Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"If you can't imitate him, don't copy him" Y. Berra

From time to time I'll get a request to ID a a pinup as a Bolles girl or not. Having seen scores of his magazine covers, advertising illustrations and personal paintings I can usually pick the Bolles out of a lineup without any trouble. Yet there are cases when it is not such a simple matter. Bolles sometimes did work that was very removed from the typical pretty girl theme, and there were occasional odd-ball covers that seemed designed to intentionally frustrate the hard core fan. But the most trouble comes from artists who either borrowed the Bolles style or worked directly off of Bolles covers. George Quintana (his nom de pulp) was an artist who owed his entire pulp magazine career to Bolles. Quintana started out working for Movie Humor, a magazine which so studiously followed the style of Film Fun that the Delacorte's (who owned Film Fun) filed a law suit over it. The judge ruled in favor of Movie Humor, and so Quintana's career continued as did Bolles' frustration with being swiped on a monthly basis. There were times Quintana would create a cover configured from several Film Fun girls, but he often was just plan lazy and copied a cover outright. The easiest way to ID a Quintana is by the magazine itself. Quintana's did work for Movie Humor, Reel Humor, New York Nights and Silk Stockings. Contrary to some claims Bolles never did any work for these rags. The other easy way to tell them apart is to look at the hands. Bolles' are long and elegant, elegant whereas Quintana's are most charitably described as chubby. They also look like they could put your eye out.

Peter Driben also owed Bolles a debt of professional gratitude as much of his early work- which appeared in the same magazines as Quintana as well as High Heel and La Paree-was obviously inspired by Bolles. In most cases Driben tried harder than Quintana to establish his own style but there were times where what he did was tantamount to tracing. Check out this cover to Movie Humor from 1938 and the Bolles Film Fun from 1934 (this Film Fun image was reused, without permission, on the cover of the first issue of the Canadian magazine Garter Girls in 1937).

Sometimes the cover wasn't swiped outright but served as obvious inspiration. The example below is also from 1934, and was quickly picked up by other artists who either duplicated it outright or tweeked it a bit. Included among them were Quintana and Driben, as well as Reginald Greenwood, and Jack/Otto Grenier. Curiously the major alteration made to the Bolles image was to flip it, and so I've reversed several of the covers to provide a direct comparison. Bolles himself never used it again and I think it may have been due in part to the provocative nature of this pose. In fact, the version of this cover printed for England had a banner slapped over her mid-section, which I think unintentionally insured the image was perceived as scandalous.
Among other pinup artists who have used Bolles for inspiration I've seen a few by Earle Bergey (he also did work for the same magazines and it's likely the art editors demanded he stick with the same style), one Moran and an Elvgren, though George Petty had not so much as a hint of Bolles in any of his girls. But of all the artists, I was shocked to discover that the king of the modern pinup, Alberto Vargas swiped one of Bolles most well known covers (the Cupid's Capers contortionist) for one of the girls he was doing for Playboy. Bolles was still living when this Vargas girl was published and I wonder whether he ever got wind of it. I sincerely doubt Bolles had a subscription to Playboy but he did know enough about Vargas' success to inspire him to take some samples, painted when Bolles was pushing 90 years old, to New York to a competing magazine to see if they were interested. Alas, they weren't. But then, who would ever accuse Bob Guccione of being a pinup man.


Anonymous said...

Great post! That Bolles was imitated so much just proves how much of an original trailblazer he was.

Alan Wrobel said...

Just beautiful Jack! I have a Ginger issue that would fit right into that last bunch. I'm a bit more charitable regarding the copy-cat artists who worked under deadlines during the Depression, but just a bit. What a great scene it must have been at the newstand for customers like us to have seen 20-30 different mags all with bright lively girls up front!

Alan Wrobel said...

Which also makes me wonder what the largest number of covers by Enoch Bolles that could have been on a newstand at one time was!

Jack R said...

This was a fun post and I have a few other examples of creative borrowing I'll be uploading at some point. As far as the number of Bolles covers on the newsstands at once, there were long periods where he averaged three or four, though I think for short periods he may have as many as five. I'm working on a post that will have examples from every periodical that Bolles worked for. Of course, there were some Bolles mags that were kept behind the newsstand!

treplovski said...

I think another signature characteristic of a Bolles girl was that her eyes were wide-set. That was always the first giveaway for me.

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