Cross and Fiction

Soutenez la Croix Rouge (Support the Red cross). Photo by Erwin Blumenfeld

 
 

Blumenfeld’s photo on the cover of Vogue US, March 1945

 
 

Marilyn Monroe. Contact sheet from The Last Sitting photo shoot, by Bert Stern, 1962

 
 

Kate Moss wearing a Louis Vuitton outfit inspired by Richard Prince. Photo by Craig McDean, Vogue UK 2008

Warhol Printed by Versace

Linda Evangelista models a pop-art inspired evening dress and accessories

 
 

This pieces, printed with the iconic faces of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, is a testament to Gianni Versace‘s fascination with the ironic and sometimes morbid depictions of Andy Warhol inasmuch as it is an exclusive signifier of Versace’s self-proclaimed personality as the celebrity couturier.

 
 

A heavily beaded jumpsuit that draws attention to the embossed representation of Marilyn Monroe’s lips.

 
 

Versace Spring-Summer 1991 collection

A Paranoia Theme

Leave Me Alone, a song featured on Michael Jackson‘s seventh studio album, Bad in 1987, was a response to negative and false stories about Jackson that frequently appeared in the media and tabloids post-1986 after the monumental success of Thriller. Beginning in 1986, the tabloids began to publish false stories about Jackson, one of the first being a story claiming that Jackson slept in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to slow the aging process. A picture leaked out to the media of him lying down in a hyberbaric chamber at a hospital he visited. An unknown person took the picture of Jackson while he was testing out the chamber out of curiosity.

 
 

 
 

When Jackson bought a pet chimpanzee named Bubbles, the media viewed it as evidence of Jackson’s increasing detachment from reality. It was also reported that Jackson had offered to buy the bones of Joseph “The Elephant Man” Merrick; Jackson stated that the story was “a complete lie”. These stories inspired the nickname “Wacko Jacko”, which Jackson acquired the following year, and would come to despise. Another frequent response from the media was about Jackson’s plastic surgery. Jackson’s manager said of the media’s criticism towards the topic, “So many terrible things have been written. Okay, so he had his nose fixed, and the cleft — big deal. I got news for you, my nose has broke five times. It’s been fixed twice. Who gives a shit? Who cares? Elvis Presley had his nose done. Marilyn Monroe had her nose done, had her breasts done? Everybody’s had it done.”

The song has been viewed as having a “paranoia theme”, a theme that Jackson had frequently used on previous studio albums. The Atlantic felt that Jackson showed “obvious expressions of distrust” in the song and that the song was one of multiple songs where Jackson’s “persistent loneliness in his music” was “prominent”.In 2009, J. Edward Keyes, of Rolling Stone, described Leave Me Alone as sounding like “vintage Michael” and the song works because of its music, “a batch of thick chords for Jackson to vamp over”. Keyes noted that the song was a “kind of darker inversion” of The Way You Make Me Feel, and that Leave Me Alone was “worked-up and angry, and Jackson’s aggressive scraping of the high notes makes plain his frustration.”

 
 

 
 

The music video for Leave Me Alone, was directed by Jim Blashfield, produced by Jim Blashfield and Paul Diener and released on January 2, 1989. The video was also featured in the 1988 film Moonwalker. In essence, the video is an amusement park consisting of stylistically crude images based around Jackson’s successful career since 1982’s Thriller. There is an emphasis on the tabloid view of Jackson’s personal life and public image, referring to the nickname “Wacko Jacko” given to him by the press, and the various headlines associated with him in the 1980s. Lampooning rumours that he tried to purchase Joseph Merrick’s bones, Jackson dances with stop motion “Elephant Man” bones in the video. This particular segment (without the image of the bones) was used for the single’s cover art, and the boneless video segment was featured in Moonwalker trailer.

