BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Herb Block, author of "A Cartoonist's Life." At what point in your life did you have the most fun drawing?
HERB BLOCK, AUTHOR, "A CARTOONIST'S LIFE Well, I still do have the most fun drawing. I've always enjoyed it and started doing it when I was a kid and at school and got a job early at a newspaper and I've just always liked it.
LAMB: Was there a time when you were the most angry?
BLOCK: Oh, well, certainly, depending on what's happening in government, you can get outraged over a lot of things that are happening. I don't know of any particular time.
LAMB: On the cover of your book, you have four presidents behind you: Roosevelt, Nixon, Reagan and Clinton. There are a number that have been left out. How come no Ford, no Carter?
BLOCK: Well, there wasn't room on the jacket, that's all, Brian. And this kind of covered a span there of the easily recognizable people: Roosevelt, Nixon and so on.
BLOCK: So there wouldn't be room to have the whole bunch on.
LAMB: Which president over those years did you draw the most?
BLOCK: Well, the one I did the most was Nixon because he was in public life most of the time. You know, I came to Washington before he did and I did him as a congressman, and as a senator and as vice president and so it covered a wider span of time than the other presidents.
LAMB: Did you meet him?
BLOCK: Yes, I met him once. And, you know, we had a kind of a neutral little conversation. He said -- this was when he was vice president -- He said something about his ski-jump nose and if I had trouble drawing it and I didn't and, you know, it was all right.
LAMB: What did you think of him?
BLOCK: Well, as a public figure, I didn't think much of him. I didn't think he was very good as a member of Congress or as a president.
BLOCK: Well, for one thing, he did criminal things as a president. He was corrupt and that's pretty bad. He's the only president who had to resign in disgrace.
LAMB: Here's ...
BLOCK: He got out ahead of the sheriff, just before they kicked him out.
LAMB: Look on the screen there and you'll see one of your cartoons from ...
BLOCK: Yeah, that was ...
LAMB: ... 1974.
BLOCK: ... first when the tapes were being played. And he's there saying, "I am" and then he has in his mouth the word "not" and this is "a crook." And that was the statement that he made in talking to editors at Disneyland. He said, "You have a right to know if your president's a crook. Well, I am not a crook." He was a crook.
LAMB: Did he ever write you or call you when he saw one of these cartoons?
BLOCK: He had someone ask for a cartoon one time which was not critical of him --it just showed him playing golf or doing something of that kind -- and he liked that, and I didn't send it, no.
LAMB: This is a cartoon from 1977.
BLOCK: Yes. Well, this is one of the many Nixon revivals or returns. You know, he keeps coming back like a creature out of the black swamp, you know. And he keeps reviving himself and they keep putting him on magazine covers and so on. And every once in a while, you look up and here he is coming back again.
LAMB: Where's the 5:00 shadow?
BLOCK: I took that off when he became president. We had a little thing going at the office for a number of years that the editor -- the publisher, Phil Graham, and then later J. Russell Wiggins, the managing editor, were kind of unhappy about the 5:00 shadow and Wiggins wrote me a little poem once. The man was great with light verse and so on and it was something about -- he presented me with a razor and with a poem that said, "Join the brave and the true and brave and grasp this razor in your hand and give this man a shave," you know. And, well, I didn't do it, but when he became president, I thought, well, OK. He's president. You give him a fresh start, a clean shave, you know, just like a clean slate. And I never put it back on again.
LAMB: There's a picture of Russell Wiggins. What impact did he have on your career?
BLOCK: Well, Russ was a very, very good editor. I think he was the only editor at the Post who was in charge of the editorial page and the newsroom both. And a very, very good editor. And we didn't always agree on things, and I remember during the Vietnam War, we'd have some disagreements. The Post supported Johnson all the way, really, on the war. And I'd show sketches to him and we'd talk about them and he'd tell me what he thought and then he'd generally end up saying, "Well, God knows I tried to reason with you and ...
LAMB: How long ...
BLOCK: ... and OK," you know.
LAMB: How long have you been at the Post?
BLOCK: Since 1946.
LAMB: Recently, you were out of commission for a while.
BLOCK: I was. Yes.
LAMB: What happened?
BLOCK: Well, seven or eight years ago, I had some bypass surgery and this time, I went back for seconds. It wasn't on bypass surgery but it was another heart operation. And this was to put in a new valve. They can do these things now, like putting in new spark plugs and all kinds of things. I have a remarkable surgeon named Robert Wallace at Georgetown University Hospital, and he did both of them. I saw him recently and told him I had come back to him for seconds and he said, "Yes, but I don't want to see you come back for thirds." And ...
LAMB: How long were you out of commission?
BLOCK: Well, four months actually. This was not entirely the result of the operation. They give you a lot of medication afterward, which kind of keeps you dopey and has all these side effects, and then finally they reduce the medication until you get livelier again.
LAMB: Are you working a full-time schedule?
BLOCK: Yes, I am. I'm working four days a week, which is about as much as most cartoonists. Some of them do only three or two a week.
LAMB: So you are drawing four cartoons a week?
LAMB: What's a day like? I know you talk about this in your book.
BLOCK: Yeah. Well, you know, I begin the day at night. I get the early edition of the paper, which comes out about two hours after I turn in the cartoon. They deliver it to the house and I read that in bed and give it a little think. And in the morning, I read the paper again, I read the Post, The New York Times and, you know, in a way, you're kind of half working all the time. You're seeing what goes on, giving it a think. You go down to the office, read the paper some more, talk to people in the newsroom, doodle and, surprisingly enough, it takes a day to do a cartoon. But I think this is hard for a lot of people to believe. They think you dash them off in 10 minutes.
