Thursday, April 30, 2009

NOT a Bolles

I saw this poster for sale on eBay recently, advertised as artwork by Enoch Bolles. The trouble is that it's not a Bolles. The image was attributed to him in the book, The Great American Pin-up and first appeared on the cover of a 1937 issue of Bedtime Stories (or maybe it was Pep). Bolles did paint covers for that title but the last one was in 1934 (the last Pep in 1932). There's more that's wrong. The color of her negligee as well as the design is not Bolles. Her had poses are not right and her expression is too sedate. Bolles would never paint such gauzy shadowing. It's a great cover but it's by the other EB, Earle Bergey. I also think that a lot of Bergey girls look like Ann Southern.
There's another Bergey in the Bolles section of The Great American Pinup too, as well as a Bergy painting in the National American Illustration Museum attributed to Bolles. A long time back I contacted both the book authors and people at the museum about these errors but that didn't go anywhere. I've talked to a grandson of Bergey and he's also tried to set the record straight but to no avail. There are other works that have been wrongly attributed to Bolles, particularly Quintana so I'll soon be posting a primer on what makes a Bolles, and what doesn't. But that won't be for a while. Tomorrow I'm headed off to Chicago for the Windy City pulp and paper convention. There may be an original Bolles hanging in the art show so I've got to see it. I'll bring a camera and snap some pics for the blog. Maybe I'll find some other goodies to share.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Portrait of a Girl

I was stuck, oh was I stuck. What to do for a post? The time had come to give a rest to the "wacky day" celebration (mind you, a temporary rest). For now, no more of the variations on the "which came first, the photo or the painting?" theme, though I've got a sheaf of them. There are some really good posts in the works, but those have to be doled out carefully. Today was one of those days I wished this was a blog where you can open up the newspaper and start typing about the first thing that catches your eye. And so I did, and then I spotted an article in the New York Times about the lone surviving Ziegfeld Follies girl. My post had just written itself.

It was four years ago that I got a phone call from her, all 101 years young at the time. Her name is Doris Eaton, and at the age of 14 she became the youngest girl ever to be hired by Florenz Ziegfeld. The year was 1918. Now she is the only one of them remaining. Her older sister was Mary Eaton, she was the more famous but her life went awry and she suffered a sad ending, which seemed an all too common fate among the Ziegfeld girls. So why did she call me?

I had recently learned about a very unusual Bolles portrait that had changed hands, allegedly the subject in the painting was a Ziegfeld Girl. After a time I was successful in contacting the new owner of the painting, Sherrie, who was very supportive, but unfortunately I learned that the seller could provide little information about the painting beyond that the Ziegfled Girl in the portrait was named Marilyn, and that she had died at an early age. That part was true for Mary Eaton as well as for Marilyn Miller, one of the most famous Ziegfeld Girls of them all. She died from complications of alcoholism at the age of 37 (she was played in different movies by June Haver and Judy Garland). But there were several other Ziegfeld girls who went by Marilyn and Mary. So who was the girl in the painting?

It just so happened that Sherrie lives in my home town so on a trip I was able to meet her and see the painting first hand. The most likely candidate for the girl in the painting was Marilyn Miller but side by side comparisons with photos left me unconvinced (don't forget, this is not one of those posts so you're not going to see them) and that's where the story ended, for a while. Sometime later I learned that there was a Ziegfeld Girl named Doris Eaton, who was not only still alive and kicking, but hoofing with the best of them. So I sent a scan of the painting to the publisher of her recent book Century Girl and asked to have it sent along to Mrs. Eaton (it seems wrong to call her by her first name) to see if she recognized her. This was the sort of thing I've done from time to time after starting this project, and I had little confidence it would generate any sort of response. But a week later I got a call on the phone. Her voice was as gnarled as an old walnut but also just as strong. I was flabbergasted and for a few seconds was speechless before I could blubber out a response. On the phone was a lifeline to a time long past; a women who heard George Gershwin play her family's piano, met Babe Ruth and posed for Alfred Cheney Johnston (demurely I might add). Mrs. Eaton told me she examined the scan of the painting and concluded it was a "configuration" of several Ziegfeld Girls rather than a portrait of a particular person. She added she was certain it was not either her sister or Marilyn Miller and it was quite evident from her tone that the memories and images were still sharp in her mind. We spoke for a few more minutes, and I think I recall her saying that she left the Follies after a couple years to go to England to make movies. I thanked Mrs. Eaton for her time and hung up, my brief connection to another era was cut. It felt like the end of a classic movie when the theatre goes dark.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


In celebration of Arbor day I've posted this lovely cover from 1930. The image as it appears on the cover of Film Fun is is quite muted and details of the blossoms washed out, so I've taken some major photoshop liberties in punching up the register. It seems improbable that Bolles could ever have done a chromatically dull painting. If you compare a painting with the printed product, it is immediately evident that the colors in the original were compromised. So when a faded cover shows up my assumption is it's either cheap printing or an uninspired engraver (or both). Bolles was a careful observer of nature and enjoyed painting landscapes where trees were prominent in the compositions. It makes me wonder why he didn't do professional work for nature or sporting magazines.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hula Hoot!

