Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hear Her Roar! Today is Polar Bear Day!

After yesterday's convoluted story, which had me up until 1:30 (a.m.!) trying to tie together all sorts of different sources of information, I thought I'd be off the hook for a few days...until I heard on NPR that today was Polar Bear Day!! And the visually versed Bolles fans among you know what that means. There simply is no way I can let this momentous occasion pass without posting two of Enoch's most celebrated covers. The first is from 1933 and I must say the bear looks as if he is pleading for intervention from the ASPCA. You wish!! The second is the original painting to one of the most reproduced Bolles images of all. It's from the December 1936 issue of Film Fun, and presages one of the best years worth of covers he ever produced. It obviously is Enoch's twist on the girl-on-dead-bear cliché, most famously depicted by the in the 1934 Hurrell photo of Jean Harlow. Where did this weird idea of girls on shaggy skins being sexy arise from anyway? If you like the Bolles painting you can get a fabulous giclee print of it at Impact Graphics posters. Finally, sorry to announce this but in the midst of putting this post together I found yet another vast source of crazy celebration days, so expect more punny posts.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Today is Levi Straus Day

Enoch's daughter told me she thought this cover was inspired by the growing popularity of denim, though you have to wonder if it was more a play on prohibition. Bolles spiked quite a few illustrations but he himself wasn't much of an imbiber, in contrast with some (ok, a lot) of his artistic peers. Since my last post I've been going over old newspaper sources and found out more about the late night ways of the Golden Age gang of New York Illustrators. Along with their other watering holes they founded their own, the Kit Kat Club. But for the annual Illustrator Society balls (they sometimes called them "skelters", whatever that means) they had to relocate to bigger digs. These were raucous affairs with shows and skits that often got out of hand, not in small part because they invariably included models. One year there was a drawing contest where the model's backs served as canvases. A couple years later during a skit the models showed even more skin, so much so that the cops hanging out in the back of the crowd couldn't ignore it. Five of the barest models got thrown in the slammer, including one of Enoch's (though he was not in attendance). The illustrators, including such attendees as Rube Goldberg, John LaGatta and McClelland Barklay got off unscathed, though the latter had a share of jail time later.

Barclay's high class art and cleanly rendered sculptures belied a messy love life involving a marriage to his first cousin (whose maiden name was McClelland!). He later left her for--what else--a model but then divorced her too. In no time at all he was in court for failing to pay alimony, but it was owed to his first wife. Barclay had earned $45,000 the previous year yet he claimed he had nothing to give, though he had a one way boat ticket to France in his pocket. His story was that had planned the trip as a way to recharge his career because his art had gone "stale." The court didn't buy it and tossed him in jail, where he passed the time (only five days) drawing portraits of his cell mates and reading condolence cards from his fans. After he got out he married yet another one of his models, this one half his age.
But then he made up for it all by enlisting in the Navy where he rose to the rank of Lt. Commander. He created recruiting posters, redesigned camouflage for combat aircraft, and painted portraits of high ranking officers, including General MacAuthur. In 1942 during a tour in the Pacific, his ship was hit by a torpedo. Barclay perished along with the entire crew. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, and in 1995 was inducted into the Society of Illustrators hall of fame.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Enoch Bolles, not your typical pinup artist

Yesterday I had the pleasure of hosting Enoch's grandson Rick at my home. We spent the evening talking about the life and work of Enoch Bolles while we pored over over magazines, letters and other documents I've acquired over the past decade. It was a thrill to hear Rick describe sitting at Enoch's side watching him paint and their discussions that covered everything from classical music to scientific advances. For the span of a few hours I had a direct connection to Enoch Bolles, born nearly 130 years ago! Our time together also reminded me of why I've persisted with this project for so long. For as much as it was his dazzling art that started me on this journey, it is my admiration for him as a person that has led me to continue.
Yes, Enoch Bolles is not your typical pinup artist. While many of his artistic peers were hanging out at the Salmagundi Club or more notoriously, the Paradise (with the showgirls who were moonlighting as their models!) Enoch was more likely to be toiling late at his studio before he took the train home to be with his wife and six children. In his older years he was the beloved family patriarch who had a special affinity for the youngest members of his clan and who enjoyed painting their portraits. There's a lot more that I could add but instead I'll leave you with this photo of Enoch reading to his granddaughters. It tells the story better than I can.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Where are you? Please phone home!

