Censored in LA

Random Lengths News | July 12, 2005
Three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Conrad, has been one of the world’s most distinguished political cartoonists since the 1960s. He was chief editorial cartoonist of the Los Angeles Times from 1964 to 1993 and his trenchant political observations appear in newspapers worldwide, and are syndicated by the Chicago Tribune with the Los Angeles Times owning the LA area syndication rights. His work is still very much in demand particularly over seas. But in recent years, Conrad’s work can hardly find its way into the paper where he made his greatest mark -- the LA Times.

In addition to three Pulitzers (1964, 1971 and 1984), Conrad won two Overseas Press Club awards (1970 and 1981) and in 1988, the Society of Professional Journalists/Sigma Delta Chi (SDX) honored him with his sixth Distinguished Service Award for Editorial Cartooning - making him the only journalist to win that many SDX awards in any category since the annual competition began in 1932 (he also won in 1963, 1969, 1971, 1981, and 1982).

With a reputation like this, you’d expect Conrad to have a grand studio with all the tools of his cartoon trade at hand, yet he works amongst copies of newspapers on his kitchen table at his rather typical home in Rancho Palos Verdes. His wife Kay is at hand to bounce ideas around with and their aging golden retriever nudges a furry nose to get a friendly pat on the head, but Con––as he is affectionately called–– is hard at work, still rolling over ideas for a caption for his recent cartoon on stem cell research.

JA: You used to drive to downtown LA from here?

PC: I got to detest it. Then they opened up what they called bureaus you know and the South Bay bureau was on Hawthorne Blvd. And that’s when they hired Kay to be my assistant.

JA: Well that's clever, it would keep you out of trouble.

Kay Conrad: Well when they closed the South Bay office they did offer to deliver all the equipment here and mainly we wanted that file cabinet. It had every cartoon in it.

JA: I have a Conrad original that you donated to the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce for a raffle. It’s the one of George Bush Sr. trying to keep the lid on the Iran Contra box scandal.

PC: (laughs). There were so many involved in it and they are all still working for the government. What’s...the lieutenant’s name who was involved in the arms for drugs deal?

JA: Ollie North

PC: Yeah that's him, stepped back in working for the government.

JA: Yes he should have been thrown in jail for treason.

PC: Absolutely. And then they build a fence around his house...some astounding sum about 40 grand. I could build a fence around here for a lot less than that. I watched this from afar and I can say this ain’t really happening but it is.

JA: You have been a political observer for a long time

PC: Since 1950. Over half a century

JA: What sort of similarities do you see now.

PC: Well they don’t want observation now…they don’t want my observations and they syndicate. The Chicago Tribune does.

JA: I haven’t seen a Conrad cartoon in the LA Times in some time.

PC: You won't. They just won’t do it––even if they agree with it.

JA: Well who does run them?

PC: Well there is a list of papers like oh I don’t know the Washington Post, the foreign papers are really sold. They buy all over the world.

JA: So you are famous in Uzbekistan and some other places but you can’t get a cartoon printed in LA.

PC: Since Bush has been caught as a fuckin’ liar more and more, I'm getting the American papers back. I don't know how many there are. I just don't. But that’s okay–– the checks are coming in. I don’t care. I try hard to say what nobody else would say. Whether they print them or not is beyond the point. They are being used elsewhere and I'm sorry for that because wherever I go, people say when the hell are you going to get back in the Times? I’m going to probably when they get a publisher who knows what the hell he’s doing.

JA: Well it seems extremely odd. During the years when we had conservative leadership in Los Angeles, the LA Times had you, one of the most accursedly most Liberal cartoonists in the United States, doing their cartoons and couldn't get rid of you even when they tried. And now that we have probably the most liberal leadership in Los Angeles with the likes of Jim Hahn and Antonio Villaraigosa... we get stuck with a right wing cartoonist like Ramirez.

PC: I have no idea. I can't explain it. I won’t even try but that's alright.

JA: So what was the highlight of your career at the Times.

PC: Oh god we had a good time at the Times.

JA: You got three Pulitzer Prizes and a bunch of other awards...How many times did they try to get rid of you? I recall the story that got passed onto me from my mother about you. You had a dispute with the management at the Times. Somebody had written a letter about your cartoons–– how much they hated it and you just went on vacation.

PC: Oh I did in fact. I told them to shove the whole paper up their ass. I had another job lined up a day later in Des Moines. I said forget it. Just go ahead, take as much time as you want and you can come back to the Times. I guess when I got back, Dave and whoever else wanted this... “no it's our fault. We caused that––we’re sorry.” What a load of shit. I got the cartoons to run. I got four cartoons they wouldn't touch...and they were all about Barry Goldwater and I said I've got one run which I got...and before I left for my vacation I went up and got it, I got all copies of it and hid it. So that one ran the next day and I did two of the three left because I thought the other would run out and that was the end of it we didn’t really speak much of anything for quite a while.