LAMB: How old are you now?
LAMB: How do you feel?
BLOCK: Well, fine. I must say I don't feel 84.
LAMB: How long do you think you can keep this up?
BLOCK: Or I don't feel as I thought I would. How long do I think I can keep it up? Well, indefinitely as far as I'm concerned, as long as I'm able to.
LAMB: Are you surprised that you're still this active at this age?
BLOCK: No, I'm not. I never had any idea of retiring and I enjoy doing it and I hope the cartoons are better now than they used to be. I keep trying to make them better.
LAMB: How many papers around the United States carry them?
BLOCK: I don't know exactly. The publications in general -- papers, magazines and all that--the newspaper sending it tells me it comes to about 300, but that seems like an awful -- don't all run them every day, you know.
LAMB: Are there more or less cartoonists today than there were when you started in this business?
BLOCK: I think more. And it's kind of surprising to me that there are more because these are supposed to be hard times for newspapers and a lot of the smaller papers, which used to get syndicated cartoons for a few dollars a week, many of them now have their own cartoonists. And I think it's a good thing. And I don't know how they all afford it, but they do and a lot of them are awfully good.
LAMB: Here's a cartoon from the year 1950 -- The headline on it is, "You mean I'm supposed to stand on that?" And right up here is the word "McCarthyism." Did you invent that?
BLOCK: Yeah, apparently so. That's the first use of that word that I know of and I remember how it originated because I wanted to put something on that tar barrel and you couldn't call it McCarthy himself, and you wouldn't say McCarthy techniques or so on and I thought, "Well, maybe just use one word, McCarthyism," and, you know, it caught on. There have been other times when I've actually tried to coin words that I thought would catch on. For example, in Russia in their changing over -- or the Soviet Union changing over from a controlled economy to a market economy, I thought, "Oh, boy, Marxet economy." M-A-R-X-E-T. I thought, Oh, that's funny. Nobody cared about that, but McCarthyism caught on.
LAMB: Who was Joe McCarthy?
BLOCK: Who was he? He was the United States senator from Wisconsin and a man who, after he'd been in the Senate for a while, found that there was paydirt in pretending to find Communists in the government. He made a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, I think in 1950, February, in which he said, "I think there were 205 Communists in the government," and he never showed people any list.
LAMB: He tried -- as you say in the book, he tried to turn McCarthyism to his favor by using it positively?
BLOCK: Yeah. I think he put out a book called "McCarthyism: The Fight for America" or something like tha.
LAMB: Did you ever think that McCarthyism, as you defined it, was a threat, a real threat to this country?
BLOCK: Oh, yes. Certainly. God, it was a threat at the time. And it was a very real threat and there were people driven out of office, people whose careers were wrecked, there were people who commit suicide because of the attacks on them.
LAMB: Here's another cartoon from that era. Did you ever meet him?
BLOCK: No, I never did, and certainly had no desire to meet him. Actually, I had no desire to meet Nixon either. That was by accident at a party. Well, in this one -- I think this was when Ambassador Bohlen was named ambassador to the Soviet Union and McCarthy says something about, "I have evidence that this man is planning a trip to Russia." Well, of course, he was our ambassador there.
LAMB: What's the impact this far -- you know, this was back in the '50s and now we're in the '90s. Is there anything we don't do today because of this thing called McCarthyism back in the '50s?
BLOCK: Well, I hope we don't do the same thing. I would think we'd learn something from it and would hope it wouldn't happen again.
LAMB: What's -- this is one of the large ... you put a full page in the book. What's this one?
BLOCK: Well, this is one actually before McCarthy. It was from the Committee on Un-American Activities and other groups were supposedly saving the country from God knows what, and this figure labeled "Hysteria," is climbing up to the torch of the Statue of Liberty with a bucket of water and yelling, "Fire." And it seemed to me that typified what they were doing.
LAMB: Where were you born?
BLOCK: In Chicago.
LAMB: How long did you live there?
BLOCK: I guess about 25 years or so.
LAMB: What was your family like?
BLOCK: Oh, family was great. Family encouraged me to write and to draw and my dad was a chemist. He had at one time had been a newspaperman, when he was younger and he encouraged journalism and drawing, and he had done some cartooning at one time, and the family was just great. I always think a family that encourages you to find your way into an occupation like this is a great thing.
LAMB: There's a sketch there of your mother?
BLOCK: Yes. I made that sketch -- must have been around the 1930s or so. And she liked the sketch and I used that instead of a photograph in the book.
LAMB: Why did she like it?
BLOCK: I don't know, because I'd done it, I guess.
LAMB: What was she like?
BLOCK: Oh, she was very kind, very maternal, of course, and she was very inventive, you know. My dad was a chemist. He did a lot of inventing really in his laboratory and she was very inventive in the kitchen. And she won a lot of contests for things like -- inventing things like pineapple upside-down cake and she created the slogan in a contest for Carnation Milk "from contented cows," things like -- well, she had done that kind of thing, so both of them really were very creative.
LAMB: You say that your father was Jewish and your mother was Catholic.
