I’ve always been fascinated by the 1920s and ’30s! Seeing old movies with glamorous stars and cars always amazes me.
When I was born things were different than when I grew older.
My father, a lawyer, was also an expert in interstate commerce and ran a large transportation company — the largest on the West Coast. We were lucky to not be affected by the prewar financial panic that swept most of the world!
After WWII, it seemed that people felt that sort of extremely glamorous and showy presentation was unnecessary. And then we obsessed about patriotism and who was and who wasn’t a patriot and who was going to be our next big enemy! Major Hollywood Stars’ patriotism was questioned by their own government and many careers were irremediably destroyed! My generation learned it was safer to keep your head down and not make waves!
So-called showy glamour had taken a hiatus.
My earliest memories are of coveting copies of Esquire Magazine which had, in those days, covers featuring the magazine’s mascot, Esky.
His appearance was a caricature of the founder of the magazine, Arnold Gingrich.
Every month there was a photograph of Esky in a miniature setting — what used to be called table top photography.
As a kid, it fascinated me. Toys come to life!
There was also the beautiful artwork of George Petty with his popular painting series of impossibly gorgeous Petty Girls!
Month after month!
He also did some commercial work — most notably for the Ice Capades.
(Full disclosure: Many years later, after graduating from UCLA I designed a Parade of the Nations number for Ice Capades.)
Esquire also had beautiful illustrations of men dressed impeccably in fashionable situations
The magazine portrayed a wonderful world full of beautiful people, interesting places and unending possibilities. When I first started freelancing I decided to aim my forces toward Esquire and finally I got my first really decent commission from Robert Benton, who was Esquire’s art director at that time. I knew that in 1959 he had written The In and Out Book with one of my favorite Esquire illustrators, Harvey Schmidt.
The book described things that were IN and things that were OUT!
One of the memorable items was the Chrysler Building. The book claimed that it was so OUT that it was IN!
Schmidt went on to write The Fantasticks with Tom Jones and Benton wrote Bonnie & Clyde and went to Hollywood to become an A-list Oscar-winning movie director!
Another illustrator from a more glamorous time was John Held Jr., who showed the Jazz Age how it looked — and how it behaved!
Less than a decade before the ’20s, young ladies were decorous young ladies!
During the following decade things changed!
Everything changed! Many illustrators attempted to show just how much everything had changed.
There was Prohibition but every young sheik came equipped with a flask that you know did not contain iced tea!
Women appeared to share power, sexually and otherwise with men — and appeared to be totally blasé about it!
In spite of it all, there was still a lot of Sexism! But we didn’t know about that yet!
Therefore, I was excited to learn that I’d gotten a commission to paint an ad in a John Held Jr. style for Hertz Car Rentals, an ad that would run in every major magazine!
I went to the picture collection of the New York Public Library where I’d be able to check out printed Held images! Before the internet an artist had few sources for referencing. The main library on Fifth Avenue had more than a million filed and organized pictures that could be checked out for as long as they were needed. And there were people at a desk who, when asked, would tell you where to find whatever image you needed! I returned home with an armload of Held references and started studying them!
I’d heard that Held’s widow (he died in 1958) was selling some of his work and I wanted my Hertz ad to be a tribute to him with the hope that I might get to meet her and even buy some of his work!
I had a goal!
I looked for car imagery.
I steeped myself in images of men and women and even Held’s lettering!
This was something I’d have done even if I didn’t have an assignment to do it! And although I’d already had exposure in national publications this one would be special!
So finally I finished it!
I delivered it to my agent Pema Browne and she delivered it to the agency. It had been so much fun to do and I thought that it had turned out pretty well. The art director called me and he also felt that it had turned out well! So contentedly I got to work on the next deadline. It was such a good feeling to have a steady stream of jobs that were totally suited for me. I had a wide variety of styles that I’d always worried would confuse art directors not knowing who I really was visually. But somehow it was working and so was I!
So I waited and waited until the ad appeared.
It was first in Time and Newsweek. Not too shabby.
Then, a few days later, the art director called.
“I have bad news,” he said.
“Mrs. Held saw the ad —“
“She threatened to sue!”
To placate her, even though it was an original work, they pulled it from all the other publications in which it had been expected to appear. There couldn’t have been a copyright infringement as there hadn’t been any Held work dealing with Hertz!
I never got to meet Mrs. Held (probably a good thing) and I never got to buy any of her husband’s work. I didn’t even get my artwork returned as agencies didn’t return work in those days.
From the glitter of 1927 I was back in the grim but glittering hallucinogenic realities of 1969!
Years later we illustrators formed the Graphic Artists Guild and were able to get our work returned or charge them a purchase price!
The unfortunate part is that illustration in advertising was being used less and less. Photography had taken over with more of a hard sell approach to selling. We didn’t make a lot of money from editorial work in magazines; they served as a kind of portfolio to show our work. The plan — or the hope — was that an advertising agency would see your work and find the style appropriate for their client. That was the real money!
The old advertising slogan that “we’re selling the sizzle and not the steak” was being modified.
Advertising was now selling the steak!