(November 14, 1907 – October 3, 2003) was a prolific American cartoonist
, sculptor and, later in life, an author of popular children's literature
Early life and education
Steig was born in 1907 in the Bronx in New York City
to Polish-Jewish immigrants from Austria, both socialists. His father was a house painter and his mother was a seamstress who encouraged his artistic leanings. As a child, he dabbled in painting and was an avid reader of literature. Among other works, he was said to have been especially fascinated by Pinocchio
. In addition to artistic endeavors, he also did well at athletics, being a member of the collegiate All-American water polo
team. He graduated from Townsend Harris High School
at 15, but never completed college, though he attended three of them, spending two years at City College of New York
, three years at the National Academy of Design
, and a mere five days at the Yale
School of Fine Arts before dropping out of each.
His brother Irwin was a journalist and painter, his brother Henry a writer, played the saxophone and painted and brother Arthur a writer and poet who, according to Steig, read The Nation in the cradle, was telepathic and "drew as well as Picasso or Matisse.
When his family became caught in financial problems during the Great Depression
, he began drawing cartoons as a freelance artist, and sold his first cartoon to the New Yorker
in 1930. He soon became quite successful, and over the coming decades, he would publish over 1600 cartoons in the magazine, including 117 of its covers, leading Newsweek
to dub him the "King of Cartoons."
Steig was one of 250 sculptors who exhibited in the 3rd Sculpture International held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the summer of 1949.
Steig was a patient of the psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich and illustrated Reich's polemic, Listen, Little Man.
In his 60s, he decided to try his hand at another artistic endeavor, and in 1968 wrote his first children's book. He excelled here as well, and his third book, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1970), won the prestigious Caldecott Medal. He went on to write more than thirty children's books, including famously the Doctor De Soto series, continuing to write into his 90s. Among his other well-known works, the picture book Shrek! (1990) formed the basis for the Dreamworks Animation film Shrek.
At the age of 95, Steig suffered from natural causes
and died on October 3, 2003. Shrek 2
honored him by incorporating his name near the end of the credits. "In memory of William Steig 1907-2003" with a small picture of Shrek and Donkey sadly looking at the moon as if they lost a dear friend.
Steig married four times and had three children. From 1936-1949, Steig was married to educator and artist Elizabeth Mead Steig
(1909-1983), sister of anthropologist Margaret Mead
, from whom he was later divorced. They were the parents of jazz flutist Jeremy Steig
and a daughter, Lucinda. He married second wife Kari Homestead in 1950, and they had a daughter, Margit Laura. After their divorce, he was married to Stephanie Healey from 1964-1966. His final marriage, to Jeanne Doron, endured for the rest of his life.
- 1939, About People
- 1942, The Lonely Ones
- 1945, Persistent Faces
- 1946, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House [illustrations by Steig]
- 1953, Dreams of Glory
- 1968, CDB!
- 1968, Roland the Minstrel Pig
- 1969, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
- 1969, Rotten Island
- 1971, Amos and Boris
- 1972, Dominic
- 1973, The Real Thief
- 1974, Farmer Palmer's Wagon Ride
- 1976, Abel's Island
- 1976, The Amazing Bone
- 1977, Caleb & Kate.
- 1978, Tiffky Doofky
- 1979, Drawings
- 1980, Gorky Rises
- 1982, Doctor De Soto
- 1984, CDC?
- 1984, Doctor De Soto Goes to Africa
- 1984, Ruminations
- 1984, Yellow & Pink
- 1985, Solomon: The Rusty Nail
- 1986, Brave Irene
- 1987, The Zabajaba Jungle
- 1988, Spinky Sulks
- 1990, Shrek!
- 1992, Alpha Beta Chowder
- 1994, Zeke Pippin
- 1996, The Toy Brother
- 1998, A Handful of Beans: Six Fairy Tales / retold by Jeanne Steig [illustrations by William Steig]
- 1998, Pete’s a Pizza
- 2000, Made for Each Other
- 2000, Wizzil
- 2001, A Gift from Zeus
- 2002, Potch & Polly
- 2003, When Everybody Wore a Hat
- 2003, Yellow & Pink [new format]