BLOCK: My father's father's side of the family, I would say he had Jewish forbearers. The distinction I make there is that to the best of my knowledge, he was not brought up in any religion, never practiced any religion or religious observances; neither did his mother. His father died when he was a child, but I think he had Jewish forbearers or Jewish relatives. And my mother was a Catholic, tried to raise us kids as Catholics. My brothers made their first communion, which I didn't make. I had a hard time with memorizing things -- this catechism and so on, and finally my mother, being very kind, gave up on this.
The crucial point came when I was ready to graduate from high school and still had not made that first communion and she issued a kind of edict of Rome, as I call it, in which she said, "No first communion, no long pants." We wore these short pants --knickers at the time; knee pants. And finally she relented and I was able to graduate from grade school in long pants.
LAMB: Are you religious today?
BLOCK: I don't practice any religion. I don't belong to a church, no.
LAMB: You went to school where?
BLOCK: In Chicago and then I went to Chicago public schools and I went to college for a couple of years at Lake Forest, which is really a suburb of Chicago.
LAMB: Where was your first job?
BLOCK: First job -- well, the first full-time job was the Chicago Daily News. I had done some stuff for a suburban newspaper in Chicago -- Evanston, Illinois -- and took my things into the Chicago News and I didn't really expect much would come of it. I thought maybe they'd give me some kind of a summer job in the art department. And I kind of lucked out because it turned out they had a cartoonist who was leaving at that time and they said, "Well, come in Monday and we'll give you a tryout." And I left college toward the end of my second year and went in there Monday and never went back to school.
LAMB: We've got what was the -- it says the first daily cartoon for the Chicago Daily News.
BLOCK: That's right.
LAMB: What's this?
BLOCK: This is a bunch of tree stumps and the title is, "This is the forest primeval." And, of course, that's an issue that's still with us today. We have all the cutting down of the great old trees.
LAMB: I'm sorry, '29. Has your style changed much since then?
BLOCK: Yes, it has. The thing is, as you can see, that's a lot of pen lines and so on that's -- I hadn't taken up the crayon yet, and the style has changed some, sure.
LAMB: Let's see here. We've got one from the year 1932. "Maybe we've been watching the wrong door." What's this? Do you remember?
BLOCK: Yes. This is an investigation of people in scandals and that's the exit door, and the entrance door is people getting into public office. And the idea was we should be careful about people getting into public office before they commit wrong deeds and are guilty of scandals.
LAMB: How long did you stay in Chicago?
BLOCK: About four years on the Chicago News, yes.
LAMB: Did you make anybody mad there?
BLOCK: I don't know.
LAMB: I mean -- I don't mean the Chicago News so much...
LAMB: ... as the people that read the cartoons that ...
BLOCK: I know what you mean. Well, actually, they were, most of them were rather lighter cartoons than I did later. They were, you know, kind of humorous stuff about current events and I don't know that they made anybody mad, no.
LAMB: Why did you leave Chicago and then you went from the Daily News to where?
BLOCK: To NEA Service -- Newspaper Enterprise Association. This was a Scripps Howard feature service that still exists. And their headquarters were in Cleveland and they offered me a job there doing the editorial cartoon, which they said went out to 700 newspapers. And that's why I left Chicago to go to Cleveland.
LAMB: Got one here from the year 1933 called "The Crown Jewels." Where were you when you did this?
BLOCK: Well, that was in Cleveland. That was when Huey Long was riding high and he always talked about every man a king, and, you know, the crown jewels, of course, were the chains on Louisiana.
LAMB: Why would you think that people around the country would want to know about Huey Long when he was a Louisiana native?
BLOCK: He was a national figure really. I mean, his story was a national story even before he got to the Senate.
LAMB: Here's one from a Father Coughlin.
BLOCK: Yes. Well, he and Huey Long ... the two of them I considered a couple of pretty reckless demagogues, and Father Coughlin, I think, was what you might have considered at the time a rather fascist person. And, you know, of course, they have the biblical sayings up there about, you know, shall not bear false witness and so on, which I think he did.
LAMB: Anybody like that today? Is there anybody in the public life today that's similar to Father Coughlin?
BLOCK: Oh, no, no, not similar to him. He was -- I think he was rather fascistic, rather anti-Semetic. He was -- you know, today we still have demagogues, and recently President Carter said we had a demagogue on the North American Free Trade Agreement and he meant Perot. But Perot is not that type of demagogue.
LAMB: As a matter of fact, while we're talking about Mr. Perot right at the moment, I just want to show you this cartoon. This one was from the year 1992. And right above it, it says, "The Call."
BLOCK: "The Call." Well, that ...
LAMB: And then you see a little tiny Perot in the ear of the bigger Mr. Perot. What were you getting at here?
BLOCK: Well, what I'm getting at is that Perot is a self-starter. He always talks about how he will do what the people want or what his followers want. And the followers, I think, do pretty much what he wants. When they don't follow him, they're no longer there, at least the many people around him have left. But I think Perot, I think, puts on a good deal about how, you know, I'm Ross, you're the boss. Well, Ross is the boss in his campaign efforts.
LAMB: He's fond of calling journalists. Has he ever called you when you've done one of these cartoons and asked for it?
BLOCK: No, no, he never has, no.
