Friday, December 24, 2010

Santa's Baby

Beginning in 1928, the January issue of issue of Film Fun (which showed up on the newsstands a calendar month early) featured a Christmas theme.  Here we see the cover for 1931; Santa seems particularly cheery but then again, rarely has he been the recipient of such generous gifts. The streak of Christmas covers ended the following year but Bolles clearly liked this composition enough to use it in a far more raucous new year's celebration for the January, 1936 issue of Breezy Stories. This has to qualify in the top tier of covers top for the magazine, which is saying a lot because Breezy paid Enoch more than the average pulp and in return he put a lot of extra work into his covers.

So is there any wonder as to why the beau of the Bolles' girl is beaming?  The lucky guy, after Santa there were only one or two other times where the Bolles girl shared the spotlight on the cover with a member of the opposite sex.  And from the look on his face he seems quite grateful to take the supporting role.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Summer of '42

Is it as cold where you are as it is here?  It seems like a large swath of the planet has recently been struck by bad weather.  And it's not even Winter yet!  To to warm things up I'm posting a really inventive cover for the August 1938 issue of Breezy Stories.  In fact it was his Bolles' final assignment for the magazine.  His fifteen year run of covers for Film Fun also ended the same month, due to his hospitalization for what his doctor described as overwork and undernourishment.  Yet it would be over a year before Bolles returned to commercial work and in the meantime the magazine industry was in the throes of a sea change.  Just two months before this Bolles girl waded into the newsstands, Action Comics #1 was published and the comic book began its ascendancy into the print media stratosphere, carried by the steely arms of Superman. The publisher was Harry Donenfeld, who had clawed his way up the business by publishing Spicy pulps, most all of which Bolles had done work for at one time or another.  In preparing this post I learned that as a young man Donenfeld worked for a clothing store his parents owned in Newark in the 1920s.  Bolles grew up in Newark and his family had strong business ties in the community, including a successful shoe manufacturing business.  One has to wonder if they first crossed paths there. 

By the end of 1939 Bolles was back on the job for Film Fun but his other markets had dried up. Breezy Stories was sold off and the new publisher scrimped by recycling old covers. Both Spicy Stories and Gay Parisienne had ceased publication, victims of declining sales, badgering by the decency leagues, and perhaps Donenfeld's preoccupation with his burgeoning comic book company.  In the meantime Bolles was back in top form and doing great work, having updated his girls for the 1940's with WW-II styled pinup poses and Rita Hayworth hairstyles. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The 1000 Yard Dare

Dare you take on these femme fatales?  Others have tried and paid the price. 

A couple posts back the topic of conversation was the sassy variant of the Bolles girl. Here we see examples of the girl with the 1,000 yard stare or better, dare. Bolles did a number of these, mainly for Bedtime Stories. I'd long thought he'd left them blank faced as a time saving matter, particularly given that he was earning a lot less per cover compared  with Film Fun. The illustrator Hugh Ward complained he was only getting sixty bucks a cover, and this a couple years after Bolles had left the magazine, which leads me to believe the owners may have doled out a sawbuck or two more for Bolles.

However, after having pored though my files to pick out these examples, I've been forced to reconsider my initial hypothesis. First, it wouldn't have taken Bolles any longer to apply one of his patented blinding smiles than a blank slate. Second, these  particular girls were far less likely to be identified as a Bolles girl.  Why, you might ask, wouldn't any illustrator be proud to be identified as the creator of such beautiful creatures?  The most likely reason was the seamy reputation of pulps the likes of Bedtime Stories. Back in the 1930s Mayor Laguardia's Citizen's Committee on Civic Decency was burning with fervor to squash the so-called smoosh mags--nearly all of which Bolles worked for at one time or another--and among them Bedtime Stories ranked as perhaps the most notorious. The vice cops didn't hesitate to shutter newsstand vendors brazen enough to sell them or haul their publishers into court when they were lucky enough to find them.  The consequence was that for a long time nobody knew who did these covers, even such an authority as the late Francis "Smilby" Smith author of Stolen Sweets was stymied. Certainly Bolles didn't sign these or request credits in the magazine's mastheads, which were chock full of phony names and locations to mislead the authorities. 

