Sunday, February 4, 2007


Andy Virgil was my uncle... unfortunately, he died in 1980." Andrea Luciano, Andy Virgil's niece, wrote those words to me in an email message last August 31. Just three weeks earlier, on August 09, 2006, during a week of posts about Andy Virgil, I wrote: ". . . the first piece I ever saw by Andy Virgil made me want to find more work by the artist. . . I find it so frustrating when there's no information available on the careers of illustrators like Virgil . . . " When Andrea sent me her brief note, neither of us could have imagined it would lead to the most thorough and ambitious examination of an illustrator's life my blog has ever seen.

"I have just heard from my niece, Andrea Luciano and would appreciate your contacting me. I would first of all like to see exactly what you are posting of Andy's work. All of it." With those terse words, I "met" Andy Virgil's widow, Anita. Though I suspect she was understandably suspicious and protective of her late husband's work, I dearly hoped I could prove to her that I had only the best intentions of honoring him by posting my small collection of his work. Happily, our correspondences lead to a collaborative effort beyond my wildest dreams. Anita is both an artist and an internationally anthologized haiku poet and I was thrilled when she agreed to write Andy Virgil's story so that we could at last learn more about a great talent who lived too short a life and has gone, sadly, unrecognized.

I've had guest authors before but none has ever brought such passion and sensitivity, such thoroughness and detail, such generosity and such willingness to share the intimate moments, both high and low, of her life as has Anita Virgil.

The journey of telling Andy Virgil's story took many months, and involved several delays and set-backs, but along the way a tentative acquaintance became a real friendship and a lasting affection. Putting together Today's Inspiration, I've made many friends and enjoyed the kindness and generousity of many people. I am especially grateful to my friend, Anita Virgil, for everything she has shared with me and will now share with you.

Leif Peng

Part 1: Autumn in New York

When Anita Dorne first laid eyes on a young man who came looking for a rep at Phil Rahl Studios, she had no idea that she was looking at love. The talented, determined young man before her was Andy Virgil, and this is his story.

"I still remember him that rainy autumn day in New York City," she writes today, "looking like a skinny drowned rat with a black portfolio almost as heavy as he was."

Anita continues:

The year was 1952 and, though I was the Costume Researcher at Rahl Studios, I was manning the lunchtime reception desk when Andy walked in.

I was 21 at the time, a graduate with honors from New York's High School of Music & Art, and recipient of a scholarship to The Art Students’ League. I had already worked right out of high school as an assistant to the Art Director of Town & Country Magazine. That was Souren Ermoyan, but in a couple of months, he left to become Art Director for Good Housekeeping Magazine. His assistant, Tony Mazzola, took over. (Tony later became Editor of T&C and then moved on to become Editor of Harper’s Bazaar for decades.) So it was that the two of us became the Art Department. I worked alone with Tony the rest of my time there before taking the job later on at Rahl Studios, New York's second largest art studio. Cooper Studios being top dog.

This soft-spoken shy individual gave me his name, Andy Calafatello, and said he had an appointment and I announced him by phone to Rahl. Patiently, he sat and waited opposite me on the couch at 551 Fifth Avenue (which was the Fred French Building, memorable for its huge and ornate double brass doors).

The door to Rahl’s office was shut. All was quiet. And when it finally opened, a burly attractive dark-haired man with a crew cut and the Madison Avenue Brooks Brothers attire, came out and ushered Andy and his huge wet portfolio into his office. A little later, Rahl’s right-hand man, Willard Seymour, joined them.

A long time ensued behind the closed door. The life of the studio picked up as the illustrators trickled back in from lunch. When the young man emerged from the meeting with Phil Rahl and Willard Seymour, he was a member of that studio. It was at that time they suggested he use his middle name, Virgil, as his professional name.

Once he had settled into a cubicle at Rahl, Andy kept pretty much to himself, working always with the same intensity, listening to his music, mostly classical, and staying on late at night in the often cold empty studio. He was pretty solitary -- except for me. Early on, we became good friends. I’d bring my lunch back to his cubicle and we’d talk about everything and listen to music together. He adored Mendelssohn’s "Violin Concerto in E Minor" and played it over and over. Its quietest moments will always remind me of him -- those first opening notes and the incredible plaintive phrases within it later. How they presaged our life together!

Later, since I was taking night classes in Fine Art at New York University, and since he nearly always stayed working late into the night, he would ask me to join him for dinner. Big mistake! I accepted -- and was often late for class since we so enjoyed each other’s company and forgot the time.

I recall breathlessly rushing into the city night to catch the Fifth Avenue bus with Andy waving goodbye as I climbed up the bus steps.

It wasn’t love at first sight on my part: I was already "a goner" and obliviously dumped my sad tale of woe on Andy who patiently listened and listened. But his feelings for me were different.

And he kept them to himself. Except maybe for those large soft sad eyes I caught often looking at me, a bit too long. Or for an occasional single rose he would leave on my desk . . . .

At one point, he wanted me to help him decorate his apartment when he obtained one. I think it was just a ploy to engage me more in his life, but that never happened and events by the new year took a dreadful turn. He had invited me to go to Carnegie Hall to a Brahms concert.

It was a cold January day. When I met him, he was in an elegant thin grey Chesterfield coat and I remember fussing at him for not being dressed warmly enough. Especially as he had a cold. Somehow, during that concert -- maybe it was the music -- he took my little dry hand with his beautiful soft long fingers, and I realized I might be beginning to fall in love with this sensitive, genteel man! Luckily, he was too polite and respectful of my ‘distraction’ with someone else, and I had only just begun to realize how I felt, so nothing transpired between us.

It was not long after, when I’d not seen him at the studio for a while, that another meeting behind closed doors in the office of Phil Rahl occurred with Andy and Willard. When they came out, there was a grimness on their faces. Andy had developed tuberculosis! He would promptly be hospitalized.

