Sunday, January 16, 2011

Robert J. Wildhack (1881-1940)

Illustrator, poster artist, and comedian Robert J. Wildhack was born on August 27, 1881, in the central Illinois town of Pekin and attended high school in Indianapolis, where he studied under Otto Stark. After graduating from Manual Training High School in 1899, Wildhack worked as an illustrator for the Indianapolis Sentinel before moving to New York City in 1901. With a year's study under Robert Henri at the Chase School of Art (where his classmates included Glenn O. Coleman, Walter Jack Duncan, Rockwell Kent, Coles Phillips, Edward Hopper, and Guy Pene du Bois), Wildhack began his art career in New York with a sign painting firm. He mixed pigments for ten months before moving on to work as a designer with an advertising agency. Before long, Wildhack's drawing and design work had caught the editor's eye at McClure's magazine, and by the 1910s, Wildhack had become one of the top cover artists and poster artists in America. Among his clients were The CenturyCollier'sLifeThe ReaderScribner's, and Success.

Shortly before America's entry into World War I, Wildhack joined Charles Dana Gibson, Henry Reuterdahl, and others in the establishment of the Division of Pictorial Publicity of the Committee on Public Information. Between April 1917 and November 1918, the division provided both government and non-government agencies (such as the Red Cross) with hundreds of posters, cards, and cartoons in support of the war effort. The most famous of these works was undoubtedly James Montgomery Flagg’s iconic “Uncle Sam Wants You!” poster.

As a boy in Indianapolis, Wildhack sang in a quartet and developed a talent for mimicry. His talents carried him into the vaudeville theater, his most memorable routine being a catalogue of "Snores and Sneezes," recorded by Victor Records around 1915.  His other recorded routines included "Unnatural History" and "Unnatural History II." After the war ended, Americans began turning away from magazines and towards the silver screen for their entertainment. Wildhack followed the trend by relocating to southern California in 1920. During the thirties, he hosted his own radio show and reprised his early routines on stage and in the movies. In Life Begins at 8:40, a Broadway hit during 1934-1935, Wildhack gave a comic lecture on "Sound Phenomena," scientifically classifying snores such as 2d, "The Westinghouse Airbrake," and 2f, "The Troubled Conscious." As Professor Hornblow, he repeated the routine in Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), starring Jack Benny and Eleanor Powell.  In Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937), Wildhack went from snorer to sneezer. He played a somewhat less comic role as Rudolph Herzing in Back Door to Heaven in 1939.

A modest career in the movies came to an unfortunate end with Wildhack's death on June 19, 1940, in Montrose, California. Coincidentally, another, more notable screen comedian, Charlie Chase, died on the same day.

A cover by Robert Wildhack for Scribner's magazine, 1910.

And another for Life, 1912. Wildhack was also known as a poster artist, but as his designs show, there wasn't much difference between a poster and the near poster-sized magazine covers of his day.

Text and captions copyright 2011 by Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wilbur George Kurtz (1882-1967)

On January 19, 1861, Georgia became the fifth state to secede from the Union, joining South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and eventually six others to form the Confederate States of America. Although South Carolina seceded in 1860 and hostilities would not begin until April 1861, this month--January 2011--marks the sesquicentennial anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Indiana Illustrators offers an artist for the occasion.

Although he was born, reared, and educated in the heart of the Midwest, Wilbur George Kurtz, Sr., was an artist almost entirely identified with the South, especially his adopted home state of Georgia. He was born on February 28, 1882, in Oakland, Illinois, and grew up in Greencastle, Indiana. He attended DePauw University in Greencastle and the Art Institute of Chicago, where he studied under John H. Vanderpoel and Charles F. Brown. Kurtz began his art career in Chicago as a draftsman, engraver, and illustrator specializing in architectural renderings. He also lived in Indianapolis for a time.

Kurtz first saw Atlanta in 1903 and was captivated by the city. In 1911, he married a native southerner, Annie Laurie Fuller, and moved to Atlanta the following year. His home was next to a Civil War battlefield, and he became steeped in the history of Atlanta and the conflict that rent a nation. He painted a number of murals, including murals for the Georgia exhibits at the 1933 Chicago Century of Progress Exposition and the 1939 New York World’s Fair. During the Great Depression, Kurtz assisted in the creation of a depiction of the Battle of Atlanta at the Grant Park Cyclorama.

