Thursday, March 28, 2013

Alanson B. Hewes: Book Illustrator and WWII GI

Council on Books in Wartime logo scanned from the copyright page of the book Report from Red China (1945).
The Council on Books in Wartime had a very charming logo (it reminds me of that 1943 Warner Brothers cartoon where Daffy Duck dive-bombs a villainous vulture). One use for the council’s book-toting eagle was on the title pages of books printed during the war. I haven't seen where else it might have been used, but I imagine it was printed on letterhead, business cards, etc. The words, “Books are weapons in the war of ideas” were developed by W. W. Norton (founder of the book publisher). There’s a story surrounding this slogan that deserves its own future post.

The official history of the CBW conveniently named the artist behind the design: “The Information Committee secured the services, gratis, of Alanson Hewes, who designed the Council’s colophon.” I wanted to learn more about Alanson’s career, so I started a Google search. Unfortunately, the only things that turned up were five books that he had illustrated: The Yankee Cook Book, published by Coward-McCann (1939); The Martha Washington Cook Book, published by James Direct, Inc. (1940); Songs of American Folks, published by The John Day Company* (1942); The Lady and the Painter, published by Coward-McCann (1951); and McKay's Guide to Africa, published by David McKay (1954).
Alanson Hewes’ illustration for the Poultry and Game chapter in The New England Yankee Cookbook (1940).

You might notice that there was a nine-year gap between the third and fourth books. I discovered that this was partly because he was drafted into the Army in December 1943. I found Alanson’s enlistment record on the National Archives site. I know for sure that it’s him, because his civilian job was listed as “Artists, sculptors, and teachers of art”. We also see that he was a resident of New York, NY (which makes sense since he worked in publishing). Many of the National Archives’ personnel records for WWII were lost during a 1973 warehouse fire, so we’re not likely to find out where he served during the war. Hewes was 38 years old when he was drafted (an old man by Army standards), so I doubt that he was put in front-line combat.

I was hoping to find a period article or even an obituary that would offer more of a biography, but the enlistment record and his book illustrations will have to do.

Alanson Hewes’ illustration for the Cider Champagne recipe in The New England Yankee Cookbook (1940).

Cover illustration from Songs of American Folks (1942).
Cover illustration from Songs of American Folks (1942).

*The founder of The John Day Company was Richard J. Walsh, Pearl S. Buck’s husband.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Burlesque Star Gypsy Rose Lee Boosts WWII Book Drive

1941 publicity photo for Gypsy Rose Lee’s first novel, The G-String Murders.
(I scanned this from an old magazine tear-out I found on eBay) 

I thought I’d try browsing through Google Books to find period publications mentioning the Victory Book Campaign (1942–43). The books and journals that appeared in the results are all very dry scholarly pieces, so on page two I was surprised to see Gypsy: The Art of the Tease. It turns out burlesque and film star Gypsy Rose Lee used her celebrity to help put books in the hands of GIs.

In January 1942 and again in January 1943 the Victory Book Campaign officially kicked off its call for donations with a series of opening ceremonies at the New York Public Library. Over several days celebrities appeared on the library steps to bring attention to that year’s book drive. Notables included singer/actress Kitty Carlisle, author Lewis Gannett, film star Katherine Hepburn, Mayor of New York Fiorello LaGuardia, comedian Chico Marx, singer Kay Thompson (future author of the Eloise series), and “strip-tease artist” Gypsy Rose Lee.

Very early in the war Gypsy was active in promoting patriotism and supporting the troops. In magazine articles she praised American servicemen and even offered to send an autographed pin-up portrait to any GI who asked for one. She encouraged women to take jobs in the war industry and participated in a benefit to raise money for an organization that provided child care. Gypsy performed at dozens of USO shows in a 1943 tour that visited forty Army and Navy posts across the country. The expenses for these shows were all paid from her own pocket. She toured military hospitals, sold War Bonds, and made appearances for the Red Cross and various other fund-raisers. Naturally, she was a huge hit with the boys in uniform.