LAMB: This one's a little complicated and it's a series that goes back to the year 1937, when you did this, and you start off with the year 19 -- actually 1789, where you see six jurists up there. "Congress decided at first to fix the number of justices at six." The next one in 1801, "Congress planned on a change to five. But the six remained very much alive." And 1807, "Six high judges, Supreme Court as heaven, and Jefferson added number seven." And the next one is the year -- let's see here. I can't see the year -- pull back a little bit so I can see the date here. It's 1837. "Seven high judges all in a line. Two more added and that made nine." And then in the year 1863, "Nine high judges were sitting when Lincoln made them an even 10." 1866, "Ten high judges, very sedate; when Congress got through there were only eight." And then 1869, "Eight high judges who wouldn't resign. Grant brought the figure back to nine." And then 1937, "Would a justice feel like a packed sardine if the number was raised to, say, 15?"
BLOCK: You know -- well, of course, that referred to President Roosevelt's -- what they called court packing plan in which he wanted to enlarge the court to change the court's general views on things. The court had knocked out some of the New Deal measures that he had. I did look up the history of the court and found the number had changed from time to time and, you know, tried my hand at a little light verse to go with it.
LAMB: You don't normally do that, though, do you -- the verse thing?
BLOCK: I used to do more of it but ... Some of them were tried little rhymes and so on. I haven't been doing that lately, no.
LAMB: How long did you live in Cleveland?
BLOCK: About 10 years.
LAMB: So you were in Cleveland when you did this in January of 1938, which has to do with Germany.
BLOCK: Yes. Well, Goethe's last words were "Light! More light" and it showed this Nazi cap snuffing out German civilization. Very simple cartoon.
LAMB: Were you early watching the Germans and concerned and did you start drawing early?
BLOCK: Yes, I did. I never thought the Nazi movement was very good or fascism, Nazism were good. And I thought they were very aggressive and should have been stopped and they weren't.
LAMB: This one is from the year 1938 also. And what's this?
BLOCK: Well, this is a map of Europe in which -- Germany, which occurs after they took Austria and kept expanding. They had little Czechoslovakia there in the middle, which was like being in the jaws of a wolf. And, of course, it certainly did bite off Czechoslovakia.
LAMB: From your own perspective, where were you right and where were you wrong when you were anticipating some of the things that were going on? I mean, did you ever find yourself having drawn a series of cartoons and it turns out that your supposition or your suspicion was wrong over the years?
BLOCK: No, I don't think so. Well, you know, certainly not on this era. I think on the Vietnam War -- you know, if I had it to do over again, I think I would have been opposed to it right from the very beginning when President Eisenhower sent in some observers and then Kennedy sent in more and then, of course, Johnson stepped it up. But I did, you know, come around on that and realize it was, as you might say, the game was not worth the candle, and the casualties, of course, were terrible.
LAMB: This is a cartoon from the year 1938. Mr. Hitler there on the right. On the left, who do we have?
BLOCK: This is Chamberlain and Daladier leaving and this was after their meeting with him and it was really -- Munich is what it was and Chamberlin's carrying the umbrella there and they're both saying, "Whew." They felt they had escaped something pretty bad. And, of course, Hitler, I felt, had a narrow escape, too. If they had ever stood up to him, he wouldn't have got away with all the things he did, beginning with occupying the Rhineland and taking more and more and more.
LAMB: Why did you leave Cleveland?
BLOCK: Well, I was drafted into the Army. And that's a good reason for leaving, because, you know, you had to leave. And I went in from Cleveland in, let's see, 1942 or '43, I think.
LAMB: Where did you go?
BLOCK: Camp Robinson, Arkansas, was where I went first for, you know, basic training. And from there, an office at Orlando, Florida, called AFTTC -- American Air Force Tactical Training Center. And it was a place where they actually trained high-ranking officers from not only our country, but all over the world. And it was very unusual that there wasn't a great deal of saluting down there. And I remember one day -- we put out a camp paper there, and one day one of the fellows on the camp paper, trying to make a deadline, came into the office and threw his cap down on the desk and he says, "That hall is lousy with generals again," but that's the way it was at AFTTC.
LAMB: How long were you in the service?
BLOCK: Well, I was in until the end of 1945.
LAMB: Here's a 1940 cartoon. And it doesn't say much in actual words, but up here it says, "And so we say goodbye." And if you go right across the top, "To North China, Ethiopia, Austria." And then you come over here to "Czechoslovakia." What are you getting at here? "Albania."
BLOCK: That was before we got into the war. And, you know, the old travel logs that they had on along with news reels and things, they generally ended up with the words, "And so we say goodbye" to some colorful place and so on. And in this cartoon, I used as the phrase, "And so we say goodbye" to all of these countries that had gone down under the axis -- the powers under Germany, particularly Germany, Japan and so on.
LAMB: This looks like a lot of work. I mean, this wasn't a no--no--yeah.
BLOCK: It was a lot of work.
LAMB: How long did it take you to ...
BLOCK: I got pictures of all these different countries but, you know, there were --what? -- about a dozen of them there.
LAMB: Did this take you a couple of days to do it, or did you do it just like you do normally, a cartoon a day?
BLOCK: No, I think I did it in one day, but I may have looked up pictures beforehand. I don't remember.
LAMB: What happened when the war was over? Actually, what did you do the last year or so when you were in the service?
BLOCK: The last year or so when I was in the service, I was in New York. I had applied for a job on Stars and Stripes and the man who was running it at the time, Colonel Egbert White, said fine. He would see me over there in Algiers where they were putting it out. Well, at that very time, it had become an enlisted man's paper and Egbert Hoyt was out and I was out as a possible recruit for this job. But at the same time, a job opened up in New York in the Army running--starting a clip sheet which went out to Army papers. Well, I'll have to explain that. A clip sheet is like a syndicated sheet that goes out and people can use cartoons or articles that you write in all these various Army papers around the world. And afterward, I heard from fellows that told me that when they had a mimeograph machine on a beachhead, that they got this stuff and they would crank out some of this stuff we had sent them. And so that's the way I ended up in the Army, in New York.
