Painting the President, and geography blunders

There’s sometimes a delicate balancing act that an artist has to manage when working for a demanding client – to keep the client happy and also produce work that is artistically good. And it can be particularly delicate when working for a powerful art director or editor who might have a strong opinion about how the final work should look. The artist knows that he/she is on the payroll to do whatever the client wants, but sometimes its just too difficult – too stomach churning to do what the client demands because the idea is so artistically bad. Usually the artist can make diplomatic suggestions to improve the quality of the commissioned art. But in some cases the artist has to give in and just do the job…

The artist, in this case, was my father.  The assignment was a big one – Time’s Man of the Year for 1960. My Dad personally liked the Time executive who gave him the prestigious assignment and also presented the cover concept to him. But the concept was, in my father’s opinion, bad. My Dad, however, felt obliged to do what he was asked to do, and not interfere.

louis XIV cardIt was December 29, 1959 and Jim Keogh, Senior Editor of Time Magazine, took my Dad to lunch at Rockefeller Center to the Cafe Louis XIV. It was one of the restaurants that frequently catered dinners and luncheons to the Time offices when my father worked there.

Keogh was very excited to tell my father about an upcoming and important assignment and impressed upon my father that it was top secret. But once in the restaurant he spoke up and told my father that he’d be doing the 1960 Man of the Year cover of Dwight D Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States of America.

Usually it was Otto Fuerbringer, the Managing Editor, who ultimately signed off on cover concepts with my father. But this time Jim Keogh was acting on his own while Fuerbringer was out of the country on business.

Time Inc and Kennedy

There don’t seem to be too many pictures around of the men my father worked with so I’m including this one taken at the Time Life Building. It includes from the left: John K Jessup (of Life Magazine), Henry Luce (owner of Time Magazine), Otto Fuerbringer the Managing Editor of Time (touching his chin), presidential candidate Senator John Kennedy (whom my father painted at least twice for Time). To the right behind Kennedy it looks like its  Jim Keogh the Senior Editor my father worked with on the Eisenhower cover. Photo by Margaret Norton, August 5, 1960

Normally my father suggested ideas for the background art and discussed it with senior editorial, and then when it was approved, the research department would prepare source information for him to work from. Keogh was relatively new to his job at this time and had been relying on my Dad to pull together cover concepts for him for a while (particularly the difficult ones). In doing so he had given my father a lot of creative freedom – even okaying covers without preliminary sketches, so my Dad felt obliged to go along with Keogh on this one – especially since Keogh was so proud of the idea.

Keogh insisted that the earth should be seen from space behind Eisenhower with Washington DC and Europe visible. So after lunch Keogh had the chief researcher Nancy Faber take my father down to the Rand McNally store to buy an expensive globe for him to work from.

betty and barby and globe

Me on the left and my big sister on the right. Is that the fancy Rand McNally globe from the story?? The Eisenhower earth? could be…

Keogh also insisted that a needle and thread be bound around a giant rock (over Washington, DC) and then strung across the Atlantic and pinned to Bonn, Paris and London… I guess it symbolized the stability the US government represented to Europe during the Cold War.

It was an important portrait so Time sent my Dad to Washington to an Eisenhower press conference at the White House so he could see the man in person and meet him – this was both to give my father the best reference material possible and to give him a perk for a job well done.

Eisenhower and Thomas Gates

Thomas Gates takes the oath of office as Secretary of Defense (2nd from the right) with President Eisenhower in the center.

While he was at the White House he also met Thomas Gates the Secretary of Defense, and according to his notes: “all the other military brass”.

The magazine put my father up in the Time suite at the Sheraton Hotel.

When my father delivered the finished painting all the editors thought it was great – even the Managing editor Ray Alexander came along and complimented him on the head.

Eisenhower cover by Bernard Safran

President Eisenhower by Bernard Safran for Time Magazine’s 1960 Man of the Year. image source Time Archives

When it was published my Dad went in for proofs of the painting for his files, and Nancy Faber told him that she’d nearly lost her job because he’d forgotten to put Austria on the map. While he was talking to Nancy, the Associate Editor, Champ Clark  stopped by to say how good the Man of the Year cover was and Nancy said “Some knucklehead left Austria out.”

Otto Fuerbringer was just back from a trip to China and asked my father into his office. He talked casually about how much he loved Chinese food and how much weight he’d put on on the trip.

My Dad wrote about this conversation in his journal: “Then he (Otto) said that his daughter had liked the cover but wanted to know why I had put a rock in it.” and My Dad answered,  “Ask Keogh, not me!”

My Dad was distressed by this fallout because he’d known the idea was bad from the beginning and that he hadn’t done his “part in opposing it”.  He also felt very bad about leaving out an entire country from the map.

Being not so great at geography and borders, I can easily understand the mistake myself…

The portrait of President Dwight D Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States of America by Bernard Safran is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery collection in Washington, DC





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