Neuman on Mad 30, published December 1956

Alfred E. Neuman is the fictitious mascot and cover boy of the American humor magazine Mad. The character's distinct smiling face, gap-toothed smile, freckles, red hair, protruding ears, and scrawny body dates back to late 19th-century advertisements for painless dentistry, also the origin of his "What, me worry?" motto. The magazine's founder and original editor, Harvey Kurtzman, began using the character in 1954. He was named "Alfred E. Neuman" (a name Kurtzman had previously used in an unconnected way) by Mad's second editor Al Feldstein in 1956. Neuman's likeness has appeared on all but a handful of the magazine's covers, over 550 issues. He has almost always been rendered in a front view but has occasionally been seen in silhouette, or directly from behind.[1]

Character description

Neuman's most prominent physical feature is his gap-toothed grin, with a few notable exceptions. On the cover of issue #236 (January 1983), Neuman was featured with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The cover showed E.T. using his famous "healing finger" to touch Neuman's mouth and regenerate the missing tooth. The cover of issue #411 (November 2001), the first to be produced following the 9/11 attacks in the United States, showed a close-up of Neuman's face, but his gap was now filled with an American flag. A text gag on the cover of issue #263 (June 1986) claimed that the UPC was really a "Close-up Photograph of Neuman's Missing Tooth".

Despite the primacy of Neuman's incomplete smile, his other facial features have occasionally attracted notice. Artist Andy Warhol said that seeing Neuman taught him to love people with big ears.[2]

In 1958, Mad published letters from several readers noting the resemblance between Neuman and England's Prince Charles, then nine years old.[3] Shortly thereafter, an angry letter under a Buckingham Palace letterhead arrived at the Mad offices: "Dear Sirs No it isn't a bit – not the least little bit like me. So jolly well stow it! See! Charles. P." The letter was authenticated as having been written on triple-cream laid royal stationery bearing an official copper-engraved crest. The postmark indicated it had been mailed from a post office within a short walking distance of Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately, the original letter disappeared several years ago while on loan to another magazine and has never been located.[1]

For many years, Mad sold full-color prints of the official portrait of Neuman through a small house ad on the letters page of the magazine. In the early years, the price for one picture was 25 cents; three for 50 cents; nine for a dollar; or 27 for two dollars. The ad frequently stated that the prints were "suitable for framing or wrapping fish".

History

Origins

Image

The New Boy – 1894
1908 Antikamnia Tablet Calendar

The precise origin of the image used for Alfred E. Neuman is shrouded in mystery and may never be fully known. Among the earliest known images is an advertisement for Atmore's Mince Meat, Genuine English Plum Pudding. Author Maria Reidelbach wrote that, "[d]ating from 1895, this is the oldest verified image of the boy.... The kid's features are fully developed and unmistakable, and the image was very likely taken from an older archetype..."[1]

An older "archetype" was discovered in an advertisement for the comical stage play The New Boy, which debuted on Broadway in 1894. The image is nearly identical to that which appears in the Atmore's ads.[4] A description of the stage play's advertisement was published in the October 31, 1894, Hartford Courant, using words that could easily be describing the character of Alfred E. Neuman. The paper reported that the "comic red-headed urchin with a joyous grin all over his freckled face, whose phiz [face] is the trademark of the comedy, is so expressive of the rollicking and ridiculous that the "New York Herald" and the "Evening Telegram" have applied it to political cartoon purposes."[5] Elements of the plot of the play explain why the character has adult and childlike features, why the character is dressed as he is, and how he may have lost his teeth.[4] The original New Boy image was published with a two-part phrase that is similar in tone to Neuman's, "What? Me Worry?" catch phrase: "What's the good of anything? – Nothing!"[4]