LAMB: Your name is Herblock?
BLOCK: That's -- well, that's the name on the cartoons, yes.
LAMB: What is your full name -- your full given name?
BLOCK: My full name is Herbert Block and this pen name came about because of the fact that when I was a kid, they had contributors columns in the newspaper which would run down the editorial page. And people would send in either jokes or poems or something and, for some reason, they always felt that they had to either have a romantic name or something tricky. I don't know why people didn't think they could use their own name, but they did. And I was writing these little paragraphs and searching for a name. And my father -- it was my father who really rechristened me in this case. He said, "Well, why don't you combine the first name and the last name and get one name out of it?" And, you know, this name Herblock. And so I did. And that appeared in these little paragraphs I wrote for the Chicago Tribune column.
Then later, when I went into cartooning at the Daily News, they said, well, they recognized the name from the paragraphs in the Tribune and they thought it was a good idea to keep it on the cartoons, and I did. And the result is today I get a lot of mail from people who say, "Gee, I'm sorry I don't know how to address you." And I feel it's not their fault, it's mine.
LAMB: What do people, what do your friends call you?
LAMB: You say in the book you're shy.
BLOCK: Well, I have been shy. I certainly was very shy as a kid.
LAMB: Did you overcome most of that?
BLOCK: I hope so.
LAMB: Was there a technique you used to do that or...
BLOCK: No. I just think it's a matter of time.
LAMB: You didn't marry.
BLOCK: No, I didn't.
LAMB: But you talk once in a while in here about your girlfriends.
BLOCK: Yeah, from time to time, of course, I've had girlfriends and ...
LAMB: Any particular reasons?
BLOCK: But this is not a book which gets into bedroom stuff, you know?
LAMB: Any particular reason why you didn't get married?
BLOCK: No. I don't know of any except, of course, I did always find a lot of satisfaction in the work and had a lot of friends and I don't really know why I didn't get married.
LAMB: Why did you write this book?
BLOCK: Well, I had started really earlier with the idea of doing some stuff about when I was a kid, and showed it to Lisa Drew, who published this book. And she said, gee, she liked it very much but she says, "How about doing the whole works?" She said, "You've had an interesting career" and so on. And why stop with when you were a kid? Why don't you do a, well, autobiography seems like a pretty heavy term, a memoir, you know?
LAMB: Did you write it yourself?
BLOCK: Oh, yes. Sure. Of course.
LAMB: How did you do it? What did you--where--what time?
BLOCK: I did it by running it through the machine over and over again an by showing the various chapters to people the same way I show cartoons around the office and try them out on people. And Jean Rickard, who had been with me for about 36 years, she's also very good at editing and looking over stuff and just seeing whether something works or not. And she would send me back the typewritten--and, of course, I had real editing on this thing and I used what I call the three chimpanzees school of writing, which is based on the idea that if you put three chimpanzees in front of a typewriter for a few eons, they would produce something and I'd run it through over and over until people would say, `Hey, now it reads all right.'
LAMB: We're looking at pictures of you and presidents. There's one with Bill Clinton. When was that taken?
BLOCK: Well, that was taken earlier this year. It was, actually, remember that terrible, heavy snowstorm we had that was in January or February? Well, it must of been, of course, he came in the end of January. It was shortly after that and it was...
LAMB: Right there in the picture with you is a picture of Jeff MacNelly.
LAMB: And you tell a story about Jeff MacNelly when he went off and married his secretary in there that somebody snuck in on him and got his cartoon spot.
BLOCK: Yeah. Well, you know, I mentioned the Post puts on a party. Meg Greenfield as editorial page editor, puts on a party once a year for cartoonists whose work appears in the Post on the Saturday Drawing Page or other parts of the paper. And Jeff, of course, comes to these things; we use a lot of his cartoons. And, well, a bunch of us went over to the White House. You know, the president invited us over and it -- what was it you started to ask about Jeff?
LAMB: Well, I asked -- you said that Jeff went off and got married and while he was away, somebody...
BLOCK: Well, the thing about Jeff getting married was that Jeff -- actually at one of these things where some of the visiting cartoonists get up and tell what happened to them during the year and so on. Jeff had one year said, "Some of you may have heard a rumor that I ran off to Alaska with my secretary." And after a long pause, he said, "Well, it's true." And I must tell you that I checked with Jeff to ask if it was all right to use that in the book because I didn't know if he'd like it or not. He said, "That was something well in the past" and it was certainly all right to use it. Now when Jeff took off, he was on a sabbatical, you might say, for about a year and another cartoonist -- very good cartoonist -- Ohman I think his name is.
LAMB: Jack Ohman.
BLOCK: Jack Ohman filled in for him and kept a great many of his papers. Now after one of these dinners we were all going down the elevator from the top floor of the Post and there was a long silence. Somebody pressed the lobby button, there was a long silence. And then a voice in the back said, "If this elevator goes down, Ohman picks up 900 newspapers."
LAMB: How many books have you written?
BLOCK: This is the 11th one.
LAMB: There's a lot of copy in this book. Did the other books have that much written copy as this one?
BLOCK: No, the others had maybe 25,000, 30,000 words. This is 100,000 words.
LAMB: Where did you write it?