So after thumbing through a virtual stack of covers I now think Bolles had more in mind that just shaving an hour or so off the time it took to complete a painting.  Take a look above at Mata Hari (sporting that spectacular tiara) and you'll see that she's got something serious on her mind. Bolles chose infamous historical or literary figures with reputations for sex, intrigue and sometimes, violence (both to other's and themselves). So in some cases there is a historical explanation for the severity of the girl's expression. Bolles also loaded these covers with cultural references, though you have to figure he knew most would be lost on the target audience. Yet, our resplendent Cleopatra--who's lately gotten a lot of press with a new biography--certainly has no need to explain her regal insouciance.

Coming soon:  My choice for the masterpiece of all Bolles' magazine covers. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It's a Bolles World: Part II

It was a long meandering trek through the enormous Eldon mall in downtown Newcastle, England before I found a watch repair shop, inconspiciously tucked in a row of garish jewelry stores. While waiting for my watch battery to be replaced I happened to spy a rotating Zippo lighter display and before long the misnamed Varga Windy girl slowly wheeled around the bend.

As you very likely know, she was actually the creation of our man Enoch, and one of these days I'll get around to relating the story of her origin in its entirety. What surprised me though, was this 1960s variation that revealed itself a few seconds later. Zippo has produced at least a hundred varieties of the Windy girl but this was one I'd never seen before (and it was 'regionalized'; the sign changed to read Piccadilly Circus). Checking further I learned this Windy was one in a four decade set, all "updates" of the Bolles original. Sadly someone did a really lousy job drawing these and the addition of the cheapo clip art was certainly no triumph of design. Worst of all, the color scheme applied to the original version is a combination Bolles would never have allowed to see print. But Zippo has never treated Bolles very well. His name was intenionally misspelled in the original ad and he never again got any credit for the image. Adding insult to injury, Zippo identified Windy as a Varga girl in the 60th anniversary edition of the lighter produced in 1993. They subsequently got in some hot water for it and had to make good with the Vargas estate. You have to wonder if they ever even flirted with the idea of trying to reach Bolles' family.
Coming soon: scans of Bolles original paintings thought lost forever from a 1930 catalog , and a movie publicity book that includes reproductions of a billboard by Bolles!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Which way is she leaning?

Did you vote? Our Bolles girl is still pondering who to cast her ballot for. Let's hope she supports our party!

This is one of three issues of Breezy Stories from 1936 that the original painting is known to survive. Unfortunately my versions of both the magazine and painting leave something to be desired, and that's too bad because this cover has so much going for it. For unknowns reasons there are even more original Breezy Stories paintings from 1937 still around, and I'll get around to putting them all up on a post before long.

On the topic of original Bolles paintings, just this week I got my hands on a copy of an art catalog from 1936 which has photos of nearly 20 Bolles originals. Over half are paintings I figured didn't survive the trip to the publisher's trash bin, and it gives me hope that at least a few are still be around somewhere, waiting to be rediscovered (expect an entire post on the catalog images sometime soon). If I had a clue where I bet we could rally together a few volunteers for some door to door "canvasing".

Friday, October 22, 2010

Gaining Attitude

In the previous post I spent some time describing how the Bolles girl was anything but a one dimensional poster girl peddling glee. As approachable as many were, there were others who wanted nothing at all to do with the guy who had just shelled out his hard earned money for the magazine. Compared with any other pinup illustrator-then or now-Bolles was far more apt to depict his girls in emotions ranging from boredom to annoyance to outright contempt. Clearly, this version of the Bolles girl was not only well aware of her effect on readers but could care less. As you can see from the examples above which span from 1923 to 1941, the not so nice Bolles girl made regular appearances throughout his entire career.

To the right is the entire image for the 1923 Film Fun cover and as you'll notice, there's a lot more going on in the composition that we typically see from Bolles.Yet within a year these sorts of narrative elements would fade from the covers to leave the Bolles girl front and center, free of any visual competition. In some ways this was too bad, because as this examples shows, Bolles had no trouble handling more involved compositions.

But aside from all this, take a closer look at our jaded film star and consider just how racy her image must have appeared the day she hit the newsstands. Notice-as if you haven't already-that revealing swim suit, the rolled hose, those splayed ankles. Naughty girl! Nobody today would take offense at any of this, but back in Bolles' times these were just the sorts of provocations that resulted in Film Fun getting banned by entire countries. Just one more thing; could this be the earliest depiction of a stunt double?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


No punny holiday celebrations today. In fact, no puns at all (well, maybe one or two). The theme today is that there isn't one, and so debuts a new series that will occasionally fill in for the usual topical applications. The goal will be simply to post a cover, one not chosen entirely by chance but with far less than the usual deliberation, take a closer look and see what the image reveals.