 
 

 
 

In the video, there are images of shrines to actress Elizabeth Taylor, a real life close friend of Jackson. Throughout the video newspaper headlines, published by “National Intruder”, with bizarre titles are shown, such as “Michael’s Space-Age Diet” and “Michael Proposes to Liz”. Another notable scene in the music video was a nose being chased by a surgical scalpel, which was reference to Jackson’s plastic surgery being criticized by the media. At the end of the video, it is revealed that a gigantic Jackson himself is the amusement park. He breaks free, tearing the park to pieces. That scene is a somewhat reminiscent of Gulliver’s Travels, where Gulliver eventually breaks free from the Lilliputians’ grasp from Lilliput.

Millers and Montands

Let’s Make Love  (George Cukor, 1960) is a musical comedy film made by 20th Century Fox. It was produced by Jerry Wald from a screenplay by Norman Krasna, Hal Kanter and Arthur Miller. It starred Marilyn Monroe, Yves Montand and Tony Randall. It would be Monroe’s last musical film performance.

Norman Krasna was inspired to write the script after seeing Burt Lancaster do a dance at a Writers Guild award ceremony and receiving a loud applause. He came up with the idea of a story about a very wealthy playboy like Jock Whitney who hears about a company putting on a show that made fun of him and becomes enamoured of the theatre and a girl in the play.

Krasna felt that only three actors were suitable to play the male lead — Gary Cooper, James Stewart and Gregory Peck — because all were so obviously not musical performers, making it funny if they sung and danced. Peck agreed to play the lead, and then Marilyn Monroe was signed opposite him, even though Krasna would have preferred Cyd Charisse.

Arthur Miller revised the script so that more emphasis was given to Monroe, his wife. This led to Peck dropping out.  Rock Hudson was considered an ideal replacement based on his ability to play comedy, but Universal would not release him.  So, Montand was cast instead after starring in The Crucible (Raymond Rouleau, 1957), based on a play also written by Miller. That pleased Monroe, who wanted Montand for the part. Krasna felt he was miscast because he could actually sing and dance, and so ruined the joke, but Monroe was enthusiastic about Montand. The two stars wound up having an affair during the making of the film.

 
 

Marilyn Monroe, Yves Montand at a press conference for their film Let’s Make Love ( in French : Le Milliardaire), together with Simone Signoret and Arthur Miller their respective spouses.

 
 

A picture is worth a thousand words

 
 

Marilyn Monroe and Yves Montand at the press conference for their forthcoming film.

 
 

Simone Signoret and Yves Montand relax in the bungalow of their Beverly Hills Hotel, where they were staying while he was filming Let’s make Love with Marilyn Monroe.

 
 

Miller and Montand

 
 

Marilyn Monroe and Simone Signoret

 
 

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller give a private dinner for Yves Montand

 
 

Yves Montand, Simone Signoret and Marilyn Monroe in Montand’s Beverly Hills Hotel apartment

 
 

Montand and Signoret

 
 

Signoret, Montand and Monroe at a Beverly Hills Hotel

 
 

Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller

 
 

Signoret and Monroe at a private dinner party during the making of Let’s Make Love

 
 

Photo series by Bruce Davidson, 1960

Finishing the Picture

Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe together on the set of The Misfits (John Huston, 1961)

 
 

Originally written as a short story by Arthur Miller while awaiting his own divorce in Reno prior to marrying Marilyn Monroe. Director John Huston originally wanted Robert Mitchum to play “Gay Langland” but Mitchum didn’t like the script and turned it down. Huston and writer Arthur Miller rewrote the script, but by the time Mitchum got to see the rewrite he had committed to another film. The role was instead offered to Clark Gable, who took it.

Clark Gable’s close friend John Lee Mahin tried to dissuade him from making the film, insisting the part required a better actor like Spencer Tracy. Gable initially felt out of place since Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift and Eli Wallach all practiced the Method, which was like an alien religion to him.