Postcard from period 1930–1945 with a similar boy and slogan to Mad's Neuman

Similar faces turned up in advertising for "painless" dentistry. According to original Mad publisher William Gaines, Neuman had his origin in Topeka with the Painless Romine Topeka Dental College, actually a dental group at 704 Kansas Avenue, at the office of William Romine – often misspelled as Romaine – , a dentist who resided and practiced in Wichita.[6][7] A face virtually identical to Neuman's appears in the 1923 issue of the University of Minnesota humor magazine The Guffer above the caption "Medic After Passing Con Exam in P. Chem." Another identical face shows up in the logo for Happy Jack Beverages, a soda drink produced by the A. B. Cook company in 1939. An almost-identical image appeared as "nose art" on an American World War II bomber, over the motto "Me Worry?" (this painted face was sometimes referred to as "The Jolly Boy").[8]

Neuman's image was also used negatively, as a "supporter" of rival political candidates, with the idea that only an idiot would vote for them. In 1940, those opposing Franklin Delano Roosevelt's third-term reelection bid distributed postcards with a similar caricature bearing the caption, "Sure I'm for Roosevelt". In some instances, there was also the implication that the "idiot" was in fact a Jewish caricature. Carl Djerassi's autobiography claims that in Vienna after the Anschluss, he saw posters with a similar face and the caption Tod den Juden ("Death to Jews").

In 2008, Eastern Michigan University held an exhibit and symposium on the evolution of Neuman images, dating back to 1877.[9][10]

Name

The EC editors grew up listening to radio, and this was frequently reflected in their stories, names and references. The name "Alfred E. Neuman" derived from comedian Henry Morgan's "Here's Morgan" radio series on Mutual, ABC and NBC. One character on his show had a name that was a reference to composer Alfred Newman, who scored many films and also composed the familiar fanfare that accompanies 20th Century Fox's opening film logo.[11] The possible inspiration for Henry Morgan was that Laird Cregar portrayed Sir Henry Morgan in The Black Swan (1942) with Tyrone Power, and the Oscar-nominated score for that film was by Newman. Listening to the sarcastic Morgan's brash broadcasts, the Mad staff took note and reworked the name into Neuman, as later recalled by Kurtzman:

The name Alfred E. Neuman was picked up from Alfred Newman, the music arranger from back in the 1940s and 1950s. Actually, we borrowed the name indirectly through The Henry Morgan Show. He was using the name Newman for an innocuous character that you'd forget in five minutes. So we started using the name Alfred Neuman. The readers insisted on putting the name and the face together, and they would call the "What, Me Worry?" face Alfred Neuman.[11]

In 2012, longtime editor Nick Meglin offered a streamlined, exasperated version of Neuman's origins:

Oh, don't ask me about Alfred E. Neuman. That story is so old and so meaningless. Does the average Playboy reader care about where the rabbit came from? It's just a symbol that lets you know what's on the inside. It's just a name we made up. We had 20, and that's the one we settled on.[12]

Motto

Early image of the "Me Worry?" kid, from the early 1950s

Neuman's famous motto is the intellectually incurious "What, me worry?" This was changed for one issue to "Yes, me worry!" after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979. On the cover of current printings of the paperback The Ides of Mad, as rendered by long-time cover artist Norman Mingo, Neuman is portrayed as a Roman bust with his catch phrase engraved on the base, translated into Dog Latin – Quid, Me Anxius Sum?

Mad magazine

Harvey Kurtzman first spotted the image on a postcard pinned to the office bulletin board of Ballantine Books editor Bernard Shir-Cliff. "It was a face that didn't have a care in the world, except mischief", recalled Kurtzman. Shir-Cliff was later a contributor to various magazines created by Kurtzman.[13]

First cover appearance of Neuman, on Mad #21 (third from viewer's left of the six faces approx. 40% down the viewer's-right side)

In November 1954, the image made its Mad debut on the front cover of Ballantine's The Mad Reader, a paperback collection of reprints from the first two years of Mad. The character's first appearance in the comic book was on the cover of Mad #21 (March 1955), in a tiny image as part of a mock advertisement. A rubber mask bearing his likeness with "idiot" written underneath was offered for $1.29 (equivalent to $15 in 2023).

Mad switched to a magazine format starting with issue #24, and Neuman's face appeared in the top, central position of the illustrated border used on the covers, with his now-familiar signature phrase "What, me worry?" written underneath. Initially, the phrase was rendered "What? Me worry?" These borders were used for five more issues, through Mad #30 (December 1956).

