Monday, May 15, 2006
A Visit with Al Parker
It was a sunny Sunday morning in New York City in 1953. Will Davies was living alone in the city, far from family and friends back in Canada and was feeling bored. "You could have shot a cannonball down 5th Avenue on a Sunday and not hit anything," says Will, "frankly I was just sick of it." On the spur of the moment he decided to undertake a small adventure: he had heard that the famous Al Parker lived in Westport, Connecticut, just a short train-ride away, and determined to go meet him.
Arriving around mid-day in Westport, Will found a nearby grocery store open and went in to inquire of the owner if he knew where Al Parker lived. By an amazing coincidence a women who was a neighbour of Parker's happened to be shopping in the store and overheard the question. She offered to drive the young illustrator to Al Parker's house. Soon after, Will found himself speaking with Al Parker's wife, who had answered his knock.
"My name is Will Davies, I'm an illustrator visiting from Toronto, in Canada, and I was wondering if I might speak with Mr. Parker."
The gracious lady went to see if her husband could spare the time and in short order Will found himself shaking hands with the most famous and respected illustrator in America. "Fifty years later, I don't remember the details of the conversation," says Will, " but I spent most of the afternoon there in his studio. He was a real gentleman."
The life of a freelancer is such that Sundays are not necessarily a day of rest so it comes as no surprise that Parker was in the middle of a job. "Something with a bride," remembers Will, "for Cosmopolitan, I think - and I felt bad for keeping him from finishing it, because, you know, he was clearly on a deadline."
Finally, the afternoon waning, Parker offered to have his son, Jay, give Will a lift back to the train station. At the door, he pointed across the way and said, "That's where Austin Briggs lives." Will hadn't realized that Westport was home to many of the most famous illustrators in America.
During the drive to the train station, Will said to Al Parker's son, "You must be very proud of your father." He remembers Jay's quizzical expression. "Oh?" said the 22 year old, "why's that?"
Will still chuckles when he remembers that conversation.