I’m not getting anywhere at all.

    I mean, that is life.

    I had sudden onset of very close to fatal congestive

    heart failure.

    All of a sudden I was dying.

    I got this idea,

    maybe I can get George to doodle something on a card.

    I can’t describe what a treasure it is,

    what it meant to me.

    And what it said,

    push on, push on, get all you can while you can’t.

    [car honking]

    [baby crying]

    [man yodeling]

    There’s a whole gate we’re talking about today.

    [dog growling]

    [dog barking]

    [glass breaking]

    [soft chuckling]

    [water spraying]


    [water spraying]

    Could you pick up your bowl for me.

    [dish clinking]


    Darn feathers, chick chicken feathers.

    You got chickens running around here now.

    I call found one up every now and then.

    That’s where I learned what geeks were

    that there were people in the sideshows

    who would bite the heads off chickens.

    That was where the original definition of geek came from.


    Things your dad teaches you. [chuckling]

    My daughter, this was throwing a bunch of newspapers out

    and I looked through the plastic bag and I had a star

    on the wall street journal and the times and other papers.

    And I’m not pointing a finger at you, sir.

    You just did. [light laughter]

    Those are two year old newspapers.

    The ones that were being thrown out.

    Age doesn’t matter on those papers,

    but I can pick a word out of two-year old newspaper

    and apply it to something I read or heard today.

    And I’m off and running.

    The sex news business and finance.

    My note says Dione,

    lift your eyebrows dot, dot, dot,

    and put on a happy face.


    Close quote.

    Course he writes it on a newspaper and you can forget it.

    Throw this in with a-

    In the pile

    Fairfax forum.

    Oh yes.

    Or else I could die.


    George has a long relationship with newspapers.

    There’s no limit to words,

    finding humor in order to reach your audience.

    I look for timely ideas

    and I also inject my life

    from childhood on up.

    [peaceful music playing]

    I grew up in a town of 800 people,

    Northwest Missouri, corn country.

    Good country.

    Mother was the one with the Cherokee in her blood.

    She was an artist.

    She got me started drawing cartoons

    when I was three and a half.

    I drove racer car stuck in the mud,

    and I couldn’t quit laughing at my own cartoon. [laughing]

    Mother realized that this is something important.

    I had good people that I grew up with

    family, teachers and farmers.

    You got your polka-not butt out of my leaves.

    [baby crying]

    [car roaring]


    [cars whooshing]

    After high school, I didn’t get college.

    I was being drafted to go in the Marine Corps.

    I put in almost eight years of PAC P.

    They were an education, they were an art school for me.

    [camera click]

    I was staff cartoonist on ‘Leatherneck’

    magazine put out by the Marine Corps.

    I would show guys in battle situations, doing silly things.

    And the reaction was good from the guys.

    They, they appreciated the laughter and there. [chuckling]

    I got out of the Corps.

    I was registered as a future farmer of America.

    And I really didn’t want to do that.

    I wanted the cartoon.

    [train roaring]

    Alright this is the rough?

    Yeah, that’s a rough.


    I love this, I like this dancing dog in a top hat.

    Well, I think at first, sometimes his cartoons

    present as being sort of the small town,

    Missouri of his youth.

    So like Gainesville or Fairfax,

    but it’s something I think other than that,

    which is sort of, ‘Boothville’

    where it’s just inhabited by these characters that speak in

    a way that I don’t think people in Gainesville spoke.

    It’s like a way that only George Booth speaks.

    And it has all of these incredible words that you have to

    look up in the dictionary coming from the mouths of these

    yokels and more than anything,

    it’s just a place that once you have inhabited it,

    even a few times, you feel like you’ve come to know it.

    Even though you’ve never been anywhere like it.

    [gun clicking]

    Stand aside, Grunewald,

    it’s the computer I’m blowing away.

    If there is plastic on your tray, recycle it.

    The queer-eye people came by,

    but they fled.

    This is once in a lifetime to get together.


    Once is enough.

    You’re right.

    You’re looking good.

    And you look good

    [scattered chatting]

    Be together today. [glass clinks]


    Be together.

    Whatever your name is and whoever you are, its nice

    nice to meet you.

    When you and I first met,


    I came into Manhattan.

    I had, didn’t have the experience

    and I didn’t have anything to eat.

    He, he bought me a hot dog.

    What a guy?

    No, I was, I was thinking as George had been doing,

    as he turned out your role,

    obviously you had to do a certain class New Yorker cartoon,

    which I didn’t know what that was.

    And then I suddenly saw you work the period.

    And I though this is stuff for the Backwoods, Missouri.

    Like what’s this belonging in the New Yorker.

    And that’s when I realized that they’re not successful at

    selling his work because he was trying to think of doing

    stuff that he thought was the New Yorker stuff,

    which they didn’t want it.

    And what they wanted was him sitting on the porch

    in Missouri spitting in his spatoon and whatever.

    More is still like that.



    Did I hear the word action?


    George was doing freelance work when I met him,

    he was living in a revolutionary house on Main Street

    in cold spring Harbor, he had a room.

    He said he couldn’t bring me into the house

    because the people who own the house

    didn’t want him to have any visitors.

    Not even men friends that’s what he said,

    should I tell a story about the bedroom? [laughing]


    He told me that I couldn’t go into the bedroom.

    You don’t have to tell a woman.

    You can’t do something.

    And I went in there cause I,

    I wanted to see what his lifestyle was.

    Then he said and whatever you do, don’t close the door.

    So I closed the door and I jumped up and down

    on the bed for twenty minutes.


    And I think they asked him to leave.


    And that was sort of the beginning of our relationship.

    I married a man who didn’t have a job

    and it didn’t appear to have any future.


