Sunday, December 27, 2009

More Smilby on Bolles

During my visit with Francis "Smilby" Smith, I got to pore over his wonderful collection of illustrated books and rare periodicals. It was especially exciting to hold magazines in my hands I had seen only in books or as scans off the web. But there was one issue in particular I was disappointed to have missed...until I took a trip to the loo, and there she was hanging on the wall, staring right back at me with those piercing eyes. The situation was not without some irony. Francis was a staff artist for Playboy and one of his perks was a free lifetime subscription. There were decades of them stacked upstairs. Yet there wasn't a lone issue of Playboy to be found in his bathroom (and no, I wasn't looking). Francis was also a personal friend of Alberto Vargas, but it wasn't one of his girls who was confronting me. It was a Bolles girl and it was that one. The one who moved beyond the merely provocative and who had ventured deep into the territory of transgressivness. In her time she would be labeled as nothing short of pornographic; the argument would still be made by some yet today. Of course none of this was lost on Francis and here's what he had to say about her in Stolen Sweets:
"An exceptionally fine but curiously disturbing image that, facially at least, has more than a touch of Lolita about it. The conflicting images--modesty and a steady open gaze--combine with the setting--a sense of a forbidden something suddenly illuminated from the depths of a cavern--to give this cover a strangely charged eroticism."

I must admit that when first coming across this cover in Francis' book some years ago, I was unsure whether Bolles had painted her or not. Aside from being unsigned and appearing on an obscure 'smoosh' mag, it just seemed to be to be too much in all aspects. Too nude, too young and even too painterly. There were of course, several signature statements that eventually gave Bolles up as her creator, but why he put so much into a painting that may have paid him as little as $60 and could have gotten him tossed into the slammer is an equation I still haven't worked out.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays!!

Thought I'd share my favorite Bolles Santa with you. The fact is, this is also my favorite Bolles advertising illustration. It's as if the art editor saw the comp for the ad and said, "I'll take it as is." Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bolles, according to Smilby

I'm continuing this modest tribute to the late Francis "Smilby" Smith with a brief except from his book, Stolen Sweets--The Cover Girls of Yesteryear: Their Elegance, Charm and Sex Appeal. Here's what he had to say about what many consider to be if not Bolles' best, certainly his most provocative magazine cover.
One of the finest of American covers. A superb conception--the body filling the space both ingeniously and erotically, with the satiny shine of the abbreviated lingerie emphasizing everything it was supposed to conceal. The textured backcloth and Bakelite radio are vital elements in the composition.
The book was published in 1981 and has been long out of print, though copies occasionally appear on eBay. By unnerving happenstance I got a copy that came in the mail just last week. Get one for yourself if you can. It is chock full of great images by Bolles and others with Smilby's wry and revealing commentary.

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.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Hat Trick!

After the last two posts what choice did I have but to pore over my files for other examples of hats. And boy did I find one. Here we see yet another fine example, again from a 1941 issue of Young's. The scan is lousy, but in this case I do have a physical copy of the Breezy Stories where this image first appeared back in 1936. Unfortunately it is in utterly abysmal shape and my paltry photoshop skills were redlined just to get the image to where you see it. But even with these crummy reproductions it is evident that the printing quality of the Young's mag suffers terribly. If I'm lucky maybe one of these days I'll be lucky enough to get my hands on a clean copy so we can see what she looked like in all her "unenthumbered" glory.
Contemplating our beached maiden one has to wonder why Bolles didn't get the opportunity to do work for the so-called slicks, or mainstream periodicals such as Liberty or SAT, both of which ran cheesecake covers. The easy answer is that Bolles girls were too hot. Try as he might (or perhaps he didn't) you couldn't hide that fact that the Bolles girl was not residing next door. Take a look at these side by side comparisons of work by Bolles and Liberty covers dealing with similar topics and published within months of each other.The Liberty covers smack with nostalgia and more than a bit of kitsch, whereas the Bolles girls have not lost any of the frisson that got him into trouble 75 years ago. And therein lies the problem. Bolles was just too successful for his own good.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Is this what she ended up wearing to the beach?