Dust jacket for The G-String Murders (1941).
The Victory Book Campaign organizers must have been extra pleased to have Gypsy appear at their January 22nd rally. Her past career as a stripper commanded a lot of attention, but she was also successful author. She was there to encourage Americans to donate books to the armed forces, while she herself contributed autographed copies of her own novel. Gypsy had written a mystery novel The G-String Murders published by Simon & Schuster in 1941, and second book was released later in 1942.

That day Gypsy was joined by big band drummer & composer Gene Krupa and distinguished author Clifton Fadiman. When speaking to the huge crowd Gypsy showed off her sense of humor. She grabbed the script meant for Fadiman and began to read, “All my life has been spent in the world of books.” This got a big laugh (because, you know... strippers aren’t supposed to read). This sounds like a planned comedy bit to me, but some newspapers assumed it was a genuine mistake. Missouri’s St. Joseph Gazette reported that when Gypsy “saw the size of the crowd she became panicky and wanted to read from a prepared script. There was no opportunity to write anything, so she grabbed the first script she saw, which happened to be Clifton Fadiman’s.” Years later a magazine interviewed her, asking about that day. She quipped, “How would you like to stand up there before such a mob, with all your clothes on?”

Title page for the 1942 edition
of Mother Finds a Body.
The New York Public Library’s 1942 rally wasn't the only time Gypsy supported the Victory Book Campaign. In 1943 she joined several other famous women authors in a PR event. Ilka Chase, Frances Lockridge, Alice-Leone Moats, and Katharine Cornell met on February 11th to publicly donate copies of their books. A representative from the New York Committee of the VBC was there at Saks Fifth Avenue to receive their ceremonial donations. Joining her were three military men representing the Army Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marines. The New York Times wrote, “All three looked hopefully at the book titles they gathered in the haul. Their pleasure was loudly expressed at the contribution brought in by Miss Gypsy Rose Lee—twenty copies apiece of her books The G-String Murders and Mother Finds a Body.” The article ended with a notice that collection bins would be left in the store’s vestibule for the duration of the book drive.
University of Chicago graduates with the famous striptease artist and author Gypsy Rose Lee, and her book "the G-String Murders." Found on the University of Chicago Library site.

There were claims that Gypsy’s novels had actually been ghost written by her editor. Later biographers such as Noralee Frankel have been able to find enough written evidence (letters, manuscripts, etc) to show that Gypsy did indeed write the books herself.


Frankel, Noralee. Stripping Gypsy: The Real Life of Gypsy Rose. Oxford University Press. 2009.

“Book Appeal Continues: Midday Rally at Library for Army Attracts 3,000 persons” in The New York Times, January 22, 1942.

“Women Authors Aid in Book Drive: Group of Them Takes Scores of Copies of latest Volumes to Collection Center.” in The New York Times, February 12, 1943.

“Literary Note” in the St. Joseph Gazette, March 30, 1942. Missouri, vol 98, no 30.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

1943 Book List Poster Design and Notes

Note from the advertising company.
After writing my post about the Council on Books in Wartime I wanted to learn who designed their eagle logo. I contacted the library at Princeton University (where the CBW’s records are held), but they couldn't find a reference to the designer. What the researcher did find was an advertising firm’s poster design comp with a note.:



Here is a very rough idea of what the Recommend Books poster should look like. The size would be 14" x 22" which is well within the size for library use recommended by S. John On a machine weight card board, for 750 posters it would cost in one color $120, for 2 colors $136 (maybe a trifle more) to which you should allow a little extra for art work—maybe $25 or $50 (on which will depend how good an artist we can get to do the picture at the top. Incidentally we’d be able to keep the same art over for subsequent posters & then[?] save money. hope you agree to do this!

Rough poster design submitted to the CBW for approval.
Posters such as this one appeared in bookstores and libraries across the country. According to the CBW's official history, the aim of the reading lists was “to present to the public the best and most interesting titles which would help Americans understand the war.” Early in the war the CBW announced their reading lists by simply mailing mimeographed letters. In 1943 the R.R. Bowker Company offered to print and distributed them at no cost. The CBW later commissioned more eye-catching poster designs (such as this one) to better promote the listed books.

