Thursday, March 20, 2014

Harvey Schmidt, Esq. and Robert Benton, Esquire.

"Two names that singly may have become familiar to Esquire readers have recently been joined by the ampersand of success," begins an article in the November 1959 issue of Esquire magazine. The parties in question were Robert Benton, then the recently ascended Art Director of said magazine, and Harvey Schmidt, freelance illustrator.


Benton and Schmidt were then enjoying tremendous success in the publication of their In & Out Book - "currently selling like hot mink coats in the third edition," the article quipped.

(a companion volume, The Worry Book, followed in 1962).


The two men already shared a decade-long personal history, having met and become friends (and roommates) at the University of Texas. There, both had been art majors and had worked together on the university's humour magazine. Schmidt was the AD back then and Benton an aspiring cartoonist.

(Above: Julia Olynski (standing), Pat Wright, Rowland Wilson, Sterling McIlhany, Robert Benton and Ann Maddox. Photographer: Harvey Schmidt, shot c. 1950 in the UT apartment Schmidt shared with Benton and future cartooning sensation, Wilson)

By the late '50s, Schmidt and Benton were most definitely 'in.'


When Esquire's previous AD, Henry Wolfe, left in 1958 for a job at Harper's Bazaar, Benton took his place. Under his direction Esquire was soon winning awards from the New York Art Director's Club; among them, an award for Harvey Schmidt's portrait of Senator Joseph McCarthy.


Schmidt's first magazine assignments had come while Wolfe was still art directing Esquire and Schmidt was still on staff at NBC. Benton and Schmidt's drawings for 'In & Out' were first published as a humour piece in the September 1957 issue of Esquire, and Schmidt had then illustrated Paddy Chayefsky's The Goddess for the March '58 issue.


His work was so well received that assignments began flooding in from other magazines. Life, Fortune, Seventeen, Harper's Bazaar (and of course the Look portfolio from yesterday's post) among others gave Schmidt the confidence to quit his job at NBC and pursue full-time free-lance.

Naturally, Schmidt could count on steady work from his friend Benton. During 1959 and '60 there were few issues of Esquire that didn't contain at least a spot illustration by Schmidt...


... or something more substantial.



Schmidt described his work flow:

"When I start a picture I like to finish it on the spot... in one sitting if possible. So I work quickly, and if it's not right I begin again. I use different media but usually I draw with grease pencil and paint over it with tempera."


"There is no difference of feeling for me between doing a painting or a commercial drawing, or type for an album cover. It's all art, and it's all exciting to do."


Concluded tomorrow

* Many thanks to Suzanne Wilson for allowing me to use her photo of the University of Texas "Art Pack" (as she described them) in today's post.

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