Thursday, October 27, 2016
(Above) The Unashamed, by “March Hastings,” aka Sally Singer (Midwood, 1960). Paul Rader’s daughter, Elaine, has said she “suspects that both of the women on this cover were modeled by her mother,” Edith. (Below, left) Books historian Lynn Monroe says Kitten, by “Dallas Mayo,” aka Gil Fox (Midwood, 1961), is also fronted by an illustration for which Edith posed.
Months ago, when I started planning Killer Covers’ 110th birthday tribute to the late American painter and paperback cover artist, (Isaac) Paul Rader, I knew that I wanted to interview his only daughter, Elaine, a banker turned jeweler and metalsmith now living in northern Georgia. Fortunately, she was up for the challenge, and the results of our original e-mail exchange—covering her father’s history and work habits—can be found here.
However, shortly after posting that interview, I realized I’d neglected to question Elaine much about another important aspect of Paul Rader’s career: his association with his second wife, Edith—Elaine’s mother—who served as the model for so many of Rader’s captivating novel façades. Born on October 21, 1924, in Yonkers, New York, the former Edith Anne Radley met Paul Rader during the early years of the Second World War, wed him soon afterward, and went on to be immortalized in his now highly collectible cover illustrations. Southern California bookseller and books historian Lynn Monroe, who had the opportunity to speak with Edith Rader before she died in 2005 at age 82, has written that “She was never comfortable talking about Paul’s sexy covers, let alone the fact that she was the nude model riveting our attention on so many of them. She preferred to remain anonymous.” Yet, to a generation of enthusiastic paperback readers who grew up during the mid-20th century, Edith Rader became familiar as “The Rader Girl,” a curvaceous blonde seemingly meant to be celebrated in abundant paint strokes.
Wanting to learn more about Edith Rader’s life, as well as her working relationship with her 18-years-older husband, I e-mailed daughter Elaine another collection of queries.
J. Kingston Pierce: Do you know what your mother’s parents were like, what her childhood was like?
Elaine Rader: Her parents were both immigrants from England. My grandmother, Marion (Maude) Hale, came to the U.S. in the early 1900s as a teenager. She met and married my grandfather, Clifford Radley, and I believe had their first child when she was 18. My mother was the youngest of three children, all girls; her sisters were Mary and Helen. At some point, when the girls were still young, [Clifford and Maude] divorced, and with little or no support, my grandmother raised all three girls alone. The oldest daughter, Mary, was 10 years older than my mother and was a great help in taking care of my mother while my grandmother worked. They moved a lot, as my mother remembered, living in apartments of varying size depending on how much money was earned by her mother and the two older sisters. Sometimes the apartments were large, sometimes modest. The one thing she told me about those apartments was that no matter where they lived or how cramped the quarters, my grandmother always managed to make a beautiful home for them. She had a knack for decorating even when times were rough and money tight. At one point in her life, my grandmother came to live in a grand penthouse for a time. Her final apartment, on the upper west side of New York City (what is now called Washington Heights), was tiny but it was beautiful. She had impeccable taste … and the best costume jewelry collection that any little girl would love, and that I ran to play in every time we visited her. I only knew my grandmother, never meeting my grandfather, as he passed away before I was born. My grandmother was never seen without her makeup being perfect, her hair neat, and just the right clothing. She was not an openly affectionate person, but a caring one. I remember her as stern yet kind. We became quite close when I was a young teenager, but sadly she passed way suddenly when she was 72.
JKP: How and when did Edith and your father first meet?
ER: They lived in the same [Manhattan] apartment building. My mother was still living with her mother at that time. She was 17, and the year was 1942. Air-raid drills were a scheduled weekly event in all the apartments at that time during World War II. Evidently, each floor of the apartment building had its captain to make sure all the residents knew about the drills. My mother was the captain of her floor, my father the captain of his. As she told it, during this one particular drill, they went to the roof where the usual meeting place was, and no one but the two of them showed up. They had never met until then.
JKP: Did your mother ever reveal anything about their courtship? Anything about their early years of marriage, where they lived or any hardships they encountered?
