Remembering Maurice Sendak: Longtime Friend Jules Feiffer Pays Tribute

Maurice Sendak - H 2012
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Maurice Sendak - H 2012

The Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist remembers the "Where the Wild Things Are" author.

This story first appeared in the May 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

Legendary children's author Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen) died May 8 at age 83. His friend of 60 years, Jules Feiffer, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about his legacy:

Maurice changed the way people looked at children's literature. He was like a child himself, growing all the time. What made him successful was that he got at where children lived, where the emotions are, because he understood who and what they were as editors didn't, as parents didn't, as librarians didn't.

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His Jewishness permeated his work in disguise. In those days growing up in New York, it was pre-Freud, it was pre-Dr. Spock. No one bothered to ask kids what they were thinking or feeling. It was a world where a kid -- if he or she was sensitive -- was an alien force in this world of overpowering adults who talked to them but did not listen.

He loved to complain. He was like a little, old Jewish man, but there was a great sweetness to him. I just saw Tony Kushner [the playwright with whom Sendak collaborated on a version of the opera Brundibar], and oddly enough, we spent most of our time together talking about Maurice -- and to know him, in both of our cases, was to ignore his kvetching.

He took it for granted, as we all did, that the movies are run by schmucks, even more schmucks than run publishing, and it all got a Jewish shrug: "What are you going to do?" I do think that it was remarkable that Spike Jonze was allowed to get away with what he did in Where the Wild Things Are, which is closer to Maurice's vision than I'm sure anything Maurice ever expected would be allowed on the screen.

He loved being on The Colbert Report [in January]. That was a nice final sendoff for him, even though no one knew that is what it would be.

Jules Feiffer is a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and the writer of the Oscar-winning animated short film Munro (1961).