Sunday, September 27, 2015

Rea Irvin and Al Hirschfeld: Harold Ross as Eustace Tilley

Eustace Tilley is the observant dandy who acts as mascot for the New Yorker. He first appeared on the cover of the New Yorker's first issue and he received his euphonious name during the magazine's first year. It was Rea Irvin, the magazine's first art editor, who illustrated that cover. Until fairly recently it has been reproduced more or less annually on the anniversary issue. Eustace Tilley also appears on the magazine's masthead every week and he makes occasional appearances in other illustrations as needed.
Rea Irvin, The New Yorker, February 21, 1925

Harold Ross founded the magazine with Raoul Fleischmann and served as its editor. It was probably only a matter of time before someone portrayed him as Eustace Tilley. A period photo of the young Harold Ross shows his remarkable shock of hair brushed skyward.
Harold Ross, 1926. The photo is apparently reversed.

Harold Ross as Eustace Tilley? The idea is straightforward enough. It isn't such a great stretch for an illustrator to depict the New Yorker's founding editor Harold Ross as the foppish Eustace Tilley. The first to do this was Irvin himself. The occasion was a parody issue of the magazine dated November 6, 1926, Ross's birthday. It was circulated in-house at the New Yorker as a gift for Ross.

Rea Irvin, under the joking pseudonym Penaninksky, depicts Ross in profile, adopting Eustace Tilley's characteristic perceptive pose. Ross is shown in silhouette because this one-off had to be printed cheaply in black-and-white. The top hat may be Tilley's but the spiky hair clearly belongs to Ross only. Ross was a chain-smoker and thus a cigarette dangles from his lip. He still wears Tilley's nineteenth century waistcoat but his snazzy shirt and tie belong to the Jazz Age. The delicate butterfly of the classic magazine cover is replaced by the not-so-delicate form of Alexander Woollcott as a fedora-clad spider.
Rea Irvin, The New Yorker in-house parody, November 6, 1926

A photograph shows the dapper Alexander Woollcott's fondness for hats. He doesn't look at all like a spider, does he?
Alexander Woollcott

Margaret Case Harriman's The Vicious Circle:  The Story of the Algonquin Round Table was published in 1951, a quarter-century later. When illustrator Al Hirschfeld chose to depict the Round Table's Harold Ross in the guise of Eustace Tilley, he was very likely unaware of Rea Irvin's earlier illustration, which had been circulated only within the New Yorker's offices. Ross of course was older now: his head was rounder, he wore glasses, and his once gravity-defying hair was slicked down.
Harold Ross

Hirschfeld depicts Ross with a wheat straw in his mouth, something of an out-of-town rube in high society finery. He is not the first to note Ross's relatively unsophisticated manners which stand in marked contrast to his high social standing at the classy magazine.
Al Hirschfeld "+ R. I.," Harold Ross from The Vicious Circle:  The Story of the Algonquin Round Table, 1951

The book's dustcover reproduces Hirschfeld's caricatures of (left to right, top to bottom) Heywood Broun, Robert Benchley, Harold Ross, Robert Sherwood, Irving Berlin, Marc Connelly, Dorothy Parker, and Alexander Woollcott.
Al Hirschfeld, The Vicious Circle:  The Story of the Algonquin Round Table, 1951 by Margaret Case Harriman

More recently, Thomas Kunkel's biography of Harold Ross uses Rea Irvin's caricature of Ross as Tilley on its cover.
Rea Irvin, Genius in Disguise:  Harold Ross of The New Yorker, 1995, by Thomas Kunkel


April 5, 2016 Update:  A detail of Edward Sorel's mural at Monkey Bar in New York shows Harold Ross in the guise of Eustace Tilley.
Harold Ross as Eustace Tilley
Detail from 
Edward Sorel's
 Monkey Bar mural completed in 2009



September 5, 2016 Update:  The original artwork by Al Hirschfeld was sold at Swann Galleries in 2008.
Al Hirschfeld "+ R. I.," Original art, Harold Ross from The Vicious Circle: The Story of the Algonquin Round Table, 1951


Swann Galleries, June 12, 2008, Hammer Price



Note:  Artwork from The Vicious Circle is © The Al Hirschfeld Foundation. My thanks to Stephen Kroninger for permission to use his scans of the book. On Tuesday he will participate in a panel discussion entitled "The Hirschfeld Century Speaks" at the Art Students League in Manhattan. Joining him will be Ken Fallin, Drew Friedman, and Bill Jacklin, while David Leopold, the Creative Director of the Al Hirschfeld Foundation, will be moderating. I'll be there in the audience if I can get out of work early enough, which is another way of saying I probably won't be there. Say hi to me anyway.

Have you seen "The Hirschfeld Century" at the New-York Historical Society? It's a stunning show, but it's only there through October 12. Don't miss it.

The scan of the New Yorker's rare parody issue is taken from Magazine History:  A Collector's Blog by Steven Lomazow, M.D. He's that rarity: a doctor interested in scarce printed memorabilia! Who ever heard of such a thing?

Follow the links to more Attempted Bloggery posts about Harold Ross, Alexander Woollcott, Eustace Tilley, Rea Irvin, and Al Hirschfeld.

You might also care to look at Michael Maslin's Ink Spill post on Ross & Tilley.

See how Hirschfeld altered a photo of Harold Ross in Life magazine and got himself banned from the New Yorker for almost six decades. (Thanks again to Stephen Kroninger!)

Please contact me if you have other images of Harold Ross as Eustace Tilley. In particular, I believe there's a 1980's-era photographic illustration by Ellen Page Wilson along these lines.

I'd also love to hear from anyone with interior scans or photos of the New Yorker's rare self-parody issue.

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