Part 2: The Dreamer

Andy Virgil was born Andrew Virgil Calafatello in January 1925 in New York City to Sicilian immigrant parents. He was the middle child of three. His mother, Josephine, a highly skilled seamstress in New York’s garment district, was the one who encouraged his artistic expression from the time he was very young. Andy was endlessly drawing planes and cars then. He did not draw the clunky cars he saw of the 1930s,

but, as his older sister told me, “He was visionary. He drew cars of the future. Like those of today . . . sleek, modern.”

And he was fascinated by the beauty of aircraft, a passion that lasted all his life. (Below: WW1 Fokker and Richthofen and his men.)

But school was something he did not like. Often caught gazing out the windows instead of listening to his teachers, when asked what he was doing, he replied he was looking at the clouds and drawing the pictures they made.

For junior high school, he attended P.S. 83 in Manhattan and, according to his sister, Ethel Luciano, while there he worked occasionally for the WPA artists at Harlem House Settlement House. This was his contact with professionals who noted the abilities that his school teachers had to have observed.

I think it likely this is where his precocious talent was encouraged, and it is my guess these people he met up with would have known to suggest he plan after high school to attend a school like Pratt.

But after graduating from Benjamin Franklin High School at 115th and East River Drive, Andy went to work for a while in a marble-sanding factory and then was drafted into the army. He served about a year in the states as an artillery man and was, of course, with his vision, a crack shot. But a long-time arthritic condition of the spine that began to plague him in his teens led to a medical discharge. (About this condition, as about all later physical problems, he was a complete stoic. Never complained, just constantly popped aspirin.)

This, then, was the time for attending Pratt. By then he was definitely a freewheeling “artistic type.” (I have a snapshot he treasured of skinny him, wild-haired astride a motorcycle!)

He graduated from Pratt, then went on to Cooper Union. He continued to pursue his studies under Reginald Marsh at the Art Students’ League. In his very early 20s, he was also setting up his easel at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where he was given permission as a student to copy huge paintings by Rubens and Rembrandt. (Below: "Lady with a Pink" and "Head of Christ" by Rembrandt)

In 1954, taken by Andy to “meet the family” before we married, I was overwhelmed by the small and very ordinary row house in Flushing, Long Island whose walls were groaning with these huge masterworks in gilded frames. (And, of course, there was also the cheery little Sicilian donkey cart on the end table by the plastic-covered gold brocade sofa! Our daughter, Jennifer, adored that trinket above all else at her grandparents’ home -- and remembers it to this day.)

Though both parents were aware of his talent, Andy’s father, Guiseppe, took a dim view of his son’s desire to make a career in art. Holding down two jobs to barely care for his family of three children, Andy’s father saw no future to his son’s dream. His recommendation was that Andy should learn typing so he could get “a real job” as a clerk for the City of New York and have security. But Andy was determined to pursue his ambitions. He vehemently refused to heed his father’s suggestion. A volatile relationship existed between the father and his maturing son. In all fairness, it must be said that many years after, when Andy’s star was rising and his work was appearing all over, his father was heard bragging about him – to others. And, it is also interesting to note that Andy’s younger brother, Mario, became a professional commercial photographer (his studio , Mario Cal, was on 57th Street near Carnegie Hall) . He still teaches his craft for the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Andy’s older sister, Ethel Luciano, became a school teacher and has helped fill in some of these childhood recollections.

I have a feeling, in retrospect, that Andy’s core of toughness derived from those early confrontations with his father where he learned to stand up against what he felt to be wrong and at the same time doggedly pursued what he felt was right. This trait was to play out mightily in his career. And it also rose to the surface on rare occasions in his life when he stood up and dealt with someone he felt was being a bully. (When you are as slight of build as he always was, you choose your battles carefully. But neither would he back down when confronted by injustices done to others.)

Growing up as he did on the streets of East Harlem, he was exposed to many types of people, and he learned to be a shrewd judge of character. He used to regale me with stories of some of the Mafia-types who collected their money from the little neighborhood stores, candy stores where there were pinball machines. He and his friends learned how to tilt them just so to make the lights light up and allow them to win too many free games! But the presence of the sharply dressed Zoot suiters of the day looming in the candy store doorway with their fedora hats acted as a governor on these young pikers’ behaviour, these street-wise little boys. Needless to say, they desisted. But there was also a touch of admiration for the, shall we say? raw power these studs emitted. I am ashamed to admit Andy’s sister told me he had a Zoot suit at one time! When I knew him, thank goodness, it was Paul Stewart on Sixth Avenue -- and delectable.

Amazing how differently people turn out from similar environments ! Some went bad. But Andy’s friends at that time shared his other passion which was music. That, too, shows up in some of his artwork, for, more than painting, Andy wanted to excel at jazz trumpet. Idols in music were the Big Bands, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and his Herd, and such. Later, his ultimate idol was Canadian trumpet player Maynard Fergusen (below).

We used to go to Birdland to hear him, talk with him. Andy would play his records while he worked on commercial jobs at home. And listen to and tape (7” reels on a Tandberg) endless WQXR late night programs on jazz with Dizzie Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughan, Chuck Mangione (below). “Cool” jazz most reminds me of Andy.

All of one’s life feeds into one’s art. But you need to know the origins to more fully appreciate the end results.

Part 3: Studios

What was some of the preparation Andy entered the illustration world with?

In those days when he was copying Rembrandts at the Met, he went about it as closely as he could to approximate the techniques of the 16th and 17th centuries. Following an incredible little book, rich with The Secret of the Old Masters by Albert Abendschein (D. Appleton and Company, © 1916 ), he ground his own paints with mortar and pestle, added the various mediums, gessoed his work surfaces, then built up such paintings by layering one tint placed over another: he under-painted in dark tones as did Rembrandt, then picked up these portraits with grays and whites,

and lastly laid on his layers of colors. Then glazed, varnished. I still have this book with Andy’s annotations regarding the painting of flesh tones. And that glass pestle.

Now he had to begin work in his chosen field and he had to produce a portfolio. Though I did not know him back then, I do recall him mentioning Fredman-Chaite, so I am guessing that was one studio he approached when seeking a job as an apprentice. I do not know what he showed them in order to display his own talent and dedication to art. Or if he only told him of his art education.