 
 

John Huston, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, and Arthur Miller on the set of The Misfits, 1960

 
 

On the last day of filming, Clark Gable said regarding Marilyn Monroe, “Christ, I’m glad this picture’s finished. She damn near gave me a heart attack.” On the next day, Gable suffered a severe coronary thrombosis. He died in hospital from a heart attack just ten days later.

This was the last completed film for both Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, her childhood screen idol. Gable died shortly after filming ended, and Monroe died of an alleged drug overdose over one year later. (Note: While Something’s Got to Give (George Cukor, 1962) is listed as her last film, it was never completed because she was fired.)

 
 

Marilyn Monroe having her makeup touched up on location near Reno, Nevada, 1960

 
 

Monroe was sinking further into alcohol and prescription drug abuse; according to Huston in a 1981 retrospective interview, he was “absolutely certain that she was doomed” while working on the film: “There was evidence right before me every day. She was incapable of rescuing herself or of being rescued by anyone else. And it affected her work. We had to stop the picture while she went to a hospital for two weeks.”  Huston shut down production in August 1960 to send Monroe to a hospital for detox. Close-ups after her release were shot using soft focus.  Monroe was nearly always late to the set, sometimes not showing up at all. She spent her nights learning lines with drama coach Paula Strasberg. Monroe’s confidant and masseur, Ralph Roberts, was cast as an ambulance attendant in the film’s rodeo scene

A doctor was on call 24 hours a day for both Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift during the filming because both were experiencing health problems with alcohol and medical stimulants.  This movie was on television on the night Montgomery Clift died. His live-in personal secretary, Lorenzo James, asked Clift if he wanted to watch it. “Absolutely not” was Clift’s reply, the last words that he spoke to anyone. He was found dead the next morning, having suffered a heart attack during the night.

Huston gambled and drank and occasionally fell asleep on the set. The production company had to cover some of his gambling losses. In a documentary about the making of The Misfits, Wallach told a story of Huston’s directing a scene in which Wallach was at a bar with Gable. Huston told him that the most intoxicated he had ever been was the day before, even though he had seemed sober. Huston’s lover, Marietta Peabody Tree, had an uncredited part.

Arthur Miller’s last play, Finishing the Picture (2004), although fiction, was largely based on the events involved in the making of The Misfits.

Finishing the Picture is a thinly-veiled autobiographical examination of the time Arthur Miller and his then-wife Marilyn Monroe spent shooting The Misfits. Miller and Monroe’s marriage was deteriorating at the time of shoot — the summer and fall of 1960 — due to her rampant drug abuse, her open infidelity with actor Yves Montand, and her panoply of mental illnesses. Also featured are characters that are closely related to real persons, including a film director reminiscent of John Huston, two acting teachers, clearly based on Monroe’s Actors Studio coaches, Lee Strasberg and Paula Strasberg, as well as the play’s screenwriter, based on Arthur Miller himself. In an interview conducted before the play’s debut, and published in the fall 2006 edition of the Arthur Miller Journal, actor Eli Wallach confirmed that one of the characters was most certainly based on his former Actors Studio colleague Lee Strasberg.

Mr. Time

Portrait of Feodor Chaliapin with his son Boris, 1912

 
 

Boris Chaliapin (1904–1979) was the son of Russian opera singer Feodor Chaliapin and brother of The Name of the Rose (Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1986) actor Feodor Chaliapin, Jr.

Chaliapan trained as an artist there before journeying to Paris, France to continue his education. Eventually making his way to the United States, he found work with TIME magazine and in 1942 produced his first cover for them of a WWII general. Chaliapan often worked from photographs to create his covers, made with watercolors, tempera, pencil and other materials. Other than his speed and technical skill, Chaliapan was known for his portraits of beguiling starlets like Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly.

He was the portrait artist TIME magazine’s editors turned to first when they needed a cover in a hurry. As TIME’s most prolific artist, he created 413 covers for the publication during his 28-year career, between 1942 and 1970. He could execute excellent likenesses in as little as 12 hours. Week after week, millions of faithful readers recognized Chaliapin’s familiar signature on the cover, and his co-workers nicknamed him “Mr. Time.”

