Starts With a Growl, Ends with a Purr, By Earl Moran
It all began with a small kerosene lamp in the town of
Clinton, Iowa. My first recollection of doing any drawing
was at the age of five or six. Getting out of bed at four
in the morning, I'd light my small kerosene lamp and start
My favorite subjects in those days were wild animals,
especially lions. I still get a kick out of watching the
big cats on television whenever African hunting scenes
are shown. I guess I must always have had a secret desire
to own one as a pet, but such yearnings have had to be
satisfied with less ferocious creatures and I've had four
Chow Chows at different periods of my life.
During my school years in Clinton, and until I finished
high school, I made many cartoons, mostly of my teachers
and of humorous incidents that happened at school. These
were usually passed around the classes without the teachers
ever seeing one. If they ever had, chances are I would
have been expelled.
Around that time, my artist heroes were Charles
Dana Gibson, James Montgomery Flagg, and Coles Phillips, whose
stocking ads and magazine covers were the sensation of the day.
After graduating from high school, and knowing how little the idea
of work appealed to me, I considered a career in art. Drawing didn't
seem to be anything but fun and I just naturally took a train to
Chicago and enrolled in the Art Institute.
Art work was tougher than I expected, but also a lot
more interesting. I had to work in the school library
for my tuition, in cafeterias for my meals, and sometimes
in theater checkrooms for extra cash. But I kept a sketch
pencil and pad going all the time and was enjoying every
minute of my life.
After two years of basic training at the Art Institute,
I enrolled in the Art Students' League of New York and
studied with such masters as Vincent Dumond, Robert Henri,
Thomas Fogarty, and the famed anatomist, Bridgman.
I'm afraid I didn't learn too much, possibly because
I was not in the best of health. A medical check-up showed
symptoms of lung trouble and I had to give up my art studies
and go to a milder climate. The doctors told me I could
never work indoors again, so I moved west to Los Angeles
and took odd jobs driving a truck, moving furniture and
delivering packages for a department store, The Broadway
At the end of a year and a half and with some added twenty
pounds, I was again on the train bound for Chicago. I
arrived with $11 and by lunchtime of the same day had
found a job at $15 a week with an engraving company. Inside
a couple of years I was doing men's fashions with the
Vogue-Wright Studios for Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery
Ward catalogues. I managed to save some money and moved
on to New York and went to work for another art studio.
I really was fed up with the routine of this kind of
work and wanted to try something on my own, so after a
year and a half, I returned to Chicago determined to try
free-lancing. I painted two pastels of bathing girls,
30"x40" and shipped one to an Iowa calendar company and
the other to Brown & Bigelow in St. Paul, Minnesota. I
was astonished when both sent back goodsized checks and
requested more of my work as soon as possible.
Brown & Bigelow wired me to come to St. Paul as their
guest and while there, to make another painting for them.
I guess they just couldn't believe I could do another
one as well. I showed them I could and by the end of the
week I had signed a contract to work exclusively for them
in St. Paul.
It was the beginning of about a quarter of a century
of exclusive calendar girls and as far as I'm concerned
there's been no more enjoyable work in my life. I started
the job with an enthusiasm that has never dwindled and
by the end of three years, I was in my own studio in New
York with a substantial increase in salary plus all studio
and model expenses paid by Brown & Bigelow. My penthouse
studio atop the McCutcheon Building on Fifth Avenue at
49th Street became known to cafe society celebrities and
to all the popular artists in the New York area.
During my first few months there, life moved fast. I
was invited to judge my first bathing beauty contest at
Coney Island to pick Miss Empire State. John Powers of
the famed model agency, and Irving Hoffman, the publicist,
drove me out to George C. Tilyou's Steeplechase Park.
Milton Berle was there, not as a judge but to try out
his jokes on the judges. It was a real thrill to see myself
on the Pathe newsreel later, measuring the top dimensions
of the winner, who later posed for many of my calendar
Other contests followed in Albany, Staten Island, and
in New York City itself. Life Magazine phoned one day
and invited me in for a chat, which resulted in a color
display of my art. There have been three issues of Life
in which my work has been featured.
My name and samples of my art appeared frequently in
magazines and newspapers during the Forties, and gossip
columnists in particular seemed to enjoy doing tidbits
about me. I never quite understood all this attention.
I was just interested in painting girls for calendars,
that was all. Yet mail arrived in bundles from all over
the world, from the armed forces on land and sea, from
service clubs, universities, and always from young ladies
who were convinced they were just my type and wanted to
come to New York and model for me.
I tried to discourage them but the more determined ones
came anyway. I recall that the post office was always
most obliging about delivering mail with no other address
than New York; City.
I've never felt that I'm an artist in the true sense
of the word. All I've had is a special talent with color
and form and light and people seem to enjoy what I paint.
I live the life of an artist and I've lived it. It's that
everyone may not be able to be a millionaire, but it's
fun to live like one! Like Picasso once said, "When I'm
alone, I do not have the effrontery to consider myself
an artist at all, not in the grand old meaning of the
word. Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, Goya, were great painters.
I am only a public clown--a mountebank."
So now you can understand why I have so very little to
say about any of the work; I've produced.
