Everyone starts somewhere. In many cases, famous authors and artists have as their first publication a chapbook or short story they don’t feel particularly proud about later, or which is not truly representative of their work. Later, after they become successful, fans will attempt to track down those early magazine appearances or self-published fanzines.
Less common is when a first published work is produced by a credited small press, and it is representative of the famous person’s work, but it’s still left off their standard bibliographies and left to languish in complete obscurity. It’s exceedingly rare for it to happen to a book co-produced by two famous people.
That’s the story of The Cocktail People.
Published in 1966 by Pisani Press of San Francisco, it features about 48 pages of cartoon illustrations, each of which is accompanied by a humorous caption. The book showcases the type of people one might expect to meet at a cocktail party, typically portraying them in a mildly derisive light.
It was written by Joel Siegel – the same Joel Siegel who was the movie critic for ABC’s Good Morning America as their film critic. He retained this role, expanding it into being the general entertainment editor, for more than 25 years until his death due to colon cancer in 2007.
Siegel wrote essays for the Los Angeles Time, jokes for Robert F. Kennedy and movie and stage reviews for CBS before landing the job in Good Morning America. Most of his biographies mention all of those; they do not mention The Cocktail People.
The person who collaborated with him on the book was a cartoonist and one of Siegel’s best friends… and a man who was to precede him into fame. The book fails to appear on nearly all of his bibliographies as well… despite the obsessive nature of many of his fans. The Cocktail People was Terry Gilliam’s first book, produced shortly before he traveled abroad and was selected as the sixth member of Monty Python.
Question of the night: What’s your favorite humor book?