After my last post I had been lamenting the fate of our beach beauty so cruelly left off the front page, when another possibility flashed in my head. So I present this smashing cover that appeared on the newsstands in 1941 in the dysfunctionally titled Young's Snappy Realistic Stories. As best as I can tell, Young's was sort of a mash-up with the remains of what was once merely Young's Magazine along with dollops of Breezy Stories, Snappy Stories and perhaps Yellow Book, all of which were the legacy of the publisher Courtland Young, who got his start back around 1912 with the long lived Snappy Stories. Snappy is regarded as the first of the so-called sex pulps and more important for us, is where Bolles had some of his best work published. In the mid-1930s these titles were acquired by Phil Painter publications who managed to keep Breezy Stories on the newsstands until nearly 1950, in part by recycling many of Bolles early Breezy covers. Unfortunately, Bolles had no residual rights to his artwork and so didn't see a plug nickel out of this. Worse yet, take a look at the lousy hand lettered text penned in directly over Bolles signature. This was clearly no accident, Painter publications was not only too cheap to shell out for new cover art, they also weren't even willing to pay to have an engraver to tool out Bolles' signature or block it out with some type. Fortunately for us, Bolles still gets credit for what was a really smashing cover that imaginatively combines several of his signature elements. There's the unique employment of the bull's (Bolles'?)-eye as a compositional element and as a frame for the background. Notice how it intersects her hat precisely at its at its apsides or extremes--not by accident--and that the arc of the circle also intersects the shadow cast over her face). There's also the bimorphic shadow, a really cute animal feature with terrier and the the red blanket, which acts both as a sort of shadow but also works to thrust the composition toward the viewer. Basically the entire repertoire of Bolles tricks.

The only problem with this story is the image to our right, clearly the same girl as the Young's cover, albeit cropped and in a different suit. This issue of Breezy is from 1938 and I'd bet the cover was likely reused from yet an even earlier issue, perhaps as early as 1935 during the short time when Bolles was signing his covers for Breezy. So it's more likely the concept painting in the previous post was inspired by this cover rather than the other way round. But what about the costume change in the two versions I show here? It just makes the sorting this out more complicated, compounded by the unfortunate fact that I lack a complete run of covers to Breezy or Young's. So there remains work to be done and art to be discovered!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

She didn't make the cut

Our fetching lass is known as a comp, or comprehensive sketch, in this case for a Film Fun cover that was never to be. The painting was sold at a Heritage Auction a few months back and would I ever wish I could brag that she was hanging out in my study. But alas, she exists only in my memory, or more accurately my hard drive's memory. I am lucky enough to own a comp of another Film Fun cover completed in 1941, and my guess is that this painting was done around the same time. It's curious to me that Bolles would still have been making such detailed studies, having 20 years and nearly 200 Film Fun under his belt. More so that the logo was painted in so carefully. By the way, I am pretty convinced that Bolles himself designed this logo for Film Fun, which first appeared in January of 1926 (he was a master letterer and designed other well known logos for commercial products including one long used for Bond Bread). But I have found one photo of a final Film Fun painting with the logo painted directly on it so perhaps this wasn't so unusual.
So why didn't our Bolles girl make the cut? I think the image is lovely and I like her hairdo, which seems to be more in the vein of Rita Hayworth than the tightly coiffed Betty Grable style he often relied on. While Bolles posed a lot of his girls in beach scenes, this image doesn't match up with any of them and I think the only cover that comes even remotely close is this stunning image from 1940. By the way the original painting for this issue was offered for sale on eBay about seven years ago and if one of you happens to own it I would love to include a photo of it for my book project.