What he landed was a job at Cooper Studios some time in 1951 as an apprentice for their fabulous group which included stars like Joe de Mers, Jon Whitcomb, Joe Bowler. Andy cleaned their palettes, their brushes, acted as all apprentices in art studios: they were errand boys, cutting mats, probably delivering jobs, a veritable "gofer." But he was observing everything about this commercial art business. Apparently he especially befriended Joe de Mers whose work he admired. And de Mers kindly took Andy under his wing and loaned him his own photos with which to create his samples. Again, we have the pattern of Andy’s life: working late into the nights alone at his art. He did this at Cooper.

Also while he was there, and I am guessing it was only about a year or so before he built up his own portfolio, it seems there was a young woman who worked there, too. She appeared and disappeared from time to time. (I never got the impression from Andy that she was one of the artists. When he spoke to me of her, his recollection was of her casually washing the eternal coffee cups that everyone used.)

It turned out that this woman had tuberculosis, about which not enough was understood . Certainly, not by the general public. Suffice it to say, in those days, prior to 1952 , there was no real cure for it. It was called "arrested," at best, when in pulmonary tb the scar tissue built up over the diseased area[s] in the affected lung, and the fever abated, as did the cough, and the night-sweats. So she worked some of the time -- until she fell ill again. Then, a while later, she would return to work.

At that time, Andy was ready to strike out on his own. And we return to that rainy "Autumn in New York" afternoon in 1952 when he walked into Rahl Studios for the first time. And was promptly taken on as a member of that ‘stable’ of artists.

There were about 16 – 20 people there. I am not sure of the exact number. Several of the artists worked in the NYC studio which was made up of a series of partitioned cubbyholes for the artists. I think it was on the 14th floor of the French Building.

(Later, they moved nearby to 45 West 45th Street to a larger spread.) Those artists who utilized ‘in house’ space worked off a 60/40 percent commission. Those who worked from home gleaned a larger cut at 70/30 percent. There were several artists who commuted from such places as Norwalk and Westport, Connecticut and a couple came from Pennsylvania to New York City when their jobs were ready to be delivered by the sales staff. Rahl had a brother-in-law, Leo Vallen, as one of his salesmen; there was Norm Heffron, Roland Galen, (the latter two dealt more with out-of-town clients) Phil Rahl, of course (when he was in town from his Black Angus farm in Washingtonville, New York) and his extremely competent studio manager, Willard Seymour.

There were about three apprentices, one of whom -- George Walowen -- ultimately moved up to do artwork and/or sales (I’m not certain if it was both or just the one ) and there was Vinny Dwyer, I recall . Also with artistic talent. They delivered the art, cut the mats, prepared the samples from tear sheets which the sales staff would take around to the agencies and magazines. And in slow times between jobs, an artist would work up fresh samples for the salesmen to use to drum up business. There was the Costume Researcher (in later years they were dubbed Fashion Coordinators), myself who booked the models, obtained whatever any of the artists needed for their jobs, props from skis to peignoirs, period costumes, photos rented from Bettman-Archives or from the N.Y. Public Library. Sometimes it ranged from Victorian love seats to Eames chairs, and frequently clothes for the models who rarely had what we needed. One quickly learned to have a back-up outfit even when models said they had what we asked for. You could not waste time on a shoot if the clothes they brought were no good. You had to proceed, full tilt, regardless. Likely the clock was ticking on another model hired on that same job. Or another photo session was scheduled immediately after. Often clothes were purchased by me ahead of time just for the shoot and then returned to the department stores ASAP so the artists didn’t have to incur more expenses than they already had.

At this point it is interesting to note that all expenses for models (and prop rentals on a job) came out of the illustrators’ commissions. At the same time, the practice for New York photographers was to bill the clients for all this! I was incensed to learn of this inequity, and the artists often complained mightily about how unfair it was. But they did nothing about fighting it. Because of these costs, whenever possible, artists would use their own possessions for props, or take photos within their homes and use family or friends to pose for them. Much that appeared in Andy’s work came from our home. Including our felines and our Irish setter who was in this Dobbs hat ad,

our antiques and my clothes and my homemade curtains. And from 1963 on, our daughter! Many times over. (Her rates were reasonable.)

In my ‘spare’ time I maintained a "scrap" file on every imaginable subject clipped from magazines. The scrap served the artists and was often incorporated into their illustrations via the "Lucy" (or camera lucida, that mainstay of the commercial artist) when they had to place photos of their posed models on shipboard or in a country setting, in a ballroom,

or in a factory or a kitchen, bedroom , etc. Last, but key as all were for the functioning of Rahl Studios, was a secretary /receptionist/ bookkeeper.

Some of the artists and/or those who were added on in the years I was there included Fred Siebel, Dorothy Monet, Oskar Barshak, Robert Patterson, Leo "Dink" Siegel, Phil Dormont, Ben Prins, Boomy Valentine, Al Muenchen, Raphael Cavalier, Herb Saslow, Roy Cragnolin, and later Fred Otnes and Arpi Ermoyan were added. There was a single photographer, Jerry Kornblau. (He, much later, opened his own antique shop in the city catering to such as Andy Warhol.)

It seemed to me as an outsider that, generally speaking, these people each had their own illustration niche and hence were not in close competition with one another. Once in a while, though, if an artist was chosen by a client but was too booked up with other work, a salesman might in those early years offer as a substitute someone like Dorothy to fill in for Andy. Or Siebel who originated "Mr. Clean" right there at Rahl in the ’50s , or possibly Muenchen could fill in for Dink Siegel’s semi-cartoon animated figures. That sort of thing. I don’t recall this happening often though. Muenchen, an incredible talent whom Andy liked a great deal, was the car man. In a pinch, if Muench was unavailable, Roy Cragnolin might fill in for him. Another artist Andy particularly enjoyed was Fred Siebel, a brilliant, complex and multifaceted individual. Dink Siegel was loved by all – especially by all the models! If they were lost sight of between posing for a job and coming out to the front desk to get paid, one only need go back to Dink’s cubicle and there they would be. Dink was a genuinely sweet laid-back fellow – and a chick magnet. Our in-house balding but crew-cut bachelor, a Gary Cooper type, with a slender hooked nose. And he was also one of Andy’s poker buddies. Dorothy Monet was a rare charmer with friends in theater and movies like Shelley Winters, Robbie and John Garfield, the Lee Strassburgs whose daughter Susan visited the studio one day for she was interested in commercial art, Clifford Odets, Artie Shaw. Dorothy was a beauty of many talents. Decades later, I was stunned to see that it was she who wrote the tv script for a fine production on the artist Mary Cassatt for PBS.

