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HOME > Biographical > 100 New Yorkers of the 1970s > WESTSIDER JULES FEIFFER
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Screenwriter for Popeye the Sailor


Imagine a movie starring Dustin Hoffman as Popeye the Sailor and Lily
Tomlin as his girlfriend Olive Oyl.

Anyone who has seen the old Popeye cartoons, or the new computer animated ones, might think that the fighting mariner does not have the dramatic qualities needed for a full-length film. But according to Westsider Jules Feiffer, who is now writing the script for Popeye the Sailor, the original comic strip in the daily newspapers was the work of "an unrecognized genius." E.C. Segar created Popeye and drew him from 1924 to 1938. After that the character changed. Feiffer finds the original strip to be his biggest source of inspiration.

"The cartoons," says Feiffer, sitting on one arm of a chair in his Riverside Drive apartment, "exploit the violence between Popeye and Bluto. That was never part of the strip. It's more along the lines of the traditional cartoon of the 1940s, which could find nothing more interesting than one character dismembering another. I didn't find that funny when I was a kid and I don't now."

Feiffer developed his unique style of humor long before he sold his first cartoon. Today, though still perhaps best known as a cartoonist, he has gained a reputation as a playwright for both the stage (Knock, Knock and Little Murders) and the screen (Carnal Knowledge). He is also a respected prose writer, having recently published his second novel, Ackroyd.

A product of the Bronx, Feiffer recalls that after graduating from high school he went through "a series of schlock jobs to buy food and drawing materials. And long periods of unemployment." He planned all along to become a cartoonist. "I was prepared," he says, "for the eventual success which I was certain was going to happen if my work remained true to myself."

Feiffer spent several years as an assistant to other cartoonists and attended two art schools. Still, no one would publish his work until a day in 1956 when Feiffer, age 27, took a batch of his best 'toons to the office of a new, relatively unknown weekly called The Village Voice. They loved his work, and he became a regular contributor.

"All other publications at that time had their own idea of their readership. And editors insisted on tailoring stories to their own taste. The Voice," says Feiffer, "existed for the artist's taste and the writer's taste. It was a time when McCarthyism and the blacklist were rampant through every strata of society."

The Voice was then t............
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