“Chaliapan,” explains National Portrait Gallery curator Jim Barber, “tried to capture the essence of a person and their personality.” Though the magazine had contracts with a dozen or so other cover artists, Chaliapan was part of the prominent threesome dubbed the “ABC’s” with artists Boris Artzybasheff and Ernest Hamlin Baker. Known for his spot-on likenesses, Chaliapan could also be counted on for a quick turnaround. “Unlike the other cover artists that needed a week or two, Chaliapan… if pressed, he could crank out covers in two or three days,” says Barber.

By the end of that career, painted portraits were on their way out for magazine covers. Photographs and more thematic illustrations were being used more frequently. Chaliapan’s covers capture a snapshot of the news from days gone by, but also of the news industry itself. His final cover was of President Richard Nixon in 1970.

On May 17, 1963, TIME magazine put James Baldwin on the cover with the story “Birmingham and Beyond: The Negro’s Push for Equality.” And to create his portrait, the weekly called on artist Boris Chaliapan. Baldwin’s intense eyes and pensive expression stared out from newsstands across the country.

 
 

Walt Disney

 
 

Alfred Caplin

 
 

Marilyn Monroe

 
 

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

 
 

Elizabeth Taylor

 
 

Marlon Brando as Napoleon Bonaparte

 
 

Katharine Hepburn

 
 

Grace Kelly

 
 

Sophie Gimbel

 
 

Audrey Hepburn

 
 

Althea Gibson

 
 

Muhammad Ali

 
 

Thelonious Monk

 
 

Martin Luther King

In the Land of Gods and Monsters

Lana Del Rey‘s new short film Tropico is a 30-minute visual directed by Anthony Mandler (National Anthem, Ride) and starring model Shaun Ross. Featuring her tracks Body Electric, Gods and Monsters and Bel Air, it’s a lurid tangle of Americana and an extension of her aesthetic, with themes of innocence lost, good vs. evil, and trading your body for money. As she puts it in the iconic words of Allen Ginsberg‘s Howl: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.”

National Anthem

 
 

National Anthem was released as a single on July 6, 2012, through Interscope Records. The song serves as Born to Die fifth single. The music video for the song premiered on June 27, 2012. It is directed by Anthony Mandler. It depicts Lana Del Rey as Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy and A$AP Rocky as John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Mandler stated the concept was Del Rey’s and that she was “really interested in exploring this loss of innocence, this idea that what you think you’re experiencing is maybe not what it’s always going to be. Because when you say ‘Kennedy,’ that immediately evokes something, just like when I say ‘It’s a Romeo and Juliet story.’ So I think using that power, that pedigree of the story is a really fascinating place to show the loss of something, the breakdown of something.”

Mandler described the video as being seen “through [Onassis’] eyes, seeing this kind of castle crumble in the moment, and that shot where she’s coming up out of the car, and the pain in her eyes, that destruction, it’s like the whole castle is crumbling around her.” Del Rey cited the video as “definitely the most beautiful thing” she’s ever done. Del Rey wrote the treatment for herself and ASAP Rocky saying “he’d be really perfect to star in it.”

 
 

Warhol and Westwood’s Royalty

The Andy Warhol-esque painted makeup was created by Val Garland and her assistants. “Think the Queen meets a bad Elizabeth Taylor or an odd Marilyn Monroe with a passing nod to Debbie Harry and an occasional reference to Grace Jones,” said Garland.

