Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Long Lost Bolles Girl

Its been a long time, maybe two years since I've come across a new cover, but recently my Bolles-pal, Alan ended the drought when he shared this magazine with me. Both of us were sure she was a Bolles girl, but there were some differences that warranted a closer look. For one, the rendering is uncharacteristically loose for a Bolles, particularly that impressionistic background. But after I showed it to another Bolles-pal, the Gentleman Collector, he aptly reminded me that Bolles was partial to daisies and included them in a number of covers. So that's reassuring. And there's also that giant sun hat, which was yet another standard Bolles prop. But what nailed this as a Bolles is the pose, which is closely resembles of one of Enoch's most widely reproduced works. It was published in 1941 but curiously, this issue of Breezy Stories hit the newsstands eight years later, in December of 1949. And until Alan found it, this issue of Breezy wasn't even known to exist. According to Galactic Central, the amazingly comprehensive index of magazines including pulp, the last issue of Breezy was published two months earlier. So our mystery cover is both the swan song for Breezy Stories and the very last Bolles. Now the fact that it was a Bolles is no surprise because throughout the 1940s, the publisher, Phil Painter had routinely been reusing old Breezy covers from the 1930s. But the twenty-thousand dollar question is how did he get his hands on a new one. The previously published and until now final Bolles cover came out in 1943 and he had been hospitalized and for all intents and purposes, retired.     
The November 1941 cover of Film Fun
What's even more curious is that Painter fully acknowledged how unique this image was, both inside the pages as well as in the design of the cover itself. It was as if he wanted the magazine, which was first published in 1915, to go out with style. In the table of contents he even identified the cover image as the "new Enoch Bolles girl." And then there's the cover itself. The Breezy masthead on this cover is smaller than usual and deliberately positioned one side to both complement the composition and leave it uncovered. Even curiouser is the complete absence of the dateline, banners, coverlines. There's no text on the cover at all, not ever the price! I have to wonder if there has ever been another magazine anywhere that has been published with the image and nothing else.

So where did Painter get his hands on a unique Bolles so many years after Bolles had done anything new. Several possibilities occur to me. One is that this wasn't a brand new cover but an overpainting done using the 1941 Film Fun cover art. This isn't too much of a stretch because  Bolles had reworked a number of his Film Fun covers as well as a few other titles, both for reuse on other magazine covers and for his own personal pleasure. He may have done this for previous issue of Breezy Stories although I hope this isn't the case. If this is a Bolles, it's got to be the worst thing of his that ever saw print, which is ironic because it was inspired by one of his most alluring covers, the amazing 1933 Bedtime Stories.
October, 1949
October, 1933
But I don't think is was an overpainting and I'll use another example of a reworked painting to illustrate why. Below is an example of a 1938 Film Fun cover that Enoch revised a year later, changing not only the outfit but also her hand poses and the hairdo. This amounts to quite a few alterations but they are minor compared to the differences between the martini girl and the Breezy Stories cover. 
April, 1938
November, 1939

So let's look at them side by side. Obviously there are some major differences in the position of her legs, and left arm. More significant, the angle of the faces in the Film Fun and Breezy Stories covers differ. Her head on the Film Fun cover is turned a bit less which reveals more of her face, particularly her right eye and lips. This difference is quite subtle but as a revision it would be more difficult to execute than simply reworking an arm or leg, or adding clothes. 

There's another reason I don't think it was unlikely to have been a rework and that's because the original Film Fun painting appears to have suffered an ignominious fate. Here's a photo out of a later issue of Film Fun and you can clearly see the painting serving as a prop in the Film Fun office in a photoshoot of a model who appeared in the same issue. I doubt very much that Bolles was able to get his hands back on it and it pains me to imagine the ultimate fate of this fabulous painting.

