Monday, June 12, 2023

Sam Gross' Funeral

A print of the above Sam Gross cartoon was framed over a couch in the cartoonists' waiting room back when The New Yorker was in Times Square.

It was funny. Profane and funny. I think Sam would have approved. 

On the sunny morning of May 11th, well over a hundred friends and family of Sam Gross gathered for a funeral service. I came down to NYC to pay respects to his wife, his daughter Misha, and mark the occasion of this one-of-a-kind cartoonist's passing. 

Beforehand, I saw Michael Maslin and Liza Donnelly, and chatted with them. They are well. I saw a few other cartoonists I hadn't seen in a while: Warren Miller, who was in fine form, as well as my Brooklyn neighbor Nick Downes. Felipe Galindo and his wife were there too. Everyone chatted for a couple of minutes. I saw Steve Brodner and Pat Byrnes from across the room, but didn't get a chance to say hi in person. 

 While there has been video posted, I thought I would recap a few things in writing. 

After an opening statement by the Rabbi, we watched a segment from Funny People, a documentary on New Yorker cartoonists. We watched, of course, the Sam Gross section and got to see his studio and his massive collection of the cartoons he drew, all neatly filed away in a series of ring binders. 

Isabelle Gross was introduced and took the dais. She told the story of Sam and Isabelle, which starts in the late 50s. She had been dating Sam's roommate, and then they broke up. Sam called her after. "Just because you broke up with him doesn't mean we can't be friends," he said. She agreed, and they stayed friends and would set one or the other of them with dates. And then, one evening, at a party, Isabelle was by herself. She was on one side of a large room and Sam was at the other end. Next to Isabelle, a friend was quizzing her, asking those questions that a young, single woman in the 1950s gets asked. "So," says this girlfriend. "When you gonna get married?" Isabelle said she didn't know. But the questions didn't stop. "So, when you gonna get engaged?" And, from the other end of the room, came Sam's voice, loud and clear, "January!"

She was, she told us, angry at Sam. 

"What? I was enraged. He saw how mad I was." 

When Sam took her home, he asked, "What are you so mad about?"

"You never even asked me. You just took me for granted," she replied.

"And this is Sammy's gift. Sam can get out of any trouble. He has a gift for it. So, he said, 'But I never realized I could lose you. And once I realized that I could lose you, I knew I never wanted to.'

"Now ... can you really say no to that?

"I didn't. And we got married in 1959."


Sam's cousin spoke next. She was a kid when his very first book, "Cartoons for the G.I.," was published. It was, as she put it, a "risque" book that Sam had mailed to her mother (Sam's aunt), and put in a discrete place where she and her little sisters could not see it. Of course, kids being kids, they all quickly figured out where it was hidden and took turns sneaking it to the upstairs bathroom for serious perusal. She described one "forbidden cartoon:" a G.I. has introduced his new bride to his parents. One of the parents has lifted her arm and said, "Hmm. I see you married a European girl." 

She paused, and looking out at us, added, "Well, this gag remained a mystery to me for a long time. Years later, when I hit puberty, I learned European women go 'natural;' and do not shave under their arms." 

She admitted that this was not her favorite cartoon of Sam's, but it had stayed with her for many decades. 

Other speakers were Michelle Kurlander, who was a dear friend of the family (She even called Sam late at night one time after reading new New Yorker, asking him what one of his cartoons was all about.), Rick Meyerowitz (He is best known for his National Lampoon work, and his Animal House movie poster.), friends and fellow New Yorker cartoonists Liza Donnelly and Michael Maslin. Here's Liza's favorite of Sam's:

 For me, there was a "what you see is what you get" aspect with Sam and that's a great aspect. He was honest, forthright and treated everyone as an equal. He was a no bullshit guy, and he was one of the funniest cartoonists who ever lived. He treated me with kindness and helped me with contract questions when I asked. He was always there, and now that he isn't, my solace is in those great memories and hos one-of-a-kind cartoons.

1 comment:

Brian Fies said...

A wonderful remembrance of a great cartoonist. Thanks, Mike.