The character was also shown on page 7 of Mad #24 as "Melvin Coznowski" and on page 63 as "Melvin Sturdley". In later issues he appeared as "Melvin Cowsnofsky" or "Mel Haney". In Mad #25, the face and name were shown together on separate pages as both Neuman and Mel Haney. The crowded cover shot on Mad #27 marked Neuman's first color appearance.

Mad #24 had two appearances by a different Alfred E. Neuman, portrayed as a little man in a traditional morning suit, with a mustache, slicked-over hair, and spectacles.

Al Feldstein took over as Mad's editor in 1956, and he seized upon the face:

I decided that I wanted to have this visual logo as the image of Mad, the same way that corporations had the Jolly Green Giant and the dog barking at the gramophone for RCA. This kid was the perfect example of what I wanted. So I put an ad in The New York Times that said, "National magazine wants portrait artist for special project". In walked this little old guy in his sixties named Norman Mingo, and he said, "What national magazine is this?" I said "Mad," and he said, "Goodbye." I told him to wait, and I dragged out all these examples and postcards of this idiot kid, and I said, "I want a definitive portrait of this kid. I don't want him to look like an idiot – I want him to be loveable and have an intelligence behind his eyes. But I want him to have this devil-may-care attitude, someone who can maintain a sense of humor while the world is collapsing around him." I adapted and used that portrait, and that was the beginning.

Mingo's defining portrait was used on the cover of Mad #30 in late 1956 as a supposed write-in candidate for the presidency, and it fixed his identity and appearance into the version that has been used ever since.[14] In November 2008, Mingo's original cover art sold at auction for $203,150. Mingo painted seven more Neuman covers through 1957, and he became the magazine's signature cover artist throughout the 1960s and 1970s. He produced 97 Mad covers in total, and also illustrated dozens of additional cover images for Mad's many reprint Specials and its line of paperbacks.[15][16]

During Mingo's absence, Frank Kelly Freas rendered Neuman for Mad from 1958 to 1962. Mingo's total surpassed Freas' in 1965, and his leading status endured until 2016, when current contributor Mark Fredrickson became the most prolific Mad cover artist with his 98th cover.

Neuman has appeared in one form or another on the cover of nearly every issue of Mad and its spinoffs since that issue and continuing to the present day, with a small handful of exceptions. Two such departures were Mad #233 (September 1982) which replaced Neuman's image with that of Pac-Man, and Mad #195 (December 1977) which instead featured the message "Pssst! Keep This Issue Out of the Hands of Your Parents! (Make 'Em Buy Their Own Copy!)". Even when Neuman is not part of the cover gag, or when the cover is entirely text-based, his disembodied head generally appears in miniature form. The most notorious Neuman-free cover was #166 (April 1974), which featured a human hand giving the profane "middle finger" gesture while declaring Mad to be "The Number One Ecch Magazine".[17] Some newsstands that normally carried Mad chose not to display or sell this issue.[18]

Neuman's ubiquity as a grinning cover boy grew as the magazine's circulation quadrupled, but the single highest-selling issue of Mad depicted only his feet. The cover image of issue #161,[19] spoofing the 1972 film The Poseidon Adventure, showed Neuman floating upside-down inside a life preserver. The original art for this cover was purchased at auction in 1992 for $2,200 by Annie Gaines, the widow of Mad founder and publisher William Gaines, and subsequently given on permanent loan to Mad writer Dick DeBartolo.[20] The image was copied in 1998 for issue #369 by famed illustrator Mick McGinty,[21] spoofing the hit film Titanic.

Legacy

In other media

In late 1959, Mad released a 45 rpm single entitled "What – Me Worry?" (ABC-Paramount 10013), by "Alfred E. Neuman and His Furshlugginer Five", featuring an uncredited voice actor singing as Neuman. (The B-side of the single, "Potrzebie", is an instrumental.)[22]

A live-action version of Neuman – an uncredited actor wearing a mask – appears briefly in the 1980 film Up the Academy which was originally released to theaters as Mad Magazine Presents Up the Academy. Mad later pulled its support from the film, and all footage of the Neuman character was excised from North American home video and television releases, although it was reinstated for the 2006 DVD release.

