Shel Silverstein

Born September 25,1910-May 10,1999

Background

Shel Silverstein was born into a Jewish family. He attended Roosevelt High School and, later, the University of Illinois, from which he was expelled. He then attended Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and Roosevelt University for three years, until 1953 when he was drafted into the United States Army. He served in Japan and Korea. He had one daughter, Shoshanna Jordan Hastings, born June 30, 1970, with Susan Taylor Hastings of Sausalito, California.[3] Susan died on June 29, 1975, one day before Shoshanna's fifth birthday,[4] and Shoshanna died April 24, 1982,[5] at age 11, of a cerebral aneurysm. He also had a son named Matthew, born November 10, 1983, with Sarah Spencer of Key West, Florida; Sarah drove the conch train and inspired Shel's song "The Great Conch Train Robbery."[6][7][8] On May 10, 1999, Silverstein died at age 68 of a massive heart attack in Key West. He is buried in Westlawn Cemetery in Norridge, Illinois.

Poet Life

Silverstein began drawing at age 7 by tracing the works of Al Capp.[9] He told Publishers Weekly: "When I was a kid—12 to 14, around there—I would much rather have been a good baseball player or a hit with the girls, but I couldn't play ball. I couldn't dance. Luckily, the girls didn't want me. Not much I could do about that. So I started to draw and to write. I was also lucky that I didn't have anybody to copy, be impressed by. I had developed my own style; I was creating before I knew there was a Thurber, a Benchley, a Price and a Steinberg. I never saw their work till I was around 30. By the time I got to where I was attracting girls, I was already into work, and it was more important to me. Not that I wouldn't rather make love, but the work has become a habit."[10]

Shel Silverstein's Playboy travelogues were collected in 2007.

He was first published in the Roosevelt Torch (a student newspaper at Roosevelt University), where he studied English after leaving the Art Institute. During his tenure in the military, his cartoons were published in Pacific Stars and Stripes, where he had originally been assigned to do layouts and paste-up. His first book, Take Ten, a compilation of his military Take Ten cartoon series, was published by Pacific Stars and Stripes in 1955. He later said his time in college was a waste and would have been better spent traveling around the world meeting people.[11]

After returning to Chicago, Silverstein began submitting cartoons to magazines while also selling hot dogs at Chicago ballparks. His cartoons began appearing in Look, Sports Illustrated and This Week.[12]

Mass-market paperback readers across America were introduced to Silverstein in 1956 when Take Ten was reprinted by Ballantine Books as Grab Your Socks! The edition included a foreword by Bill Mauldin.

In 1957, Silverstein became one of the leading cartoonists in Playboy, which sent him around the world to create an illustrated travel journal with reports from far-flung locales. During the 1950s and 1960s, he produced 23 installments called "Shel Silverstein Visits..." as a feature for Playboy. Employing a sketchbook format with typewriter-styled captions, he documented his own experiences at such locations as a New Jersey nudist colony, the Chicago White Sox training camp, San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, Fire Island, Mexico, London, Paris, Spain and Africa. In a Swiss village, he drew himself complaining, "I'll give them 15 more minutes, and if nobody yodels, I'm going back to the hotel." These illustrated travel essays were collected by the publisher Fireside in Playboy's Silverstein Around the World, published in 2007 with a foreword by Hugh Hefner and an introduction by music journalist Mitch Myers.[13]

In a similar vein were his illustrations for John Sack's Report from Practically Nowhere (1959), a collection of humorous travel vignettes previously appearing in Playboy and other magazines.[14]

Silverstein began drawing at age 7 by tracing the works of Al Capp.[9] He told Publishers Weekly: "When I was a kid—12 to 14, around there—I would much rather have been a good baseball player or a hit with the girls, but I couldn't play ball. I couldn't dance. Luckily, the girls didn't want me. Not much I could do about that. So I started to draw and to write. I was also lucky that I didn't have anybody to copy, be impressed by. I had developed my own style; I was creating before I knew there was a Thurber, a Benchley, a Price and a Steinberg. I never saw their work till I was around 30. By the time I got to where I was attracting girls, I was already into work, and it was more important to me. Not that I wouldn't rather make love, but the work has become a habit."[10]

Shel Silverstein's Playboy travelogues were collected in 2007.