BLOCK: I wrote it at home and I had an old-fashioned typewriter. I don't know how to use a word processor and I've never even used an electric typewriter because when you turn it on, it starts humming and seems to me to be saying, `Hurry up. Let's get going.' So I have some typewriters that I picked up around the Post when they got rid of the old-fashioned typewriters, and I still have Royals and Remingtons and so on and I use those.
LAMB: You dedicated this book to Dave and Tessie?
BLOCK: Yes. Those are my parents -- my dad and my mother. His name was Dave and her name was -- we called her name as Theresa, but everybody called her Tessie.
LAMB: Do you have any idea what you would do if you weren't a cartoonist?
BLOCK: No. Well, I suppose I'd write. But I like the cartooning and I like to do some writing when I can.
LAMB: Here's the first cartoon of yours when you went to work for The Washington Post.
LAMB: What year?
BLOCK: Beginning of 1946.
LAMB: How did you get the job?
BLOCK: Well, I used to have to come to Washington when I was in the Army. And one time when I was here I called up a woman that I know in Washington and asked her out to dinner. And she said, well, she was having dinner with Nelson Poynter, the man, who is -- you know, owned a newspaper and was about to start congressional court. And we had dinner with them and Nelson asked, "What are you going to do when you get out of the Army? You going back to Cleveland?" I said, "Oh, I'd like to work for a newspaper."
And through another one of these coincidences, a couple of days later he ran into the man who was assistant to Eugene Meyer on the Post and he asked, "What have you been doing?" And this man said, "Eugene Meyer wants a cartoonist for the Washington Post and I've been looking all over the country trying to find someone that he would like." And he said, "I think I've got somebody. You ought to meet him." And so when I went back to New York, I met Eugene Meyer at the Yale Club in New York, which he belonged to. And we got together and decided that when I got out of the Army -- I was still wearing the khaki suit and so when I got out of the Army, I would work at the Washington Post.
LAMB: At that time how many papers were there in Washington and how big and important was The Washington Post?
BLOCK: Well, The Washington Post must have been, at that time, about the fifth paper in Washington because there were several papers -- the Herald, the Times, the Star. Of course, the Star was the big paper in Washington; the Washington News, which was a Scripps-Howard paper and so on. Really the distinguishing thing about the Post -- one of the most distinguishing things was this editorial page. The editorials under Herbert Elliston were very good. It was a good page. Shirley Povich, the sports writer and sports editor, was a big attraction on the Post but he and the editorials were the big things.
LAMB: Is it easier -- well, let me ask it a different way. If you like the president -- and let me ask you this. Which presidents have you personally liked over the years? May I mean, politically.
BLOCK: Yeah, politically. Well, Truman, Kennedy mostly. And, you know, most of them are -- -they're mixed bags. You don't like everything they do, but I did think I probably liked Truman and Kennedy more than most.
LAMB: What about FDR?
BLOCK: Oh, well, FDR, sure, yeah. But I didn't know him. I never met him. I had seen him at one of his press conferences but I didn't know him.
LAMB: And here's a cartoon of yours with General Eisenhower. What's the point of this?
BLOCK: Well, the point is that he's in a helicopeter -- it's called "The Helicopter Era." And the point is that he's above the fray on civil rights and McCarthyism and all those things. And he was, of course, a very popular president and one reason was because he had ended the Korean War. But I always felt that he didn't meet the great issues of the time domestically and McCarthyism and on integration, desegregation.
LAMB: Here's another cartoon from that era. You used the full page for this.
BLOCK: Yeah, well, now that was when Eisenhower finally called out the troops at Little Rock, but this, I think, was about three years into his administration.
LAMB: It's 1957.
BLOCK: '57. And when was the court decision? '54, wasn't it? And Brown vs. Board of Education. Anyhow, and the person there is saying, you know, after -- Eisenhower is making his way through the whitewater there with -- don't know if you can make it out -- with a gun with a bayonet on it. And the public in there is saying, "Hey, after we get out of this I'd like to ask you something." Well, what he wanted to ask him is why, three years later and only when he was forced into it, did he finally do something?
LAMB: If you're young today and you want to be a cartoonist like Herblock and -- how many total years have you drawing?
BLOCK: Well, I don't know. Figure 1929 till now -- whatever that is. That's 30...
LAMB: Well, let's see, that's 50, 60, 65 years?
BLOCK: Yeah, yeah. We don't get into numbers.
LAMB: What would you recommend to somebody that thinks they can do what you've done?
BLOCK: Well, I think they have to be interested in what's going on in government and the world and enjoy doing this kind of work and like to draw. And, of course, if they have a sense of humor, I think that helps a lot, too.
LAMB: Here's a Kennedy-era cartoon. What's this?
BLOCK: Well, this was after the Cuban missile crisis and, as you know, as we realize now, it came even closer than we thought at the time to real nuclear war. And that was when they established a hot line between the two countries and decided to put an end to tests in the atmosphere, which was, I thought, a great achievement on Kennedy's part. And he and Khrushchev -- I think both realized how close they had come to disaster.
LAMB: Do you know any more about John F. Kennedy today than you did then and would you change your feelings about him based on what has come out about him since 1963?
BLOCK: I don't know. You know, what's come out about him largely, and maybe a great deal was known at the time, was about his affairs with women -- at least so we read and hear. And I'm not sure what he would have done in Vietnam if he had stayed in there. I think Bobby Kennedy was a good influence on -- and I think he might have avoided going in as deeply as Lyndon Johnson did.