 
 

Vivienne Westwood Red Label Spring- Summer 2013 collection was inspired by British royal gardens. Throughout history; architecture, aesthetics and fashions from across the globe have influenced these British country gardens. From the squared formality of renaissance style to the pastoral passions of the Victorian era, the garden has remained a favorite and romantic sanctuary for our royal family. Beyond these private enclosures lie flower gardens and orchards, with vast outdoor space for bowling, tennis and croquet as well as picnics, weddings and garden parties- it is these royal occasions that were in mind when the collection was designed. The colour palette references Tudor knot gardens where earth, sand, and rich dusty red bricks were used to fill open spaces between the frosty cold greys, greens and blues of the shrubs. Micro checks and fine wools offer a cool alternative to the summer dress and gingham knits are perfect for impromptu picnics and more informal occasions. For cocktail and evening the colour palette is pale and cold- with impressionistic lily ponds printed on fine, fluid jersey with details of metallic silver embroidery and draped jackets and cigarette pants with duchesse trim to give a softer tuxedo alternative. There are also more glamorous evening dresses in regal midnight blues, black and gold in full & straight silhouettes teamed with steely tones and frosty paillettes somehow reminding you of an early morning summer frost.

 
 

Bert Stern’s Muses

Shirley MacLaine, 1960

 
 

sue lyon 1961 bert sternSue Lyon, 1961

 
 

Liz Taylor, 1962

 
 

Sofia Loren, 1962

 
 

Marilyn Monroe, 1962

 
 

 Natalie Wood, 1964

 
 

Marisa Berenson, circa 1965

 
 

Goldie Hawn, 1965

 
 

Barbra Streisand, 1966

 
 

Ali MacGraw (for a Vogue cover photo shoot wearing  a bright printed silk dress with gold paillete trim by Oscar de La Renta), 1970

 
 

Madonna, 1981

 
 

Drew Barrymore, 1994

Jane Austen’s Matchmaking Heroine

Illustrations by C.E. Brock

 
 

Emma, by Jane Austen, is a novel about youthful hubris and the perils of misconstrued romance. The novel was first published in December 1815. Before she began the novel, Austen wrote, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” In the very first sentence she introduces the title character as “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich.” Emma, however, is also rather spoiled, headstrong, and self-satisfied; she greatly overestimates her own matchmaking abilities; she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people’s lives; and her imagination and perceptions often lead her astray.

Emma Woodhouse is the first Austen heroine with no financial concerns, which, she declares to the naïve Miss Smith, is the reason that she has no inducement to marry. This is a great departure from Austen’s other novels, in which the quest for marriage and financial security are often important themes in the stories. Emma’s ample financial resources put her in a much more privileged position than the heroines of Austen’s earlier works, such as Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Jane Fairfax’s prospects, in contrast, are bleak.

 
 

(Douglas McGrath, 1996)

 
 

Douglas McGrath “fell in love” with Jane Austen‘s 1815 novel Emma, while he was an undergraduate at Princeton University. He believed the book would make a great film, but it was not until a decade later that he was given a chance to work on the idea. After receiving an Academy Award nomination in 1995 for his work on Bullets Over Broadway (Woody Allen, 1994), McGrath decided to make the most of the moment and took his script idea for a film adaptation of Emma to Miramax Films. McGrath had initially wanted to write a modern version of the novel, set on the Upper East Side of New York City. Miramax’s co-chairman, Harvey Weinstein, liked the idea of a contemporary take on the novel. McGrath was unaware that Amy Heckerling‘s Clueless was already in production, until plans for Emma were well underway.

Although in general staying close to the plot of the book, the screenplay by Douglas McGrath enlivens the banter between the staid Mr. Knightley and the vivacious Emma, making the basis of their attraction more apparent.

Austen’s original novel deals with Emma’s false sense of class superiority, for which she is eventually chastised. In an essay from Jane Austen in Hollywood, Nora Nachumi writes that, due partly to Paltrow’s star status, Emma appears less humbled by the end of this film than she does in the novel.

 
 

(Diarmuid Lawrence, 1996)

 
 

This production of Emma stars Kate Beckinsale as the titular character, and also features Samantha Morton as Harriet Smith and Mark Strong as Mr. Knightley.  Previously, Andrew Davies was the screenwriter for the successful 1995 BBC TV serial Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. Davies offered to adapt Emma for the BBC, but it had already commissioned Sandy Welch as screenwriter.