Let's just hope there are more examples like our fair beach maiden out there yet to be discovered.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

In the Clouds Over Our Bolles Girl

After the years I've spent hunting down the work of Enoch Bolles, "new" finds are few and far between, so this cover was a real joy to have come across. And what a nice image it is. I love the perspective and the nightscape of the city far below. Typical of most of Bolles' covers for Snappy Stories that depict a couple, it is the heroine who is in control of the situation. In fact, it's a good thing her beau is safely seated; he's so giddy with the sight of her, one false grope and he'd be careening over the precipice. Though from the looks of her it would be no great loss. Or perhaps I'm misreading the story line.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Style Behind the Cover: Abril Lamarque

If a newsstand was a speakeasy and magazines drinks, Film Fun would be the publishing equivalent of soda water. Pop the cork and you're blasted with an attention grabbing spray of bubbles and gas, which just as quickly hisses away into the ether without a hint of aftertaste, leaving you thirsty for another. It was the ultimate publishing ephemera during a time when an issue of Esquire could run over 200 pages and a half million words with works by literary luminaries such as Dos Passos and Hemingway. But Film Fun had some heavyweights in its bullpen. And foremost among them was its first art editor, who went on to become one of the most important magazine designers of the first half of the 20th century. He was also a master caricaturist during the time when that art form was at its zenith.

Abril Lamarque joined Film Fun soon after it was acquired in the mid 1920s by Dellacorte publishing from the financially tipsy Leslie-Judge, a unwise sale because Film Fun was the only solvent periodical out of their lineup. At the ripe young age of 20 one might presume Lamarque a bit too big for his britches to shape the magazine, but you'd have bet wrong. Despite his youth Lamarque had large ambitions and sophisticated ideas about design and he applied them in Film Fun, and later other Dellacorte publications. Aside from his editorial duties, Lamarque also produced spot illustrations, caricatures of film stars and for many years a one page cartoon, some examples of which I've included here. While with Delacorte, Lamarque contributed to a number of other ventures including a short lived prototype of the comic book entitled what else, The Funnies that debuted (and folded) in 1929, and the wildly successful Ballyhoo, which influenced later generations of humor magazines ranging from Mad to National Lampoon. Among his other creative inventions were imaginative variations of crossword puzzles, one which was intended to be read over the airwaves and another based on caricatures of what else, film stars.

Lamarque hired and nurtured staff who themselves would become influential designers such as the late Otto Storch, who credited Lamarque for sticking with him while he was learning the ropes and ruining assignment after assignment. His eye for talent took him to unusual places, including a back shed in New York where he found the folk artist Karol Kozlowski, whom he championed and brought to wide attention in the academic art world. Not surprisingly for a man of such manifold talents, Lamarque eventually moved on and took a step up from Film Fun to where else, The New York Times, where he oversaw a major design of the Sunday magazine that still bears some of his touches.

His career grew over the years to include consulting for many major corporations and design work that graced the covers of leading magazines with his unique skills and vision. Lamarque died in 1999. A noted amateur magician who created many original tricks, his passing was honored by a broken wand ceremony led by the Society of American Magicians.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bidding Adieu to Intimate Apparel

We end our week of appreciation for intimate apparel as interpreted by Enoch Bolles with this lovely painting from Snappy Stories. I believe the year is 1926 but am not certain. In this case I actually do have a physical copy of this in my collection, but only the cover. For reasons evident to Bolles fans, a lot of Snappy subscribers would carefully clip the covers and then toss the contents, presumably after at least giving them the once over. The covers however, got the over and over but yet when I find them they are nearly always still in pristine condition.
The covers Bolles did for Snappy Stories were a departure as they had more involved compositions and narrative themes absent in most all his other magazine work. Typically the painting would depict a key event from one of the featured stories within the pages of the magazine, or perhaps it was the other way around. It was often the case that pulp writers were shown the cover selected by the art editor and instructed to craft a story after it. It gives a whole new meaning to the "tale" wagging the dog.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Intimate Apparel Week: Sheer Delight!