Neuman appeared occasionally in the early seasons of MADtv during sketches and interstitials, and briefly appeared in the animated TV series Mad.

Supreme Court case

In 1965, the origins and copyright of the Neuman image made it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. A small publisher sued the parent company of Mad magazine, claiming infringement of a 1914 copyright of the Neuman character's image. Mad asked readers to find earlier images of the character in an attempt to show it was part of the public domain.[23] The Court ruled in favor of Mad, and found the 1914 copyright holder could not prove that all prints manufactured by her husband, the original holder, carried a valid copyright notice. Furthermore, the court ruled the original copyright holder "most derelict in preventing others from infringing his copyright" given widespread use of similar images over the decades.[24][25]

Politics

The August 1971 cover of National Lampoon features a Frank Kelly Freas illustration that merges the features of William Calley Jr. with those of Alfred E. Neuman. The words "What, My Lai?" appear beneath the illustration.

During the presidency of George W. Bush, Neuman's features were frequently merged with those of Bush by editorial cartoonists such as Mike Luckovich and Tom Tomorrow. The image has also appeared on magazine covers, notably The Nation.[26] A large Bush/Neuman poster was part of the Washington protests that accompanied Bush's 2001 inauguration. The alleged resemblance between the two has been noted more than once by Hillary Clinton. On April 11, 2005, speaking to reporters, she said "We're in a very dangerous fiscal situation, and this administration is Alfred E. Neuman - what, me worry?"[27] On July 10, 2005, speaking at the Aspen Institute's Ideas Festival, she said, "I sometimes feel that Alfred E. Neuman is in charge in Washington," referring again to Bush's purported "What, me worry?" attitude.[28]

At the October 2008 Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama joked, "It's often been said that I share the politics of Alfred E. Smith. And the ears of Alfred E. Neuman."[29]

Neuman also appeared as himself in a political cartoon[vague], after Newsweek had been criticized for using computer graphics to retouch the teeth of Bobbi McCaughey. The cartoon was rendered in the form of a split-screen comparison, in which Neuman was featured on the cover of Mad with his usual gap-toothed grin, then also featured on the cover of Newsweek, but with a perfect smile.

During an interview on May 10, 2019, President Donald Trump said "Alfred E. Neuman cannot become president of the United States", in reference to presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.[30] After Buttigieg said he didn't know who Neuman was, Mad subsequently referenced Pete Buttigieg on social media.[31]

Neuman's features have also been compared to others in the public eye, including Charles III, Rick Astley, Ted Koppel, Oliver North and David Letterman.[14] German weekly Der Spiegel merged Neuman's likeness with that of then candidate for British Conservative Party leadership Boris Johnson for their July 20, 2019, issue.[32]

Moxie Cowznofsky

A female version of Neuman, named "Moxie Cowznofsky", appeared briefly during the late 1950s, occasionally described in editorial text as Neuman's "girlfriend". She first appeared in Mad #44 (January 1959),[33] and was named "Moxie Cowznofsky" in the letters column of issue #48 (July 1959).[34] Neuman and Moxie were sometimes depicted side-by-side, defeating any speculation that Moxie was possibly Neuman in female guise. Her name was inspired by Moxie, a soft drink manufactured in Portland, Maine, which was sold nationwide in the 1950s and whose logo appeared as a running visual gag in many early issues of Mad.

