Monday, March 30, 2009

A Double Vision?

I wasn't supposed to be posting this week, but while perusing the ever attractive Starlet Showcase blog site I came across this photo of the young Shirley "Partridge family" Jones as Lulu Baines from the movie Elmer Gantry. Immediately it brought to mind who else but a Bolles girl, and I just had to turn it into a quick post (actually they are never quick). As you can see the girls share a common interest in silk hosiery.

Below is another photo of Jones from the movie and yet another Bolles image clicked, this one from a 1932 issue of Pep. She really has that toothy smile you see on so many Bolles covers.

And here we have the the uncropped image from an issue that appeared in 1937.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Dot at the End of a Rainbow

Just yesterday I was droning on about how it was hard to tell if a post would interest people or not, and that very entry generated record traffic for this site, even though the art may not even have been by Bolles! Go figure. So before taking a few days off from posting I decided to make one last post to try and keep the ball rolling. Here's a really nice cover from 1928, a year when Bolles was doing double duty while Film Fun was being published twice a month. The depression soon put an end to that and Bolles began to branch out. Soon he starting doing covers for Spicy Stories and Pep. How Bolles began his assocation with the curious characters who published these mags I've long pondered.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A bite of Bolles or not?

Over time I'm slowly learning from blogging is that it can be pretty near impossible to predict when a post strikes a chord (or nerve) or not, or when a particular Bolles cover will become a hit with people who visit this blog. I thought yesterday's recipe, which combined a melange of spicy and savory Bolles flavors carefully blended together with some obscure quotes dug up from heirloom newspapers would get a review or two. But I was wrong and that's ok because Google analytics told me there still was a good number of visitors who sampled the day's menu. Yet, there have been some posts I admittedly tossed together at the last second that have have worked up some appetites. Can you tell I'm not a very good cook?

What's on the menu for today is to inquire of your opinion about the above illustration. I first spotted it yesterday in an article in the New York Times and immediately my Bolles radar started blipping. After I downloaded the color version I'm even more intrigued (Don't bother with the Mars web site, it's infuriating!). As I look at this illustration there are several potential Bolles signatures at work. First, there are the flat areas of pure color with little obvious brush work aside from some broad flourishes, something evident in a lot of Bolles' food illustration, which by the way is a notoriously difficult specialty. Think of it this way, create too simple an illustration and it looks fake; the viewer isn't hungry. Overworking is akin to overcooking; you leach out all the flavor and freshness. Bolles really had the recipe down pat; the superfluous details were minimized but not to the point where the product lost its punch. Next, the color, though a bit too monochromatic, has the typical Bolles fidelity to the product. No painterly application of contrasting tone or excessive applicaiton of texture here. Last and most intriguing this illustration has a mathematical precision to it that is so typical of Bolles. The ribbons of chocolate that drape the bars have a weight and flow to them that makes you believe it's chocolate, not something merely thick and brown. But all this is my opinion, and as you well know by now I have a biased palette when it comes to what Bolles is serving. So I'm asking you to take a nibble and ltell me what you think.

P.S., The next post will be a while, as I'll be away for a bit or two.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Profound and the Profane

Today's topic continues with a subject I've glanced over a few times but have yet to truly face head on, and that concerns the conflicting themes running through Bolles' work. Most people in the know are well familiar with his Film Fun covers, his racier fair from Spicy Stories, and perhaps this cover from Cupid's Capers, which Francis Smith described in his book Stolen Sweets as an erotic masterpiece, though some would describe it in very different terms. Back in the 1920s and 30s his work evoked even stronger feelings. Film Fun was banned for a time in municipalities such as Ann Arbor and Denver. Newsstands that carried it and other titles that often featured Bolles' art were raided by the authorities in Chicago and New York, where Mayor LaGuardia's Citizen's Committee on Civic Decency targeted newsstands and smoke shops that trafficked in the so-called smooshes. To avoid getting caught and the publishers went to extremes, creating false companies, and phony addresses. It was a constant shell game between them and the cops so when one got busted it would make the news. Harry Donenfeld, who published Gay Parisienne, Spicy Stories and other mags with Bolles covers--and who later upgraded to comic books--got hauled in several times. In one instance he had one of his staffers take the fall and do jail time and in another court case had the greater gumption to tell the judge his rags compared with "God's Little Acre" and "Ulysses." He went so far to claim that his magazines performed a vital public service: "A girl just out of school-she's the most easily ruined. But after she's read our magazines she knows sex. She knows life. She's better able to protect herself." The jury was unconvinced.