We can't do justice to the theme of intimate apparel without including this image, which appeared on the October 1937 issue of Film Fun. It's among of the most sought after of all his magazine work and I still don't have a copy of it, so I was forced to post a photo of the original painting. Alas, it's not in my collection either. This image, along with the one posted yesterday provide ample evidence of Bolles' mastery in depicting the texture of clothing, be it velvety, silky or sheer. And of course we mustn't forget the shoes. Manolo Blahniks' got nothing on Bolles.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Intimate Apparel Market Week: A celebration made for Enoch Bolles

Yet again, we invoke yet another arcane holiday as a pretense for celebrating the art of Enoch Bolles. And even the most casual fan of his knows that intimate apparel and Enoch Bolles go hand in silk glove. In fact much of Bolles early work as a fashion illustrator included ads for ladies unmentionables, and he used this experience to good effect throughout his career as a cover artist.
To start things off off we turn to one of most well known of all Bolles covers, from the November 1936 issue of Film Fun. I've stripped out the text so we can focus our attention fully on Polly. The bird is pretty cute too.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Can you see me better now?

I was sure I had a nicer version of this cover somewhere and here she is, courtesy of TJ and his amazing photoshop skills. The post of this cover from yesterday has "peeked" the interest of a lot of readers of this blog; I've received several other examples of keyhole covers from Beau and so now we know that other artists were onto this theme before Bolles. Mark told me about a Kay Francis movie where a keyhole motif was used as part of the title sequence. I'd love to see that! At some point I'll post all the other examples I come across and see how far back we can trace the girl through the keyhole theme. Finally, in celebration of Halloween here's a cute Spicy Stories cover from 1935. Sorry again for low quality but I only have this as a scan and not a very good one.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Who're you looking at?

It's only too bad that I don't have a better scan of this 1937 issue of Spicy Stories, or a real copy for that matter. She truly pushes the envelope--along with some buttons--and is an early example of what has been come to be called a "keyhole" cover. A lot of other pinup artists, among them Peter Dribben, seemed to favor this motif and it's become something of a standard in pinup. I've yet to come across an earlier version of the keyhole cover and is the only example I've seen where the room key is a part of the composition.
Which brings me to the theme of this post. Who first came up with this idea? I've written other posts where I display Bolles covers that fall into one pinup setup cliché or another (upskirt etc.) but my question is whether Bolles first dreamed up this idea or did he take it from another artist. The field of etymology deals with the coinage of words and their usages but I am unaware of a visual analog of this, at least for the case of illustration.

Perhaps the time is ripe to propose the creation of a new branch of art criticism, but what to call it? Pinupology?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mulligan Day was October 18, I'm taking mine now

The Bolles covers from Laughter, a periodical in the vein of Judge and Life that ran from 1925 to 1927, really tickle my fancy. They ranged from his standard oil paintings to more cartoon-like covers resembling pen and ink sketches, like this example. It's only too bad that the magazine didn't last longer, but toward the end it started to run other artists on the cover, a familiar story for Bolles. The likely scenario was that as sales began to ebb art editors began to economize on cover art and turned to other illustrators, not that Bolles was commanding exorbitant prices.
Below a lovely example of his advertising work done about the same time as the Laughter cover (1925). I've included it for comparison to dispel the myth that Bolles resorted to "cartoony" because he couldn't do anything else. As much as I like the portrait, it's the fabulous the typography, all in Bolles' hand, that makes this painting aces.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hold That Pose!

Do you have a favorite style of Bolles girl? On display today are three prime examples spanning 13 years, all in the same pose and predicament. On our immediate left is a put out but still fabulous flapper from a 1924 issue of Film Fun, below we see a perky but slightly pettish officer sporting a decidedly modern interpretation of a sailor suit, who appeared on a 1931 cover of Spicy Stories, and the vamp in the body stocking from a 1937 issue (fantastic cleanup courtesy of TJ).

Each epitomizes the Bolles style of the era though it must be said that the Film Fun girl is a lot more curvy than the John Held Jr. body type Bolles appeared to be emulating a year later. The 1931 Spicy girl comes right in the midst of a two year period when Bolles was either undersizing the body or oversizing the head on his girls, or both. And the 1937 example shows him Bolles in the apotheosis of all his mannerisms. Notice how she has not a hint of concern about the growing fissure between her seams. The concern (anticipation?) of her audience, well that's another matter. It's only too bad there isn't a version of this pose from the 1910's when Bolles was working for Judge, otherwise we could add an Edwardian version for yet another comparison.