Part 4: Name Droppings

Andy was "weaned" on so many of the great names in illustration -- and even beyond. He admired the work of Ben Shahn who offered a kind of bridge from the fine arts to the commercial. I see that in the line drawings of Al Parker, David Stone Martin. And certainly many of Shahn’s potent design concepts for years influenced commercial illustration. (I am thinking of his "Sacco and Vanzetti," and of his full-color almost-empty-of-kids playground-and-fence painting.)

Andy remained ever conscious of what was going on in the field. Even in "styles" unlike what developed into his own. Work such as the decorative delights of Martin and Alice Provensen, great Pushpin Almanac graphics by Milton Glaser in the mid-1950s. Art book salesmen came regularly to Rahl Studios with wonderful books the illustrators often bought. I still have one Andy bought: The Fireside Book of Favorite American Songs (Simon & Schuster ,1952) illustrated by Aurelius Battaglia whose 2-dimensional illustrations charmed him. As did the whimsical work of Homer Hill in Lithopinion 9.

Among those he admired were Joe de Mers, Joe Bowler, Coby Whitmore, Bob Peak, Al Parker, of course, and later, the extraordinary Bernie Fuchs. Bits and pieces are always picked up by the creative individual and absorbed. We all stand and launch out from the shoulders of the great ones.

But I am ahead of the story. Only months after arriving at Rahl Studios in the autumn of 1952, in February 1953 Andy was hospitalized with pulmonary tuberculosis. This completely removed him from the illustration field for one and a half years!

What offset that horrible occurrence – if anything could just as you are making it to the top – was that from that time on, we knew we mattered to one another. Immensely. Our ‘romance’ was certainly the weirdest and most frustrating: letters during the time he was contagious and phonecalls whenever he was allowed out of bed to call me. And then, when he was not contagious, visits to the Brooklyn Veteran’s Hospital. And all this relationship was kept very private.

My best friend (my mother thought I would marry him) lived two blocks away from me in NYC. He "covered" for me whenever I took the very long subway trips from the city to Brooklyn to see Andy. By night, I would return to his apartment, in tears and despair, and he would fix me a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato slices and oregano on top. Broiled. Once I had eaten and calmed down, he would walk me home up Fifth Avenue and then to my apartment near Madison Ave. where my mother greeted both of us happily after our all-day-long "date." She was very concerned that Andy was in touch with me at all. (This lovely buddy of mine, Robert Dalton Freed, my best friend from before I met Andy is still my oldest friend – and in recent years, my neighbor here in Forest, Virginia. He remains, 50 years later, like my brother.)

NOTE: I was devastated when he suddenly died this past December 28, 2006. I fully expected him to read this work on Andy in a short time. He knew about it, but I wanted to surprise him and never showed him a preview. He had been an editor on Popular Electronics magazine and in later years was with Bell Labs in New Jersey. A.V.

There was one lucky bit of timing for Andy’s illness. At last the discovery was made that could cure tuberculosis. In 1952, a combination of the drugs streptomycin and INH worked. But beyond that, and because we hoped to marry, Andy did not wish us to have to live with a sword of Damocles over our heads. He therefore willingly underwent surgery for removal of the damaged lobe and segment of his affected lung. I was aghast when he told me he was going to do this! He was determined.

Then, because of all the aspirin he had been taking for back pain over the years, he nearly hemorrhaged to death on the operating table during that surgery. Thereafter, on a second necessary surgery to reduce the rib cage cavity, he was prepared with Vitamin K to prevent excessive bleeding. In all our 25 years together, he never again came down with tb.

That summer of ’54 we were finally able to be alone together. And gradually he returned to work. We married in December of 1954 and lived in the city at 333 E. 63 St. before moving to Forest Hills, L.I. for the next few years. From then on came some of his best works for all the women's magazines... Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Ladies Home Journal, Woman’s Day, McCalls.

I was still working at Rahl and so I arranged models and props for Andy, reference materials. And much as I adored him, he was THE most demanding and difficult person I worked for at the studio! I chalk that up to a combination of his initial insecurity -- and his intensely high standards. So, I muttered under my breath some real nasty things as I went about doing all his bidding. Jerry Kornblau, the studio photographer, would affirm that Andy sometimes would take as many as 75 shots to get the ONE he wanted to use. Andy also made demands that were different from the other artists. On occasion, he particularly like to do overhead shots for their new-angle design capabilities. I recall the tall ladder . . . and Andy teetering with his Rolleiflex.

Despite all Andy’s tense fuss and bother when preparing his jobs, Jerry and his wife Audrey, Andy and I became and remained close friends in the following years. Long past the Rahl days. You could not help but love Andy if you were among the few who knew how dedicated and great his work was, how special he was as a human being -- and how downright funnier-than-Hell he could be when he hauled out his dry wit. Like just the spritz of vermouth that makes the icy martini! He and Jerry were also ardent poker buddies.

In his illustrations Andy used many models who later became movie actresses but his favorite and first was brunette and petite-for-a-model, Dorian Leigh. (We gave our daugher "Leigh" as her middle name in honor of that beautiful-looking woman.) Dorian was a success years after when she opened the first modeling agency in Paris. And, no longer the sylph, she wrote a pancake cookbook I saw her hawking on late night tv. Her sister, Suzy Parker, was another beauty, completely the opposite in looks from Dorian for she had red-hair and was one tall Texan. She was in a '50s film, "The Best of Everything" with Joan Crawford and in one or two films with Cary Grant. Not memorable. Andy used her no more than twice.

Another favorite and ever-professional and dependable model was Tippi Hedren (below, standing).