The image on the left, from a 1942 issue of Film Fun is often mistaken for one of the colorized photo covers the magazine ran during its last three years. But a closer look reveals that it's actually a painting, and by Bolles though it looks nothing at all like any magazine cover he had done before. To me this cover ranks as the most atypical he ever did for any magazine, mainly because it seems like an exercise in photorealism. The only other pinup illustrator who was doing similar work was Earle Bergey who in the late 30's was dabbling with an occasional photoreal cover for Gay Book and a couple of related magazines, but until this example Bolles hadn't even come close. At some point I will post all of his entire run of the final three years of Film Fun because they were unusual in other regards. He was began experimenting with unusual poses and compositions as well as incorporating mathematically exact patterns in some of girl's outfits. It's sad that this didn't continue for very long. In 1942 the Postmaster General listed Film Fun among a group of magazines he had designated as salacious. There was a congressional hearing and the editors of Film Fun sent lawyers to defend the magazine (I am still trying to get a transcript of the testimony, which would be priceless) but they lost their appeal and the Feds yanked their their second class mailing privileges, which in the publishing industry was the equivalent of a coup de grĂ¢ce. It turned out that the Postmaster General was getting his marching orders from his parish Bishop, who had created a decency organization that had been forwarding him lists of magazines they wanted banned. By the time this scheme had been exposed in a Washington Post article, it was too late for Bolles and Film Fun. The magazine had already folded.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

What Comes Around Goes Around

This cover has to rate as one of the best of any Film Fun, not just from the 1920's but any decade. I know I say this a lot but this cover has so much going for it. It's a great composition featuring a particularly feisty Bolles girl. And there's the rare presence of a male suitor, suitably thwarted. And her corona of flaming red hair, well that just adds to the attraction. She's also got a rather healthy figure at a time when cover artists including Bolles were perfectly willing to melt the pounds from their girls in order to depict the ideal flapper.

Initially I thought the composition was a Bolles original, and then I ran into the accompanying photo that appeared in a 1926 issue of Film Fun. It seemed implausible that a scene from a movie would be staged after a Film Fun cover, and with a bit of checking I learned that the movie, Eve's Secret came out in 1924, so I figured the chain of events worked the other direction with our man Enoch seeing something he liked in the photo and then doing his own special magic with it. But I can't be entirely sure as both the movie and the magazine came out on 1924, so the timing was a little too close to make an easy assumption one way or another. Most likely, Bolles was inspired by the photo rather than the other way around. Still, it is interesting to see how he used it as a starting point and went with it in a very different direction that reveals a lot about his style. His girl is a lot tougher than Betty and his copper is having an even better time than Jack. And there are some other telling differences. What do you think?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Inspired by Bolles?

The instant I saw the photo of Lillian Roth on the blog site The Flapper Girl my mental rolodex of Bolles images started spinning. Of course I must confess there certainly have been a number of occasions where I've have tried to force a link between a Bolles painting and some other image where there really wasn't one, but in this case the association strikes me as anything but incidental. First, the Bolles image takes precedence; it's from a 1925 issue of Film Fun and you may well recall that I featured it and the original painting in a recent post. On the other hand the photo of Lillian comes from a 1930 issue of Photoplay. Second, there are just too many similarities between the two images, down to the way the photo is cropped around Lillian's feet. We shouldn't make too much out of the match between the bathing costumes because that style was pretty much the only option for beach wear back then.
It's not just me who has noticed that Bolles was a source of inspiration for Hollywood publicity photographers. In its latter years the editors of Film Fun would occasionally run a photo of a starlet side by side with the cover art that obviously inspired her pose, and one of these days I'll get around to posting a few examples. Curiously, the editors never credited Enoch Bolles as the source of the photographer's inspiration or even bothered to mention his name.
I found this photo at Movie Maidens and just had to add it to the mix. I really wonder what's going on here. The pose can't be considered standard by any means, or can it?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Better, Badder Girl

