Wednesday, January 26, 2011

He Had a Way with Women

Leif Peng, the Canadian commercial artist behind the blog Today’s Inspiration, brings the sad news that American illustrator Mike Ludlow (born in 1921) died on December 11 of last year. According to a brief biography from The Great American Pin-Up (1996), by Charles G. Martignette and Louis K. Meisel:
Ludlow was a glamour illustrator who did much pin-up work in the late 1950s for Esquire. He painted the entire twelve-page calendar for 1957--the last published by the magazine. His pin-ups also appeared in the series of three-page centerfolds known as Esquire’s Lady Fair. For these works, Ludlow often called on actresses like Virginia Mayo and popular personalities like Betsy Von Furstenberg in addition to professional models.

Besides painting his
Esquire pin-ups, Ludlow had another entire career as an illustrator of romance articles, providing pictures of beautiful women to mainstream magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Good Housekeeping, Collier’s, and Family Circle. From 1950 to 1960, he also painted many front covers for paperback novels, including among his clients Pocket Books, Dell Books, and Bantam Books. All his paperback covers had a strong air of sensuality and featured sexy pin-up girls as the main figures.

Ludlow was born in 1921 and grew up in Buffalo, New York. He attended the Art Students League, where he studied with William McNulty. His first commercial art assignment, for the Sunday supplement of the
[New York] Journal American, came in 1948. From the beginning, Ludlow has specialized in glamorous subjects and made beautiful women his trademark.
Unfortunately, it was not long after Ludlow’s 1957 Esquire calendar slid off the presses that the magazine moved away from hand-drawn artwork to illustrate its articles, and toward what its editors considered the more modern usage of photography. To make up for the decline in magazine assignments, Ludlow took on advertising work (for Ballantine Ale and Douglas Aircraft), but also crafted the covers for LP music albums--and, of course, books.

It just so happens that one of my favorite women-in-distress paperback covers--from the 1952 Dell edition of Lawrence G. Blochman’s See You at the Morgue (1941)--was illustrated by Ludlow. (See that art atop this post.) And he was responsible, too, for the 1953 Dell Books edition of To Catch a Thief (displayed on the right), the David Dodge novel on which the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock romantic thriller of the same name was based. Ludlow’s other book-front credits include the 1952 Dell edition of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Bedrooms Have Windows; the 1951 Dell paperback version of Leslie Ford’s The Bahamas Murder Case; the 1950 Pocket Book edition of Halo in Brass, by John Evans (aka Harold Browne); the 1952 cover of Dell’s Border Town, by Carroll Graham; the 1962 first printing of Faith Baldwin’s Wife vs. Secretary; and the 1952 Dell edition of Rogue Queen, by L. Sprague de Camp.

(Click on the images for enlargements.)

Before this week, I was less familiar with Ludlow’s pin-up illustrations. Many of them are outstanding, though, including the two below: his 1955 painting for Esquire of Swedish model-actress Anita Ekberg (left) and the Lady Fair image on the right.

In honor of Mike Ludlow’s passing at age 89, Today’s Inspiration will be posting examples of his work all this week.

READ MORE:The Golden Age of Magazine Illustration,” by Vicki Woods (The Daily Telegraph); “Mike Ludlow, Story Illustrator” and “Mike Ludlow, Advertising Artist,” by Leif Peng (Today’s Inspiration).


Randal Brandt said...

Thank you very much for this piece on Mike Ludlow. He certainly did have a way with women!
His cover painting for To Catch a Thief has always intrigued me. The model certainly has a look reminiscent of Grace Kelly. However, this edition came out in January 1953--nearly 3 years before the Hitchcock film! And, Dodge's Francie Stevens is a brunette, not a blonde.
Did Mike Ludlow know something the rest of the world did not? Or does the cover represent the character Danielle, the actual blonde in the book?

Anonymous said...

I have an oil on canvas done by Mike Ludlow which I purchased over 18 years ago in Danby VT. It is obviously an atypical work, titled "Sheep in the Manger", but the signature is identical, with the exception of the first name as only the initial "m".

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Very cool!