Saturday, December 19, 2015

AN ARTIST'S ATTIC, part 5


 

I've heard illustrators and cartoonists grumble that the glory days of their profession are behind them.  The legend is that illustrators used to have abundant work, longer deadlines, more freedom and bigger paychecks. They worked in spacious studios with beautiful live models rather than googling for reference material.  They were summoned to judge beauty contests around the country because illustrators back then (who were 99% male) were supposed to be experts on feminine pulchritude.

Today, illustrators hunched over their laptops in small apartments glower at the 1950s photos of stylishly dressed illustrators consorting with celebrities at cocktail parties.   Bob Peak and Peter Max both drove Rolls Royces.  Al Dorne drove a custom Mercedes with a burled walnut dashboard and a pull-out bar.  The steering wheel had Dorne's initials engraved on a silver plate below a star sapphire. Bernie Fuchs drove a tasteful Porsche.

Leonard Starr, who worked as an illustrator and comic artist during that era, drove a snappy Jaguar and lived in a substantial home in rustic Westport where his neighbor was the actor Paul Newman.   Today his attic contains the brittle, yellowing remnants of that bygone era.

According to the legend,  illustrators back then always managed to attract gorgeous wives.  Is the legend true?  I don't know.

In Starr's attic I found a battered suitcase containing old photos of a fashion model from the 1950s and 60s. 
   





It turns out that the model was Starr's wife Bobbie.  Years ago she had been a well known lingerie model who appeared in the famous "dream" advertising campaign for Maidenform bras.  Her ad was, "I dreamed I went to the circus in my Maidenform bra."  She danced with Caesar Romero at the Copa.



Perhaps there was something to those old legends after all.


Even cooler, there were a few pictures of Bobbie's mother-- an earlier generation of beauty-- mixed in with the modeling shots.


 It turns out that her mother was one of the famous Ruth St. Denis dancers.

St. Denis started out as Ruthie Dennis, a "leg dancer" (female dancers whose legs were visible under their short skirts) in a dime museum and in vaudeville houses.  Through talent and grit, she escaped to Broadway, founded her own dance troupe, and toured internationally as an avant garde dancer.

 
Yes, it was truly a different era.  You never know what you'll find in the time capsule of an artist's attic.  But it's worth looking.


12 comments:

Paul McCall said...

Even Norman Rockwell, when he was just starting out, felt that the golden age for illustration was past.
Don't forget endorsements! I've seen ads with famous illustrators endorsing art supplies, cigarettes and other things

David Apatoff said...

Paul Mccall-- Yes, that's certainly true. And we see in the Society of Illustrators annuals from the early 60s a concern that they too believed the "golden age" of illustration had passed, as the artists in the 50s and 60s were painting with casein on illustration board rather than painting in oil on canvas the way Rockwell did. Casein and other water based paints dried faster for shorter deadlines, and illustration board was cheaper and more portable.

I had to smile recently when I saw that Ross MacDonald said, "In the warm glow of hindsight, the 1980's and 1990's can sometimes seem like a golden age for illustrators – a time of civility and decorum, waters thick with amazing magazines, and plenty of great work to go around."

I guess the "golden age" is a moving target. By the way, I also agree about those endorsements (although I never understood why illustrators were supposed to be authorities on cigarettes. Booze maybe, but why cigarettes?)

James Gurney said...

"A custom Mercedes with a burled walnut dashboard and a pull-out bar."

Wow! If we don't live like they did, it may not just be a shortage of income. It could be a shortage of imagination.

kev ferrara said...

I never understood why illustrators were supposed to be authorities on cigarettes. Booze maybe, but why cigarettes?

Sorta on the topic: I have a pet theory that the history of the arts is tied up with the history of artificial stimulants, "creativity-boosters", and "social-lubricants." These things alone may not make a vibrant art community. But I can't imagine a vibrant art community without most its members on at least simple carbohydrates, booze, spicy foods, and coffee. Nothing flows in the arts without energy and the feeling of freedom. (And the natural versions of those things generally fade soon after youth does.)

Kurt Cyrus said...

I remember Jack Leynnwood telling our Art Center class, circa 1980, "I used to drive a Lincoln. Now I drive a Ford. But you can still make a pretty good living." I don't know if his wife was a model.

António Araújo said...

This is no attic, it's Aladdin's cave. :)

David Apatoff said...

Jame Gurney-- Good point!

Kev Ferrara-- I'm not sure how we could prove cause and effect. Do people use stimulants because they are adventuresome and experimental, or are they adventuresome and experimental because they use stimulants? It is certainly true there is a lot of self-medicating with booze in the arts.

Kurt Cyrus-- Sounds like Leynnwood took his demotion with more equanimity than many. There was a lot of bitterness during that era.

António Araújo-- Truly it was.

kev ferrara said...

I'm not sure how we could prove cause and effect. Do people use stimulants because they are adventuresome and experimental, or are they adventuresome and experimental because they use stimulants? It is certainly true there is a lot of self-medicating with booze in the arts.

Well, whether booze is acting like a stimulant or a depressive, or both at once really depends on the metabolism of the individual, and often on what else is ingested to accompany the booze. Very few souls can get much useful work done after a three martini lunch. Which is why I'm much more interested in the way the history of simple carbs, coffee and smokes parallels cultural achievement. For all I know a clean-living nutritive ketogenic diet might be the more creatively beneficial way to go. This is not just an interesting question, its also, I think, an important one.

Donald Pittenger said...

Hmm. Fancy house in Westport. Neighbor is Paul Newman. Slick, expensive car. Drop-dead-gorgeous wife...

Why on earth did I ever decide to drop out of art and become a mere blogger?

Ken said...

Your attic series has brought up a question I've been pondering on a while. What would be left behind in the estates of purely digital artists that have primarily given up paper, pen, paints, etc.? Do you dig through hard drives, flash drives and CD's? What happens to files stored on the cloud? Old sketches and sketchbooks have some value to collectors at estate sales and auctions. Do digital files have value after death? Can digital files willed to family or others?

I guess it was a series of questions. Thanks!

Mark said...

Thank you for this amazing look at Leonard Starr's attic.
You run this blog so darned well, I'm sure I'll like where ever you turn next-- but I must tell you it'd be fine with me if we had plenty of more looks at what you found at Mr. Starr's house.

Anonymous said...

Bobbi sure was an amazing beauty. Still is... Charles