References

  1. ^ a b c Reidelbach, Maria. Completely Mad: A History of the Comic Book and Magazine, New York: Little Brown, 1991. ISBN 0-316-73890-5
  2. ^ Hajdu, David. "MAD Magazine News". The New York Times.
  3. ^ "Letters Dept". Mad 38 (March 1958).
  4. ^ a b c Peter Jensen Brown, The Real Alfred E, https://therealalfrede.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-real-alfred-e.html
  5. ^ Hartford Courant, Oct 31, 1894, Page 5
  6. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "A Tribute to MAD Magazine". YouTube.
  7. ^ "Painless Romine - Kansapedia - Kansas Historical Society".
  8. ^ "315th III". Nose-art.net. Archived from the original on June 21, 2010. Retrieved July 10, 2010.
  9. ^ "Mad Mumblings :: View topic – Alfred E. Neuman History Show at EMU in Ypsilanti, Michigan". Archived from the original on January 22, 2009. Retrieved January 5, 2008.
  10. ^ Kimberly Buchholz, "Winter Art Series starts off 'Mad'" Archived 2012-02-17 at the Wayback Machine, Focus EMU Online, Jan. 8, 2008, Eastern Michigan University
  11. ^ a b "Kurtzman, Harvey. "That Face on Mad'', February 6, 1975".
  12. ^ "Durham resident Meglin to speak about his MAD life". Archived from the original on January 28, 2013. Retrieved December 3, 2012.
  13. ^ Shir-Cliff, Bernard. "The Karate Lesson". Help!, October 1964.
  14. ^ a b Sweet, Sam (March 3, 2016). "A Boy with No Birthday Turns Sixty: The Long, Tangled History of Alfred E. Neuman". Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  15. ^ "All Special Thumbs". Doug Gilford's Mad Cover Site.
  16. ^ "Paperback Thumbs". Doug Gilford's Mad Cover Site.
  17. ^ Cover image to Mad #166 at madcoversite.com
  18. ^ Michelle Nati, "12 More Of The Most Controversial Magazine Covers," 'Oddee' website, May 21, 2014
  19. ^ Cover image to Mad #161 at madcoversite.com
  20. ^ DeBartolo, Dick. Good Days and Mad: A Hysterical Tour Behind the Scenes at Mad Magazine. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1994.
  21. ^ "Mick McGinty (MAD Contributor - USA) | MADtrash.com". Retrieved October 26, 2021.
  22. ^ "Alfred E. Neuman And His Furshlugginer Five – What - Me Worry? / Potrzebie". Discogs. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  23. ^ Sam Sweet (March 3, 2016). A Boy with No Birthday Turns Sixty: The long and tangled history of Alfred E. Neuman. The Paris Review, accessed 03 July 2024
  24. ^ Stuff v. E. C. Publications, Inc., 382 U.S. 822 (Supreme Court of the United States October 11, 1965) ("Synopsis Facts and opinion, 342 F.2d 143. Opinion Petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Denied")(affirming 342 F.2d 143)
  25. ^ Stuff v. E. C. Publications, Inc., 342 F.2d 143, 145 (United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit 1965)(holding that findings, borne out by the evidence, that a great volume of nearly identical prints as the one which had been copyrighted had appeared over a long period, and that plaintiff's husband, the original copyright holder, had been most derelict in preventing others from infringing his copyright supported inference that copyright owner authorized or acquiesced in wide circulation of copies without notice so that the copyrighted caricature was dedicated to the public, barring any suit for infringement)
  26. ^ "The Nation November 13 2000". November 13, 2000.
  27. ^ 2005, New York Daily News: Senator Hillary Clinton compares George W. Bush with Alfred E. Neuman
  28. ^ Mahoney, Joe (July 12, 2005). "GOP Big Mad Over Hil Zinger". New York Daily News. Archived from the original on April 4, 2010.
  29. ^ "Remarks at the Al Smith Dinner in New York City". presidency.ucsb.edu. October 16, 2008. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  30. ^ Lippman, Daniel; Restuccia, Andrew; Johnson, Eliana (May 10, 2019). "Trump's new nickname for Pete Buttigieg: 'Alfred E. Neuman'". Politico. Retrieved May 11, 2019.
  31. ^ Forgey, Quint (May 11, 2019). "Mad magazine trolls Buttigieg on Trump nickname response". Politico. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
  32. ^ Schindler, Jörg (July 20, 2019). "Mad in Britain: How Boris Johnson Turned the British against Europe". Der Spiegel. Retrieved July 23, 2019.
  33. ^ "Mad #44 at Grand Comics Database".
  34. ^ "Mad #48 at Grand Comics Database".

Historicity

In popular culture