Back in 1835 – a time when Andrew Jackson occupied the White House – the New York City newspaper The Sun published a series of six articles claiming life had been found on the moon. The discovery was attributed to Sir John Herschel, a preeminent astronomer of his time, in which he claimed to have discovered bison, goats, unicorns, beavers and yes, Weekly World News fans, bat-like humans prowling around the moon through the lens of his telescope in South Africa.
The articles created a worldwide stir, until the writer Richard Locke came forward as the creator of the hoax – it was believed to be a piece of whole cloth fantasy meant to boost The Sun’s circulation, and also poke fun at the many celestial discoveries of the day.
While “The Great Moon Hoax” has now been largely lost to history, it was been brought back to life by Robert Grossman. One of America’s most popular and best-loved illustrators and writers, Grossman’s new illustrated novel “Life on the Moon” used the hoax as a jumping-off point for a tale of fantasy, satire, horror and social commentary on life as we know it today.
Sadly, Grossman passed away in March 2018 at age 78, not living to see his “Life on the Moon” hit bookshelves. But his son, veteran actor and musician Alex Emanuel, is carrying the flag for his beloved father in making sure the recently-released book gets its due.
“Dad was very devoted to this project – a true labor of love,” Emanuel tells Highlight Hollywood. “He started pitching the idea of Richard Locke 15 years ago, but it didn’t gain much traction.
“Typical for him, he went full steam ahead anyway and worked hours upon hours each day on the book, until he finally gained a publisher in 2017 that loved what he had put together. He was very excited to see it go to print.”
If the name Robert Grossman doesn’t necessarily ring a bell to the typical American, surely his illustrations do. His 50-years plus career saw him illustrate more than 500 magazine covers, including the iconic Time magazine 1969 moon landing cover and the 2006 George W. Bush “dunce cap” cover for Rolling Stone magazine.
While Grossman’s airbrush technique for illustrating became widely influential and much-copied, he was far from a one trick pony: Grossman created the famous twisted vessel promotional poster for the hit 1980 film Comedy Airplane! His political-themed cartoon strips appeared in magazines and newspapers around the country.
And he kept his penchant for skewing politics alive until his dying day. On his own website, he cast Bill and Hillary Clinton as a modern Stone Age family in “The Klintstones” and lived long enough to poke fun at our current president in his cartoon series “Twump and Pooty,” chronicling the exploits of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
“My father once said that reporters labor under the terrible requirement that what they report must be true,” son Alex says. “He said opinion writers need to endure the less stringent demand that what they opine must be at least plausible. Nobody ever expects what cartoonists do to be either true or even plausible, so that’s why we’re all happy as larks. He always believed that of his craft.”
Emanuel said his father became a true hustler in the publishing business since his first post-college foray into the 9-to-5 world as an assistant art director at New Yorker magazine bored him to tears.
“He had a wife and children to support, and that was a great motivation,” Emanuel says. “There wasn’t a day go by when he wasn’t sending out query letters and actively seeking assignments from Time, Newsweek, The Nation, New York magazine or any of dozens of other publications.”
And while Grossman’s work has only gained more appreciation and respect, including gallery exhibitions of his work, “Life on the Moon” is his posthumous tour de force. Unlike a graphic novel, which may use several panels per page to tell a story, Grossman created a single illustration for each page of text, a painstaking process that proved to be his driving force for the final years of his life.
The bizarre story and other-worldly illustration are par for the course for the unconventional Grossman, but son Alex believes there’s something for everybody in “Life on the Moon.”
Says Alex, “It’s like he’s hoaxing the hoax, as one reviewer put it. You’re not supposed to look at the story at face value. He’s telling people to think, to make their own decisions.
“It’s incredibly relevant now in this age of fake news, and this was, arguably, the first documented fake news story. The book is fun; it’s got a rip-roaring sci-fi ending. It’s also a cautionary tale and it also addresses in its own way, global warming.
“It’s a book that will make you laugh and cry, and one that, with the amazing illustrations, you can revisit again and again. It’s all laughs, tears and thrills.”
And while Emanuel has carved out his own career as an actor – he’s appeared on such TV series as Blue Bloods, Rescue Me, Sex and the City and the Law & Order franchise – he says it doesn’t bother him at all when folks introduce him to newcomers with, “His dad was a famous artist.”
“I am so proud of my father, not only for this book, but his whole body of work and the legacy he left the world,” Emanuel says. “I also worked as an illustrator, but then I discovered acting, and that was to me, important, that you find a thing you discover on your own, something that no one else in the family was doing.
“But dad and my mother never said ‘You have to make a living,’ they never said you have to have something to fall back on. They said, ‘Do what you love, create art. ‘ “
“When things haven’t always went well in my own career, dad would be like, ‘Buck up, man! Cheer up! You know, life includes sadness, but these times are the only times we’ve got.’ ”
And Emanuel’s headway is coming via the new film The Incoherents, which Emanuel produced and stars in, as well as writing the film’s score. The film has won a slew of awards at independent movie festivals around the country, and it is currently in play for wide release.
And he makes sure to carve his own way in his artistic path, all the while acknowledging the great influence of his late father.
“There was only one Robert Grossman,” Emanuel says. “He was a hero to me and many others. A great artist who was also a good, decent human being. He was an American original. He led an impactful life and inspired me to follow suit and never give up. He made people laugh, perhaps the greatest gift anyone can bestow.”
(“Life on the Moon” can be ordered through Amazon at the following link: https://www.amazon.com/Life-Moon-Robert-Grossman/dp/1684054567/ref=sr_1_1?crid=O3U128KHODVQ&keywords=life+on+the+moon+robert+grossman&qid=1567785985&s=gateway&sprefix=Life+on+the+moon+%2Caps%2C132&sr=8-1)
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Written By: Roger Hitts, (Roger Hitts is a two-time United Press International columnist of the year whose writing appears in a host of national and international publications. He lives in New York City with his wife Daphna Inbar and their daughter, Liana.)
Photographs are Courtesy: Author
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