So how about today's Spicy Stories cover from 1935?! Far and away it's tops for that year and she stands, or rather sits, along Bolles' very best out of the entire run of Spicy. What about those enormous bows?!! That subdued metallic silver ribbon lacks the "coloric" punch Bolles connoisseurs are so accustomed to imbibing, yet this curiously monochromatic scheme has effective design elements that direct your attention to what matters. Consider the composition, which is unusual for Bolles. While many of his girls sat or knelt in the oft favored "L", that approach was discarded here (along with conventional clothing) for a head-on pose incorporating several visual tricks which thrust the girl right off the page into the reader's lap. Notice how the waves of ribbon draping the granite deco seat act to accentuate the horizontal plane (the pattern is repeated in her hair). The flat treatment of her torso (well...most of it) is contrasted by the more dimensional shadowing and highlights on her legs amplifies the effect. The shadow on her forehead gives the impression she's looking down on you from a superior vantage. Her expression implies the same. Is she disappointed? Annoyed? Peeved? A wasp ready to sting you for violating her territory? ("that's not your flower!") Or is she merely bored? Certainly, there's something on her mind though it would take a braver person than I to dare ask.

And this brings up another unique aspect of Bolles' work. Was there any other pinup artist of his era (granted, the term pinup originated in the early 40s) who depicted their girls with such confrontational intensity? Bolles produced a lot of covers with nary a hint of a smile. Some of his girls were bored, others pettish or merely unimpressed, and there were more than a few who confronted you with a cool, neutral gaze that conveyed an air of menace. I would venture that Bolles painted more mirthless pinups than any other artist. Throw out embarrassment as an emotional expression and you couldn't come up with a single straight faced Elvgren. Petty did haughty but after 1935 it was all smiles, and you had to wait until Playboy before you saw it from Vargas. It was Bolles who made the pinup more than just a vehicle of vapid cheeriness or abashment. But let's brave a closer look. Could that be the slightest curl of a smile on the edge of those luscious lips? Still not sure? We'll zoom in even closer when we probe the depths of Bolles' emotional range in future posts.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ad hoc hack

Here's an illustration for a men's clothing company that I am dead certain was composed and painted by Bolles and equally sure was overpainted by another artist. Now, perhaps you aren't convinced it's a Bolles (and initially I wasn't) but there are some compositional giveaways and other clues. Most telling; take a look at this original sketch by him for the same company and I think you'll see why I came around. So the big question is why would you mess with a good illustration. One of my theories is that an editor used one of Bolles' unfinished sketches and had it embellished by another artist. Or perhaps it was a completed composition that an editor was unhappy with and instructed another artist to give it a more painterly look. Who knows, but what I am sure is that the overpainting isn't by Bolles. It's just too muddy and unassured in spots, particularly the weave pattern on the rattan chair. That's the very type of repetitive detail that Bolles would have nailed down to geometric precision. The woman's shawl is another problem. The folds in the wrinkles follow Bolles style but they are muddy in execution. I kind of like the detailing of the older gent's face but his hands are another matter.
So who can truly say why this ad was subjected to another artist's reworking. Back then, advertising exec's were vocal in their assertion that illustration should be considered on a par with fine art, or what they called"art-art". Accordingly, they were forever chasing the newest trend in fine art. Perhaps Bolles was a victim of this trend and his precise illustrative style fell out of favor. But let's hope today's example is the exception and not the rule.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Meet Armida, and How!

I had in mind an entirely different theme for today's post but it went up in smoke after coming a recent entry on the actress, Armida Vendrell featured in the fabulous and fabulously informative Starlet Showcase. The name rang a loud bell in my head. I recognized her as one of the cinema starlets occasionally featured on the cover of Film Fun, debuting in 1929 with the It Girl, Clara Bow and ending in 1932 with the utterly obscure, Margaret Poggi. The Poggi cover---which will be featured in an upcoming post--is a real poser; it was both a superb effort by Bolles yet a total departure from his typical style. But that story must wait, so back to Armida.