Wow! She stopped me in dead in my tracks when I first saw her strutting down a back alley on the internet. But was she a real Bolles girl or not? She had both the attitude and the pose down cold. There was that Noguchi-like bimorphic shadow Bolles so often employed as a compositional tool, but other aspects seemed askance at first sight. Take the the dramatic violet shading, which looks great and makes the girl pop out of that chilly background. But Bolles rarely used chiaroscuro or even subtle shading and once wrote that he considered it a sort of artistic crutch. However, when he did add shadows they were always in bright colors (see the 'fencer' Film Fun cover from my Valentine's Day post) rather than browns or blacks, so that part of the painting rings true. Placing the girl right against the wall seemed odd to me until I matched the painting up beside the 1940 Film Fun below, and the horizon line line up precisely where the floor and wall meet. The acid yellow was a seldom used color but the outfit looks like it was pulled right from Bolles' wardrobe. The spray of tulle fits in too as it was a common fashion accessory for Bolles. And the hair-do, well that pretty much ices it for me.

So let's compare her with the 1940 cover below. Is our showgirl in yellow an extreme makeover of the beachgirl? Bolles tinkered with a lot of his paintings from 1939 on, and I've seen one that was even more heavily altered than this. But to be honest, reworked paintings were almost always weaker than the original, while I think this both more interesting and relaxed than the Film Fun cover. I've superimposed the images and they pretty much match up. The difference in the aspect ratio of the magazine image is likely because the art editor cropped the original painting for the cover, something that was done a lot.

So two questions remain. Why did Bolles so radically remake a cover that had so much going for it? (Think of all the time he put into the perfectly freehanded pinstripes). And far more important, where is this painting? As some of you know I'm writing a book on Bolles and have long been in the hunt for unique material. Can someone out there help me?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Persistant Replay

In a post last week on the theme of sport I indicated that this particular cover of Film Fun was a visual joke based on a Saturday Evening Post cover by John Sheridan. For some reason or another I decided to double check my source, and after going back to check the book that referred to this visual connection and I found out the SEP cover wasn't a Sheridan after all. It was by E. M. Jackson and appeared in 1931, four years prior to the Film Fun cover. So yet another search ensured, which eventually yielded the cover you see posted above. Clearly Bolles made a play on Jackson, though I would hesitate to call it encroachment. But why Bolles would poke fun at this particular cover years after it was published is something I can't answer, as I've not come across any other examples like this. Bolles himself would complain about his work being copied by others, and you can see from the examples below that he had plenty of reason to cry foul. Only recently I learned that in 1934 the publishers of Film Fun took the owners of Movie Humor magazine to the New York supreme court, seeking an injunction for unfair competition and infringement, claiming the magazine was nothing a pale copy down to the title. The covers themselves made no pretense of originality and in fact a temporary injunction was granted against "the confusingly similar cover format." Well no kidding!!

Nearly every cover Movie Humor covers was done by George Quintana, which was his nom de plume. I've found out his real name and some other interesting tidbits on him but that's for another post. As you can clearly see his covers were taken directly from previously published work by Bolles, and this was true for the vast majority of Quintana's pulp covers. They were either complete copies of Bolles or composites taken from several covers. Movie Humor, having survived the case against it spawned its own copies, including Reel Humor, Movie Merry-Go-Round (both with more Bolles "inspired" covers by Quintana), Real Screen Fun, Screenies and the list goes on. All of these titles include covers that were clearly take from Bolles work and in the near future
I'll be devoting an entire post on the topic of illustrators who swiped from Bolles. It's a long one and includes none other than Alberto Vargas, who did a pinup for Playboy that was a line for line copy of one of Bolles' most well known covers. If there were referees for commercial art he would have been charged with "delay of fame".

Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

Here's a really sweet cover from 1928 and the best among the very few Bolles Valentine's day themes. A couple months back I included this image in a group of bulls-eye style compositions. For some reason Bolles had his sights on this theme in 1928; there were four true bulls-eye covers and another where the girl was framed by an easel, far more than any other year for Film Fun.

But back to today's theme. It's really too bad that Bolles did so few Valentine covers and because they are so rare I'll include one more from 1926, but not because I like it. Precisely the opposite, in fact. This is an example of a Bolles style I have my druthers with. It's not just that she is sub-clinical anorexic, but the combination of the slight frame and large head make her look too young, and the provocative (really provocative) nightie just adds to the discomfort level, at least for me. There a couple other seriously underweight cover girls on Film Fun in 1926 but the rest were more fulsomely framed, so go figure. I'll likely do an entire post on this particular style of Bolles girl because she reappeared in 1929 on the covers of Pep and Spicy before Bolles abandoning it in 1931. These covers, by the way are courtesy of Mark Forer, photoshop clean-up man par excellence.