Alfred Hitchcock used her to star in "The Birds". Andy early on used her perfect-to-draw face and figure and hands and feet (rare for a model to be so well put together in all particulars!) very often in commercial jobs as well as in romantic illustrations. There was Tuesday Weld and Maggie Pierce -- later each was in a movie or two. He used Carol Lynley as a child, AKA Carolyn Lee as a movie star when she grew up and played in "The Poseidon Adventure" with Shelley Winters and an all star cast. He also often used a very nice gal, Olga Nicholas. I only knew of her as a model, however. There were four male models he preferred: Bill Clune (below).

In the earliest years, it was Victor Cutrer (whom Dorian preferred, too -- for other reasons: photographers were known to have to pry them apart in the "clinch" photo sessions). There was also Don Philips. He was a real all-purpose dependable type. And another handsome fellow, Colin Fox who had sailed the Atlantic alone before getting into modeling.

This was a good and busy time at Rahl and a great time for Andy. He worked directly with Herb Mayes at Good Housekeeping, I recall. The work brought into Rahl Studio for all the artists ran the gamut in advertising and illustration art. Accounts from all the women’s magazines using illustration, Field and Stream magazine (Raphael Cavalier did those), spot illustrations of all kinds, big jobs -- most from Madison Avenue giants like Compton Adv., J. Walter Thompson, Kenyon & Eckhardt; out-of-town like Colliers at Curtis Publications out of Philadelphia, BBD&O, etc. So many accounts. For Coke, Pepsi, Ronson, for various soaps, Scott paper products, American Airlines (below)

Bantam Books, N.Y. Times magazine section, Seagrams, Ford, General Motors, Dobbs Hats, NJ Bell Telephone, TV Guide, Literary Guild. Comps and finishes abounded. Though not always together.

And then came 1959. By then, I had left Rahl. We had finally bought a wonderful 1847 home in Kinnelon, New Jersey so Andy could at last have his own studio and commute to NYC only to pick up, shoot and and deliver jobs. Andy received a contract for a dozen illustrations, $1250 - $1500 each.

Part 5: Something Wrong

The rhythm of our lives altered just as we were ready to move late that spring to our New Jersey home. Though we had smoothly managed all the financing by using our carefully collected savings, there remained only three appliances to be bought from Andy’s next pay check before moving in.

But at Rahl something was wrong. When Andy notified Phil (as soon as we bought our home) he would be vacating his NYC studio space to work from home, the normal discussion of a change in commission from "in-house" rate of 60/40 to "out-of-town" rate of 70/30 unexpectedly turned into a contentious battle.

The only way I can guess why it occurred revolves around the contract Andy had received well before we moved for a dozen McCall’s magazine illustrations. A rare and big deal. It is my belief that the idea of cutting into some of his commissions made Rahl balk. He refused to discuss the matter further.

But that was not all he did. When it came time for him to pay Andy’s current $5000 in commissions, he withheld it. For the first time ever, we had to borrow $1000 for our 3 basic appliances from my kind friend (the same fellow who had served as my ‘cover’ when I was surreptitiously seeing Andy). And we proceeded to limp along on what little we had left figuring all would soon be resolved.

After months when no payment of those commissions was forthcoming, Andy finally decided he had to file suit against Rahl for them. I agreed wholeheartedly. It was unconscionable. At that point, when the word spread in the studio this was occurring, one of the artists came to Andy to verify -- almost in a whisper -- that it was so. Of course, said Andy. The fellow then disclosed to Andy that Rahl had withheld some commission monies from him. For over a year or more . . . Our eyes widened. "And from some of the other guys, too," he lamely trailed off.

They did nothing about this thievery. It was lesser amounts than was owed Andy, so they meekly ‘took the hit and kept quiet.’ Once notice was served upon an incredulous Rahl that Andy was suing him and the wheels slowly began turning legally, Andy was warned one day that if he pursued this course he would never work in New York again!

At first this threat seemed silly bombast. Until the months -- and then the years unwound before us with barely any work at all! No matter how we tightened our belts, we could hardly live our modest life, for jobs seemed to slowly be going elsewhere. We were living below poverty level. I recall Andy could not afford to join the Society of Illustrators, no less indulge in the social activities they offered.

One odd occurrence relating to SOI was that they did hang an illustration of Andy’s on Park Avenue in one of their shows. It was of William F. Buckley, Jr. A small narrow but delicious painting he did as a sample. We were notified it was stolen right off the wall. Popped no doubt into an attache case or a portfolio. Later on, I urged Andy to do another one of it for it was one of my favorites. Even if neither of us liked Buckley’s political point of view, we savored his elegant use of the English language.

The 1960s were another kind of turning point in illustration art. Fewer pieces of fiction appeared in the women’s magazines. Usually there were at least three per issue. Photography was in the ascendancy, competition among the illustrators was stiff for the two per issue stories, then one per, and then even this well pretty much dried up. And later, when there was an upswing in art, it had evolved into quite different kinds from that of the ‘50s. Even advertising art was heavily using photographers.

Most New York illustrators saw the writing on the wall and gradually turned elsewhere to try to make a living in this new environment. I know few firsthand details of how others with Rahl managed except that Fred Siebel became an art director, Herb Saslow sold mutual funds and exhibited some of his surreal romantic paintings to a Pennsylvania museum. Spot man, Oscar Barshak always had depended primarily on his interior decorating. Dorothy Monet would undoubtedly come out on top . . . of whatever she chose to do. Just prior to that time, though, I think she had married a psychiatrist and had a baby. This downturn in illustration likely had little effect on her. And many years later, as I mentioned in Part 3, her writing abilities were displayed in the PBS program on Mary Cassatt.

Some of the artists in the dry sixties banded together to create their own studios. Fred Otnes did. There was artists associates, who eventually took Andy. But he got almost no work through them. There was artists, inc., too. Slim pickings.

Through those years Andy created samples hoping to get work. Not a bad thing. Samples, for him, represented freedom from constraints. He did what he loved and the vitality and freshness, tenderness and beauty of them tells that story.

