Mad Movie Caricaturist Legend Mort Drucker Dies at 91

You weren't anybody until Mort Drucker turned you into a caricature for Mad magazine.

Mad Magazine Mort Drucker
Photo: MAD

Legendary satiric caricature artist Mort Drucker, a longtime contributor to Mad magazine, died on Thursday, April 9, at his home in Woodbury, N.Y., according to The New York Times. He was 91. No cause of death was announced.

“The incomparable Mort Drucker passed away last night,” his friend John Reiner tweeted in conjunction with the National Cartoonists Society. “The World has lost a not just an extraordinary talent but a shining example of kindness, humility and humor. He was recognized for his work with the NCS Special Features Award, Reuben Award and induction into the Hall of Fame.”

Like comedians were made with one appearance on The Tonight Show, Mort Drucker could forever engrave a craven image on the public consciousness with one sketch. A movie wasn’t a smash until it got mashed by Mad.

“RIP, Mort Drucker, whose caricatures revealed as much as they ridiculed. In your memory, we will continue to satirize even in dark times, and laugh like Idiots while doing it,” Mad magazine tweeted.

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Drucker was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on March 22, 1929. A self-taught illustrator and freelance cartoonist, he got his first professional gig as a cartoonist on Bert Whitman’s newspaper strip “Debbie Dean” in 1947. Drucker also ran comics in the National Periodical Publicans, which would later be DC Comics. He got his start with Mad in 1956. His first was a spoof of the fifties courtroom TV drama, Perry Mason, in the parody “The Night Perry Masonmint Lost a Case,” published in 1959.

Mad began putting comic-paneled movie parodies in every issue during the 1960s. Drucker illustrated more than half of them. He spoofed James Caan’s eyebrows and Marlon Brando’s jowls in “Odd Father,” turned the Sharks and Jets into cold war gangs in 1963’s “East Side Story,” as well as illustrating classics like “Botch Casually and the Somedunce Kid,” “Rosemia’s Boo-Boo,” “The Way We Bore,” and the Star Trek spoof “Star Blecch.”

Drucker’s style became iconic, with his instantly recognizable recreations capturing so much so quickly, Beyond the jaws of Kirk Douglas and Jay Leno, or Barack Obama’s ears, was a subtle and nuanced caricature of a complete person. He put as much detail into someone’s hands or body language as a face. The drawings weren’t merely exaggerations, but distortions of a subject’s essence.

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Drucker excelled at multi-caricature crowd scenes. His drawing for a 1970 Time magazine cover, “Battle for the Senate,” featured 15 individually characterized political figures, that and his Time cover drawing of Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong playing table tennis both ended up in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Few major events or public figures were safe from Drucker’s satire, from Trump to Steve Martin to Jerry Seinfeld.

“As Mad Magazine became an established (albeit absurd) voice in the nation’s cultural mainstream, many of the visual masters who showcased the magazine’s written content eventually became icons in and of themselves,” reads the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame citation when Drucker was inducted in 2017. “Indeed, Mort Drucker proved to be one of the most popular artists of the group that collectively came to be known as the ‘Usual Gang of Idiots.'”

Drucker inspired generations of cartoonists. Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, and The Simpsons have all sung his praises, even if Bart poked fun at the magazine’s outdated jokes, which he still laughed at. Star Wars director George Lucas, who wrote a fan letter to Mad even as LucasFilm attorneys issued a cease-and-desist letter over The Empire Strikes Out, hired Drucker to render the poster for American Graffiti. The heavy metal band Anthrax commissioned him to design the back cover for their State of Euphoria album.

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Drucker illustrated coloring books, including The JFK Coloring, as well as antologies like Christopher Lee’s Treasury Of Terror (1966). He illustrated the syndicated newspaper comic Benchley, which he worked on with Jerry Dumas and John Reiner, about a fictional assistant to President Ronald Reagan.

His last film parody was published in 2008, satirizing The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian as “The Chronic-Ills of Yawnia: Prince Thespian.”

Drucker is survived by his wife, Barbara Hellerman, daughters Laurie Bachner and Melanie Amsterdam, and three grandchildren.

Drucker made Mad as much as Mad made Drucker. They made each other Mad as much as they made two generations of young Americans Mad. The world is a madder place because of them and the other usual idiots.