Aside from the cover painting there was not a lick about her inside the magazine, which was odd. As light on information as Film Fun was, the editors typically tucked in a short half-page feature on the cover girl, usually nothing more than a couple extra stock photos and a fake interview. So it was a real delight to get to read about Armida in the Starlet Showcase entry and better yet, see some great pics of her. Admittedly, Bolles likeness is a bit weak, and the same could be said for most of the other "specially posed by..." covers (See. I did it! I actually wrote something negative about our man Enoch). Compare for yourself with this terrific photo of Armida I expropriated from Starlet Showcase. It's a curiosity in itself because I'm nearly certain it was swiped for a pinup (Gene Pressler? Bradshaw Crandell? Maybe I'm thinking of Bolles, he did something similar in a 1938 Film Fun). Just to be clear, there was never any special posing; not with Armida, or Clara or Loretta or Alice. No famous, near famous or mere Hollywood hopeful sat for Bolles in his modest New York studio. He worked from publicity shots, which the Film Fun mail room received by the crate load. Except...there might be one lone exception. Long ago Enoch's daughter told me she had heard Lupe Velez actually did pose for him, and I am inclined to believe her as the cover Film Fun painting of Lupe is miles beyond any other. But it must be said that Armida's getup is another matter entirely. The designs are fabulous and knowing Bolles very likely historically correct. It's only too bad that in 1930, when this issue was published, Film Fun was skimping on printing and paper quality. This cover deserved better.

Monday, July 26, 2010

In a Bar... Far, Far Away

So there I was, sitting in a bar in the back streets of Nara, Japan. It's the reason this blog has been bereft of posts for the past several weeks. The trip was for work but all the while I kept my eyes peeled for any Bolles connections (hence the late night excursion). If you look long and hard enough I've found that eventually something will turn up. It was just a year or so back that while I was working in Stockholm I came across a Bolles image in the most unlikely of places, one of those just-so Steig Larsson type associations, and I was hoping there would be something of the same in Japan. I had tried to get in touch with a collector I knew in Tokyo who has three Bolles originals, but that didn't pan out. And my very last night in Japan I found myself in an well worn neighborhood pub in Nara--which happens to be 1,300 years old this year--called Ryoma, named after the famous reformist samurai, Ryoma Sakamoto, who lived just prior to the Meiji restoration. Initially a traditionalist who favored isolation and tradition, he read extensively and became a strong advocate of opening the borders of Japan and embracing modernization, so much so that he brandished pistols along with samurai swords (by a twist of fate a gun was used to assassinate him), but this story is not about Sakamoto, as seminal of a figure that he was. That's somebody else's blog. No this story is about Enoch Bolles.

After studying a poster of this image of Sakamoto my eyes drifted to an image hanging on another wall, this one a poster for poster for Kirin beer. Alas, the bar was dark and the photo I took of it didn't come out but I found the same image on the web. It really knocked me out, and the closer I looked the more of a Bolles vibe I got from it. Take a look for yourself. As with a Bolles, her hands are very prominent in the composition and are oh so carefully posed. There are the little details in the rendering of the kimono, the contrasting color in the sleeves and the hint of the flower pattern in the obi. The almost airbrushed quality of the color also reminds me of Bolles in his later years. Ok ok, I'll admit that I'm really pushing the idea of an association here but Film Fun was available in Japan until it was banned in 1936, and this poster was done in 1939. So who can truly say.

But let's move from speculation to fact. Here we see the only existing example of a Bolles cover with an Asian theme. It's not unlikely that this may be the only example of an Asian pinup by any cover artist to see print in the 1930s. If there were, none came anywhere close to this level of eroticism. As many of you know each cover of Tattle Tales featured a girl from an exotic corner of the world. Unfortunately Bolles' run of covers for Tattle Tales lasted barely a year. It makes me wish he was with the magazine long enough for a return trip to the Far East.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Bolles Out of the Blue!

Do you feel this way? Does your heart start thumping when you read a story about someone uncovering a trove of old nitrite silent films in an attic, or discovering a new species of butterfly in the rain forest? To me these sorts of events are antidotes to the feeling that there truly is nothing new under the sun. Every now and again something unexpected turns up that surprises us and renews our curiosity. Well today's post is one of these events. It's been quite a stretch since the last time I've come across what for me is a "new" Bolles cover, and longer yet when his work pops up on a magazine I'd not expected him to have any connection to.

