Saturday, January 31, 2009

"A Woman's Dress Should be Like a Barbed-Wire Fence..."

"...serving its purpose without obstructing the view." The quote comes from Sophia Loren. For some reason I thought it fit with this cover, though in this case it seems that the barbed-wire fence is serving the greater purpose.
Truly, this is one weird image. First, how about that crazy dress she's wearing. Could the fabric be rubber? Latex? (did they even have it back in 1937?) And what's with that little Bo Peep hat. I don't want to lay blame with Bolles, but was this cover the origin for those awful adult Bo Peep Halloween costumes? I do think his Film Fun motorcycle cop cover launched the biker girl icon, but I'm a bit more sheepish when it comes to Miss Bo Peep. And then we have what must be considered the most extreme setup for what in the pinup lexicon is typically referred to as an upskirt pose, not withstanding the mental effort put into the subject by Art Frahm (has anyone ever done a lecher's eye view of his failed panties paintings? Not that I mean to imply it's a good idea). Bolles did some great upskirts by the way, and in most of them the girl could care less that she was showing a bit too much leg. In fact I own the original to the one I think is the best of them all and speaking of originals, here's a scan of the painting of today's theme cover. Unfortunately it appears to be a bit damaged, but what also seems evident is that the engraver removed some detail from what you might call the focal point of the painting. This occurred in other cover illustrations where Bolles provided a bit too much in the way of anatomical detail. As just one example, not once was there there an exposed navel on any Film Fun cover. And for years even the interior photos were airbrushed of any evidence of mammalian birth (I cannot provide any insights as to why the sight of a navel would have aroused such subtractive wrath in the censor).
To close on a high note. We may debate whether this was among the better Film Fun covers but there's no argument over the special treatment Bolles lavished on her hands.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"Hello...HELLO!?" Today is Better Business Communication Day

No I'm not making this up. It really is better business communication day and our man Enoch is transmitting at several frequencies in this wacky cover from 1938. He completed a surprising number of covers where the girl is tied up in one way or another, be it rope, telephone cord, butterfly netting or barb wire. And there is the rather propitious placement of the red button on her robe. Other versions involved flowers or other patterns easily mistaken by the casual passerby for something a bit naughtier than a button. And if that was the case Bolles had achieved his end; drawing you in for a double take. Did you really see what you thought you did, or perhaps it was just your overactive imagination popping through to your consciousness in an buttoned down era. Why not spend your last two bits and take the magazine home where you could examine it more thoroughly at your leisure (in private, of course).

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pumped on Bolles Soles

Among the many qualities that attract people to the work of Enoch Bolles is the expert attention and detail he lavished on his fashionably attired girls. Years before he became known as a magazine cover illustrator for the likes of Judge, Snappy Stories and Film Fun, Bolles worked as a fashion illustrator. The example below is one of his fashion cards from the early 1910s. It's clear that the lessons learned from this work were not forgotten and Bolles discerning eye for fashion served him well throughout his career, and continues to this day to delight his many fans. You might think that the odd headpiece our Film Fun model is wearing spoils the ensemble, but that strange hat became der rigeur in 1938, and I recall something about how the style (surgarloaf?) became popularized by a hat that appeared in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (surely not Dopey's). Here's another version I found on the web called the 5:00 o'clock hat:

But as hard as Bolles worked on dresses and costumes he really put his heart into shoes. I have to doubt whether there has ever been another pinup or fashion illustrator as fixated with getting the perfect shoe as Bolles. Many in fact, loathed drawing feet. George Petty was so vexed by them that he ended up shoeing his girls in ballet slippers, most absurdly in his Rigid Tool calendars. Now it should be added that there is no evidence that Bolles had a foot or shoe fetish, whereas I was once told by the late Reid Austin, the art editor at Playboy who talked Hefner into giving Alberto Vargas a shot and starting a new era of pinup, that Vargas had a shoe fetish (Alas, I can't recall the specifics of how it originated). But we are venturing into another topic that I'll save for the future as I have read one letter by Enoch that makes me think he did have a particularly favored part of the female anatomy, though I wouldn't call it a fetish. So for now I leave you with a small montage of Bolles footwear.