I'm including one additional cover from 1933. Technically, she's not a Valentine girl but her heart's in the right place.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Satisfied Staying Single Day-According to Bolles

Today we have yet another silly celebration that has spurred a bit of serious discussion. First, don't ask me who came up with this 'holiday'. It most certainly has not been ratified by Congress or whatever weighty body makes such decisions. What is truly curious, however, is that the empowered and independent woman was such a hot button theme back in the mid-1920s. There were several illustrators who did girl-in-charge covers and here we see Bolles getting into the act with several examples from Film Fun, all involving hapless men being manipulated or if they weren't so lucky, about to be devoured by the girl in charge. Some have speculated these covers were a cultural reflection of the growing unease with the rapidly changing role of women in society, or that they depict the emerging cultural archetype of the vamp. Today that term has lost most of the sexually aggressive connotation it carried back in the 20s (which it should be noted was short for vampire), but at that time serious concern was expressed about the new woman and her emasculating effects on the red blooded American male. Among others the author, Carolyn Kitch has written about how magazine images of women were exemplars of cultural phenomena. If you are interested check out her book The Girl on the Magazine Cover which has lots of great images and interesting stories about Flagg, Christy, Gibson and others.
Bolles most certainly did not originate this theme, Flagg had done similar covers nearly a decade earlier, whereas the Bolles covers spanned a narrow window from 1923 to 1925. There's also the question as to whether illustrators were responsible for creating and codifying cultural themes like this or simply reporting on them. In Bolles' case I think it was the latter, but Flagg was truly bothered by the new woman and complained about, among other things, her "strapped bosom" so he may have been expressing a sentiment that was just beginning to move into the cultural cross-hairs. Moreover, Flagg's peers were also out of joint over the changing image of women in society and his mentor Gibson, admitted he had only mustered one decent drawing of a flapper. Bolles, however, had no such reticence, anatomically or culturally and I strongly suspect that was the case for the readers of Film Fun as well.

All of these covers, by the way, are courtesy of Bolles pal Mark Forer and can be seen along with many others at

Friday, February 6, 2009

It's Wear Red Day Today....Really!

It's surprising how these silly theme days have helped me come up with posts that have some bite to them. Consider today's celebration. Exactly when and where "wear red" day was concocted I haven't the faintest, but clearly there was a time in the mid-1920s when Bolles was pushing wear red just about every darn month. These covers all appeared in 1924 or '25 and obviously the girls are wearing the same one piece suit and rolled stockings (which were considered very edgy back then). Why stockings and heels would be considered appropriate fashion accessories with a swim suit (mind you these were wool swim suits) is something I cannot answer. But it wasn't until I started pondering how to work Bolles into today's theme that I became aware of just how often Bolles relied on red (which became a lot less common on covers over the years, and Bolles himself once said that engravers preferred any color on the cover "as long as it was red"). If I had included variations in fuchsia and chartreuse I could have doubled the number of images in this post. Obviously there will be some homework required in order to answer why this uniform was so popular. Yes, it makes for an appealing picture but do any readers have other explanations?

I neglected to mention that several of the scans in this post were provided by my Bolles pal, Mark Forer via Thanks, Mark!!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Super Bolles! Today is National Girls & Women Sports Day

Huddle up! Our feature today concerns female football players, a theme quite popular among illustrators as far back as the 1920s. I've mentioned before that Bolles is widely acknowledged to have introduced athleticism to the pinup genre. Though it is true that many of his covers had a lot in common with the healthy outdoors girls of Fisher and Christy popularized a decade earlier, Bolles went further. He often had his girls participate in in traditionally male sports or other activities that in some cases appeared to place them in mortal peril.
The examples here are interesting for different reasons. Our Punter is from a 1930 cover is notable enough to have been reproduced in several books, including one on magazine illustration by Steven Heller and also in a Playboy publication on what else, sex. The quarterback is from 1932 and seems to me to be a prototype of the sort of pinup covers that would become popular three decades later. I've read in a book on the history of football that the Fullback (from 1934) was a spoof of a Saturday Evening Post cover by Sheridan. Though I've never been able to find that particular issue I do have another of his other football covers. His work is terrific and deserves more acclaim. And our Center is from 1935, and all I can say is I wonder how Bolles got away with it. Below is a scan of the original painting and if you ask me, the signature looks a bit suspicious, too timid and not worked into the composition as you'd expect. Plus as you can see the signature does not appear in the printed image. I've seen a signed Bolles cover painting where the signature was cropped out from the magazine image, but it was evident that the art editor made this decision to enhance the composition rather than to deprive Bolles of his due. This painting may still be available from Illustration House if you are interested. In an upcoming post I'll be featuring another original Bolles from 1925 that will be coming up for auction.