But here's a Bolles cover to Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, a sort of precursor to Time and Life (the 1930's iteration). It was part of the Leslie-Judge publishing company but I had never considered that Bolles would have done any covers for it. There's more, this issue appeared in 1914, and unless I'm missing other examples it is only the third magazine cover illustration magazine cover Bolles had done at that point. The cover was printed in only two or three colors, was intended to be photo-real. It's an incredible departure for Bolles, both in the topic and style in which it was done. I ran across it totally by accident, Bolles name was misspelled in the cover credit as Enoch Bowles. If perhaps you aren't yet convinced it is our Bolles and I can understand that given how different it looks, check out the EB initials in lower left corner. They are composed in exactly the style Bolles so often used in the mid-1920s. So let's hope there are more of these Bolles out of the blue show up, sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Out of Uniform

I've been lagging on my promise to post some additional Bolles covers featuring more imaginative interpretations of sailor suits and so here they are. Working through Bolles' oeuvre you'll find a fair number of examples of sailors and other nautical themes. Bolles himself did some sailing and one of his earliest jobs was at the Philadelphia shipyards where he did illustrations of ships. In fact, one of the earliest surviving examples of his work is of a sailing ship. Bolles even built a boat in which he piloted his family down the Hackensack river.

What is most special about these two covers is the display of Bolles at his best fashion sense. I will admit to some lack of objectivity in asserting that Bolles may have been the first true pinup artist, but I will defend to the end my contention that he far and away had the best fashion sense of any pinup artist, good-girl artist, or whatever label suits your fancy. Bolles knew his stuff and he honed his skills and fashion sensibilities producing illustrations of clothes for both women and men. We'll take a closer look at Bolles' little known career in fashion illustration in an upcoming post.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sailor Suited

After the last post on what I thought were all the Bolles Film Fun covers with white costume themes, it was kindly brought to my attention that not only were there more of them, they were girls in uniforms no less. Alas, I'd been sloppy in my research. So I am posting two more sailors from even earlier issues of Film Fun. To make things interesting--and to atone from my previous lapse--I've thrown a a couple of extras. As you can see from the 1927 Film Fun above, Bolles either inspired this postcard or swiped it, my guess is the former. What's surprising to me is how closely the uniform follows the painting and just how risqué it comes off by comparison. It just goes to show that what Bolles could get away with in an illustration would, when translated to the 'real thing,' be a lot less acceptable for consumption by the general public, or at least it seems so to me. And if that weren't enough, here's yet another swipe of the cover, used for a 1928 issue in a German publication called Das Magazin. From time to time in past posts I've shared other examples of copied covers, and I never fail to find it curious when some cover images but not others take on a second life.
To our left is another fabulous cover girl in white from 1925, which I like even better. In fact one Film Fun reader was so smitten, he wrote a poem about her using the cover caption that was published in a later issue:
Our old friend Omar told us
To turn down an empty glass.
No doubt the man from Khorasan
Knew that all joy must pass,
But even sages sometimes learn
On yachts, if not in town.
I'll bet you Omar wouldn't turn
This empty goblette down
Lt.-Col. Wilfred Bowey

As nice as this cover is, it pales in comparison to the original, and you can compare for yourself in this detail from the actual painting.

And finally, I couldn't resist including this.
As you can see, these "Jack Tars" were enthusiastic Film Fun fans. I'll soon be posting more sailor girls wearing even more imaginative interpretations of sailor suits designed by Bolles.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

White is the New Black

Bolles fans worth their fodder have surely heard the resounding report that this painting sold for over 80 thousand dollars at the Heritage auction last week. It's yet another record for a Bolles and is the 10th highest price of any painting yet sold from the Martignetti collection. It is certainly a great painting, no argument from me, but it is also completely atypical for Bolles. As rare as his black themed paintings were, a magazine cover awash in white borders on treason. At least with black you have the opportunity to establish contrast, create a silhouette, craft a definitive statement. But with white all that is so much harder. Pen and ink without the ink. Which is one reason why this painting is so successful.