There were several different committees within the CBW that issued reading lists. Their suggested books included nonfiction books about the Allied and Axis countries, the armed services, and novels dealing with events in the war. Each month the Library Committee created a list that included any pertinent books in print. There was a Children’s Book Committee suggesting war books to kids. Every two months the Recommended War Books Committee selected newly-published books and mailed out posters such as the one above. It was distributed to about three hundred libraries and bookstores.

When a book was published that the committee felt was especially useful it received the distinction of “Imperative Book”. On this poster we see Wendell Willkie’s One World, published by Simon and Schuster. This program was thought up by advertising executive Franklin Spier, the same man who wrote the note above. Spier was the chairman of the  CBW's Promotion Committee. His firm (known more recently as Spier New York) specialized in book publishing promotion. Appearing on a CBW reading list as an Imperative Book was an honor (there were only six chosen during the war), and it was a sure way to boost sales. The first was They Were Expendable, by W. L. White. The publisher, Harcourt Brace and Company (now Harcourt Trade), wisely donated the money to print the posters. I would not be surprised to learn that Simon and Schuster paid to have this poster produced.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Council on Books in Wartime, 1941–46

The Council on Books in Wartime logo designed by Alanson Hewes.

The attack on Pearl Harbor sparked great call to action by Americans. Patriotic young men volunteered for military service, while nearly everyone else looked for ways to offer their time and resources in support of the war effort. In early 1942 book publishing executives were meeting to figure out how they could contribute on an industry level. The Nazi party's infamous burning of books rallied American bookmen to the defense of free expression. Our nation's book publishers, libraries, and book sellers came together to form the Council on Books in Wartime.

The aim of the CBW was to promote the reading of books as a way to increase morale, share information, and encourage critical thinking among Americans. The happy side-benefit to the publishing industry was more book sales. Early in the war the CBW held public lectures and hosted radio dramatizations of books, but its most influential programs were the nonprofit publication of millions of paperbacks. First published in 1943, the Armed Services Editions were miniature format paperbacks of best-sellers which were freely distributed to American troops. These boosted the morale of homesick soldiers and fostered their post-war habit of book reading. First published in 1944, the Overseas Editions were translations of American authors which were given to the newly-liberated people in Europe and Asia. These were the first books available to a public which had suffered under totalitarian censorship.

The directors of the CBW included some of the most important American publishers of the decade. The men most recognizable today would be:
John Farrar, co-founder of Farrar & Rinehart (after WWII he founded Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Donald S. Klopfer, co-founder of Random House
Alfred A. Knopf, founder of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Frederic G. Melcher, editor of Publishers Weekly (he helped found the children's book awards: Newbery Medal and Caldecott Medal)
William Warder Norton, founder of W. W. Norton & Company
Richard L. Simon, co-founder of Simon & Schuster

The war ended, and American servicemen began returning from overseas. With its job done, the council ceased operations on January 31, 1946. Records of it operations were donated to the Princeton University Library for posterity.

P.S. The Council on Books in Wartime enjoyed unprecedented cooperation among publishing competitors. From its beginning, the CBW's efforts worked with the coordination and support of the US government's Office of War Information. It's interesting to contrast this positive wartime relationship with a very recent example of publishers attempting to band together: To defend against's industry-damaging practices, five major publishing houses each worked out a deal with Apple to sell their eBooks at their preferred prices. This time the US government did not look kindly on the publishers' cooperation. Claiming antitrust laws had been violated, the Department of Justice brought suit against Apple, Penguin, Hachette Book Group, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster in the spring of 2012. To avoid legal costs each publisher settled out-of-court, paying a hefty fine.

Friday, March 1, 2013

World War II New York Tabloid covers

Graphic design historian Steven Heller has a nice collection of WWII era tabloid covers on display on Print magazine's imprint blog.