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. 

1 comment:

darwination said...

Great posts here on the Bolles stare and these 1933-34 Bedtime Stories covers, Jack. I agree, the rulers and fatales of these covers do seem to have a lot on their mind if not on their bods - not exactly the sort of girls you'd feel brave enough to approach and offer a drink in the bar. The big images of these beauties you share are always appreciated!