 
 

(Amy Heckerling, 1995)

 
 

This comedy film is loosely based on Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma. Heckerling later described Silverstone as having “that Marilyn Monroe thing” as a “pretty, sweet blonde who, in spite of being the American ideal, people still really like.” 

Photographing the Package

“Photographers are always photographing the package, but they would never think to open up the box. Well, I’m interested in the contents, because once you start opening up the box, it’s like a Chinese box, there’s always another box inside – so it’s limitless.”
Duane Michals

 
 

Duane Michals self-portrait for a Gap Ad

 
 

Poster from a Yves Saint Laurent retrospective show celebrated in Russia

 
 

Models wearing designs by Halston. Editorial feature in Vogue, September 1975.

 
 

Vogue USA October 1975,  “The Biggest Makeup Change In Years”  . Models: Lisa Taylor and Sunny Redmond

 
 

Lilly

 
 

Estée Lauder perfume

 
 

Life Magazine cover, February 1989

 
 

Microsoft

 
 

Mass Mutual

 
 

Inside this printed jewel there are some Duane Michals’s photos.

 
 

Book The View From the Mirror (Subjective reasoning), 1992

 
 

Still Such (1992), a book written by Stephen Doyle that also contains Duane Michals’s photographs

 
 

Artwork of the fifth and final album by The Police, released in 1983. The album’s title was inspired by Arthur Koestler’s The Roots of Coincidence, which mentions Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity.

The Last Flappers

Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Kane in Some Like it Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)

 
 

Jack Lemmon, Marilyn and director Billy Wilder

 
 

Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag

 
 

Audrey Hepburn as Holy Golightly in Breakfast at Tifanny’s (Blake Edwards, 1961)

 
 

keiraKeira Knightley wearing  Chanel Couture

 
 

Make-up and styling for Chanel Resort Collection 2013

 
 

Natalie Portman photographed by Mario Testino. Vogue USA, February 2004

 
 

Portman in a still from Closer (Mike Nichols, 2004)

 
 

Michelle Pfeiffer. Photo: Herb Ritts

 
 

Madonna

 
 

Anjelica Huston. Photo: Gian Paolo Barbieri

 
 

Portrait of Isabella Rossellini by Ellen von Unwerth

 
 

Ali MacGraw

 
 

Ralph Lauren

 
 

Jean Paul Gaultier

 
 

Alexander McQueen

 
 

LV0043Louis Vuitton

 
 

Etro

 
 

Gucci

 
 

Balenciaga by Nicholas Ghesquière

 
 

Images from fashion editorial Paris Je T’Aime photographed by Steven Meisel. Vogue USA, September issue. 2007

 
 

Rihanna

 
 

Mary Jane Russell with a Christian Dior swan hat. Photo: Louise Dahl-Wolfe, 1949

 
 

Christian Dior by John Galliano Spring-Summer collection 1998

 
 


The Dolly Sisters

 
 

Jennifer Lawrence in Dior Haute Couture at the Oscars 2013

 
 

* The Last Flapper is the title of a play written by William Luce. It is based on Zelda Fitzgerald’s life.

So Long, Marilyn!

 
 

So long! 

 20

“…This is no book,

Who touches this, touches a man,

(Is it night? Are we here alone?)

It is I you hold, and who holds you,

I spring from the pages into your arms—decease

calls me forth.

21

 O how your fingers drowse me!

Your breath falls around me like dew—your pulse

lulls the tympans of my ears,

I feel immerged from head to foot,

Delicious—enough…”

 

Walt Whitman

Crumbs Off a Master’s Table

Robert Crumb’s Self-portrait

 
 

Walt Kelly

 
 

Popeye, The Sailor(1933)

 
 

Uncle Scrooge

 
 

Harvey Kurtzman’s comic

 
 

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Robert Crumb, being as irreverent as he is, made his first sketches imitating the candid contours taken from animated characters created by E. C. Seglar (Popeye), Walt Kelly (Pogo), Carl Barks (Donald Duck) and many more artists from the same batch. What better source for a young boy, whose only amusement and motivation relies on comic books and nothing else?

