Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Francis "Smilby" Smith 1927-2009

I got some sad news this week. The cartoonist, writer, and collector extraordinaire, Francis Smith, who signed his work Smilby has passed away I first got to know Francis about 10 years ago after I cold called him. He had written what many still consider the best book about the history of pinup and glamour art, Stolen Sweets and I had the audacity to phone in order to pester him about some of the illustrations in the book that were unattributed but which I was convinced were done by Enoch Bolles. Other sections of the book (one is included below) had nice things to say about Bolles so I was guessing he would be be sympathetic to my cause. Francis graciously heard me out and we ended up speaking for nearly a half hour. By the end of our conversation we had agreed that the illustrations were indeed by Bolles. I followed up with several other calls and Francis connected me to another mentor, Reid Austin, the art editor at Playboy who convinced Hugh Hefner to hire on Alberto Vargas. Reid who alas, passed away two years ago, eventually became Vargas' personal assistant and editor at Playboy was a good friend of Francis, who himself contributed cartoons for Playboy for many years. Our relationship progressed to the point to where seven years ago I made the trip to the English countryside to visit the 400 year old (give or take a century) cottage Francis shared with his lovely wife Pam, a talented artist in her own right. Francis, his health flagging and eyesight fading but undimmed in spirit, greeted me--ginger and rye in hand--in their lovely garden where we talked about many things, including pinup. Inside the cottage I pored over his amazing collection of vintage pulps, many of which were reproduced in Stolen Sweets, and rare illustrated books by Barbier--whom he especially admired--and others. The shelves were stacked floor to ceiling with thousands of old 78's all in their original brown liners. Francis had one of the largest collections of blues and gospel records in the world (many of which have been remastered in a series of CD's. I think Francis may have written the liner notes). I had a grand time and ended up staying an extra day, having missed the last train back to London. In the years since Francis' health continued to ebb but he was comfortable to the end, supported by Pam's unflagging devotion, amazing energy and occasional sips of good wine that Pam would slip him while the nurses weren't looking. Francis will be missed by many but his words, art and spirit live on.


















7 comments:

Alan Wrobel said...

From all I've seen about him, a fine fellow. Its always good to review a life well-lived!

Peter said...

Good-bye, Francis. You have been a special man. I am glad and proud that I had the privilege to know you.

Seb Haigh said...

Thank you for posting this, Peter. Francis and Pam have been family friends for may years. I occasionally worked for Francis during school holidays. Jobs ranged from picking stones out of the lawn, to clipping of topless model shots from tabloid newspapers. But it was Pam and Francis's sparkling company that really made the 30 mile cycle trip worth it ;-)

While not without his quirks and idiosyncrasies, when on form, I know of few more engaging than Francis.

Alzheimer's is particularly challenging for one so cerebral.

Goodbye Francis. In this corner of England you are very much missed.

Anonymous said...

Always had a thing about sumissive vintage maids in black uniforms, crisp white caps and flimsy panties... This one leaves a lot to my erotic imagination... I like it!

Alan

Jack R said...

Yes, I got to see that first hand as I spent the night at the Smith's cottage about 8 years ago. Such a wonderful couple. I miss them both.

Sildenafil said...

it's a sad news, indeed. I saw a couple of his works and it was an amazing experience. I would like to know more about him, specially regarding his art.

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