Addendum: I've resized this so it can be enlarged.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Just a nice cover

No theme at all here today. Just a really nice cover that shows Bolles at his most relaxed and confident. Take for example the solid flat bands of of light pink running across the pant legs of her outfit. You can easily visualize how they were applied with a single stroke or quick dab, yet they add to the detail and build on the texture of her outfit. The gold lame' is little more than blocks of two or three colors but it is utterly convincing. The same goes for the treatment of the tulle but it has a very different texture and a feeling of transparency. And of course what self-respecting Bolles girl would be caught dead without a matching pair of shoes. In the near future there will be a post devoted "soley" to the footwear of Bolles' girls.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Final Chapter: Lassoed!

The previous chapter in our tale of stray cowgirl ended with a thud, the painting had vanished just days before I had asked about it. After this anticlimax I periodically emailed Judy who had taken up the cause, and she made careful inquiries to the local authorities, but to no avail. Over the next two years nothing changed until three weeks ago when I received an email from Judy. I had assumed it would be news of the same but was thrilled to learn that the painting had turned up, left at the office door of an Odgen city councilman with an anonymous note that the painting should go back to its rightful owner.
I had thought our Bolles girl was lost forever but she was back in the saddle. The locals were especially thrilled because this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Pioneer Days rodeo. The are planning a special exhibit for the Whoopee Girl and I hope to provide an entry on Enoch. By the way the Whoopee Girl label (misspelled Whoopie in the article) did not originate with the rodeo. They initially called her the Odgen girl and probably got the idea from the 1929 movie, Queen of the Nightclubs, starring the incomparable Texas Guinan. Follow the link and you'll see the trailer where she was described as the Whoopee Girl. If I can dig it up I'll update this post with a photo from a W.C. Fields movie showing a chorus girl wearing the prototype of the Whoopee Girl outfit.

So there you go. This is just one example of the lengths it can take to hunt down an original Bolles. Right now I'm on the trail after not one but two additional originals, a Film Fun cover from 1925 and another from 1938. With some luck I'll soon post an epilogue to this story that will feature a photo of the actual Whoopee Girl painting. If it's anything like other Bolles originals you'll be amazed at all the additional detail and character gets left off the magazine cover.

Addendum: I found a couple photos of the original costume but then spotted another better shot from Greenbriar Picture Shows, a really scholarly but fun site with simply amazing photos. So I swiped it off the site. Take a look at the outfits, they are pretty much identical to the Bolles cover (yes, he did swipe from photos and I'll share more examples). I just noticed Baby Leroy is in this pic. My dad knew him (as an adult), though there were several. It was sort of like Menudo, once the kids got too old the studio replaced him with a fresh model.' But the most notable thing about this photo is that W.C. Fields is working with both animals and children.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Who's That Girl?

In a recent post I listed potential archetypes for the Bolles girl, including several obscure Hollywood starlets, and so today we see exhibit A, Edwina Booth. I learned about her in an entry on the excellent early cinema blog Allure. She struck me has having a real Bolles look about her, especially in these poses from the movie Trader Horn (1931). I've juxtaposed them along side the image they most remind me of, which happens to be one of the most scandalous of all Bolles' covers, from a 1933 issue of Stolen Sweets. The writer and illustrator, Francis "Smilby" Smith
described it thusly:

"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 the forbidden something suddenly illuminated within the depths of a cavern-to give this cover a strangely charged eroticism."

Wow, that's a heavy load of psychological baggage to burden poor Edwina with. But Smith's insights illuminate a theme I'll be spending some time with in future posts, namely the conflicting and at times disturbing nature of Bolles' work which often juxtaposes clashing themes of innocence and eroticism, naivete and worldliness, and at his most base: classy versus trashy. In the latter case I'll present the example of two Bolles illustrations completed within weeks of each other, one a book cover for a story penned by a Pulitzer prize winner and the other the cover for a notorious smoosh mag which Robert Brown called a "classic erotic illusion," meaning if Bolles was foolish enough to sign it (he never signed any of them) he would have gotten himself hauled off to jail, a fate actually suffered by some of the magazine's staff. I truly wonder any other commercial illustrator's work-then or now-spanned such disparate cultural realms.