Film Fun generated enough heat, or at least outrage, that entire countries got into the censoring act and and for a time it was banned in Australia, Japan and Canada beginning back in 1925, one month after that problematic Valentine cover I recently featured. Coincidence? Even Bolles' most sedate work found ready foes. In 1938, Scribner's magazine wrote the following in regards to the Bolles image below: "Contrary to the belief of many who have not seen beyond the covers of Breezy Stories, its appeal is in no sense pornographic", which is a bit hard to swallow when you examine the image, especially compared to the girl featured in my last post. Lacking a decent scan of the magazine I've posted an album cover from the 1970s that it was used on. Exciting yes, but pornographic? But we must remind ourselves that this image was viewed through the lens of a different time. Even a decade earlier a report on reading habits sponsored by the Carnagie Corporation (that's what it was called back then) identified Film Fun as a magazine typically read by "those of low native intelligence" and another national study on reading indicated it was favored by "dull children." Well all I know is there must be a lot of dullards with spare change in their pockets because the competition for Film Fun on eBay has become fierce.
We'll continue exploring this topic from time to time over the coming months, particularly as it relates to the artist's model, which was sort of a cultural hot button from the very beginning of the Golden Age of Illustration. We'll find out what happened when a New York newspaper exposé on the exploitation of artists' models tried to entrap none other than C.D. Gibson with a fake model.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Flashing Symbols

Ok, I've changed my tune and cleaned up this cover. We need to see her in full chromatic glory, digitally boosted for full effect. I decided that it was time to begin to address the aspect of Bolles' commercial art that Balkanized his career. That being the sexually charged nature in much of his work. Keep in mind that this image was created in 1935 and the climate for such material was very different. For one, the honorable Mayor LaGuardia of New York City had his anti-smut campaign going full tilt, his vice cops filling paddy wagons with newsstand vendors brazen enough to openly hawk the likes of Spicy Stories. Just imagine what the authorities would have done to Enoch had they known he was responsible for the covers adorning most of the pulps they had banned.

On David Apatoff's terrific and often provocative site Illustration Art the March 9 entry addressed the naughty symbolism hidden in classic illustration art. The post was entited Spanking Cats after a Ted Geisel cartoon with an obvious (or not so) back story. The gist of it was that illustrators (note: male illustrators) in the good old days commonly loaded up their drawings with naughty subtext in the Freudian "cigar but not a cigar" category. The blog included several illustrations of heroic types sporting long barreled guns and very broad swords, none particularly clever.

Now whether you think our example by Bolles is at all clever or subtle (or if it even aspired to be), at least he's not working with the standard erector set of symbolic tools. Who's to say if those pillows are goo goo eyes or naughty bits. And then there's that orchid à la (or perhaps ooh la la) Georgia O'Keefe. Next we move to her hands and well...what's the point of going on. But there may be one sly message hidden in this composition you missed. Did you know that LaGuardia was nicknamed "the little flower"?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spring Preening!

Spring has sprung and as you'll see over the next few days, we're going to be sprucing up the joint, courtesy of web design master, Brandon Dawley. Let us know what you think of our new header (we may try some others). This lovely cover is from 1925, and I've decided to leave her in the original. No harsh digital cleaners have touched this image. I know that goes against some of the discussion from an earlier post, but I think she looks great as is. And as a bonus there were some really interesting photos to be found in this issue. The first is of a very young "Morna Loy" who was all of 20 years old when this was published. A few pages later there appears a very daring photo of Norma Shearer. Check it out! I'm half-surprised they didn't refer to her as Nyrma. I checked through the rest of the magazine and was disappointed to find no more gems and then I came across the image below on the back cover. It's the debut issue of Wit of the World, a new magazine that must have been the straw that put Leslie-Judge into bankruptcy, hastened perhaps because they shelled out for a cover by the great John Held Jr. The magazine lasted all of one year and was edited by Norman Anthony who ran Film Fun and Judge. He'd have far better luck a few years later with Ballyhoo. As you might have predicted Bolles did a cover for this magazine and you'll see it soon.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pluck of the Irish, à la Bolles