LAMB: What did you think of -- and here's a cartoon from the Lyndon Johnson period during the Vietnam War.
BLOCK: Yeah. Well, that was Lyndon Johnson and the great hussy there is the Vietnam War. And he's telling the domestic needs that ...
LAMB: It says, "There's money enough to support both of you."
BLOCK: "Money enough to support both of you." And Johnson did have what he called a guns and butter policy, that you could do both. But he actually managed to balance the budget, but it was a very precarious thing and the war was costly in lives and money and everything.
LAMB: Here's "Everything's OK. They never reached the mimeograph machine." And then "Headquarters Saigon." What's that?
BLOCK: Well, that was after the Tet offensive in Vietnam and it -- you know, still turning out things saying everything is dandy. And actually some military people say that the Vietcong had really shot its bolt at the time of this Tet offensive. But in this country, there were just too many lights at the end of too many tunnels and too many predictions of victory and people were sick of it. And then too many people -- too many soldiers brought home in flag-draped coffins, that kind of thing. And it didn't make any difference what the military equation was, it was enough yet.
LAMB: What kind of material do you use? What kind of a surface do you draw on and what kind of chalk or whatever?
BLOCK: Crayon. Well, I use a drawing paper and it's a good deal larger than the printed cartoon. I draw them about 10 1/2, 11 inches wide. It has a pebbly surface so that you can use crayon on it, which is hard to do on a smooth surface. And I like to use pen and ink and brush, but also to use dark pencil and crayon for shading. And the paper lends itself to that.
LAMB: What do you do with the original?
BLOCK: Save them all. And there was a time I used to give them away and -- it's easier to save them. And also I found out, when I started doing books, that we could use some of those drawings later on for reproductions for books or other uses.
LAMB: Do you ever sell them?
BLOCK: No, I don't. And I think the only time I sold some was when the National Gallery wanted to buy some and -- you know, they paid a modest price and I was happy to be in the National Gallery.
LAMB: Dare I ask the sensitive question? But what do you plan to do with all of them when you leave us?
BLOCK: Oh, they'll be put aside somewhere.
LAMB: I mean, are they going to end up in some kind of a museum somewhere or...
BLOCK: Oh, probably someplace where at least people can run through them, you know.
LAMB: How many of them are there?
BLOCK: Well, your guess is as good as mine, you know. You talk about how many years I've been doing these things, and with a little time out in the Army doing editing and writing and other stuff for about three years, you know, you just add up the number of days in the week. At one time I did seven cartoons a week. That was when I came to the Post. And I remember Eugene Meyer saying, "Now you will notice on our masthead, we say, 'Published every day of the year.'" And I said, "Yes." And he said, "That's the way we'd like the cartoons, too." So I was doing seven a week then, but that's an awful lot.
LAMB: You tell the story in the book about the cartoon that had the least amount of time to get done -- something like 12 minutes.
LAMB: When was that?
BLOCK: That was at the time of the air crash in the -- you know, the winter air crash -- What was the flight?
LAMB: Florida -- Air Florida, '90.
BLOCK: The Air Florida -- that crash. And at the same time that happened there was, I think also due to the snow, a terrible accident in the Metro, the subway. And so you had two disasters at once and people killed because of the snow thing. Well, I had a cartoon ready to run, but when I heard this stuff on the radio, I thought, "Gee, I really want to do something on that." And I asked, "How much time have I got?" And they said, "Well, we're just about to go to press. You've got about 12 minutes." So I did a cartoon that was just solid black, except for a few snowflakes coming down and called it "Bad Day in Washington." Well, you know, it wasn't no artistic masterpiece, but it certainly captured what people felt and it was right for that day.
LAMB: We talked earlier about Richard Nixon. But before we go on to later, there's a page in here that we showed a little bit earlier of all the Nixon cartoons. And up at the top it says "President Nixon, now more than ever" -- which our audience will be able to see here in just a moment -- and then you have that inscription there. "Years ago, I also was a young congressman. Things got under my skin or they got to me, but now when I walk into the office, I am cool and calm. President Nixon, now more than ever." What was this used for?
BLOCK: That was right after Watergate, and The Washington Post put out a Watergate section and decided to run a page of some of the cartoons I had done on Nixon with one of his quotes about me and the cartoons and, you know, it made a page.
LAMB: Did it make you happy when you knew you got him mad?
BLOCK: Wasn't a matter of being happy that I got him mad as happy that he got out. I just didn't want to see him in there.
LAMB: Did you ever have a cartoon that any newspaper that you worked for said they wouldn't run?
BLOCK: Oh, well, you know, the other newspapers are not obliged to run anything they don't want to, and when they're sent out to these other papers they can run them or not run them as they please, so that nobody has to say, "We won't run this." They just don't have to if they don't want to.
LAMB: But did the Post ever not run a cartoon of yours?
BLOCK: Well, when Eisenhower was -- before he was nominated for president, there was quite political tussle between Eisenhower and Senator Taft, who was an isolationist, and Phil Graham was publisher of the Washington Post at the time. And he decided the Post should come out for Eisenhower. You couldn't say Eisenhower for the nomination, and so he ran an editorial saying Eisenhower for president.