JA: And that was back in the 60's when Barry Goldwater was running for president

PC: Yes. What really pissed me was the fact that they had told me that they weren't going to back anyone and then they came out and said that they were endorsing Goldwater...and that just burned my ass.

JA: This was the time in which Barry Goldwater said we had to nuke Vietnam, must have been the '64 campaign against Johnson.

PC: Yeah I met him. In fact I called him...and we got to be very close friends, marvelous guy.

JA: Goldwater?

PC: Yeah. So I sent him a telegram after the Senate passed the bill, the nukes on trains that keep moving all the times. I've got great news for you, as you know the missiles of trains thing passed. The bad news is it circles your house in Scottsdale. He thought that was so funny.

JA: I still have one of your cartoons hanging by my desk. It was on the announcement of Nixon’s funeral and you had the casket there and the caption says “here lies Richard Millhouse Nixon”.

PC: That was on the tombstone. And boy are tombstones hard to find. All of them now are flat.

JA: And the fun part about your relationship with Dick Nixon in '73, you were on his enemies list and some years later you were named the Nixon chair of Whittier College. Somebody must have had a grand sense of humor to do that.

PC: Well I don't know what he was like and it was his idea, so he did it. I had to give five talks, which I did. And right at the end, one of the committee members from the college said, “We’re just about to go in and vote to throw you out.” And I said, “just vote me out. It would be a better story than the original story.” But they gave me an hour to talk to forty students about how this could happen. I had a good time––a real good time.

JA: Is Nixon your favorite political foil of all time?

PC: Well he was. But now Bush is in every cartoon. He is the most dangerous man we ever elected to anything. They are trying to do away with the court system. What good is the Supreme Court gonna be? All the justices are born-again Christians, all the justices are yes men He doesn’t even know a liberal. If he did, he would try and get rid of him. I feel sick that the United States is in a fix like this.

JA: Do you think we have been heading this way ever since Ronald Reagan?

PC: Well Reagan was part of it, but not to the extent that Bush is.

JA: You had Regan, but then you had George's father....

PC: Yeah–– who was another fool.

JA: Another interesting thing that just came out this week was this whole thing about the assassination of Orlando Latelier in Washington in 1976, where the head of the Chilean CIA after years in prison finally fessed up to the fact that the Fascist dictator Pinochet knew and ordered it, and that the CIA knew all about it. And in 1976, who was head of the CIA?

PC: George Bush Sr. Yep. But you wouldn’t get anyone to agree with you on that

JA: The evidence is there...

PC: I give them no credit for any honesty whatsoever.

JA: So who else in the years of cartooning really stands out?

PC: Well, Johnson was fun, but not as much as Nixon.

JA: The worst thing is to have someone that actually does their job.

PC: That would be tough for me, but we won't. Not with the neo-cons and the Christian right and the bastards who believe that stuff. I just don’t understand.

JA: Well you are Catholic, what do think about abortion?

PC: I believe it's a woman’s right to choose.

JA: So you are a Liberal Catholic?

PC: I guess

JA: But on the other hand you believe in the sanctity of life.

PC: Sure it’s like the stem cell thing. Who knows when life begins? I don't know. I have no idea myself and I've tried to think it through and I can't. I have no idea and its not just when the egg is fertilized its later than that, but when I don’t know

JA: Are we talking spiritual life?

PC: Sure, out here you got Bush talking about stem cell research and what does he do? He’s hugging a little kid. Everything is a photo op with that guy, Bush.

JA: I remember the years in Palos Verdes when there were five Democrats on the Hill.

PC: There still are!

JA: It's gotten slightly better, particularly in Palos Verdes Estates, but how have you survived in this bastion of Republicanism?

PC: We belong to the country club. We can get golf time anytime. It’s the best course around. The nice thing is the guys don’t discuss politics. They won’t talk politics.

PC: At first they did...then it turns out there are five of us who are Democrats, other regular couples who play there but maybe it’s growing. Now they think I'm a nice guy.

Paul Conrad’s work has been published many times over the years and include; Drawing the Line (Los Angeles Times, 1999) CONartist (Los Angeles Times, 1993),” Drawn and Quartered (Harry N. Abrams, 1985), Pro and Conrad (Neff-Kane, 1979, distributed by Presidio Press), The King and Us (Clymer Publications, 1974) and When in the Course of Human Events with Malcolm Boyd (Sheed and Ward, Inc., 1973).For more information go to www.conradprojects.com

Paul Conrad was interviewed at the Warner Grand Theater by Random Lengths News publisher, James Preston Allen, on First Thursday June 2, 2005 for upcoming events at the Warner Grand go to www.warnergrand.org.

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