Thursday, November 23, 2017

Bil Baird's College Humor Covers

The balloons in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade were originally created by puppeteer and illustrator Tony Sarg (1880-1942). The young puppeteer Bil Baird (1904-1987) went to work for him in 1928, constructing the balloons that Sarg designed. Baird can be seen atop a ladder painting the Sultan balloon for the parade in a vintage photograph while Sarg, center, supervises from the ground. 

Five years later, Baird struck off on his own. He formed Baird Marionettes in 1934. He used his puppet modeling skills to produce a series of magazine covers for College Humor in 1937. The magazine referred to them as "sculptures" and the color photographs, seemingly a novelty at the time, were credited to Dudley Lee. The women wear heavy eye makeup in all of these covers. The January cover avoids all that heavy winter clothing your mother thinks you're wearing.
Sculpture by Bil Baird [?]
Photo by Dudley Lee [?]
College Humor, January1937

Today accusations of sexual harassment against prominent, powerful men are a major subject in the news. For decades, though, sexual harassment has been depicted in male-oriented humor magazines as a nothing more serious than a knowing, sexy joke. Wink wink. Get it?
Sculpture by Bil Baird
Photo by Dudley Lee
College Humor, Vol. 5, No. 1, May 1937

Our blonde hero has fallen for a redhead, but she seems to have other ideas.

Sculpture by Bil Baird
Photo by Dudley Lee
College Humor, Vol 5, No. 2, June 1937

Our hero understandably wants to get closer to his athletic redhead, but it's important to stay out of the line of fire.
Sculpture by Bil Baird
Photo by Dudley Lee
College Humor, Vol 5, No. 3, July 1937

It's summertime, and three's a crowd!
Sculpture by Bil Baird
Photo by Dudley Lee
College Humor, Vol. 5, No. 4, August 1937
Scan by Dick Buchanan

Well, well. The new academic year brings success! Even the carousel horses know what's going on!
Sculpture by Bil Baird
Photo by Dudley Lee
College Humor, Vol. 6, No. 1, September 1937

From "Working with the Photo-Puppets" by Gray Strider
Popular Photography, April 1938, page 23

Our hero has gained new confidence! Yet he is wearing a freshman beanie. That detail doesn't seem right. Didn't his sweater on the July cover put him in the Class of '40? That would make him a sophomore. Still, he seems to be doing better with his romantic interest. There must be hope for all of us!
Sculpture by Bil Baird
Photo by Dudley Lee
College Humor, Vol. 6, No. 2, October 1937

I'm not sure of the date of this one:

In the 1965 film version of "The Sound of Music," Bil Baird and his marionettes are at the top of their game in "The Lonely Goatherd."
"The Lonely Goatherd"
Maria—Julie Andrews
Marionettes by Bil Baird
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
"The Sound of Music" (1965 film)

Note: The July, September, and October 1937 covers of College Humor photographed here are from the Steven Boss humor magazine collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Columbia University. Contact Curator for Comics and Cartoons Karen Green for information on the collection.

Thanks to Dick Buchanan for scanning the August cover. Dick is a regular contributor to Mike Lynch Cartoons, most recently a post entitled, "Dick Buchanan's Cartoon Files: More Cops and Robbers Gag Cartoons 1947 - 1968."

Two of the smaller cover scans are from eBay. I would love to receive higher-resolution scans of these. I'd also like to hear from anyone with other covers from the series or, better still, the original puppets or photographs.

There are lovely scans of three of these covers on Illostribute.

Happy Thanksgiving! I will not personally be taking any pictures of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons this year, but I probably could be persuaded to accept photographs submitted by readers of the balloon inflation or of the parade. Try me.

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