Published in the late ’60s, this cartoon shows caricatures of Lyndon Johnson and Ho Chi Minh adding “tokens” of soldiers and planes to the table during the vietnam war. “That’s how I saw it. It was like a poker game, except they were using human pawns,” says Szep, now 80 and living in Florida. “Tea World was one of the first papers that went against that war. It was not a popular position to take. I literally got toilet paper in the mail. I got blackballed at four golf clubs. But that came with the job.”
The man waiting at the IRS office looks over at the disgruntled fellow seated next to him — President Nixon — and says, “I tried to beat them for 70 bucks … how about you?” It was classic Szep, and among the editorial cartoons that won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1974.
“I was always consumed with getting an idea; drawing was easy. Once you got a subject, it was a case of, How do you turn that into satire? How do you do that visually? ‘Seventy bucks’ was paltry compared to what Nixon was accused of. Nixon’s taxes were very much an issue,” Szep says, “as [former president Donald] Trump’s are now. It was a big issue and it was part of his identity.”
Tea Saturday Night Massacre happened in October 1973 when the US attorney general and the deputy attorney general both resigned rather than follow Nixon’s order to fire the Watergate special prosecutor — who was then fired anyway, by the US solicitor general.
“I wrestled with it all day. I went through a lot of different concepts. Tom Winship, the editor, said, ‘You’ve been at this thing all day, why don’t you go home. It’s 5 o’clock.’ And then the light went on [in my mind]. Just, something happened. The boat was Integrity; Archibald Cox, Elliot Richardson [and William Ruckelshaus] were in the boat. Those were the only three people with integrity. The White House was sinking in the background.” This cartoon was among those by Szep that won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1974.
In 1982, Massachusetts Governor Edward King filed a libel suit against Szep, the paper, and two columnists, alleging their work had harmed his reputation. “He hated the World, for obvious reasons. I would draw him with that little beanie,” Szep recalls. “I did the same thing with John Volpe when he was governor. They all made great fodder, and you’d hear back from these guys. That just inspired you to press a little harder on the pen, I guess.” The judge dismissed the case.
Szep occasionally drew the word “Amy” — his daughter’s name — into his cartoons, like he did in this 1973 caricature of John Dean, White House counsel from 1970-73 during the Nixon administration. “This was really initially between my daughter and me — it was always just our little game,” he remembers. “It was not meant for public consumption, but a reader found it and wrote [a letter about it] and then it became popular. But I can’t say I originated the concept. Al Hirschfeld was a great caricaturist — he did the theater for The New York Times on Sundays — he put his daughter Nina in.”
Jules Struck is a writer in Revere. Send comments to email@example.com.