Monday, January 12, 2009

She's Aces!

No real theme here except that after posting Saturday's cover, it occurred to me that just a few month's later Bolles did a very similar pose. So I pulled this 1934 issue of Spicy out of my files and just about gave up right there. As you can see from the initial photo below the magazine was in ratty, no...make that "mousy" shape and by that I mean the missing pieces of the cover may well have been chewed off by mice. They seemed to have a taste for the covers but would skip over the contents, just like subscribers to Spicy! Worse though, was the cover printing which was abysmal. The paper was really cheap, and it looks to have been a three color print with way too heavy with the magenta. So I fiddled and fiddled and came up with this fix. There still are problems but I am sure it is truer to the original. Bolles was fixated on getting skin tones just so. In letters he wrote about painting he would go on in great detail about skin tones and describe the exact palette he used and what specific colors he blended (six or more) to get the color the way he wanted it. At some point I should upload some of these as he included some interesting charts and sketches in some of them. I'll also be posting series of covers over the years that revisited the same pose or theme.

A bit of a post-script here. I've decided to fiddle some more with the cover, as her skin tone looks like she's been overusing some sort of instant tanning product. So here's yet another version.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Gay Caballera

While we've been on the continuing story of the missing Bolles cowgirl I thought I'd share some other examples. Here we see a really striking composition from 1933. It is unusual enough both in pose and her features to make me think a model sat for this cover, or perhaps Enoch used a photo for inspiration. This image was reused as a blotter/calendar and on a candy box. In both cases the portion of the signature in the background was clipped out, which to me means Bolles didn't get any extra money for it. But this was standard business procedure for most illustrators then and now. With few exceptions, George Petty being one of the most notable, illustrators did not retain any rights to their work. Typically the art wasn't reused and in fact was often discarded, but in the case of Bolles someone sold his cover images to Brown and Bigelow and other calendar companies. Some of his best under-the-counter covers also reappeared as hand tinted posters produced in the 1930s, done from the original paintings. Several of these posters were from paintings that hadn't been published and so in this case I think Bolles may have been involved personally. I'll post these sometime in the near future, though one of these I have to save for the book, it's just too good!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Part III: Found!...and Lost Again!

The trail of the Whoopee girl had hit a dead end, until I contacted Judy Anderson, an expert on the history of the Pioneer Days who is writing a book entitled: A Grand Celebration! Ogden Pioneer Days and the Rodeo Queens and a past Miss Odgen Rodeo herself. Judy had an inkling the painting might still be around and made some calls to local government officials. A few days later she hit paydirt. She emailed me with the news that a city councilperson had informed her the painting was still in the possession of the mayor's office. It had been recently reframed and was displayed in an office in one of the local government buildings. I couldn't believe my luck, a small blurb in a 75 year old newspaper article had led me to one of Bolles' very best Film Fun paintings, or so I thought.

But no! As my lame depiction indicates, it was not to be. The painting had vanished! Worse, from what Judy was told it had been hanging in the office just days before she started checking into it. Curiously, there didn't seem much interest by city officials to try and locate the painting, until I informed them it was worth a lot of money. Some quiet inquiries were initiated but led nowhere, despite the concerted efforts of one of the city council members. I had gotten tantalizingly close to finding a Bolles original only to be thwarted. Over the next two years I would occasionally email Judy but there was no news about the painting, until three weeks ago.

Coming: Part IV: Lassoed!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Polly Doesn't Want a Cracker: Today is Bird Day!