ER: After they met, my grandmother discouraged the romance to the best of her ability, to the point of sending [my mother] off to live with relatives in Canada. My mother was 17 and my father was 35 at the time. They courted long-distance through telegrams written back and forth for over a month. (I still have all of those telegrams and correspondence from that time in a box that my mother saved all the rest of her life.) She finally came back to New York to live with her mother again, and when she turned 18, about three months after [my parents] met, they ran off and eloped. They were married by a justice of the peace—with his wife as a witness—in a small town in South Carolina.
JKP: Was this your mother’s first and only marriage?
JKP: Your parents swapped wedding rings in 1942. You were born in 1954. Why did they wait a dozen years to have children, or had they not actually planned a family?
ER: My mother wanted to have children (she told me she dreamed of having six!), but she said my father was not really sure about having any. She had given up on the idea when one day, he said to her—when she was 29—“I guess if we’re going to have a child we’d better do it soon.” So, yes, it was very planned. She was 30 when I was born.
JKP: Tell me what your parents were like together. Did they have many shared interests? Did they argue much, and if so, about what?
ER: They were very close, they shared an equal love of music: my mother played the piano, my father enjoyed playing and collecting classical-music recordings. They were both avid readers. They were also avid debaters; they could agree to disagree and had many fascinating conversations about any number of topics. They enjoyed the theater and they enjoyed each other’s mind.
My mother, like hers, was a bit of a “scheduled” personality and not very yielding in that way. My father was an artist … need I say more? As a result, I remember some problems in that area when it came to everyday things such as dinner times. If he was “in a zone,” it was hard to break that and have “the scheduled 5:00 dinner” every day, so there was that. If there were other problems, I was not privy to them. I’m sure, like any marriage, they had problems, but they were not in the habit of arguing in front of me.
Edith Rader at age 53, painted by Paul Rader.
JKP: Had your mother modeled for your father before he started painting book covers in the mid-1950s? If so, in what sorts of artworks had he employed her image?
ER: My father did a wonderful portfolio (which I have) of modeling photos of my mother for her to try to break into the clothes-modeling world, back when she was in her early 20s. Other than that, she sat for him so that he could do portraits of her, but not to sell them commercially.
JKP: Can I assume that in using your mother as a model, Paul Rader posed her as he wished, photographed her, and then painted from those photos … rather than asking her to remain in one position while he sketched or painted her?
ER: Yes, that’s correct, he would take photographs and then paint from them.
JKP: What was it about your mother that made her an ideal model for your father? And was she happy to serve as The Rader Girl?
ER: Not to be flip about it, but she was beautiful, and available to sit at his convenience, or at least to fit it into their schedule easily. She never admitted that she was ever The Rader Girl. She always said, when asked about this, that that woman was his imagination of the perfect woman.
JKP: Did your mother pose for other artists, as well?
JKP: How did your mother take Paul Rader’s passing in 1986, when he was 79 years old? Had she anticipated it?
ER: No, it was very sudden. He had been declining in a few ways after their move to [Ocala], Florida, but nothing that indicated a serious problem. He had several heart attacks during one day and died at the hospital. It was of course a shock, and a loss that took her years to cope with.
JKP: Did she change much personally, or change her life much, after your father’s death? Did she continue to live in Ocala?
ER: She continued to live in Ocala. She went on many trips during the first few years after his death. She took her very first airplane trip, [as] my father would never get on an airplane; it was one of the first things she did after he died. She joined some groups in her retirement community and tried volunteering for things, but realized she was not a joiner, nor a good volunteer.
JKP: And how did your mother spend the last 18 years of her life? Do you think she was happy during that period?
ER: She hadn’t many close friends in Ocala, but stayed in writing contact with many from New York. She went to visit her sister in Oregon quite a few times and almost moved there, but decided not [to]. She read, she wrote letters, we talked every day, and as we liked to say, “solved the world’s problems on a daily basis” over the phone. She enjoyed her plants and gardening—she had a great green thumb, knew all the correct Latin names of plants, and loved bird-watching. She became an independent woman who was always ready to have a good conversation. Her one regret, she told me, was that she never made it back to visit New York city.
I think that made her very sad.