It's so nice to have talented and generous folks who visit this site and are willing to lend a hand to help promote Enoch Bolles. Bob, who runs the must-see site classic movie site Allure, sent me this masterful fix-up of the Bad Girl promo. Doesn't Sally ("Sally sold seats Sunday at the cinema...") look even better now that that awful run in her nylons has been fixed? Speaking of Allure, it's also loaded with fabulous links that I'm sure you'll be interested in. I just took a look at one of them, Out of the Past which has a lot of great content. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Desperately hunting for an Easter egg

After the pain of pulling together today's post, it may be a long while before you have to endure another of my blathering entries where I preen about having found the just perfect the Bolles art to celebrate some obscure pseudoholiday. Truth be told I was completely stymied by Easter. Out of my 'collection' of over 530 Bolles magazine covers (alas, the vast majority are merely scans) I couldn't find a single suitable example. Even Hugh Ward did a cover that as a stretch could be considered more of an Easter theme, featuring a cute chick hatching out of her egg. Ok, so it's actually some bizarre take on celebrating the new year, and what's with her weird arm pose? (One more thing about this cover, the exposed navel and low bikini line are very provocative for 1937. No wonder this magazine could only be purchased in smoke shops and pool halls).
So the closest I could come was the cover to a 1937 issue of Spicy Stories. A very nice image to be sure but one that I had planned on saving for Magic Top Hat Day, Cartoon Bunnies Week or something of the like. To assuage my guilt and keep you from tuning out (if you haven't already) I'm sweetening this post by including something quite unusual, the original pencil sketch for the magazine cover. Alas, it is not in the best of shape but the drawing is quite revealing. For one the final painting is nearly an exact duplication of the sketch. The bunnies are even cuter and chubbier in the painting, and the top hat is larger, but that's about it. I've also included a swipe of the cover by Earle Bergey. He clearly had no trouble with the girl's anatomy (though the shoes should have gone back into the closet) but there is nothing nice that can be said about his Easter bunny, which looks more like an albino jack rabbit. She should stuff him back in the hat and try again.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Odd Ball by Bolles

This is the first of an occasional series of odd or atypical covers by Bolles and what a weird one it is. I don't know if Bolles painted it this way or if the handiwork was done by an engraver. It also looks as if the girl's hairdo was trimmed for the cover as well and I'll have to pull out the magazine to take a closer look. This issue hit the newsstands in 1937, on the downside of Ballyhoo which was initially a huge success for Norman Anthony who was its editor. Ballyhoo featured joke ads bairly disguised from the real product and the magazine has been credited with influencing later humor magazines ranging from Mad to National Lampoon. Anthony had a long association with Bolles having served as an editor for Judge and later Film Fun. Oddly he neglects to mention Bolles at all in his biography though he name drops left and right. The book pretty much lists every artist he ever shared a drink with, which is perhaps one reason why Bolles' name was missing. He wasn't the carousing sort.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Bad Girl By Bolles

There is a really nice entry on the site, Allure about the actress Sally Eilers, who was very popular in the 1930s. We should be grateful that fabulous old movie blogs like Allure (check out my links for some others) have helped to bring her and many other long forgotten film stars back into the public eye. The entry in Eilers includes some great photos of her (I've borrowed one) as well as several variations of the movie poster art from the 1931 feature, Bad Girl. But my favorite example was not included so I'm posting it here. As you can certainly tell it is by our man Bolles. It's a great pose and the almost lurid lettering, which is part of the painting and not typeset really ads some punch. Bolles also did a great job with Eiler's likeness, something that didn't always happen with his depictions of starlets on the covers of Film Fun.
It was just a couple years ago that I learned Bolles had done work for the movies. Since then only a handful of examples have turned up, but none later than Bad Girl. Let's hope that there are others out there. Lots of them!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

It's a Bolles Bolles Bolles World!

This was supposed to be a Bolles free week. I'm in Stockholm, doing work related stuff, so my self-imposed rule was no late night blogging. Especially with the jet lag. But no Bolles for me is pretty much like trying to go cold turkey. The Bolles radar runs 24/7 and when I saw those Shirley Jones photos it starting pinging as if a flock of geese was strafing the control tower at O'Hare. These sorts of associations arrive unbidden and there is no option, they simply have to be shared. Plus, I figured that just one little post wouldn't count.

And so this afternoon I was marching Kungsgatan street in central Stockholm (no strolling allowed in Sweden) on the lookout for one of my favorite coffee shops ("Wayne's" Is there anyone in Sweden actually named Wayne? For some reason I think not). I blithely walked right past the place, which is not at all easy to miss and turned to find this poster taped up on a window. I was dumbfounded. What was a Bolles girl doing in downtown Sweden? And how had I of all people, managed to find it. There seems to be no escaping the truth, it's an Enoch Bolles world.