He was first published in the Roosevelt Torch (a student newspaper at Roosevelt University), where he studied English after leaving the Art Institute. During his tenure in the military, his cartoons were published in Pacific Stars and Stripes, where he had originally been assigned to do layouts and paste-up. His first book, Take Ten, a compilation of his military Take Ten cartoon series, was published by Pacific Stars and Stripes in 1955. He later said his time in college was a waste and would have been better spent traveling around the world meeting people.[11]

After returning to Chicago, Silverstein began submitting cartoons to magazines while also selling hot dogs at Chicago ballparks. His cartoons began appearing in Look, Sports Illustrated and This Week.[12]

Mass-market paperback readers across America were introduced to Silverstein in 1956 when Take Ten was reprinted by Ballantine Books as Grab Your Socks! The edition included a foreword by Bill Mauldin.

In 1957, Silverstein became one of the leading cartoonists in Playboy, which sent him around the world to create an illustrated travel journal with reports from far-flung locales. During the 1950s and 1960s, he produced 23 installments called "Shel Silverstein Visits..." as a feature for Playboy. Employing a sketchbook format with typewriter-styled captions, he documented his own experiences at such locations as a New Jersey nudist colony, the Chicago White Sox training camp, San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, Fire Island, Mexico, London, Paris, Spain and Africa. In a Swiss village, he drew himself complaining, "I'll give them 15 more minutes, and if nobody yodels, I'm going back to the hotel." These illustrated travel essays were collected by the publisher Fireside in Playboy's Silverstein Around the World, published in 2007 with a foreword by Hugh Hefner and an introduction by music journalist Mitch Myers.[13]

In a similar vein were his illustrations for John Sack's Report from Practically Nowhere (1959), a collection of humorous travel vignettes previously appearing in Playboy and other magazines.[14]

Poem

A long time ago, when the earth was green
and there was more kinds of animals than you've ever seen,
and they run around free while the world was bein' born,
and the lovliest of all was the Unicorn.

There was green alligators and long-neck geese.
There was humpy bumpy camels and chimpanzees.
There was catsandratsandelephants, but sure as you're born
the lovliest of all was the Unicorn.

But the Lord seen some sinnin', and it caused him pain.
He says, "Stand back, I'm gonna make it rain."
He says, "Hey Brother Noah, I'll tell ya whatcha do.
Go and build me a floatin' zoo.

And you take two alligators and a couple of geese,
two humpy bumpy camels and two chimpanzees.
Take two catsandratsandelephants, but sure as you're born,
Noah, don't you forget my Unicorn."

Now Noah was there, he answered the callin'
and he finished up the ark just as the rain was fallin'.
He marched in the animals two by two,
and he called out as they went through,

"Hey Lord, I got your two alligators and your couple of geese,
your humpy bumpy camels and your chimpanzees.
Got your catsandratsandelephants - but Lord, I'm so forlorn
'cause I just don't see no Unicorn."

Ol' Noah looked out through the drivin' rain
but the Unicorns were hidin', playin' silly games.
They were kickin' and splashin' in the misty morn,
oh them silly Unicorn.

The the goat started goatin', and the snake started snakin',
the elephant started elephantin', and the boat started shaking'.
The mouse started squeakin', and the lion started roarin',
and everyone's abourd but the Unicorn.

I mean the green alligators and the long-neck geese,
the humpy bumpy camels and the chimpanzees.
Noah cried, "Close the door 'cause the rain is pourin' -
and we just can't wait for them Unicorn."

Then the ark started movin', and it drifted with the tide,
and the Unicorns looked up from the rock and cried.
And the water come up and sort of floated them away -
that's why you've never seen a Unicorn to this day.

You'll see a lot of alligators and a whole mess of geese.
You'll see humpy bumpy camels and lots of chimpanzees.
You'll see catsandratsandelephants, but sure as you're born
you're never gonna see no Unicorn