Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Long Lost Bolles Girl

Its been a long time, maybe two years since I've come across a new cover, but recently my Bolles-pal, Alan ended the drought when he shared this magazine with me. Both of us were sure she was a Bolles girl, but there were some differences that warranted a closer look. For one, the rendering is uncharacteristically loose for a Bolles, particularly that impressionistic background. But after I showed it to another Bolles-pal, the Gentleman Collector, he aptly reminded me that Bolles was partial to daisies and included them in a number of covers. So that's reassuring. And there's also that giant sun hat, which was yet another standard Bolles prop. But what nailed this as a Bolles is the pose, which is closely resembles of one of Enoch's most widely reproduced works. It was published in 1941 but curiously, this issue of Breezy Stories hit the newsstands eight years later, in December of 1949. And until Alan found it, this issue of Breezy wasn't even known to exist. According to Galactic Central, the amazingly comprehensive index of magazines including pulp, the last issue of Breezy was published two months earlier. So our mystery cover is both the swan song for Breezy Stories and the very last Bolles. Now the fact that it was a Bolles is no surprise because throughout the 1940s, the publisher, Phil Painter had routinely been reusing old Breezy covers from the 1930s. But the twenty-thousand dollar question is how did he get his hands on a new one. The previously published and until now final Bolles cover came out in 1943 and he had been hospitalized and for all intents and purposes, retired.     
The November 1941 cover of Film Fun
What's even more curious is that Painter fully acknowledged how unique this image was, both inside the pages as well as in the design of the cover itself. It was as if he wanted the magazine, which was first published in 1915, to go out with style. In the table of contents he even identified the cover image as the "new Enoch Bolles girl." And then there's the cover itself. The Breezy masthead on this cover is smaller than usual and deliberately positioned one side to both complement the composition and leave it uncovered. Even curiouser is the complete absence of the dateline, banners, coverlines. There's no text on the cover at all, not ever the price! I have to wonder if there has ever been another magazine anywhere that has been published with the image and nothing else.

So where did Painter get his hands on a unique Bolles so many years after Bolles had done anything new. Several possibilities occur to me. One is that this wasn't a brand new cover but an overpainting done using the 1941 Film Fun cover art. This isn't too much of a stretch because  Bolles had reworked a number of his Film Fun covers as well as a few other titles, both for reuse on other magazine covers and for his own personal pleasure. He may have done this for previous issue of Breezy Stories although I hope this isn't the case. If this is a Bolles, it's got to be the worst thing of his that ever saw print, which is ironic because it was inspired by one of his most alluring covers, the amazing 1933 Bedtime Stories.
October, 1949
October, 1933
But I don't think is was an overpainting and I'll use another example of a reworked painting to illustrate why. Below is an example of a 1938 Film Fun cover that Enoch revised a year later, changing not only the outfit but also her hand poses and the hairdo. This amounts to quite a few alterations but they are minor compared to the differences between the martini girl and the Breezy Stories cover. 
April, 1938
November, 1939

So let's look at them side by side. Obviously there are some major differences in the position of her legs, and left arm. More significant, the angle of the faces in the Film Fun and Breezy Stories covers differ. Her head on the Film Fun cover is turned a bit less which reveals more of her face, particularly her right eye and lips. This difference is quite subtle but as a revision it would be more difficult to execute than simply reworking an arm or leg, or adding clothes. 

There's another reason I don't think it was unlikely to have been a rework and that's because the original Film Fun painting appears to have suffered an ignominious fate. Here's a photo out of a later issue of Film Fun and you can clearly see the painting serving as a prop in the Film Fun office in a photoshoot of a model who appeared in the same issue. I doubt very much that Bolles was able to get his hands back on it and it pains me to imagine the ultimate fate of this fabulous painting.

So that puts me back to square one. What was the story behind our mystery cover.  My theory is that was not a new painting per se but an older and unused painting that Bolles had completed years earlier, in 1941 to be exact. More specifically, I think this painting was a so-called "comp" or comprehensive sketch that Bolles would have submitted to the art editor of Film Fun for consideration as a potential cover theme. From the final version it makes sense to assume the editor liked the pose but asked Bolles to tone it down a bit (little good that did, a year later the magazine was forced to fold by the Postmaster General for being "salacious") and so was born the martini girl. There's also a piece of evidence that supports this story. Submitted below for your consideration is exhibit "a", which comes from my own collection. This is a comprehensive sketch Bolles completed for what would be the October 1941 Film Fun cover, published just a month earlier than the martini girl cover.
You can see a number of subtle but substantial changes in the pose, head position and hairdo as you move from the comp to the final (including removing the ties on all the balloons). And that two-piece outfit, scandalous because of the blatantly exposed navel, an anatomical feature that would have no place on the cover of Film Fun. So it doesn't seem to me such a stretch that the Breezy Stories cover was originally the comp for the "new Bolles girl".

Problem solved? Well, yes and no.  There remains the question of how Phil Painter got hold of the painting in the first place, and why he hung onto it for so long before using it. And then there's the image itself. As I took a hard look at it I found things that made no sense. That weird red cast to her left which also shows up just above her right leg. To me it looks like a pillow or blanket the engraver struggled to conceal. Weirder, if you carefully examine the edges of the figure, there places where you can see cut lines (her right ankle and knee, for example) that look like parts of her had been snipped out and then slapped back on top of the cover image. I have no idea what this could be but once you notice, it is impossible to ignore. And that black blob of a shoes is very uncharacteristically crude for a Bolles, even if this was originally only a sketch. So this mystery is not satisfactorily solved, and if you're interested in investigating further, stay tuned to eBay. The magazine's going up for sale there this week.