Bolles earlier examples indicate he wasn't quite ready to take the monochromatic plunge. To your starboard hails yet another Bolles sailor girl, with a blot of ink for Professor Rorschach to ponder. But as you can see Bolles hedged his bets and grounded her in a sky blue field. I've featured this cover before because it's a composition Bolles revisited at least two other times, and no wonder.

To our left is the other Bolles white cover, which appeared on the newsstands in 1928. I've blogged about it before, not because I find it particularly attractive but because the subject of nursing was one a lot of illustrators took up. It first became popular as a theme for war posters and also likely because it was such an revered occupation. Bolles could add some double entendres to the sailor theme (I'll say! But let's not forget that sometimes a cannon is just a cannon) but nursing was off limits, at least back in Bolles' day. My how times have changed.

Again the thing to notice with this cover is that Bolles obviously decided white would not do without some additional embellishment and so he threw in one of his bimorphic shadows. Typically they discretely pool around the girls' shoes but this one dominates the composition, virtually propelling our nurse right off the cover. All this reinforces just how unusual the cannon girl is. Still...did you notice that thin spike of red? If you know Bolles you know there was no way he could have resisted.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Women in Black

There's no reason to revisit the theme of Bolles black unless we feature one of his most outrageous covers. Netty but Nice is simply over the top on all counts; her wild outfit, Bolles amazing treatment of all the different materials and textures, that fabulous deco chair, those shoes! Netty debuted in 1937, a great year for Film Fun and for collectors because-for reasons unknown-more Bolles paintings from 1937 to 1938 have survived than from any other period of his career. Sorry the scan is so poor but after all the years I've been collecting Bolles, this issue continues to elude me. So to make it up to you I've posted a detail out of the original painting (alas it has eluded me as well). As the side by side comparison with the printed cover-which was pretty well done- makes immediately evident, a lot of interesting detail and subtlety was lost in the reproduction. By the way, you can get a fabulous Giclee print taken from the original painting at Impact Graphic posters. For those of use who can't afford a Bolles original (and who can these days), it's the next best thing.

The Madame X post prompted me to take a closer look at just how many cover girls in black Bolles painted and it turns out that throughout the 1930s about one Film Fun cover a year had a predominately black color scheme. Bolles did almost none for other periodicals and I think there are two reasons for this. First, just about all of his other magazine work was for magazines even spicier than Film Fun, and so the color schemes and poses typically ran at hotter temperatures. And second, the quality of printing was poorer. In some cases, covers were printed in only three colors and the lack of a black print run could add a murky atmospheric quality to the work, which is not necessarily a bad thing for horror or gangster pulps as my friend and mega-collector, the late Pete Manesis once pointed out to me. He felt that some cover artists who knew their work was going to be printed in three colors altered their palette to take advantage of the effect. But gangsters and fiends are one thing, and pretty girls another. Bolles faced a different set of challenges doing work for the smoosh mags.

Turning back to Film Fun, I think this cover from 1934 counts among his very best examples of women in black. The image by the way, was a complete swipe from a publicity photo (I've got it around somewhere and once I find it I'll add it to this post) but as usual Bolles adds his own signature to the painting, the cleverly worked shadow both grounds the pose and lends an almost geometric element to the composition. On the subject of signatures, there was a letter printed in this issue from a reader who inquired why Bolles signed some of his covers but not others. Truth is that he often did not sign his work but I've also seen a number of original Film Fun paintings with signatures that ended up being tooled or cropped out of the cover. Why that was done is the question I would have asked the editor.

Finally, a very recent "discovery" and what must be one of the wackiest Bolles covers of all. When I found this scan from a 1943 issue of Breezy Stories I had to do a double-take. How do you begin to explain it? Perhaps Netty became bored from all that posing and preening and so donned some gloves and a muffler and headed outside to catch some fresh air, glorying in the garish winter (nuclear winter?) sunset. It's almost as if Bolles was doing a riff on himself as Quintana might have interpreted the Netty girl. As bad as I'd like to have a copy of the Film Fun Netty girl issue in my collection I want this one ten times worse.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May Day!

