Monday, August 08, 2016

The Man Who Fired Ken Dallison in 1955: “We feel your shaky line has no application to automotive work."

In this third abridged excerpt from my interview with Ken Dallison we learn about the first few years of Ken's struggles to establish himself as a professional illustrator after moving with his new bride Gwen from England to Toronto, Canada in 1955. Ken found work almost immediately at Taber, Dulmage & Feheley, the art studio where Will Davies (the subject of our previous book) worked. Help us make a Ken Dallison book a reality - visit our Kickstarter campaign to pledge any amount.

LP: Did I understand you correctly that you were at TDF for only three weeks?

KD: Three weeks, then I got fired. One day Bud Feheley called me into his office - I had no idea it was coming. So I go and sit down and he says, “Ken, I do have a problem. We’re going to have to let you go.” He says, “We feel your nervous, shaky line has no application to the automotive work we do for our clients, so we don’t see you having any future here.”

(Above: Ken Dallison spot illustrations, possibly for Car & Driver magazine(?), August 1962)

KD: And not only did I only work there for three weeks, it was three weeks before Christmas! And being British, there seemed to be an unwritten rule where you’d say, ‘Well, we’ll leave it until January the 10th and get rid him then.’ But three weeks before Christmas. And the TDF annual Christmas party and darts was like two days later! I actually had the nerve to go. I went even though I was no longer an official TDF employee. [Ken chuckles]

LP: So you had to go home and tell Gwen you’d just lost your job. Three weeks before Christmas.

KD: Oh yeah… and those were not good times. And I don’t know how I ended up going to David McKay at CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) but I remember it was cold and the wind was blowing through my thin English trousers so it felt like I was wearing shorts. So I went around and saw him and I dug out my portfolio and he said, “Well, what are those down there?” And I said, “Oh, those are some line drawings I did on the streets of London.” He says, “Let me see them… yeah… that’s the kind of thing I’m looking for.”

(Above: Ken Dallison, date & publication unknown)

KD: I was like, ‘Wow, what a break this was!’ And he said, “I’ve been looking for station identification breaks for CBLT Channel Six. And I see what you’ve been doing here… would you like to go round the studios and just wander around. I’ll get you permission. Go wherever you want to go… watch the rehearsals, the bands, the cameras, and do some drawings. Do whatever you want to do and then show them to me and I’ll pick out the ones we maybe could use.” And I said, "OK, yeah… how much will you pay for that?” He said, “Oh… fifty bucks a drawing.” My mind was giddy!

KD: TDF had been paying me forty-five dollars a week - but they threw in another five per week because I was married. And now I was saying to myself, ‘My god… I could do two a day! That would be a hundred bucks a day!’ My head was spinning! [we all chuckle] So I would go down and wander around and it was heaven for me because I’d go down and the Jack Kane Band was rehearsing and Norman Jewison was directing, and I’d be allowed in the control room with all the people with their headsets on…”

(Above: Ken Dallison, publication unknown, 1972)

LP: So you just drew all of that.

KD: I didn’t really because I wasn’t really comfortable drawing people at that time so I concentrated more on crane cameras or a grand piano with the lid up or all the music stands, which had been moved out of the way and were making an interesting pattern - and all the cables lying on the floor. So it would be nice to watch TV - black and white TV back then - and at a station break the image would come up: “CBLT Channel 6 Toronto” and one of my drawings would be there. And that was the start of my career, really. Dave McKay kicked off my career.

(Above: Ken Dallison, station identification art, 1955/6)

KD: And there was another art director at Caulfield Browne - O. K. Schenk - he’d been a Corvette captain out of Portsmouth in England during WWII, with a cultured Canadian accent that had a timbre made for FM radio. And he’d say, “Ken, I have two friends over at Y&R… take over what you’ve got in here and show them. And there’s another one for you right here.”

(Above: Ken Dallison, publication unknown, October 1962)

KD: And then he’d call three weeks later and ask, “How’d you do?” And I’d say, “Nothing. I didn’t get anything.” “Oh! I’m surprised at that. Well go over to Imperial Oil… Gerry Something-or-Other is the art director up there. Damn sure he’ll like your drawings up there.” And I did get a job from Imperial Oil. He was always nice to me. I found everybody in the ad business in Toronto couldn’t have been more helpful. Ron Scarlett at Mayfair, June Alliman at Maclean’s, Joan Chalmer at Chatelaine and the guy who was at Liberty - I can’t think of his name - he was the first person who sent me on assignment to draw. He wanted me to draw people looking at the paperback spinner rack in the drug store.


KD: You know how in those days you’d go in the drug store and they had paperbacks in a spinning thing and you’d turn it to look at them all? So I went down to an IGA or something and stood there and drew people spinning the book rack and looking at things, and it was published in Liberty magazine. That was the first image printed on paper of mine that was published in Toronto.

(Above: Ken Dallison, Liberty magazine, March 1956)

LP: How did that feel?

KD: Great. It was a step. It was a step.

Continued tomorrow.

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