And, using them, he tried to obtain jobs in illustration, tried also to land a new rep which he did. Three times. But until he hooked up with Joe Mendola there was hardly enough work coming in to live on.

When I first sent examples of the broad spectrum of Andy’s work to Leif for the Today’s Inspiration project, this was his reaction: "I was stunned speechless. . . How could such a talent as Andy not have received more recognition? The work in this package. . . each piece more beautiful than the last. . ." And again, when he received more photos of Andy’s originals, he wrote he was "completely overwhelmed by the wealth of beautiful images . . ."

How could such a talent as Andy not have received more recognition?

That question nagged at my heart constantly, even as I became more and more disheartened at our grim "turn of luck." Far worse than the straits we were in, the most painful thing for both of us to accept was what was happening to one of his caliber. Andy was not a vain man. Not in the least. But he knew the value of his own ability. And I certainly was a realist and could compare what he did to the work of his contemporaries. It was even more chilling as the years ground us down, to harbor the thought we were being engulfed by the ghost of the McCarthy era when so many great talents were blacklisted . We hardly dared utter the word lest we sound paranoid. But it was the only thing that seemed to make sense.

Yet, good things did transpire, even in this lean time. Andy flew to Detroit in March of 1963 to judge an art director’s show with Bernie Fuchs and Art Director Clark Maddock. It was billed as Top Drawers in the Art Biz.

In June of 1963, our daughter, Jennifer Leigh Virgil, was born and Andy did many paintings of her, from earliest infancy into her teens (when he used her to illustrate an early ‘70s Literary Guild Doubleday job, The Cuppi, I shot the photos for it. Andy posed as the villain strangling Jen as his victim! )

A day or so after she was born, while I was in the hospital recuperating from Jen’s birth, Andy had gone to Lancaster, Pa. to shoot the auto races. As usual, totally absorbed in what he was doing, right down on the track shooting
the on-coming Formula 1s

suddenly the pace car veered right towards him. Luckily for Jen and me, somebody shoved him and his Rollei out of the way. With casual relish, he told me that hair-raising tale when he came to visit wee Jen and me next day. The almost-widow and orphan.

Most of the Jenny paintings were done as samples. Below is Jen at Old Rhinebeck Museum, New York.

But a couple ended up published: the American Airlines poster (see Part 4) and one used by Woman’s Own magazine out of London (below).

The following year, 1964, Andy was approached by an agent dealing in second rights for the European market. They paid very little -- but they paid.

Part 6: To London, To London!

His name was Al Landau. He, along with his wife Sheila, and his mother ran Trans-World Features Syndicate with offices in New York, London and Paris. He invited Andy and me to join him one Friday night at the posh restaurant, Top of the Sixes, 666 Fifth Avenue. We looked out over a sparkling New York City as we sipped ice cold martinis. Three sips and I, like the naughty heavy imbiber Dorothy Parker once quipped, was almost "under the host!" (She said, "One more drink and I’ll be under the host." ) More accurately, I was quite jolly. Andy could make it through two whole ones. And he was quite jollier. Al urged us to come to London for he had people interested in Andy’s work there. Could we come immediately? "But the baby . . . ?"

"Baby, too. We have a nanny and a baby almost the same age. They can fit in the same pram."

By the following Tuesday, new passports in hand, we were miraculously flying across the Atlantic on Pan Am – with Jen in tow. We had left Kinnelon, N.J. at 4 a.m. and arrived in London at midnight (our time) with this unsleeping, wildly excited toddler. "Oh see, oh see!" she exclaimed breathlessly in her baby lithspy-whisper as we banked over London’s yellow fog lights. Next day, Al, true to his word, took Jen to stay at his apartment in Hampstead Heath with his three children. I recall leaving Jen nervously with the Landaus’ nanny who was giving her a bath and leaning her backwards. I knew then, Jen had it in for me. She hated having her head tipped backwards for a shampoo!

Al had appointments lined up for Andy. We were deposited in a hotel from which Al picked Andy up each day that September. One morning, preparing to go out, my mechanically-challenged Andy got us locked in the bathroom as he was very seriously jiggling the high door handle and warning me: "Neet, there’s something wrong with this lock so don’t close the door." And he pulled it shut. Click!

It took about a half an hour before they had the room broken into via a second story window and a long ladder from the street. Andy was late for his appointment with a potential client and we learned something about the Brits’ aplomb and disinclination to interfere in others’ business – even when hearing our yells for HELP! then laughter – and then earnest pounding on the walls they passed right by.

There was the time we snuck into Peter Sellers apartment. He lived in the same building and somehow, Al got access to it. Sellers was a big star back then so we were like 3 bad kids on the snoop.

Some days when Andy was free, we would explore and he would take photographs. My favorite place was the Tower of London.

We explored Dickens’ house, Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street, and I had to see Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Wimpole Street one night in fog. And Scotland Yard, Regents Park Zoo, Whitehall and the horse guard, No. 10 Downing Street, and of course, since childhood, A. A. Milne’s "They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace . . ." I took a wonderful shot of Andy leaning on the great fountain opposite the palace, the wind blowing the edge of his short Paul Stewart raincoat exposing its red lining.

One day we found a restaurant, Finnegan’s, I think it was called, with incredible interiors. Polished brass and etched glass windows and partitions, emerald green velvet seats. But it stunk of boiling fish dishes and we did not eat there. But take photos we did -- while breathing through our mouths. Of course, as all ladies do, I tried out their "loo."

Ah, the loo with its water tank high up and a long brass pull chain and a mahogany toilet seat. The loo where the toilet paper was like squares of waxed paper and bore the advertising pitch:

Jeyes, the first name in hygiene

I collected some in my purse to take to friends back home, adding

"and the last name in comfort!"

I never forgot that bathroom, and even today my guest bath sports a mahogany toilet seat – and above it, a portrait Jenny drew as a child of Queen Elizabeth I. Ruff and all. Aptly, we refer to that as The Throne Room, in earnest. And for remembrance.