These examples highlight one of the things I like best about Bolles, namely how he stayed true to his core. There are stylistic references in his earliest published work that run throughout his entire career, but at the same time he adapted his style for the both the fashion and the figure of the times. The other thing evident in these comparisons is that his style did evolve over the decades; the relaxed yet precise brushwork during the 1920s was gone by the early 1930s, supplanted by canvases so smooth they sometimes appears airbrushed. It's also interesting to compare the treatment the girls hands, and if you've been reading this blog you already know that Bolles was close to obsessed about how hands looked. From these examples it is clear he put a lot of thought into them. He also certainly was aware of that he was revisiting the same pose and made some efforts to avoid merely resuscitating the same stance and look. What's curious to me is how he remembered all this. He painted at least a hundred magazine covers between each of of these and so one might suppose there was something special about the initial pose (and I'm in agreement here) that made him come back to it. I do know he saved at least some of his proofs so he did have reference materials.

There are yet more examples of revisited themes, outfits and poses and I'll be sharing these in future posts.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Just a Little Taste

My interest in Enoch Bolles began over a decade ago, and as many of you know it has evolved into a goal to publish a book about his life and art. Toward that end I've worked to learn as much as I can about him and to root out new examples of his art, both published and in the original. Its been frustrating at times but there have been successes in uncovering "new" examples of magazine covers and advertising art as well as locating originals owned by collectors who have graciously allowed me to have them photographed for the book. Some of this material has appeared in the articles on Bolles and Film Fun I've written for Illustration Magazine. In additional to these articles, a sampling of previously unseen art and photos has made its way on this site. Still, much of what I've found has remained in storage so to speak, for the obvious reason that if it's already up on the web or published in an article what's the point of a book. But hoarding it has been no fun at all so from time to time I'll be serving up some toothsome hors d'oeuvres. On tonight's menu we have a very rare 1923 vintage cover to Film Fun, taken directly from the proof. Consider it a sort of amuse oeil.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Paint Me a Picture

A question by frequent visitor Gary about how many Bolles paintings got me onto this project, which is something I've been meaning to do for a long time. Here we see a graph showing all the Film Fun covers done by Enoch Bolles from 1923 to the magazine's last issue in September 1942. This doesn't include the 1942 annual as I don't know when it was published, nor 1922 which I forgot to add until it was too late (for the record Bolles painted the October and December issues). The Blanks during 1926-27 were months when Film Fun was not published, which I think corresponds to the period that Leslie-Judge was selling off the magazine. All later blanks are months when the magazine cover was done by another artist or were, egads, photos. The question marks represent paintings that survived for a time but may or may not still exist, with some of these having been extensively reworked by Bolles.
As would be expected, the majority of the 29 original Film Fun paintings known to exist were from the later years of the magazine. What is interesting are the outlier years; three painting from 1925 are still around, 1937 with half of the year's output surviving, and 1940 where three and perhaps four of eight still exist. The 1937 trend holds for Breezy Stories and Spicy Stories. For some reason Bolles, or somebody else, held on to a lot of of paintings from 1937 through 1938. As far as I know, there's just a single surviving original painting from Gay Parisienne out of the 46 he did, and just one each from the entire run of Tattle Tales and Bedtime Stories. It also appears that no originals survive from 20 other titles Bolles did cover work for, but let's hope I'm wrong. As many of you know interest in Bolles' work has skyrocketed with record prices in recent Heritage auctions. This clearly has brought some pieces out of hiding, or perhaps just out of the den. Feast your eyes on this cover for the March 1938 issue of Spicy Stories that Heritage will be selling in their upcoming illustration auction. Until I saw it I had no idea the original was still around and let's hope there's more where she came from. If you have information on original Bolles paintings or corrections to my 'statistics' I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, September 18, 2009

International Eat an Apple Day!

