Sheldon ‘Shel’ Silverstein is best known for his four decades as a Playboy magazine cartoonist. His biting wit was well known to millions. A standing joke in many households for decades. when a copy of Playboy is discovered by an irate wife, ‘but dear I only buy it for the articles’. Maybe we should rethink that reply to, ‘But dear I only buy it for the cartoons. What many people do not realize are the many other accomplishments of this man, they are far ranging to say the least, cartoonist for an adult magazine, yet an author of children’s books. There is this brief summary of Shel’s achievements in this memoir:

…500 cartoons, 600 poems, 800 songs, fifteen plays, two movie scripts, four film scores, nineteen books, twelve albums and assets totaling $20 million

One of the songs by the way is A Boy Named Sue, a song immortalized by the late Johnny Cash. But who was Shel Silverstein? One person that can definitively answer that question is Marvin Gold. They had been friends since their childhoods in Chicago. Their lives intertwined, in many ways both were social outcasts and were magnets to each other.

Siverstein And Me is to say the least a controversial book, you will either love it, or loathe it depending on how you wish to remember Shel Silverstein. Marvin Gold pulls no punches and tells the story as it was. Mostly I found it uproariously funny interspersed with with great sadness.

As prolific a writer as Shel was, and a figure very much in the public eye, he was also a very private and somewhat secretive man with many acquaintances and few friends.

To say Shel’s life was somewhat checkered does not do it justice. Shel’s life was bordering on the downright bizarre.  His college career is a good example. Expelled from the University of Illinois, dismissed from the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, quit from the School of Art Institute of Chicago in the first year, and finally arriving at Roosevelt College in 1950 where he had a very undistinguished stay until 1953 when he was drafted!

Even in the Army Shel had some bizarre adventures, he became a cartoonist for the Stars and Stripes, a nice easy way to spend your time while conscripted, or so you would think. No so for Shel, he managed to ruffle feathers, and came close to being court marshaled on a couple of occasions. His sense of humor clashing with the army brass.

The bulk of his working life though 1956-1999 was spent working for Hugh Hefner. Shel was one of the first employees and his cartoons started to appear in issue number 8 of Playboy. Shel also became a ‘resident’ of the infamous Playboy Mansion, decadence on steroids!

I think Marvin Gold has done a wonderful job of sharing his observations about the enigmatic Shel Silverstein. The anecdotes are all wonderful and colorful, as children making money for the Saturday matinée triple feature at the theater by  ‘dumpster diving’ for copper, iron, and other metals that they could sell. As young adults they discovered the joys of crashing wedding receptions where the free booze flowed. On the rare occasions they were challenged, they would glibly remark that ‘they were with the other side.’

Although  Silverstein And Me is written with much humor and candor, it is clear that Marvin Gold very much misses his old friend. I am glad that he has written this book, and ribald it may be in parts, but it really does bring out exactly who this beloved Cartoonist was, and how he reached the pinnacle of his trade.

You can pick up your copy of Silverstein And Me from better book stores everywhere, or order a copy from Amazon.

Simon Barrett

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