One weekend we stayed south of London at Oatlands in Surrey. (We had gone to see the WW2 re-enactment of The Battle of Britain at Biggin Hill, Kent. ) It was formerly a castle owned by Henry VIII. It was also where Elizabeth’s courtier and advisor, Lord Coke, went to retrieve his errant wife. But in 1964 it was a home for the elderly with their nurses. Just like out of a British comedy, if you sat, unwittingly, (and we did) in Someone’s Preferred Chair in the empty telly room. How the resident perfected scowling as he entered and saw us and growled: "You, sir, are in my seat!"

I have a sample of Andy’s done from a photo he took of one of the residents of this lovely place. He looks much like a Rembrandt type portrait of an old man.

Andy and Al played snooker at Oatlands, too. I have photos of him hunkered over the vast oaken table with the bank of low-hanging lamps. We had a blast. Ate a lot of Indian curry. Ate as little English food as possible.

And then it was time to head for home. Andy and I walked and walked searching for a bank to get traveller’s checks cashed. "Straight on!" the cheery Brits told us -- and they never tell you how far!

Once at The Bank of England, I wandered off from Andy and found a wonderful old wooden calendar sitting on a counter. The rest of the bank was done in what passed for English "modern" and so I decided they really did not need this calendar I coveted. It didn’t "go" with their so-called décor. I went to the clerk’s [pronounced "clark"] window to inquire. I told her my opinion of this old thing and – could I buy it?

She disappeared into the back. Spoke to someone. Came back and said ever so politely that no, I could not have that one -- but they did have another in the basement I could have. Should she get it?

"Is it the same as this one?" I pressed.

"No, it is round," she said.

"Well . . . I’ll look at that one, " sez I.

At this point, a small crowd of "clarks" were gathered in the background, curious about this inquiring colonist. Andy came over to me at the window and said, "Let’s go, Neet." And I told him he’d have to wait a minute. I was buying a calendar.


But knowing me, he sat down and waited. Back came the nice lady with a gorgeous 12" walnut calendar, same mechanism of wooden knobs turning the linen days, date and months.

I was salivating. But I asked, "Are you certain I can’t have the other one?" Cool. I was being cool. She shook her head and then I asked her what I owed her. Again she vanished. Back to the huddle that was growing.

When she returned, she said: "The manager says you may have it but we cannot take any money for it. "

I protested that idea with a lady-like, "Oh I couldn’t possibly!"

"However, since our porter died recently and we are getting together a fund for his widow, if you would care to donate a pound ($2.40 USD) to it, we would be most grateful."

My parting shot as I pressed the 1 ₤ Note under the grill was, since I felt like I’d robbed the bank, " Ummm, could you kindly wrap it? I’d hate to have anyone think I stole it!"

Andy got up with that long-suffering the-wife-goes-shopping look on his face, but once outside the bank I told him what I’d done and showed him the calendar. He loved it too.

I clutched that calendar to my breast all the way across the Atlantic – nevermind the kid! And not a day has gone by in 42 years but what I have scrolled each new day on it. Years later I saw it an old British movie, a period piece of the 19th century called "Hatter’s Castle. "

Part 7: Pyrrhic Victory

Those 3 weeks in London 1964 (with the prospect of work for Andy) were the one respite in years that let us live and be joyful as we had always expected our life together to be -- even though we had to scrape pennies just to get there: all home-sewn clothing for Jen and me. One more necessary economy.

I know there was some work coming in early in the ‘60s, but it was the barest minimum -- the jobs too few and far between. And like childbirth, the pain and its details are suppressed in later years, so I don’t know exactly what year the lawsuit concluded with Rahl or when Andy set out on his own to find a new agent. I know we were losing money with each lawyer who tried unsuccessfully to collect for us. And then Rahl, himself, died. After that, the case finally made it to the docket and Andy himself testified before a judge. Never was I more proud of anything he had done! He stood up and clearly told the truth. I think Rahl’s brother-in-law was there representing the studio. And when Andy sat down, the judge found for us. The entity of Rahl Studios was ordered to reimburse us, in part. That was our Pyrrhic victory.

During the remaining years of the 1960s, Andy was trying all sorts of things to get by as well as to keep himself occupied. He practiced his trumpet, took lessons in N.Y. with Roy Stevens. By 1968, almost nine years of unabated hard times under our belt, together we started teaching art classes in our basement – just to put bread on the table. That bad. Regardless of why we had to do it, all who came to these classes adored Andy, were exhilarated by the teaching they received – and at the end of each night class, they were all happy to come upstairs out of our 1847 fieldstone & hand-hewn timbers basement to gather around the old pine table where I served them my fresh-baked cakes and coffee. And always, there was continuing chatter about art.
And politics.

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The local newspaper ran a full page spread about us and our classes.

Our students ranged from three very talented 16-year olds (who declared they’d rather come to our classes than smoke pot!) to older men and women, some dilettantes, but two very serious ones later became professionals. One of those was our former pet teenager! He went into advertising art. I was stunned one day here in Virginia to receive a long distance phone call from him twenty years later! He told me he never forgot us.

Though this art class was exhilarating for us both, it did not remove the underlying growing disillusionment that ate at our own relationship. I had begun the year before this to seriously try writing (which I’d preferred since childhood despite all my training in art). And I had also begun a series of actual-size paintings of local mushrooms that abounded in rainy 1967. I could write and still continue to care for us, for home and for a young child -- and I continued to paint my mushrooms. (Taking some to New York to obtain some reference material -- I had almost no books in the tiny library where we lived-- I was offered instead a one-woman show at the New York Horticultural Society! In 1973 I exhibited 80 of these paintings. That same year I was President of the Haiku Society of America.)

But back to 1967-ish: At first I tried to do short stories for the women’s magazines in hopes of making money. Some encouragement came jotted on the rejection slips. I finally realized I wasn’t cut out for that type of writing. I turned to more serious short stories and also to poetry. By 1969 I had found my milieu and became totally and permanently involved in studying and writing haiku. Some poems written in the remaining Kinnelon years depict the grim "soul state" of that time:

from an empty hearth
summer coolness

A rainy day --
even the toilet paper
comes to pieces!

red flipped out
chicken lung
in a cold white sink

(These are in my first collection of poems, A 2nd Flake (1974), now considered a classic in American haiku. Poems from that book have since appeared in many haiku anthologies and books on haiku, e.g. The Haiku Anthology, ed. Cor van den Heuvel, 2nd edition (Simon & Schuster, New York 1986).)