Ok, so it was yesterday, but I'm not about to wait another year, simply to be calendarically correct. The Breezy Stories is a 1944 reprint from an issue I would bet was published in 1937 or '38. For whatever reason a very large proportion of Bolles originals that survive were painted during this two year period. It's too bad this cover suffers from such lousy printing but below I have reprinted the original painting, or what became of it. Bolles reworked a number of his paintings a
nd again, most were originally done in 1937 or 1938. In my estimation the original is preferable to the repaint, but it does show how richer his
palette was than what appeared in the printed version. I also think the repainting may have been a sort of warm-
up for his cover for the April, 1942 cover of Film Fun which could well be considered his most
brazen. I'll do an entire post on her soon and so you can judge for yourself.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Signature Statement

In my previous post I closed with a challenge to find an unusual element to the Breezy Senorita, and I must admit it was not easy. Take a look below and you'll see the answer. It was Enoch's signature. Or at least what looks like a Bolles signature because I don't think he actually signed it. Aside from Film Fun Bolles only signed a handful of magazine covers and for the record here are the titles: America's Humor (one issue), Gay Book (two out of seven issues), Screen Romances (two issues), Talking Screen (one issue), Judge (nearly every issue he did), Puck (one issue), and Wit O' the World. He initialed almost all of his covers for Snappy Stories and a few for Laughter, Live Stories and Zest, but that was it. My guess is that less than half his Film Fun covers were signed or initialed though I've seen several originals where the signatures were cropped out or perhaps even tooled out by the engravers. Bolles was more apt to sign Film Fun in the 1920s and by the late 1930s he had virtually stopped (one of these days I'll put all this up on an Excel spreadsheet). Even his family had to beg to get Bolles to sign portraits he had done for them.
But when Bolles did sign his covers his name became a part of his compositions. They were rarely rubber stamped; he constantly tinkered with the lettering which varied from issue to issue, as did the color. Often, he positioned it half in shadow so the lettering would transition from positive into negative space. Compare Bolles with the invariance of George Petty, who's signature was essentially a chop (no wonder, he trademarked it) and Vargas (who had it trademarked without his knowledge!). Armstrong's was a gorgeous mess of loops, almost begging to be yanked into an indecipherable Gordian knot of a scrawl, but after some early experimentation, it never changed.
So now take another look at the Breezy Stories signature and you'll see how wrong it looks. Aside from the scale, which is smaller in relation to the painting than anything else Bolles has done, it just seems off. Missing is the sweeping brush stroke and casual skill with lettering so evident in the other examples. Instead you get what looks like an attempt at forgery, which is what I think it is. In 1935, the year this cover was first published there were several other Breezy covers that were signed by Bolles, and the signature looks exactly the same in each. I think what we are seeing is an engraver's attempt at copying the Bolles signature. Aside from four or so covers in 1935, no other of his Breezy covers were signed.
Now let's reexamine our feature cover, from 1932. Bolles put a lot of extra flourish into the signature (and I'm sorry this copy has so much cover wear). It is unusual but the girl is the real outlier. The painting is well done and likely an accurate depiction of Margaret but alas, she looks nothing at all like a Bolles girl. And just who was Margaret Poggi is another bit of a poser. I could not find out a lick about her, even on It makes me wonder whether this image may have been a sort of leftover from an assignment Bolles did for Fox Films (he did some work for the company from time to time). If anyone could find something out about her or even better, snag a photo I would be grateful.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Knife to meet you

Watch out! This senorita means business. After the recent post discussing how Lupe Velez was so casual about brandishing her sidearm I thought it would be interesting to follow up with a cover where the Bolles girl looked like she was both willing and able to do some bodily harm. This 1940s reprint from a 1935 issue of Breezy Stories is a most unusual Bolles cover. The most obvious reason is because Breezy Stories was a pulp that trafficked in stories of a rather demure nature far removed from the true Spicy pulps. As described in a 1932 issue of Writer's Digest the editors of Breezy looked for: "dramatic, powerful human problem stories in many of which the sex angle is merely suggested." Curiously the article later indicates the editors "do not care for stories that have a distinct foreign flavor." Despite these high minded descriptions it is obvious that Bolles was hired to to sex things up and add a pinch of foreign spice. Not only did the cover have the exotic accent claimed to be so unpalatable by the editors but also a threat of violence that was entirely absent from within the pages of the magazine.