So that puts me back to square one. What was the story behind our mystery cover.  My theory is that was not a new painting per se but an older and unused painting that Bolles had completed years earlier, in 1941 to be exact. More specifically, I think this painting was a so-called "comp" or comprehensive sketch that Bolles would have submitted to the art editor of Film Fun for consideration as a potential cover theme. From the final version it makes sense to assume the editor liked the pose but asked Bolles to tone it down a bit (little good that did, a year later the magazine was forced to fold by the Postmaster General for being "salacious") and so was born the martini girl. There's also a piece of evidence that supports this story. Submitted below for your consideration is exhibit "a", which comes from my own collection. This is a comprehensive sketch Bolles completed for what would be the October 1941 Film Fun cover, published just a month earlier than the martini girl cover.
You can see a number of subtle but substantial changes in the pose, head position and hairdo as you move from the comp to the final (including removing the ties on all the balloons). And that two-piece outfit, scandalous because of the blatantly exposed navel, an anatomical feature that would have no place on the cover of Film Fun. So it doesn't seem to me such a stretch that the Breezy Stories cover was originally the comp for the "new Bolles girl".

Problem solved? Well, yes and no.  There remains the question of how Phil Painter got hold of the painting in the first place, and why he hung onto it for so long before using it. And then there's the image itself. As I took a hard look at it I found things that made no sense. That weird red cast to her left which also shows up just above her right leg. To me it looks like a pillow or blanket the engraver struggled to conceal. Weirder, if you carefully examine the edges of the figure, there places where you can see cut lines (her right ankle and knee, for example) that look like parts of her had been snipped out and then slapped back on top of the cover image. I have no idea what this could be but once you notice, it is impossible to ignore. And that black blob of a shoes is very uncharacteristically crude for a Bolles, even if this was originally only a sketch. So this mystery is not satisfactorily solved, and if you're interested in investigating further, stay tuned to eBay. The magazine's going up for sale there this week.

Monday, February 1, 2016

February 1 is Sssssserpent Day!

Yes there really is a serpent day and yes, our man Bolles has not left his fans disappointed. So to celebrate I pulled out a very special cover from my files. And in my opinion--admittedly biased-- this ranks as one of Enoch's very best covers among the nearly 700 he created for over 20 different titles. This issue of Spicy hit the newsstands in 1930, and it has so much going for it. He had only been working at Spicy for just a year but by then then a lot of pretty girl artists--Bolles included--had already done the girl-with-animal theme, usually a cute pet or horse. Here Bolles turned the trope on its head. If this wasn't the first girl-snake mashup it certainly has to be the first to where an unskinned snake stood in for the girl's outfit. Our charming snake charmer obviously isn't wearing a stitch underneath, but it's her exposed navel that's the real no-no. Even a decade later the art editors of Film Fun and other girly mags were still airbrushing the navels out of the showgirl photos. How about that hair style, slicked back with the widow's peak and those crazy curls around her ears. Bolles worked in one of this deco motifs into the background that ties into the rug. The terra cotta alms bowl is a nice detail and did you happen to notice the toe ring?  And finally there are the hand poses which are not at all typical for Bolles. The only other middle finger shot I've seen was on a Spicy Stories cover from 1938.

This cover brings another image to mind, a photo of Natasha Kinski by the famed and somewhat notorious fashion photographer, Richard Avedon.  It appeared in Vogue magazine over a half-century after Bolles and became a best selling poster. While it looks spontaneous the snake was anything but cooperative. Avedon said that at times handlers had to pinion the snake (a python) to her legs, and it took him two hours before he got the shot that made Kinski a pinup sensation. I don't think it is a stretch of the imagination to suggest these two images share some more than a few similarities but I wouldn't go so far to suggest Avedon got some skin from Bolles. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Happy Birthday, Ann Pennington!

Here's one of Enoch's series of film star covers, featuring the hoofer Ann Pennington, who was born today back in 1893.  She danced for the Ziegfeld Follies and George White's scandals. Take a look at this snippet and you'll see why she was wildly popular and worth the $1,000 a week she earned on Broadway in the 1920s where she debuted the Black Bottom dance. Among few the other clips of her dancing that still exist is one taken at the 1939 World's Fair.  I've commented that Bolles' attempts at these star covers were hit or miss but I think this one really captures Ann's spirit.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Happy Birthday, Sue Carol!

