Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bolles in Esquire

Boingboing generously linked the recent post in which I had proposed a connection between Bolles and a cover of Esquire channeled via Rihanna, and wow has this site gotten the extra hits. The typical daily average is around 200 but visits peaked over 1,200. The downside was all the comments on Boingboing were adamant that the Bolles cover had nothing, NOTHING at all to do with the Esquire cover, and others wagged a scolding finger about posting filthy, FILTHY cheesecake. Well, we Bolles fans are of a different mind, and connection or not the more significant point was Esquire's largely forgotten
contribution to the history of pinup, which spun a thread running back decades to the origins of genre, and how Enoch Bolles is a part of that original fabric.

In the previous post I mentioned the intriguing 'what-if' possibility of Bolles becoming Petty's replacement at Esquire. Aside from his growing health problems I think the fact he worked exclusively in oil militated against his chances. Petty's sleek airbrushed girls were unique and readers were raving about them (though many also complained about Petty's tendency to graft two different body sizes together at the waist).  It would have been foolish for David Smart to hire a replacement whose work had a wildly different appearance. Vargas not only provided a sense of stylistic continuity but he amped up Petty's streamline look even further. Curiously their techniques were completely different; Petty's unique method to airbrushing involved laying on solid colors as if they were color plate separations. By comparison Bolles was a traditionalist and the idea of using an airbrush would have been

That's not to say he didn't have his own debut of sorts in Esquire.  In the December, 1937 issue the ad you see above appeared in its pages, featuring what came to be known as the Windy girl.  Look closely and you'll see the painting was attributed to "Enoc Boles".  The spelling is so derelict it makes you wonder whether the type setter was coached by David Smart, the co-founder of Esquire who later anglicized Alberto's sir-name as Varga.  Smart somehow neglected to mentioned he owned the trademark for it.  In Bolles' case the misspelling didn't matter so much because it was subsequently stripped out of the ad, never to appear again.  Over the years the Windy girl image got updated now and then but eventually fell out of favor for other advertising campaigns.  However, in 1993 the original image was back, embossed on a commemorative lighter--and retitled as the Varga girl!  Being curious, to say the least, I inquired about it to the archivist at Zippo and the story went that the company founder, George Blaisdell was an admirer of Vargas but couldn't afford to hire him to bring Windy to life.  Keep in mind the year was 1937.  Vargas was strapped financially and would soon for Los Angeles to work in the movie industry as an illustrator and set designer, a career decision that didn't turn out well for him. Things had changed so little by 1941 that Esquire hired Vargas for a rate less than Bolles was getting for his Film Fun covers.  So money wasn't the issue, it was George Petty.  A Windy girl by Petty would have been the obvious first choice for Blaisdell, but Petty's rates were far above Zippo's budget, and  our man Bolles stepped in.  There was another factor in Bolles' favor.  Unlike Petty, who was repelled by the image of a woman with a cigarette (his Old Gold ads all had the men holding the smokes), Bolles had no reticence at all.  In fact he had depicted a girl smoking all the way back in 1914 on his second published magazine, a wildly popular image for Judge magazine which I think may have been the first magazine cover ever showing a woman with a lit cigarette (if you know of earlier examples please let me know).  The image jump started his career and cigarettes would become a common prop for Bolles girls through the decades.
 Bolles' cover for Judge was
so popular it was reprinted
as a poster.

To Zippo's credit the web-site now gives Bolles proper credit for creating the Windy girl and no longer refers to her as a Varga (threats from the Vargas estate may have had something to do with that).  I also learned from the Zippo archivist that for years Blaisdell proudly displayed the original Bolles painting in his office, but sadly it has gone missing.   Bolles thought enough of Windy to have carefully saved the proof of the image, which I found in stashed in a box in his grandson's basement.  Now if that painting would just turn up!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Bolles by Esquire

Is there any doubt here?  Rihanna as a Bolles girl?  In the past I've been guilty about making some dubious connections between Bolles and the work of others but this is just too darned close.  Don't you agree? Alright I will concede Rihanna's dressed a bit differently (salad?), and I don't think espadrilles quite suit her.  But that pose is no accident.  So it's only too bad this connection will be lost on 99.999% of all Esquire readers.  What's more ironic is that I seriously doubt the art director of this shoot has a sense of the major historical role the magazine played in the development of pinup, first with the work of George Petty and then Alberto Vargas. 

Oh but what if it would have been Bolles who replaced Petty. The transition began in 1940 when Petty told Esquire he wanted a break.  David Smart, the magazine's co-founder and all-around jerk, used it as an opportunity to quietly shop around for a cheaper replacement.  Everyone from Alex Raymond to Zoe Mozert was considered before Smart hired Vargas on the cheap (Vargas later sued to get out of his contract), and then pulled that rude stunt with his name.  The late Reid Austin, who wrote the definitive biographies on both Petty and Vargas, and was Vargas' art editor at Playboy once asked me why Bolles didn't make a play for the job at Esquire.  There was just about no way Bolles couldn't have known what was going on at Esquire, but there's no record of him interviewing or even expressing any interest.  Bolles was in and out of the hospital during this time so it's possible he simply missed the boat.  Too bad.

But back to Rihanna and Bolles. Here's a photo of her updating the classic 1935 Film Fun cover (the original painting set a record for Bolles at auction).  Perhaps the cover pose was her idea...Could Rihanna be a Bolles fan?  

P.S., Thanks to Mala Mastroberte for alerting me to this.  You can see her take on Bolles here and other pinup art here.