How on earth did the publishers of Film Fun get away with this cover? Or did they? It was published in 1925 and right around the same time Canada had banned Film Fun. This cover, by the way, was far hotter than anything within its pages but by the end of the year you could find photos inside of Earl Carroll girls traipsing around bare bottomed. Curiously the covers to those issues were a lot more sedate. It's almost as if some sort of erotic climate control was in place, the covers became more risqué as the pages within cooled, and vice versa. Robert Brown noted as much about Bolles' work for Breezy and Spicy in the 1930s.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Meet Madame X

In the previous post, I'd left entry number 10 off of my favorites list of Film Fun girls. So say hello to my number one Bolles girl. I can't remember when she hit the top of the charts but she's been there as long as I can remember, and I can state with confidence that there forever she will remain.

So why do I like her so? Let me count the ways. First, the pose is most unusual among Bolles covers. Of his over 500 magazine covers, only a handful were done using this from-the-back perspective. Second, both her expression and hair are unique. No blinding smile, squinting eyes or nimbus of flaming red hair for her. In fact her hair style is the most severe of any Bolles girl yet if you take a close look at the way he painted it, you'll notice it's not at all simple and the treatment of her hairline is actually asymmetric. It takes a lot of confidence and knowledge to do something like that and to know it will end up making her even more fetching. And talk about attractive; don't those huge olive gray eyes draw you into the picture?

So what else? I've written many times about Bolles' knowledge of color and how it works so well on the magazine stand, but look here. There's no color at all in her dress or shoes. Bolles once said that art editors liked any color as long as it was red and I wonder how he ever talked them into going for this scheme. Black is also difficult to print effectively and a lot of pulp magazines only ran covers in three colors, so there was no true black (I'll soon be doing a series on all the other black costumed covers Bolles did). What little accent color there is has been chosen very carefully. Notice how the color of his signature echoes the olive in her eyes and how the pink in her phosphate (or is it a shake?) plays off the color of her skin. This is Bolles minimalism at its best.

Where was I?...reason number four: gaze at those lovely hands. You've heard me go on and on about how Bolles loved drawing hands and used them to intensify compositions and as semiotic elements that serve both as signs and symbols. See how elongated her left hand is and how the mere fingertips of the right hand are exposed. The standard middle fingers touching pose has never been used more effectively. In this cover Bolles also featured what he considered was the most charged aspect of the female figure, and one that you likely would never have's the shoulder. I learned this from a single quote buried in a letter Bolles wrote over 70 years ago and after reading it I could never look at Bolles girl quite the same way ever again. In this case the shoulder not only serves as the central compositional element in this painting but as with the hand, is noticeably elongated along with her upper arm. It's also worth pointing out that her choice of drink lends a whole different aspect to the painting compared to something like a flute of champagne or even a beer stein. Bolles completed a couple other covers where the girl was holding a soda shop drink and I have to wonder if it was some sort of inside story or symbolic meaning that is lost to a modern audience or perhaps just one of his more innocent visual puns.

Finally, some of you may have picked up on my lame intimation of a painting this one beckons to me, namely Sargent's painting of Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, better known as Portrait of Madame X. Not that I'm proposing Bolles did this as a riff on Sargent but he knew his art and was certainly well aware of this painting's history and its unanticipated aftermath. The public reaction to its debut in Paris was so notorious that Gauteau was forced to withdraw from high society and Sargent gave up his goal of becoming a full-time portraitist. Bolles also suffered from his choice of subject. The late Reid Austin, who served as Alberto Vargas' personal assistant at Playboy and who wrote the definitive biographies of both Vargas and Petty, speculated that Bolles' opportunities in the field of illustration became limited because of his notoriety as the cover artist for Film Fun. We may admire the beauty and attractiveness of today's subject and his other Film Fun girls, but in their day they often provoked indignation from polite society. And so Bolles may well have paid a personal price for our enjoyment.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Originals I'd like to see

As you know from previous posts, the series of auctions of the Martignette collection of illustration art have put a number of Bolles originals back into circulation, unfortunately for collectors at record prices. But one positive side effect is that this enthusiasm for Bolles has also other brought other originals long held in private collections into the market, several of which were thought to be lost. The example above first showed up at a Heritage auction several years ago and is back at auction again. I had found this sketch of the image in a 1930s art catalog but knew nothing about this painting until it showed at Heritage. I'm almost positive it was never published. Speaking of Heritage, check out whose art they chose for the catalog cover to feature their upcoming auction.