Here's Enoch's depiction of the actress Sue Carol, who was born on this day in 1906. She appeared on the cover of Film Fun  in 1929. From 1928 to 1932 the magazine would occasionally feature a "specially posed" cover of an up and coming starlet. Despite the claim on the cover, Bolles, like other movie magazine illustrators, worked from publicity photos. This image is a pretty fare likeness of Sue and certainly Bolles knew that putting her in a canoe would add a slightly risque' aspect to the composition. Some of Bolles' other covers of starlets were a bit uneven, but his painting of Lupe Velez as a pirate girl stands out as among Bolles' very best covers. And according to Bolles family lore, Lupe actually did pose for it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Real Live Bolles Girl!

From time to time on this blog I’ve remarked how Bolles’ girls were unique; a creation arising out of his imagination, rather than a realistic depiction of an actual model.  In fact, many of his covers were based on cartoon sketches he would dash off several at a time, rather than a one-on-one session with a model.  By contrast, the work of many other pinup artists exhibits a mirror like fidelity between the completed product work and the model.  The best known case would be Gil Elvgren. When you compare the photographs of his models with the finished work you can’t miss the remarkable match between the model and final painting. The late Francis Smith, Playboy cartoonist and author of the book, Stolen Sweets once told me that if an Elvgren model had her garter on crooked, then that's how he painted it. 
 Earl Moran is a another example of a pinup artist whose work closely followed the lines of the model, but you can’t blame him considering one of his favorite models was a young beauty named Norma Jean Dougherty, who later went by Marilyn Monroe. And George Petty was so particular about getting a model’s pose just right that he once resorted to strapping her foot to a board.  

Even in the case of Bolles you can occasionally see an obvious connection between the composition in the painting and the model’s pose, the difference is you’d never mistake the face of model for the girl on the cover. But I have found a few glaring exceptions to this and in fact there was one movie star that Bolles took a real shine to. So who do you think she was? Some of the likely contenders would include Jean Harlow, Alice Faye or the lesser known but widely photographed, Toby Wing.  None of them, as lovely as they were, got the part.  The role of the Bolles girl went to another blonde bombshell, Mary Carlisle, a smoldering screen presence. Her name was Mary Carlisle. First noticed by a Hollywood executive at the tender age of 14 she went on to become a Wampus Baby Star in 1932, a title given to young up and comers, not toddlers. Mary lived up to the 'acclaim' and would star in many Hollywood movies alongside the likes of Bing Crosby, Jack Benny and Lionel Barrymore.

Over the years I’ve found at least three Bolles covers which were directly worked from photos of Mary, though it took me a while to identify her. With looks like Mary's it was no surprise to learn she was a huge favorite of the reigning Hollywood photographers of the era, including Clarence Bull and George Hurrell, who dated her for a time. But what I had no idea of until just recently was that Mary is still with us, and going strong at the age of 101!  Take a look at this recent video of her being feted with some classic piano tunes and you’ll see she is as glamorous and lively as ever. With the gracious assistance of her agent Darin, I was able to send Mary some side by side examples showing how Enoch’s art was directly inspired by her.  You can imagine how thrilled I was to receive one of them back, personally autographed by Mary!  And what a coincidence that the contemporary pinup model, Mala Mostroberte used a Bollescover that itself was inspired by Mary for one of her own fabulous interpretations of the Bolles girl.

If you'd like to see more of Mary, be sure to check out her Facebook page. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Find that Wine!

When I walked past this wall of wines my spidey sense kicked in. The one I wrote about in a recent blog post.  It's my super power. It's the only one I have. I'm very proud of it. 

Take a closer look.  Can you spot what interested me?

I've pulled it off the rack. Now you can tell why it attracted my attention.  She's definitely a Bolles girl. Not a complete swipe but clearly inspired from a particular cover image.

 Here's a side by side comparison of the cover and the label.  As far as these go I think the artist did a nice job personalizing the image while keeping the Bolles vibe. It seems to me very much an homage.

And there's more.  One of my best Bolles pals sent me this label he found just this week. I'm not entirely sure whether this is an actual label or a "Bolles fan-tasy", but I like it none-the-less.

I can vouch that the final example is an actual label, and that's because I provided the vintner with the scan of the Bolles girl for the label. They promised me a case of it in return for my trouble (and more important, pledged to put Bolles' signature on the label) but alas the wine never arrived.  And so I can't remark as to whether the wine would be too dry or sugary for your palate, but that label sure is sweet.