We are celebrating bird day with one of Bolles' most classic covers from his high deco period (at least that's what I call it). The girl sort of reminds me of what Jean Harlow might have looked like if she had the Elsa Lanchester hair-do from Bride of Frankenstein. One of these days I'll do a survey to see which star of the silver screen readers feel most closely embodies the Bolles girl. Not that I think it was Jean Harlow, other bleached blondes come to mind including Toby Wing, Thelma Todd, Alice Faye, Lilian Harvey, Edwina Booth, even Joan Blondell. At some point I'll do some side by side comparisons so you can judge for yourself but I am more than open for other suggestions readers may have. As far as contemporary actresses (I know. We don't use that word anymore) I once thought that Charlize Theron had a bit of a Bolles look but now I think otherwise.

But back to our bird girl. The painting really shows off Bolles masterful sense of color, and the black robe provides the climactic punch to the composition. Without high quality printing the cover would have crashed but for a time the publishers of Film Fun weren't cutting corners. You may think I had to dig deep to find a girl-bird theme but you'd be wrong. Bolles did a number of these and the birds were always of a real species, details correctly rendered. In fact he featured a wide variety of unlikely members of the animal kingdom on his covers including turtles, manta rays and a shark!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Part II: False Leads and Dead Ends

A couple years ago I tried out a new search engine of scanned newspapers from all over the country that went back nearly 100 years. Of course I couldn't help myself so I punched in Enoch Bolles, and what comes up but the curious article to your right. In it we learned that the Mayor of Odgen, Utah wrote to Film Fun magazine expressing his admiration for the girl on the cover of the October 1934 issue, and was subsequently given the original cover painting! My heart started beating faster. Might this painting still exist? A few Google clicks later I learned that the Pioneer Days rodeo was still going strong, that our Bolles girl was adopted as the official mascot of their annual rodeo and renamed the Whoopie Girl. In fact a close copy of the original image was plastered all over anything even remotely related to the rodeo as these examples show. So that got my heart really pounding. There seemed a real chance that the painting was still around and what a huge prize it would be to get a photo of it for my Enoch Bolles book project (more about the book in another post). So I started making cold calls to various people in Odgen and a week or so later was on the phone with the grandson of the mayor who was given the painting. He said the painting was in storage and that he had made a poster of the image. A few days later I got a mailing tube and practically tore the thing apart getting it open. No dice. The painting was clearly based on the Bolles girl but it was not done by Bolles. Another phone call or two (or three) and the mayor's grandson recalled that they had hired an artist to do an updated rendition of the original painting, which he now thought could have been lost in a move years ago. My heart sank. I'd been thorugh this before, coming close to finding a long lost painting only to have the trail go cold or learn that it was missing or stolen. But a few days later I got a call from a woman who told me a curious story, that her mother, Lorene Donaldson was the original Whoopie Girl. Lorene posed for a photograph in a cowgirl outfit she made herself and at some later time the painting, which became the official image of the Whoopie Girl was done using the photo for inspiration. Lorene's daughter graciously shared photos of her mother and other archival material with me and as you can see, her mom,-all of 14 at the time-was a ringer for the Film Fun cover. This story was pretty much the official version of the Whoopie Girl story and it seemed that only I knew the Bolles image came first (actually Enoch swiped the outfit from one a girl wore in a W.C. Fields movie...I'll try and dig up that image), but that was until I got in contact with Judy Anderson, a local historian who was writing a book on rodeo mascots. And it was Judy who set me back on the trail of the painting.

Next-Part III: Lost and Found!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy 2009!

Looking back at the short life of this blog, there is much to celebrate. In the early days, no matter how deep you Googled Enoch Bolles, The Blog On Enoch was nowhere to be seen, but now it shows up on the first page of Google. TBOE has gained a fascinating group of followers with great blogs and web-pages of their own you ought to check out, and I've heard from others who have become fans of Enoch Bolles. I'm also grateful to Leif Peng for giving space in his fabulous blog, Today's Inspiration for me to introduce the Bolles blog, and for Shane Gline and others who have reviewed or linked TBOE. And finally, a special big-up to my main man, Brandon "the dawl" Dawley, who has given this blog such a fabulous look. Brandon's work was recently featured on Drawn! Do stay tuned as I've got a lot of great things in store for 2009, including scans of newly 'discovered' paintings and a feature on the women who modeled for Bolles.

Happy New Year!