Visitors have made their way to my studio from all over
the world--the House of Parliament, remote monasteries,
"just to see the man who paints those lovely girls. I've
received a weird assortment of gifts, from small museum
elephants to exercise machines. I've managed to take it
all in my stride.
My studio had taken on the aspect of the cross-roads
of the world and I was enjoying it to the hilt. The pleasantest
of my memories are the friendships of the some of the
loveliest girls in the world, who posed for me.
I recall the time Joan Caulfield sat, when she was just
preparing to open in her first Broadway show. She confessed
that in spite of the great honor of a Broadway starring,
part, she was really a bit scared she wouldn't make it
and so she wasn't ready to quit modeling --not yet.
Another rather frightened little blonde lunched one day
with Adrian Lopez, the New York magazine editor, and myself.
Her name was Barbara Nichols, and apparently her initial
fright hasn't stopped her from achieving top starring
parts today in films and television.
Speaking of Adrian Lopez reminds me that I went into
the publishing business for a few years in New York with
Bob Harrison. We put out a magazine called Beauty Parade
which was a success right from the start. I got out of
the business because the pressures were too much, and
took away time from my painting Harrison went on to publish
a string, of magazines with great success.
About that time, the newspapers and magazines were devoting
a lot of space to variously distorted images of my private
life, to such a degree that I began to worry that models
would avoid my studio to protect their reputations. Oddly
enough, it worked out just the other way, The publicity
brought a renewed siege of visitors and applicants knocking
on my door and I was somewhat relieved when Brown & Bigelow
asked me to go to St. Paul for a few months to make a
portfolio of sketches for future calendars. I did not
know it then, but I was closing my New York studio for
When I finished the sketches in St. Paul, B & B's president,
Charles Ward, asked me why I wanted to go back to New
York. I could work anywhere in the world, he pointed out,
and ship my paintings to St. Paul.
It seemed like a good idea and I did want to visit my
children in Los Angeles. So I rented the studio of Henry
Clive, whose covers for the Hearst Sunday Magazine are
famous' and I settled down in California and immediately
met up with a whole new set of wonderful people.
Ken Murray dropped in with Marie Wilson one day and I painted her
fabulous form for calendars. Since Ken's "Blackouts" were having
a successful run in Hollywood, I became a frequent backstage visitor.
One day a blonde kid named Norma Jean Dougherty came by looking
for work. For the next four or five years, she
posed for many of my paintings and during that time changed
her name to Marilyn Monroe. Ken Murray
was taking his show to New York and he told me Marie Wilson wasn't
going. Did I know anyone who could replace her?
I told Marilyn to see Ken about the job and as she always
followed the leads I gave her, she did. Ken very wisely
told Marilyn her future was in Hollywood and his prophetic
words turned out to be true. though Marilyn had a most
difficult time before she made it. I recall a time when
she came to pose for me and her shoes were absolutely
run down and beyond repair. I gave her a pair a previous
model had left in the studio and Marilyn wore them home.
Later she gave me the form-fitting dress she wore in "The
Asphalt Jungle," which was one of the films that catapulted
her to fame.
As I had one of the first TV sets in Los Angeles, the
studio became more popular and crowded than ever. The
fact that I was using the best of Earl Carroll's Vanities
girls for models, didn't do much to slow down the traffic,
either. I made one of the first TV shorts with Earl s
Vanities girls, showing me making a painting of one of
them. The music helped.
A couple of years later I bought a new home in Brentwood
with a built-in studio. I hardly got settled in that when
I found myself living in Las Vegas seven months later..
Two years of those bright lights day and night made me
hunger for the country life and I moved back to a place
in the San Fernando Valley. It had a pool with the studio
built at the end of it and I felt I had found a permanent
place at last.
One of my first models there was a fresh arrival from Texas and
some things about her reminded me of Marilyn Monroe. Her name was
Mansfield, first name Jayne. She had
a warm personality and I did a number of paintings before she went
to the New York stage.
She happened to mention my name to a Broadway columnist.
The result is best expressed in a letter she wrote to
me: "I imagine you know that Monday night I'll be popping
out of your picture on the Steve Allen show. The idea
sounds so cute. Little did we know what the outcome of
those pictures would be. I'll be thinking a special hello
to you and Gloria on Monday and I'll say something if
I can." For some reason which I don't recall, I missed
that particular program.
Another Moran model now on Broadway and launched on a
singing career is Joi Lansing who appeared in "The Living
Room" and is now a top movie and TV actress. My painting
of Joi is in my personal collection of beautiful girls.
Due to the friendship and influence of two of Hollywood's
top photographers, Max Munn Autrey and John Meredith,
I've taken a fling at photography lately and find my photographs
in demand in New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati. I've
also turned to more dignified portrait painting of men
and women and consider this my best work.
Of necessity and modesty, and because this biography
has space limitations, much of my private life has been
excluded. But I do know many readers will be interested
to know I'm married, my wife is an artist too, and of
my four children, television viewers are seeing a lot
of daughter Peggy, in re-runs of her movies.
Well, that sums up a career that started with a small
kerosene lamp and, believe it or not. that same lamp sits
right here on the coffee table before me.
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