This may be the only Saint Patrick's theme Bolles ever did. At least I've not run into any others. But it is a really great image and the outfit looks like something you might see in the bars tonight. If you're wondering why I've left it so rough (especially given the feedback on earlier posts where we pretty much agreed that more photoshopping was better than less), well there is a reason. And that is because this image is not simply a copy of Film Fun from 1927, it's a proof to the issue. Proofs were test runs done by the printer to make sure everything about the image was acceptable. Often proofs were a bit higher in quality than the typical covers, and were printed on better paper. You can identify them because they don't have any printing on the back.
But the main reason I'm leaving this unadorned is that I am assuming that Enoch himself may have had a look at this very page, perhaps giving it his ok. And for me that's reason enough. The last thing I'd want to do is digitally remove any sign obvious or not, that he had a direct connection to this image.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Style versus Survival: the quandry of the illustrator

In a recent post from the always informative and entertaining Today's Inspiration, Leif Peng wrote eloquently about the competing drives of the professional illustrator, either to be true to one's style hell or high water or to adapt to a changing market, be it driven by the fickle tastes of the public or simply the whims of a client. Leif spoke of his own long-term success as an illustrator and attributed it in part to his willingness to change his style to suit the assignment. It shouldn't come as a surprise that there were readers who passionately disagreed, some contending that it was tantamount to selling your soul to the devil.

So what about this artistic version of to thine own self be true? Indeed, there are well known examples illustrators who never changed their style or content yet remained popular and influential forces throughout their careers. And being a trend setter means you are establishing a style, not following one. Think, Al Parker. But there were other leading illustrators who remained stubbornly set in their ways, and who paid the price as their careers and status faded. To some degree I think this simply reflected the passing of the Golden Age of Illustration. There was a time when the status of leading picture makers, as commercial illustrators once preferred to refer to themselves, rivaled the most well known film stars, but driven by factors such as the growing acceptance of advertising photography, which by the 1930s had emerged as a significant threat to illustration, the entire field was diminished in stature. Other forces were at work too.

But back to the issue at hand, there is good evidence that it was during the very beginning of the Golden Age that the argument over the primacy of real art, oddly referred to as "art-art" over the more pedestrian field of commercial illustration burned brightest. The debate took place at the workplace, not the ivory tower and was hotly contested by ad men, advertising organizations such as the Associated Advertising Clubs of America and ultimately, the illustrators themselves. E.E. Calkins, who has been called the father of modern advertising was an early proponent of the idea that advertising qualified as art-art asserted that good billboard illustrations could be considered equivalent to mural art. His position was attacked from the start. As stated in her book, Artists, Advertising and the Borders of Art Michelle Bogart relates how in 1916 the populist Max Eastman "denounced illustrators and editors as commercial hacks who had sacrificed artistic integrity because they were at the mercy of mass-market publishers who cared only about circulation." Take a look at the comments on Leif's site to his post and you'll see that little has changed in the last 90 years.

I do think there is another factor in the that enters into the push-pull of following your artistic muse versus adapting. Take the careers of two of the most successful lauded of Enoch Bolles' era; C.D. Gibson and J.M. Flagg. They each were highly successful, none more so than Gibson whose career hit a peak with his $100,000 contract with Colliers. Both were public superstars, yet they saw their popularity slowly fade and by the 1930s their work had become marginalized. The question is why? Both could be considered the equivalent of world class athletes, their technique and artist chops were amazing, and at a time when the pool of talent was unrivaled. I think two things happened. First, both Gibson and Flagg were known for their pen and ink work, and in fact Flagg revered Gibson and modeled his style after him. Flagg was also an amazingly skilled painter who worked in a bravura style, who could dash off magazine covers with abandon. Gibson tried mightily to paint, even going to Paris to train, but ultimately failed. But while other illustrators experimented and diversified Gibson and Flagg stuck to their stock techniques. What I ultimately think the more significant factor in the decline (a relative term in this case I realize) of their popularity was their choice of subject. Or more to the point, their rejection of subject. Both Gibson and Flagg loathed the new woman of the 2o's. Gibson stated that out of all his attempts he had only drawn one acceptable flapper. I don't know whether Flagg even tried (he hated how skinny they were and lamented about 'strapped bosoms.') Others, particularly John Held Jr. took on the flapper with relish. See the Gibson girl vs Held Jr. image.

So what about our man Bolles. For one, I don't think he ever compromised his style, which was his own from the very beginning. As the late Reid Austin described it, "Bolles had arrived very early in his career". But what Enoch did do was adopt his subject to the changing times. In the 20s his girls slimmed down (too much sometimes I know!), dressed in the hottest fashions and were on the move. His girls in the 30s were more full figured (and knew it) and a lot less giddy. Even at the end of Bolles' career, his 40's girls were au courant, with the Rita Hayworth hair-do's WW-II themes. In the end it was all about putting food on the table.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lost and Found!

So the very day I get the devastating news that the Whoopee Girl painting was not really who we thought she was, I received an email that included this photo. Here we have yet another original Bolles painting which was done for the a cover of the October, 1925 issue of Film Fun. What a thrill to see a Bolles that was long thought lost and one of his earliest surviving magazine covers. This painting is being sold at auction on March 21 by Hap Moore and no I am not getting a cut nor do I have any commercial association with this auction house. For me finding a "new" original is the ultimate Bolles discovery and I simply wanted to share this with bloggers who may feel the same way, and who may have the urge to get their own original . There's a bigger scan of the painting at the auction site. Do a search using "Bolles" and you'll find it.
Finally if you take a look at the image as it appears on the cover (scan courtesy of Mark Forer), you'll notice the engraver left off the ties and that the image was cropped right at the bottom of the piling. No water can be seen.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Whoopee Girl, Lost again!

Today was a mixed day as far as my Bolles project goes. First the bad news. I got an email from my stalwart contact, Judy, who has been on the front line in the search for the Bolles Whoopee Girl painting from day one. If you've been keeping up with this occasional story, you may recall that after two years of frustration the original painting was recently returned to Ogden city officials, albeit under mysterious circumstances. Since then I've been asking (ever so politely) for a nice photo of it to include in my ongoing (and ongoing and ongoing) Enoch Bolles book project. However, in today's email Judy indicated that the painting in possession of the city was not the original, or at least not the original by Enoch Bolles. Instead it was a painting based on the Bolles girl that had been done about 20 years ago. Its since become the standard Whoopee Girl image used for the Pioneer Days. As you can see, she's cute but no Bolles girl. Ironically though, she is a redhead (the favorite hair color for Bolles cover girls). So that's where this story stands. My hope continues to be that the afterword of this story will be a post of the original painting.
On the upside, another email I received today included a photo attachment of an original Bolles painting from a 1925 issue of Film Fun. It will be sold at auction in a week or so and once I get the links to the web site, I'll post the photo for all to see and a link to the sale.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

In Tribute of Barbie: Enoch Bolles Style

So Barbie turns 50 today! I thought this Bolles girl from 1936 showed a bit in common with some of the classier Barbie incarnations, or maybe it's the other way around. I even found a Barbie on the Mattel web site that was a close match but when I tried to download her, boy did the warnings about copyrights pop up. What a joke, as if there aren't a million Barbie Doll images on the internet to choose from (actually there are one million, one hundred-ninety thousand).

Both Barbie and the Bolles girl have been criticized by some for their cartoonish and sexist depictions of women. They both have also been put through more costume changes than than Imelda Marcos had shoes. But as unreal (perhaps the word should be ideal) as the Bolles girl may appear there really is no comparison. By some calculations if Barbie were blown up to full height here measurements would be 39-19-33!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Dos Sombreros!

The image on the left comes from a 1933 issue of Tattle Tales, and on the right is Joan Blondell from 1938. It's the only photo I've ever seen where she's a brunette. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not implying that the photo pose was swiped or even inspired by the Bolles image. After all there's five years between them and Tattle Tales could only be bought at smoke shops, pool halls or from a newsstand where you had a connection. You'd have to have been seriously moved by that image to have it stick in your mind for that long.
Yet on the other hand there is an undeniable resemblance. Was it that both Bolles and the photographer were tapping into the same cliche' or were they inspired by something they both saw? Certainly Joan had more than a little of the Bolles girl look about her. Who knows, but I see these sorts of connections all the time, and not just with vintage photos. And I keep searching because I have found examples that were undeniably swiped from Bolles. I'll be posting more of these in the future including one Bolles cover that was copied at least four times. Have you found any?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Today is Dr. Seuss's birthday, a Bolles connection?

As those of you who have passed through the portal of Google today already know (meaning 99% of the population) today is Theodore Geisel’s birthday, known to millions of children and adults as Dr. Seuss. You may wonder why I am writing about Seuss in a blog dedicated to Enoch Bolles. Well, there is at least an indirect connection between the two. While I have no evidence that they ever met, they did travel in some of the same professional channels, and each got their start with Judge magazine, though 13 years apart. Suess had a mighty struggle getting his career out of the dock but finally in 1927 he sold two illustrations, the second to Judge. As thrilled as the Geisel was, particularly because had a new bride to support, was soon hired as a staff artist. But he soon regretted his enlistment as the flagship of the Leslie-Judge fleet had been slowly sinking for years, the result of poor management and the lack of ad revenue. In desperation they sold Film Fun off to Dellacorte publishing to pay the bills, who ended up making a mint from it. Our man Bolles had jumped ship four years earlier. He knew full well that artists were treated the worst of all at Judge, they even tried to stiff the great Monty Flagg, leading to a nasty squall with the editor.

But Geisel was a plebe and didn’t have the option of moving to another magazine. Besides he’d signed a contract for $75 a week, which allowed him to go ahead with his marriage plans. But Judge was heading toward insolvency and it wasn’t long before he had his salary reduced to $50 a week. Still Geisel was doing what he wanted and from what I can tell, it while he was at Judge that he began signing his work as Dr. Suess (and soon dropped his first uname of “Theophrastus”). But then things got even worse and he along with the other staff were paid with what were called “due bills” from advertisers who had not paid up. So instead of money Suess was compensated with cartons of Barbasol shaving cream, boxes of Little gem nail clippers and crates of White Rock Soda. By the way, Bolles contributed his final cover illustration to Judge appeared in August of 1927 with Geisel’s first illustration in October of that year. Two ships passing in the night.

It wasn’t long, however, before Geisel’s career took off. His illustrations for a couple of silly books received good notice. Then the wife of an ad-man who had Flit bug spray as a client happened to see one of Geisel's cartoons and insisted he use Geisel. The husband eventually relented and what was to be just a single ad ended up a 17 year campaign. So there was our first near miss between the two illustrators, whose lives were already taking very different routes. The next connection between them is more tenuous, and one that I only learned about earlier this week.

For a long time I’ve collected the names of the models who were listed as Film Fun models (I’ll be devoting an entire post to this). In its later years the magazine ran photo features of these so-called cover models. I’ve got names of over 25 models and while I can’t rightly say they all actually posed for Bolles, many were photographed by the publicist, Murray Korman against the same dingey studio backdrop. Why am I so interested? Well if just one of these models were still living she could be a potential goldmine of information about Bolles. So from time to time I run searches on their names. Most just draw a blank, others turned out to have bit parts in a few movies or were line dancers on broadway, but two days ago I seemed to hit paydirt. Running a search on a model named Phyllis Fraser I learned about a woman by that name who was related to Ginger Rogers, and who with her help got some small parts in Hollywood films beginning in 1932. Fraser’s biggest role was opposite John Wayne in 1936, but she decided acting wasn’t in her future. So she moved to New York in 1939 to work at an advertising agency, sharing a desk with one Theodore Geisel. Now whether she was also moonlighting as a model is uncertain, and 1939 was a bit late for Bolles. So it's possible that a Film Fun editor ran an old publicity photo of her and concocted the story about modeling for the magazine (I’m still going through my collection to see if I can find the photo reference). At any rate Fraser ended up collaborating with Geisel for over a decade and worked on several books including Cat in the Hat, before they ended their professional association, apparently not amicably. In 1940, Harold Ross, the editor of The New Yorker introduced her to Bennett Cerf and they were soon married. By the way it was competition from The New Yorker back in the late 1920s that drove Judge magazine to the edge of bankruptcy and resulted in Geisel’s paycut.

Fraser was married to Cerf until his death in 1971 and a few years later married the former mayor of New York, Robert Wagner. She was active with various social causes and was in the center of New York high society. She passed away in 2006. Of course there may well have been more than one pretty Phyllis Fraser who made her way to the Big Apple in the late 1930s and if I learn more, one way or another, I’ll follow up on this story.