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.