 
 

Crumb brothers

 
 

This delight was fomented by Robert Crumb’s older brother, Charles. But it was Robert, who, on a most uncommon occasion, asserted his authority on Charles and pressed him to point toward a new direction. Eventually, Robert, Charles and Maxon (the younger brother who is also a talented illustrator) drew scenes from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. The Crumb brothers’ newly created version of the novel was presented to the rest of “Crumb Comic Company” members: Carol and Sandy; their sisters. Those times would be joyous for the party of five; the sons and daughters of Charles Vincent, their draconian U.S. Marine and Beatrice, their ultra-catholic mother with family ties to Andrew Jackson.

 
 

Girl Standing at the Window (1925), Salvador Dalí

 
 

Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the Horns of Her Own Chastity (1954), Dalí

 
 

 
 

Robert Crumb was born on August 30, 1943, in Philadelphia, the city where America declared its independence from the English crown and fittingly, Robert declared his own independence as soon as he could. At an early age he liberated himself from the religious beliefs and severe discipline that would be a spanner in his childhood works. Crumb did serve in the Army, though little of that time is worth noting.

Crumb’s personal and artistic transcendence occurred when he was still very much an introverted and shy boy. But like Stevenson’s Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, young Robert turned into a fearless ‘monster’ while he was drawing. That peculiar hormonal boiling, felt by every adolescent, ran alongside society’s collective interest in sex which was in the air at that time. 1955’s Kinsey Report and the debut of Playboy magazine with Marilyn Monroe on the cover and centerfold in 1953 literally thrust the topic of sex squarely in the public eye.

There are some critics who have vehemently compared him with the great satirists François Rabelais, Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain. The fact is, nobody can be indifferent in front of a Crumb drawing (you love it or you hate it). Due to the polarized reception of his work, he has been wrongly accused by some of misogyny, meanness and downright immaturity. That lack of understanding is actually due to the overwhelming honesty expressed in his drawings. For someone with a narrow, square mind it might be uncomfortable or difficult to digest Mr. Crumb’s autobiographic Epicureanism, as it is rife with explicit sexual connotations. As for subjects, style and generation, he is closer to Henry Miller, Céline, Norman Mailer and Charles Bukowski (who Crumb would later collaborate with). To a man, none of the aforementioned has been known to be interested in pleasing well-mannered crowds or being politically corrects.

 
 

 
 

In his youth, Crumb often showed his classmates the comics he was doing. In one of those panels was the prototype of what later became the milestone character from the crumbianesque iconography: Fritz the Cat. (Initially titled Fred the Cat.) He kept the idea in the inkwell until 1965, when he decided to publish it in Help!, a magazine by James Warren. A year before, Crumb illustrated his Big Yum Yum Book, which he drew in 1963 and which was finished the year he met Dana, his first wife.

Help! showcased several artists whose works were part of the counter-culture movement of the comic underground: Skip Williamson, Gilbert Shelton and Jay Lynch. Along with Crumb they would quake the foundations of comics, a land heretofore strictly reserved to children and teen readers but not anymore. Before Help! Crumb launched Foo, a humorous fanzine inspired by Mad. As a staunch follower of Harvey Kurtzman, illustrator and director of Mad, Crumb concocted a plan to get an interview with Kurtzman, who was impressed enough that he employed him at the subversively juvenile magazine.

 
 

Mr. Natural

 
 

In 1967 he moved to the hippie movement epicenter, San Francisco, where Mr. Natural was born. Philadelphia’s Yarrowstalks had provided the fertile ground from which would spring, Mr. Natural. Throughout this period, Crumb tried hard to be hip; he wanted to enjoy free love, but alas, he couldn´t get laid. He claimed he didn’t fit in because he looked like a cop from the “vice squad.” Janis Joplin (by this time, he had drawn the artwork for Big Brother and The Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills album cover) once asked him: “Crumb, what’s the matter, don’t you like girls?” She advised him to get with the program; grow his hair long, wear billowy shirts, satin jackets and platform shoes but Crumb, an iconoclast, refused to wear the fashions of the day.

