Jerry Marcus, leading cartoonist, actor


Jerry Marcus, a cartoonist whose work has appeared in almost every major magazine and in more than 200 newspapers worldwide, died Friday, July 22, 2005, in Waterbury Hospital after a long illness. He was 81 years old.

Since 1947, Mr. Marcus’s gag cartoons have appeared in every major magazine, from The New Yorker to the Paris Match, and for many years, he was ranked among the top 10 in his field in the country.

While most successful cartoonists stick to either magazine gags or newspaper strips, Mr. Marcus was successful at both. His King Features daily and Sunday strip, Trudy, appeared in hundreds of newspapers since it began in 1963, and focused on the life of a suburban homemaker Ń modeled, he said, a bit after his strong-willed mother who, as a young widow, had to raise four children in a cold-water flat in New York City.

Mr. Marcus was born in June 27, 1924 in Brooklyn, the son of Clara and Julius Marcus, immigrants from Austria-Hungary. His father died when he was three, and his mother depended on welfare to help support her and children.

Mr. Marcus would recall how one welfare department caseworker would periodically burst into their room without knocking, and walk around looking for any signs that the welfare money had been spent on luxuries. One time, he said, the caseworker opened the icebox door, and found a half pint of ice cream that his mother had bought to celebrate one of the children’s birthdays. The woman scolded her for squandering taxpayer money on luxuries.

As a young boy, he knew he wanted to be a cartoonist. When he was still in P.S. 165, a Brooklyn grammar school, he sold his first cartoon for the $2.50 to the School Bank News, a paper published by a local bank for distribution to school children.

When World War II broke out, he tried to join the Navy, but lacked the weight. Instead, he served in the Merchant Marine aboard aviation fuel tankers in the North Atlantic until he had built up enough weight to be accepted by the Navy. After a stint with the Seabees in the Philippines, he was discharged in 1946.

After the war, he studied at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in New York City. Almost immediately after his graduation, his cartoons began appearing in national magazines, including The New Yorker, Look, Saturday Evening Post, McCall’s, and Ladies’ Home Journal.

Mr. Marcus’s cartoons and comic strips have had a worldwide audience, and two have hung in the White House. In 1960, after Gary Powers’ U-2 spy plane flight was shot down over Russia, Premier Nikita Khrushchev cancelled a summit meeting. Soon after, President Dwight D. Eisenhower made a speech in Portugal that began, “Have any of you seen that recent cartoon that said: ‘The next speaker needs all the introduction he can get?’”

That cartoon by Mr. Marcus later hung in the White House. The second to be displayed there appeared in Saturday Evening Post, just after John-John Kennedy was born. It showed two guards outside an otherwise darkened White House, with a single brightly lit window. “It’s probably the 2 o’clock feeding,” one guard says.

Bernard Baruch was so tickled by one of his panels featuring a little boy sitting on Santa Claus’ lap that he asked for and received the original. The cartoon’s caption said, “I’ll tell you want I want... I want to go to the bathroom.”

His daughter, Jeremia Buechelmaier of Brookfield, fondly recalled another panel. “He did a cartoon about Regis and Kathie Lee Gifford. They showed and read it live on the air and then my father was invited to meet Regis and Kathie Lee in New York, which he did and he took me.”

Mr. Marcus would often spend more than 40 hours a week at his drawing board, but many more hours were devoted to dreaming up gags. Sometimes that inspiration came literally in dreams.

“Believe it or not, there have been times when I’ve dreamed of a gag and drawn it when I woke up,” he once told an interviewer. “It’s really not so unusual. I know any number of people who keep a pad near their bed to jot down ideas that come to them when they’re dozing. In my case, I’m a cartoonist, so I keep a piece of drawing paper handy.”

More than a dozen books containing his work, including many Trudy collections, have been published. Hundreds of his cartoons have appeared in The Press, especially during the 1960s and 1970s when his work ran weekly.

Mr. Marcus came to Ridgefield in 1956 and worked here more than 40 years before moving to Danbury and then to Waterbury a year and a half ago. For many years he would often been seen walking in the village with his friends, especially fellow cartoonist Orlando Busino of Ridgefield.

“Jerry Marcus was truly one of America’s funniest cartoonists,” Mr. Busino said yesterday. “He had a genuine sense of humor, and his drawings and captions were superb. I feel privileged to have known him for nearly 50 years. He was a dear friend and will be missed.”

For many years Mr. Marcus, Mr. Busino, Joseph Farris, and Dana Fraydon, all noted cartoonists, would ride the train together to Manhattan to “make the rounds” of the magazines with their cartoons.

Throughout his career, Mr. Marcus also did work with advertising agencies, and his series of cartoons for American Airlines was considered a classic.

More recently, “Dad also did huge cartoon ads about four years ago, which hang in almost all of the subway cars in Tokyo, Japan,” said Ms. Buechelmaier.

He often appeared with fellow cartoonists in programs at schools and libraries in the area, and at VA hospitals. He made several trips to Europe and the Far East, visiting veterans hospitals with other cartoonists, where they would draw caricatures of the hospitalized veterans and entertain them with cartoon routines.

“He was known not just for marvelous gags but for drawings of wonderfully expressive people and particularly dogs,” said longtime friend Ed Plaut of Ridgefield.

Mr. Marcus was also a member of a regular lunch group of mostly cartoonists, who met for years at Nick’s and other restaurants in Danbury.

Cartooning wasn’t his only “career.” Mr. Marcus, who’d acted in high school, was proud of the fact that he had appeared in “Exodus,” the 1960 Otto Preminger movie, as well as in other movies including “Loving” with George Segal and Eva Marie Saint. He also starred in a number of commercials, such as for Timex, Burger King and Kodak, and he had been a member of the Screen Actors Guild since 1970 when he did his first commercial.

“I think, had my life taken a different direction, I would have liked to get into movies,” he said in 1983. “And I think I would have done OK.”

Besides Ms. Buechelmaier and her husband, Paul, of Brookfield, Mr. Marcus is survived by another daughter, Julie Marcus of Phoenicia, N.Y.; two sons, Julius Marcus of Westport and Gary Marcus of Palm Beach, Fla.; and three grandchildren, Alexander, Philip, and Bridget Buechelmaier, all of Brookfield.

His former wife, radio broadcaster Delphine Marcus, died May 18.

No public services were planned, but friends gathered Wednesday in Westport in his memory.

Contributions in his memory may be made the Ridgefield Library, 472 Main Street, Ridgefield CT 06877.