And later on, Democrats nominated Stevenson and I preferred Stevenson and Sparkman to Eisenhower and Nixon. The Post wasn't enthusiastic about either. And the editor -- Herbert Elliston, the editor, told me one day -- he says, "You know, this is a kind of an embarrassment to Phil." He said, "The cartoons are running one way and he feels very strongly about Eisenhower for president." And I said, "Well, if it's an embarrassment to Phil, why not just drop the cartoons for a while and I'll just mail them out to the syndicate?" Which we did. Well, then after a few days Phil decided, you know, there's no use doing that because people should realize that the Post was a paper where the publisher doesn't try to put his imprint on everything in the paper. He doesn't expect everybody to follow the lead of the chief from upstairs and all that, and so the cartoons went back in the paper and that's the only time that happened.
LAMB: There aren't many in the book here on Gerry Ford, but here's one of them. "They can't say I'm not doing anything," and it's stamped with vetoes.
BLOCK: You know, that was kind of fun to do. He was doing a lot of vetoing and I had fun even putting the veto stamp on the dog sitting next to the desk there.
LAMB: What was your reaction to his part in the Richard Nixon...
BLOCK: I didn't like it at all. I thought it was terrible. And when Ford came in, I really had a very warm feeling about his becoming president. And he started out by saying, "I'm not a Ford -- I'm not a Lincoln, I'm a Ford," and so on. And the Lincoln -- the pardon of Nixon, I thought, was a very bad thing and I think in the end it may have cost him the re-election. But the Ford presidency, I think, was better than I might have expected and he had some very good appointments. He had Rockefeller for vice president. He had Levi for attorney general. His appointment to the Supreme Court was excellent. And so as a president, he was much better than I would have expected.
LAMB: Jimmy Carter, here's a cartoon from back in those years.
BLOCK: Yeah. Well, Jimmy Carter there is saying to, I think, Jerry Rafshoon, his public relations man, that "It comes out fuzzy." And the thing is that Carter himself came out kind of fuzzy, and it's too bad. He was, in many ways, a very good president. He set a very good example on human rights. And, of course, the Camp David accords were very good. But he did not come out looking strong even when he was doing very good things.
LAMB: The next president is represented in this cartoon.
BLOCK: And -- well, I'm glad you put that up next because this is just the opposite. Here was Reagan, who came across as a very strong man, just physically -- just stood up there looking like John Wayne or something. But in this cartoon, as you can see, he's looking strong on television but he's secretly kneeling to the Ayatollah Khomeini. And I thought that captured his presidency.
LAMB: Was he easy to draw?
BLOCK: Reagan was, yes. Oh, yeah.
BLOCK: Well, actually, they're all easy to draw. After they become president, you draw them enough they become easy. You develop your set of lines for them.
LAMB: Here's another television set.
BLOCK: Well, yeah, this is "Through the looking glass." And it's, you know, taken from the John Tenniel drawing, illustration for "Through The Looking Glass." And it shows -- the girl is representing the public -- crawling inside the TV set. Reagan was going through the looking glass into a made-for-television president, really.
LAMB: Here's Ollie North and he's running for the Senate in Virginia. What did you think of him?
BLOCK: Not very much. I think he committed felonious acts. And if it weren't for the fact that Congress had given him immunity and that the courts -- largely Reagan-Bush justices let him off of his convictions, he would still be a convicted felon. And incidentally, in that cartoon, I just want to mention what that is because you didn't get a chance to describe it. He's throwing a lot of shredded material, which, you know, he shredded material. He obstructed justice, took stuff out of evidence -- putting the shredded material into this machine which is unshredding it into money; he's made millions of dollars on speaking and on his book and so on, and the title -- the man is saying, "Boy, is this a great country or what?"
LAMB: What's it been like so far in the Clinton administration as a cartoonist when you get up every day -- easy or harder than Ronald Reagan?
BLOCK: Well, it's a little harder because it's a little more mixed and it's still a little early in his administration. You can't say that he's failed or that it's been a tremendous success. I think, you know, the health-care issue is certainly a great one. And on some of the other things -- some good, some bad.
LAMB: This is during the George Bush era; it's 1991, and you're talking about health care here. What's the point?
BLOCK: The point is that George Bush didn't do anything about health care. And I have him there as a witch doctor and these two skeleton figures -- one of them is health care and the other is the economy. And one of them is saying to the other, "Yes, he's my doctor, too." Wasn't a very good doctor for either one of them.
LAMB: Anybody over the years who you really skewered in your cartoons call you up and say, "I want that cartoon anyway and would you autograph it and send it to me"?
BLOCK: Oh, sure. Yes. Some of them have and I was surprised. You know, toward the very beginning, this -- I mentioned there J. Parnell Thomas, the chairman of the Committee on Un-American Activities. And he must have been a publicity hound because I did cartoons on them that were anything but flattering. And he'd call up or he'd write and he'd ask the editor of the Post if he couldn't have one of those cartoons.
Mm-hmm. What do we have here? We...
LAMB: This is the one with the big truck and the world.
BLOCK: Oh, yes. Yes. When Clinton became president or when he was elected president and the man is delivering this world there and saying, "Your name Clinton?" And it turned out, of course, that world affairs have been a big problem for him, at least in some areas.
LAMB: Sixty-five years as a cartoonist, is this world better off today than it was 65 years ago?
BLOCK: Yeah, I think so. I think one of the big things is that whatever racism there is today is not the kind of overt racism that we had in Congress, for example, when I came here. You know, when I came to Washington the blacks weren't in restaurants, you know. You couldn't sing at Constitution Hall, you remember? Blacks weren't seen at the National Theatre, all that kind of thing. And you -- there's certainly been a great gain there and it's an important thing.
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