In 1970, Andy painted my portrait and Jen’s.

And our famous model cat who appeared in Good Housekeeping as a kitten, in a photo of our kitchen that appeared in a Swedish magazine, and in a sample that was included in a promo brochure of Andy’s.

By spring of 1971 Andy was hospitalized for about a month with another unidentified lung inflammation. And by that time it was evident we had to sell our lovely house. There was no other way we could figure to obtain money enough to live on. A neighbor’s son was vacating an apartment in Montclair, so that is where we next headed.

An aside: In May 1966, our home -- and white cat -- had been featured in Femina magazine in Sweden in a piece "Over Atlanten efter ideer" or "Over the Atlantic for Ideas". Luckily, I had a Swedish neighbor who translated it all for me. One of Andy’s models, a Swedish beauty named Marika , came out to do a location shoot for Andy in a rowboat on a nearby lake. She fell in love with our house and environs of pond and woods. On returning to Sweden, she told Femina’s home decorating editor about it and one day, out of the blue, a photographer for the magazine called us from New York City and asked if he could come out to take pictures. He arrived a couple of hours later!

Meanwhile, about selling it: I was dealing with a nice young fellow who was my realtor. In no time, as he admired our home and its décor, we spoke more about interior decoration than about selling our house. He said he had a good friend who was an interior decorator who would love to see this place. And then he told me the guy was planning to produce a movie in New Jersey. Film? He was interested in film, too? I told him Andy had become very interested by then in studying film and had been reading up on it, hoped to take film courses at NYU. (He later did.) "Soon as Andy gets out of the hospital," I told this fellow, "we all have to get together." We did. And the three of them hit it off like gangbusters! Within the next couple of years or so they put out one wild movie that had a run on 42nd Street -- among other places. Andy was the Assistant Director. No money, but what a trip and a half that was! The director ultimately ended up in Hollywood as " a comer." I know no more.

Andy’s love of WW1 aircraft as shown in the several samples he painted of flyers and their planes

culminated in Andy’s writing a movie script on Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron. It was written from the German point of view. This went on for years and both of us were fascinated by what we were learning. Ultimately, he sent the manuscript to Milos Forman and did receive a very kind letter from him, though nothing else came of that.

Andy built gorgeous model airplanes, two WW1 German ones : a white Gotha bomber (its huge wingspan equal to that of a B-52) and Richthofen’s red Albatros. Years later, at his funeral, I suspended them both from the ceiling of the funeral home: the red Albatros, nose down, and the white Gotha, nose to the clouds. . . And in that room I hung his paintings to replace what was on the walls. I taped some music we loved and the funeral director had it softly playing in the background.

Andy built model race cars like those he painted samples of, made WW 2 tanks with all his own special touches – "spinach" he called these realistic additions like fabric bedrolls on the fenders with tiny leather straps he made to tie them on – those mouthwatering details a miniaturist relishes. These additions made of each a work of art.

Then he turned to doing a ship model of The Gloucester Fisherman c. 1877 -- for a year! It sits on my mantle today. Every miniscule knot authentic. He studied them in a book on knots which I still have. And all the blocks threaded properly through teeny holes Andy hand-drilled, and the rigging of fine threads ever so carefully waxed.

He continued to paint samples: John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Bertrand Russell, Arnold Palmer, Richard Boone, Rowan and Martin.

He took them around New York to try for work. He even tried doing some story boards. Colored inks on bond paper. Funny little commercials he dreamed up. One I recall was of Napoleon with his hand-- as usual -- tucked in his vest. Several frames later, when he takes his hand out of his vest, he is holding multicolored M&Ms! These story boards, alas, were ruined not long ago in a basement flood. They were stored in his huge old black leather portfolio which stood on the concrete floor. It, too, was destroyed.

For a while he was represented by artists, inc. and by artists associates but still, not very many jobs came of these affiliations. Those that came from Trans World Feature Syndicates paid ever so little for 2nd rights. Once we received a request from a magazine in South Africa. Hard-up as we were, we refused to allow them to use Andy’s work because of their long policy of apartheid.

By 1974 and for the next four years, I had to work full time while Andy served as house-husband. And he kept painting samples.

During that time the manager of the insurance company I worked for in the daytime was also involved in a dinner theater group in East Orange at night. A neighbor who lived in our apartment building invited us to a play she was in and from then on, we all became fast friends and Andy volunteered to work as an assistant director for this group. They put on "Hair." Sal Piro who later acted as the flamboyant M.C. in the film, "The Rocky Horror Show," was in "Hair" -- and happened to also be a math teacher. In the Green Room, he would coach Jenny in her algebra lessons! The group performed Neil Simon’s "Prisoner of Second Avenue," "The Fantastiques, " "When Ya Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?" and more. Andy thrived on working closely with the New Jersey actors -- in particular, Bob Ritt who not long after won Best N. J. Actor of the Year, and he especially liked working with one of the directors who later appeared as an extra -- a head shot, full screen -- as a cop in "Dog Day Afternoon;" he was in a play on Broadway with Larry Luckinbill . Many years later I saw him in several made-for-tv detective movies. Jenny even helped out with stage decorations -- she painted the floor graffiti for "Hair" one summer -- and I suggested she NOT include that in her back-to-school "What I Did This Summer" essay! I did the body painting for all the actors in it. Butterflies. They all wanted one and each night before the show, they lined up to have me do their bare bellies and arms. And Andy made one huge back-drop for them. Another wildly fun time for us. But without pay.

Enter Joe Mendola. Andy’s last rep. It was somewhere around 1978 and suddenly the clouds lifted. The siege was over, somehow, and there was work coming in just as it had so many years before.

He was painting again all that year, something for Literary Guild about a hospital was one in 1979. And finally the Silhouette Romances were launched. He did about a dozen. The New York Times ran an article about their success and included one of Andy’s covers. But it was too late. Andy was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1979 and died in November of 1980.