In addition to writing books (Atlanta and the Old South and Historic Atlanta: A Brief History of Atlanta and Its Landmarks) and magazine articles on the history of Atlanta and the Civil War, Kurtz was technical advisor and historian on the films Gone with the Wind (1939), Song of the South (1946), and The Great Locomotive Chase (1956). He was a friend of Margaret Mitchell and a specialist on the Andrews Raid, the inspiration for The General (1926), starring Buster Keaton, and the Walt Disney film, The Great Locomotive Chase. His first wife was in fact the daughter of William Fuller, the conductor on board "The General" when it was taken.

Kurtz painted a number of pictures of the Old South, including preproduction paintings for Gone with the Wind, and illustrated Maum Nancy by Susan Merrick Heywood (1937). Married twice and father of five children, Wilbur George Kurtz, Sr., died in Atlanta on February 18, 1967, ten days short of his eighty-fifth birthday.

A photograph of Wilbur Kurtz and a preproduction painting for Gone with the Wind (1939). Kurtz was friends with Margaret Mitchell, author of the book from which the movie was adapted. He served as technical advisor and historian on that and other movies about his adopted South.

Kurtz specialized in architectural and historical subjects. He combined the two in this painting of Collier's Store in old Atlanta.

Once again, Kurtz's interests in history and architecture are on display in this print depicting the history of Atlanta.

Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

C.L. Moore (1911-1987)

This month--January 2011--marks the one-hundreth anniversary of the birth of C.L. Moore, one of the great early writers of science fantasy and science fiction and an illustrator of her own work. She is remembered now for her first published story, "Shambleau" (1933), and for the story's protagonist, the clear-eyed interplanetary adventurer known as Northwest Smith. Moore is also credited with having created the first heroine in the field of heroic fantasy, Jirel of Joiry (1934), and for one the first treatments of cybernetics in science fiction with "No Woman Born" (1944). Although Moore's fame rests on her writing, she was also an illustrator. Unfortunately, her illustrations lie hidden in old copies of Weird Tales magazine and have apparently not been reprinted during the last seven decades.

Catherine Lucile (or Lucille) Moore was born on January 24, 1911, in Indianapolis, Indiana. She was a sickly child and spent her early years mostly at home. She attended Indiana University for a year and a half but was forced by the vicissitudes of the Great Depression to go to work. She found a job as a secretary to a banker in Indianapolis and spent most of the 1930s typing during the day and writing at night. Long an admirer and reader of fantastic fiction, Moore jumped for joy when Weird Tales accepted "Shambleau" for publication in its November 1933 issue. Weird Tales, "The Unique Magazine," would print fourteen more of her stories of Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry before the decade was out. Moore may have illustrated just one of them, "The Dark Land" (Jan. 1936). She also provided the illustrations for her own story, "Nymph of Darkness," for Fantasy Magazine (Apr. 1935). Weird Tales aficionado Robert Weinberg called her illustrations "very good and fairly weird in nature," and until they show up again in the public eye, we'll have to take his word for it.

In 1940, C.L. Moore left her hometown to marry science fiction writer Henry Kuttner (1915-1958). The best man at the young couple's wedding was Virgil Finlay (1914-1971), one of Kuttner's close friends and an up-and-coming illustrator in his own right. In lieu of Moore's own illustrations, I can only offer art created by others for her stories. Finlay is one of those illustrators.

Despite the fact that C.L. Moore is still widely admired and her stories are continually reprinted, her centennial year may in fact go unnoticed, except here, at Indiana Illustrators.

Catherine Moore's story, "Black God's Kiss," made the cover of Weird Tales in October 1934, less than a year after the magazine published her first story, "Shambleau." That issue was a grand slam for women inasmuch as the cover illustration was by Margaret Brundage, one of few women at work in fantasy art of the 1930s, the cover story was by C.L. Moore, and the cover character, Jirel of Joiry, was the first heroine in the genre of heroic fantasy. I should mention that it was a good issue for Hoosiers, too: both of the authors mentioned on the cover lived in Indiana at one time or another.

In 1937, Moore collaborated with her future husband, Henry Kuttner, on "Quest of the Starstone," published in the November issue of Weird Tales. The story was a collaboration of another kind: Moore's characters, Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry, also teamed up, despite being separated by a seemingly unbridgeable gap in time and space. The illustration is by Virgil Finlay.

By 1950, when "Earth's Last Citadel" was published, C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner had become the writingest team in science fiction. Unfortunately, within a decade, Kuttner would be in his grave and his widow's career as a writer would have almost come to its end. Once again, Virgil Finlay provided the illustration for his friends' story.

Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley