Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Lesser Look: But Wait, There’s More

Part of a month-long celebration of Ron Lesser’s artistic legacy.


(Above) According to Lesser, this painting was featured in a “Cold Case Detective” calendar he created some years ago.


In addition to the many finished, Ron Lesser-illustrated book covers packed into my computer photo files, there’s also a scattering of paintings he intended for other uses, preliminary body sketches, and original images later cropped or overlaid with type by various paperback book publishers. As Killer Covers’ tribute to this American artist winds down, I want to showcase at least some of those works. I asked Lesser, via e-mail, to comment on the 16 paintings featured above and below, and have based my captions on his remarks.



“For most of my models,” Ron Lesser tells me, “I went through a model agency. Either Ford or Wilhelmina Models. There were several other New York agencies as well. Only models who did illustration photography were available to artists. The price for a model for illustration photography in the 1960s and ’70s was about $100 an hour. In the late ’70s that price went to $150 an hour. In the ’80s the artist paid $200 an hour. The client paid all of the expenses—photographer, model, and print costs.” Referring to two of his favorite cover models, Lesser says: “Steve Holland, who was never with an agency, kept his price at $100 an hour. Jane Minion had an agency for acting, but not a model agency. So I booked her directly, as I did for Steve. Jane was a dancer in the [1979] Bob Fosse-directed movie All That Jazz.”


The lovely brunette shown reclining in the image above was Elaine Reynolds, a onetime Playboy model who, Lesser explains, “was in the magazine several times. I used her many times. She was a great model and a very nice lady. I wish her well.” Reynolds can be seen, as well, on the cover of Target for Their Dark Desire.



This art appeared on a 1966 Avon paperback edition of Charlotte Jay’s Beat Not the Bones, a work that in its original hardcover release had won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel. Lesser remarks: “I do not like the painting. Not up to my standards.”



In case there was any question about this, Lesser notes that “The babe on the chaise longue is Elaine Reynolds.”



Lesser says this promotional poster for the TV spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, “would have been done around 1964-65. NBC used several illustrators to make paintings for the coming TV schedule for a few years. Jimmy Bama made several paintings, among other artists. I also did the art for The Dean Martin Show … It was cool to see my paintings on my television, advertising the coming schedule.”



This painting, which Lesser says “was done several years ago for a sale,” bears a striking resemblance to his cover illustration for Carter Brown’s Tomorrow Is Murder.



Lesser remembers he wasn’t particularly impressed with the male model he employed for this painting, and that “the small babe in a bikini” is one of his favorite female subjects, Jane Minion.



“I never met Sophia Loren …,” Ron Lesser confesses, “[but] I loved to paint her face. Great bones.” He created the image shown above for the 1979 Baronet paperback edition of Forever Sophia: An Intimate Portrait, by Alan Levy. Meanwhile, the distinctly more provocative image of Loren displayed below graced the 1967 Signet edition of Lament for a Lousy Lover, an Al Wheeler/Mavis Seidlitz novel by Carter Brown. Says Lesser: “I plead guilty to placing [Loren’s] head over a different body. In this painting the body belonged to Elaine Reynolds. I did this several times. No one ever seemed to notice.” By the way, Lesser had at least one more opportunity to paint the lovely Loren, for the poster promoting her 1979 film, Firepower.




One other screen queen Lesser has painted more than once is Marilyn Monroe. Of the image shown above, titled “Marilyn in Silk Scarf,” he writes: “A gallery that represented me wanted me to make this painting. I sold the painting to The Illustrated Gallery,” located in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. To enjoy another of Lesser’s Monroe paintings, click here.



“I have no idea what these drawings were for,” Lesser admits. “Probably preliminary sketches for a book cover.”



The armed man in the painting presented above is the seemingly ubiquitous Steve Holland. Lesser identifies the blonde posing behind him as “a very cute model, Vickie Chesire.”



The title of this historical painting is “Reflection.”




Frederic Brown’s The Wench Is Dead was originally published in 1955. However, Centipede Press brought out a new hardback edition of that novel (plus bonus stories) in 2017, compete with the Ron Lesser wraparound artwork shown above. “The book sold out,” Lesser recalls. His female model here was again Jane Minion. The artist relates his uncomplicated technique for lightening her dark locks in this pose: “If the babe in the story was a blonde, I posed her with a wig. [Minion’s] hair was auburn. I had a cheap blond wig that Jane could make look pretty good. Being of Italian heritage, she was great with hair.”



Another famous figure who’s shown up on more than one Lesser canvas in the past is the so-called Queen of Pinups, former Playboy model and fashion icon Bettie Page. As with the second Sophia Loren illustration in this post, the final two paintings here show Page’s head mounted atop curvaceous bodies conceived by Lesser. The image above is called “Too Hot to Touch,” while the painting below carries the title “I’m No Angel.”

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