Thursday, May 24, 2012
Marvin Friedman: "Jews to the rescue"
Marvin Friedman wrote me many entertaining emails with many amusing subject lines. The title of this post is from one of Marvin's emails - just one example of the many occasions when Marvin rescued me - from a dull day or a depressing mood.
In that particular message he succinctly described for my benefit a capsule history of American illustration (according to Marvin Friedman):
"The history of American illustration: Howard Pyle, Norman Rockwell, Al Parker and Robert Weaver."
"Murray Tinkelman probably won't agree."
On another occasion:
Subject line: "There were no great Jewish illustrators. Why?" Followed by...
"I've just spent an hour writing you a long email about your Sat. Eve. Post blog which was really great. As is my wont, I write very quickly with a million mistakes which I then go back and correct. To save an email on this webtv, I have to send it to myself, which I have just discovered doesn't allow me back into the text to make corrections. I think you'll be able to make sense of it... if not, lemmee know. You are doing a great thing with all this information.
As Jimmy Cagney says in Yankee Doodle Dandy, "My father thanks you, my mother thanks you, my sister thanks you and Amos Sewell thanks you."
I waited in great anticipation for that next message, but instead Marvin sent this a while later:
"Schwartz, now I can't send the godamn email to you. It won't go. I'll have to wait for my 9-year-old computer genius to try again. If not, I'll have to write it again."
I never did get that long email from Marvin - and sadly I never will. Marvin Friedman passed away on the morning of May 12th. He was 81 years old.
Last year I sent Marvin an email mistakenly wishing him a happy 85th birthday! His reply:
"Leif, thanks for the happy birthday greetings, but jesus, I'm not 85. I'll be 81 in September, which is hairy enough as it is. My body is falling apart, but my mind still works. I don't understand any of this, and I'm not asking too many questions. The worst part of it all is that I can no longer paint or draw."
The first time I spoke with Marvin was about five years ago when he was seventy-six. At that time he said, "You know this Parkinson's business is a sonofabitch, but we're hanging in, doing the best we can. I started drawing again, which is great as far as I'm concerned, because for ten years I didn't do anything."
When I asked him how he was managing that he said, "Well my stuff was always shaky... my line was always shaky... and I can draw if I hold my right wrist with my left hand - for stability."
"The clinging to life," he continued, "is a very positive thing. I make jokes about it but... I just want to see what's going to happen in the next five years... with politics, with technology..."
"... all these things are going to be around that we can't even imagine right now."
Bryn Havord, who has guest-authored several series for Today's Inspiration wrote to me in the days after Marvin passed away:
"I first met Marvin in New York City in 1964," wrote Bryn. "He was a huge man with huge feet (Brian Sanders said his shoes were so big he could have sailed the Atlantic in them), a huge personality and a huge talent. I have so many great memories of him. Marvin invited me to his house to meet his family. His wife Sonny had put on a terrific spread, and they had invited loads of their friend and neighbours, so that I could get to meet a good cross section of Americans. It was a fabulous night which I will never forget."
Marvin came to London on a job for Boys' Life magazine a year later in 1966."
"In 1969, I was living on a Thames Sailing Barge in Manningtree in Essex when Marvin and his family came for lunch. He was on another job for Boys' Life, and had asked me to organise a cricket match for him to photograph for reference."
Bryn continued, "Marvin used to write me great e-mails, and the subject Line was always "NEWS AND VIEWS FROM NEW JERSEY JEWS". Here's a paragraph from October 2009:"
"The last great client I had was Gourmet magazine....an assignment from God! For 8 years I painted three luxurious New York restaurants a month. That's a lot of restaurants, but I loved it. Sonny and I were treated like royalty and ate things I never heard of that sell for $75, $100, $150 dollars. Every illustrator in New York was jealous, and offered to carry my camera bag, and I made some great pictures too, much different from those Boys' Life pictures... much lighter and fresher. I loved it."
Rob Stolzer shared the following on Facebook last week:
"I first met Marvin when he was taking down an exhibition of his Gourmet magazine illustrations from a cafe in downtown Philadelphia in the late 1980s."
"I was already familiar with his work, and went to strike up a conversation with him. Marvin wasn't so interested in talking, but before he left the cafe, came over to me to apologize. The illustration business was a pretty bastardly one, and he was pretty soured on things at that point."
"He invited me over to his studio, and while I didn't take him up on his invitation immediately, we kept in touch. I later purchased the original illustration seen below, at an exhibition of his work at the Jewish community center in Princeton, NJ."
"I mentioned it to Marvin, and soon arranged the first of many visits to his and Sonny's home in NJ. Marvin's studio is behind the house, and we spent a good amount of time looking at his wonderful works."
"I'm sorry that more folks didn't get know him, and weren't more familiar with his work. His illustrations come out of a school of illustration that captured the immediacy of the moment, whether in drawing or painting. The work from the last number of years of his life were largely autobiographical, though he also delved into the life of others."
Marvin once sent me an email that said, "Every illustrator I talk to, once big or once medium, complains that nobody remembers them or knows they're alive... including me. When you reach the bottom of the barrel, why not do something on me besides Boys' Life? I've done a lot of work in the last 60 years besides Boys' Life."
He signed that note "Austin Sickles"
I'm sorry I didn't get around to it until now when it's too late for Marvin to enjoy seeing these images again - and reading your reaction to his work. But for the benefit of the rest of us, here are a few things Marvin did for one of his favourite clients - Tony LaSala, the A.D. at Cosmopolitan magazine. Not the bottom of the barrel by any means, but the work of a terrific illustrator and a wonderful guy who came to the rescue with news and views from New Jersey Jews.
* Many thanks to Bryn Havord, Rob Stolzer and Matt Dicke for their assistance with this post. Marvin Friedman's 1976 ‘Portrait of Uncle Benny’ in the middle of this post was found at hadassahmagazine.org
You can read all about Marvin Friedman's career in a series of posts I wrote in 2009:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5