    And I was perfectly alright with that some way or another

    [camera clicks]


    [camera clicks]

    [lady singing]

    [baby crying]

    [camera clicks]

    We need each other.

    And we need to find the humor in things and with so much

    discomfort in the world to be able to laugh about some silly

    little insignificant thing is, is a great thing.

    I got to tell one.

    Do I need to hear it first?

    I was drafted in 44.

    Recruiting Sergeant says,

    what do you want to do in the Marine Corps?

    I said, I want to draw cartoons.

    I didn’t notice the reward going on.

    I was stationed away.

    I was assigned to go down to the end of the company row

    and square away a six holer outhouse.

    [toilet flushing]

    So somebody came over and gave me a tank of oil

    to sanitize it.

    And you had a hose on it and you squirt everything

    where they could possibly be some, something impure.

    So I went in and did what he said,

    I did a thorough Missouri boy job.

    And then I stepped back and threw a match in there,

    which is all from the instructions.

    And the thing blew up like a volcano.

    I heard the officer say, who in the hell did this?

    Everybody pointed a finger at me.

    He said, throw him in the break.

    Some guy stepped forward.

    And he said, sir there are no more Briggs.

    They’ve all been torn down.

    So they answered that question

    by assigning me to a gully.

    So I spent two days in a beautiful Hawaiian gully.

    It was one of the nicest times I had in Hawaii,


    but war is hideous.

    And it keeps popping up

    and people are hurt and lives are hurt and-

    I think about it often.

    My colleagues thought I was crazy,

    but in the week of 9/11,

    when we were extremely not only heartbroken,

    but we had to do our jobs, which is to say,

    put together this issue, what are we going to publish?

    I couldn’t bear the thought of publishing cartoons

    that week.

    The first issue after 9/11, there was one cartoon.

    That was mine.

    That was a, my mother,

    mother prayed at times

    she showed me how,

    how to pray,

    she was sitting in a stroll bottom chair,

    kitchen chair.

    And then you fold your hands and you pray.

    We put it in cause it was subtle.

    It wasn’t on the nose.

    I mean, to make an on the nose joke about 9/11

    would’ve been beyond stupid,

    [light guitar playing]

    but George’s image worked it somehow.

    I had a resonance and a meaning without being about 9/11.

    So there it was.

    I think it was telling us that

    there’s a time when you don’t have your number.

    You know what I mean?

    Where you have to catch your breath.

    But when you catch your breath and when you breathe again,

    breath is life humorous life.

    [foot steps]

    [birds chirping]


    six, seven, eight, nine

    [whispers] eleven

    fifteen, sixteen

    [chains clinking]

    [paper rustling]

    Here, here’s a line.

    Yet the starkly different strategies of the candidates

    are straining the industry’s bedrock notions

    of evenhandedness.

    I would pick a word, evenhandedness.

    That’s an inspiration for a situation if you work at it,

    [instrumental music playing]

    The boss is standing there.

    The boss is a big man and he’s rubbing his fist like this,

    with a spark or two flying

    and Harney is flat out on his back unconscious.

    The most clobbered him and their system is saying

    that’s all right, Mr.

    Mr. Henderson,

    hard man rules deserved summit attempt at evenhandedness.

    And all of this is nothing except you keep going.

    You keep working toward a cartoon.

    Words are wonderful.

    That is beautiful.

    Your car will be right down Mr. Lundkush

    [train wailing]

    New York is a place of free spirits.

    [man yodeling]


    Which pays better crime or cartooning a crime.

    Oh crime.

    No doubt about it.

    In fact, you don’t want to go through a last word.

    Well not to put it too bluntly,

    can you make a living at this?


    It’s marginal.

    No well you can-

    It satisfies the ones needs but not all ones greed,

    let’s say. [chuckling]

    Watching this generation of the cartoonists.

    I think of as the New Yorker, cartoonists become old.

    This is really sad because they, you know,

    they’re published less in the magazine and some of like,

    as they stop being able to get to the office,

    they stopped coming to the office.

    And I don’t know how the older guys make a living.

    Like did they save money? Do they have a pension?

    I don’t know.

    [scattered chatting]

    Oh okay more cheer that, that does it.

    Mort, Mort and I are getting married for too long.

    I didn’t think you, I thought you gave me my ring back.


    You gave me the ring back it’s off, it’s finished.

    Besides I was in a Jewish wedding and you didn’t remember?

    Well hi, this is a party.

    Great to see you. [laughing]

    Hello George, happy holidays.

    What do you have here, a cookie?

    Good to meet you, happy?

    I am yeah

    What’s the hardest thing about aging?

    About aging?


    [clearing throat]

    I don’t want to choose a path for going downhill.

    People do that.

    Barely get around and they’re not as productive.

    I’d rather break new ground

    on the something in I never did before

    and stay alive in my work.

    To keep plowing the field, you got to work at it.

    Plants your seeds in there and something will grow.

    Finding humor, growing humor.

    There’s nothing better.

    If you can come along with the right cartoon and quiet

    everything down, but showing how silly it is,

    then you’ve accomplished something.

    Maybe I ought to put another one down there.

    I need a job. [laughing]

    [upbeat music]

    See that is just wonderful.

    [page flipping]

    Proud of you.


    Happy birthday.

    Oh my gosh.

    Someone left the door open.


    ♪ Happy birthday to you ♪

    ♪ Happy birthday to you ♪

    ♪ Happy birthday dear George ♪

    ♪ Happy birthday to you ♪



    Hey, I love you people.

    I love, I love Brooklyn.

    To everybody here,

    I hope you get yourself straightened out.



    Yay. [cheering]




    Thank you.

    Nice work Serge.

    [instrumental music]

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