With this cover Bolles was dipping his brush into the spicy menace genre monopolized by Culture Publications, an imprint started by Harry Donenfeld (who later made his fortune with DC comics) that included in its line-up Spicy Detective Stories, Spicy Adventure Stories, Spicy Mystery Stories, and later adding the incongruous Spicy Western Stories. As risqué as were the stories inside their pages, they paled against the visceral impact of the covers, particularly those by the master of the genre Hugh Ward. His fulsome, barely clothed women practically burst with goggle eyed panic as beetle-browed thugs, mad scientists and backwoods geeks menaced them with dagger, pistol, poisonous snake, blackjack, raygun, scimitar, bullwhip, syringe, branding iron, spear, dumbbell (wielded by the carnival strongman), arrow, harpoon and other instruments of violence. For the sake of comparison, most of the covers shown here involve knives. They are also unusual because they depict some tough harem girls you wouldn't want to mess with, instead of the typical shrieking showgirl. But just from these few examples it is clear that Ward owned the Spicy Menace genre. Even H.L. Parkhurst's covers for these titles, which dealt with equally lurid setups, appear almost classical in contrast.

Aside from the standard woman in peril theme there were at least two other storylines that run through the spicy menace covers. One pandered to race fears, and the other not so subtly hinted about the impending fate of a brazen woman foolish enough to display her charms to the wrong audience. Not surprisingly the spicy menace titles were prime targets for decency leagues and the editors tried to succor them by publishing less graphic versions of the covers and later by replacing the Spicy Titles with the less provocative "Speed". Neither worked, and they were eventually hounded out of circulation.

So back to our Bolles girl. She must be considered a sort of bespoke or one-off cover as Bolles never did another that remotely resembled her situation or disposition. And frankly, I don't think he was comfortable doing this cover. For as suggestive and even salacious as some of his other work was, it totally lacks the misogyny and sadism that run so rampant through Spicy Menace art. It's also curious that it appeared just a few months after the Culture Publications titles hit the newsstands. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if Ward painted the Hashish for Hoshepure cover to show Bolles how spicy menace was done. Finally, there's one other unusual detail in the Bolles cover painting and no, it's not the lack of the raised pinky. Can you spot it?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Foxy Hunter

Just a short post this time around. I've been in England this week and have discovered that our man Bolles has been misleading us about the appearance of women on the other side of the pond. Consider the evidence on your left. Our cover girl to this 1935 issue of Spicy Stories has nothing in common with the Geordie's I've spied strolling the river walk, as attractive as they are. But perhaps I simply haven't looked hard enough, and so I will update you if my research yields any new insights. As some of you know Bolles did an entire series of covers on girls of the world and so my work must continue, undaunted.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cover Girls

This 1930 issue of Talking Screen, which was soon retitled Silver Screen, is among one of only four cover portraits that Bolles did in his long career. To my mind it is far and away his best. It is instantly recognizable as a Bolles but still captures the essence of Nancy (she's always seemed a bit of a pixie to me). The gauzy look to the edges and lines make me think she was done in oil pastel, a medium Bolles would only have employed by directive. His cover for the debut issue of Talking Screen was a pastel of Norma Shearer in the Armstrong style, so blatant was it that Armstrong did his own version of of pose just a few months later for a competing movie rag. This Carroll cover is far more successful and I only wish there were more. The one unfortunate element is that the type runs right over Enoch's signature, which is uncharacteristically large.

Now it is true that Bolles did a dozen or so figural illustrations of Hollywood starlets for Film Fun but most were a bit of a disappointment, clearly taken from stock photos--despite the captions claiming they were specially posed for Film Fun--and they come off a bit generic. The lone exception was the over the top painting of Lupe Velez as pirate girl. I would be grateful if someone could explain to me the popularity of the girl-as-pirate, for a while it seemed that every illustrator worth his salt was shoving them off the plank one after another. The Bolles cover certainly captures the vivacious energy of the Mexican Spitfire, perhaps because she may have actually posed for it, or at least that is what Enoch's daughter once told me. The one misfire in this painting is the lame flintlock. I could swear Lupe's brandishing a purse sized can of mace.