So all this raises the question which burns (perennially!) in my mind: what other Bolles paintings are there to be found? It's tempting to hope there are a lot, Bolles produced over 500 magazine covers. The harsh reality is that it's unlikely that many more are around. With rare exception the work by created by commercial illustrators became the property of the publisher and there are many sad stories about how paintings were neglected or thrown out with the trash. Very few artists kept their original art and fewer yet retained the rights to it. Among the more notable exceptions was George Petty, who not only held on to all his originals for Esquire but also retained the rights to the images, which he aggressively remarketed. Like the majority of commercial illustrators Bolles signed away the rights to his work though he did manage to hold onto a fair number of his paintings including comprehensive sketches and proofs, but over the years they have been lost, given away or worse, stolen.

So if forced to choose, which 10 Film Fun paintings would I most wish were still around? I've been grappling with this and to be honest, I've gone back and forth on several and my final (for now) list includes works from three categories. These are the iconic images that every Bolles fan would die for, other works from what could be called the high-period of Bolles art running from 1932 to 1939, and his early work from the 1920s. The first group simply must include the Bolles motorcycle girl from 1934, and his deco infused masterpiece from 1935. Both of these images are all over the web and each has been reworked by Greg Theakston in the guise of Bettie Page. If for no other reason you'd have to choose these because they would be the most valuable to ever hit the commercial market.

Another painting to include in this group would be the Martini girl from 1941. She's been printed on book covers, drafted into beer ads, ironed on t-shirts and otherwise had a very busy second career. The original painting survived at least for a while, and a long while back I posted a photo of it in the Film Fun home office. In the second category of great but not iconic examples it would be an punishable offense to leave our favorite cowgirl out to pasture. I've written several entries over the months on my efforts to corral this painting from 1934. Though there have been several false sightings I am convinced she is out there somewhere waiting to be rounded up. And just to make things interesting below is a photo of her in the original, circa 1940. She's now the called the Whoopee girl and serves official mascot of the Pioneer Days rodeo held annually in Odgen, Utah.

Our cowgirl is joined by her sister from south of the border. This lovely senorita debuted in 1934 and soon appeared in blotters, calendars and even on a box of chocolates. Sadly in each case efforts were made to remove Enoch's signature. Clearly the inspiration for this cover was either a model or a photo, she has none of the more mannered aspects that Bolles sometimes is criticized for. The composition is a variant of the Bolles "L" and in my mind is the best example of the pose Bolles ever did. It's got everything, a fabulous composition, the snappy costume and hat, drapery and of course, great footwear.

Another must have would be the Can-Can girl from 1936. I just love the pose and all that crinoline, or whatever it should be properly called. As good as Bolles is at legs he really outdid himself with this painting. The pose is supposed to be based on a model and I have a photograph of her, but won't bother posting it. This is one of those covers where the model was merely a setup for Bolles' imagination.

And now we turn to an earlier era of Film Fun covers which highlight how Bolles' work stands in contrast from the work of other pinup artists because it so clearly presents both a personal and cultural timeline. As you move through the decades you can see the evolution of his technique (like it or not) and the emerging style of the era, which Bolles so clearly captured both in fashion and figure. By contrast, examine a Petty from the 1950s and you may notice that she has changed little from examples produced in the late 30's. He relies on the same technique, the poses are familiar and even the outfit could have been borrowed from one of his Esquire girls. This is not a criticism; Petty created a girl who was wildly popular and he would have been foolish to mess with success. The same holds when comparing Vargas' work between Esquire and Playboy though it must be said that Playboy allowed him far more latitude (maybe longitude describes it better!) in how he posed and dressed his girls though not all of it was at his discretion (he long resisted pressure for poses that revealed pubic hair).

In contrast, not only did Bolles painting style change over time, but the physical appearance of his girls did as well. It's ironic that he got out of the of the business at the very moment the term pinup came into use, because one could argue that he had more to do in codifying the genre than any other artist. But I digress, so turning to his work from the 1920s many would place this cover from 1928 at the top of their list. She's the total package. The next cover, from 1929 is shows that Bolles can do both naughty and nice. And today's final entry comes from 1924, one of Bolles best years for Film Fun. It's anything but a typical Bolles cover and I guess you could call this his peeved category, which includes a fair number of other covers. No copper is going to get away with pushing her around.

So that rounds out my wish list, or does it? Actually I'm one short and that cover is not only my top Film Fun, it's my favorite out of every Bolles I've seen. If you'd like to meet her stop back in a few days.