 
 

 
 

Although he eschewed the trappings of hippiedom, Crumb experimented heavily with LSD. It was while he was having a “bad trip” in 1965 or 1966 thereabouts, that Robert Crumb’s style of drawing changed radically. He began sketching characters that were more cartoonish, wearing high-heel shoes and images he never drew before. Crumb’s comic artwork started to elicit harsh commentary. Numerous critics cited his pictures of overly sexualized women, often in subservient roles, calling him “the chief sexist of underground comics”. It could be said that on one hand, due to the LSD, he lost consistency but, on the other hand, he was able to create comics thoughtlessly. He didn’t give a damn if they were silly. He only cared about his sordid epiphany and those ideas were immediately accepted. Psychedelic and hippie aesthetic were in bloom all around Fog City.

 
 

And talking about shoes, in 2009 Crumb collaborated with a collection for Vans. Model Sk8 Hi (Mr. Natural‘s artwork featured on both the upper and the sole) and Slip-on (Fritz the Cat art extended all over the upper)

 
 

Despite the smashing success of the film and the societal borders it overstepped (it was the first “X Rated” animated movie), Crumb loathed the cinematographic adaptation of Fritz the Cat (1972), directed by Ralph Bakshi. During the seventies Crumb and his second wife, Aline Kominsky, lived in isolation on a farm far from the city. Aline shared his passion for illustration. During this time, somewhat surprisingly to those who didn’t know him, Crumb opted not to design a sleeve for The Rolling Stones. He was developing an autobiographic comic book based on his troubles with women. He admitted cynically that those troubles finished when he finally achieved his fame.

Robert Crumb is a famous, if compulsive, collector of early blues recordings and he founded his own old-timey revival band, R. Crumb and His Cheap Suits Serenaders in which he plays the banjo. Serendipitously, thanks to his addiction to old recordings, Crumb would meet Harvey Pekar at a record shop. Together, they would create the epic comic book American Splendor (1976) with Pekar writing the text and Crumb illustrating the panels.

In March 1981, Crumb created the comics anthology, Weirdo. After only ten issues, Crumb handed over the direction of the magazine to Peter Bagge who had approached him with the same youthful exuberance which Crumb had exhibited when he met Kurtzman at Mad. After 17 issues, the editorial reins went to Crumb’s wife, cartoonist Aline Kominsky-Crumb (except for issue #25, which was again edited by Bagge). The three editorial tenures were known respectively as Personal Confessions, the Coming of the Bad Boys, and the Twisted Sisters.

In 1993, Crumb and Aline settled down in a small village near Sauve, in the south of France. It was there that Terry Zwigoff went looking for Mr. Natural’s author to get permission for Zwigoff to do a documentary about his life and work, simply titled Crumb (1994). The film was critically acclaimed, winning the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at 1995’s Sundance festival, Best Documentary 1995 by the National Board of Review and many other awards for non-fiction and documentary films. Zwigoff would continue to pay homage to Crumb in Ghost World (2000), his adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ eponymous graphic novel. Zwigoff added a character into the plot: Seymour, a blues music collector performed by Steve Buscemi.

Crumb-Kominsy couple conceived an “editorial child”, Self-Loathing Comics. It is, as the name suggests, a dark humor series about their experiences in the French village where they live.

In 2012 Crumb appeared on 5 episodes of John’s Old Time Radio Show where he talked about old music, sex, aliens, Bigfoot and played 78rpm records from his record room in Southern France.

Although Robert Crumb is not publishing as often as he used to, whenever he does it, he never disappoints the gourmands of Made in USA comics.

 
 

 

English grammar corrections by Paul Klees