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Celebrating Illustration, Design, Cartoon and Comic Art of the Mid-20th Century

Ben Denison, In His Own Words: Part 2

Friday, November 01, 2013

Ben Denison was a Chicago illustrator during the mid-20th century. For a time before his death, Ben and I corresponded about his career. Here is the 2nd excerpt from our email exchange... ~ Leif

After two stints each at the Nebraska Clothing Company and Bozell and Jacobs I went to Chicago to the American Academy of Art for one year. Because I had had so much input from the various professionals I'd worked with and learned from, my attitude about what I should learn was quite specific. I was able to learn things about two dimensional design. Mr. Goodman, my life drawing teacher, saying again and again, "Placement, Mr. Denison, placement!" (see the whole figure in your mind, then place it properly in the space on the paper!)

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That was like J. Laurie Wallace, in his black suit with cigar ashes on his vest, growling at me during a figure painting class to, "Go paint an egg, Mr. Denison, go paint an egg!" Try though I might, I've never been able to paint flesh or egg to his requirements! As a result, at the American Academy I didn't even think of taking Bill Mosby's (of the Sundblum School) painting class. Mostly I did drawing and fundamentals. Between Goodman and A. Sterba there was much to learn.

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From AAA back to Omaha and a year of working in Lincoln NB and Chicago were I worked for a while with Ken Griffin, who had played Uncle Jim on the "Jack Armstrong The All American Boy" radio show and who was a buddy of Dave Garroway and Orson Wells. Then back to B&J in Omaha. During this period I became a sort of go-between the Chicago art studios and Floyd Wilson, the art director at B&J.

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So I got to meet quite a few of the best of Chicago's illustrators. Joyce Ballentyne worked at Earl Gross studios...

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... her husband, Eddie Augustiny was at Kling's, as was Tom Hall and others I am too old to remember.

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As a result of meeting Joyce, I met her apprentice, Jackie Boehl, beautiful and talented who was to be my wife.

I worked on the board there until Army Service in Korea '49 to '51. I tried to get the army to use my talents as an artist but they found my back more useful than my brains so I was off to carrying a rifle in the cold of Korea.

On the way overseas I stopped in San Francisco...

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... where I visited with Lonnie Bee at his studio for an afternoon and evening. Another talented artist and gentle man.

(Below: Lonie Bee cover illustration, 1950)
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For short periods of time I was able to paint some pinups for an enlisted men's club in Teagu.

(Below: close up from one of Ben's Playboy cartoons, 1954)
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Other than that I found a beat up trumpet and some other enlisted men and even some officers to play jazz with for anyone who needed that sort of entertainment.

(Ben Denison on horn with friends, c. early 1950s)
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I was home in December of 1950. Got off the train in Omaha, bought civilian clothes, picked up my car (a '47 Willys Jeepster) and was back on the board at B&J on the following Monday morning. In '53 when I told Floyd Wilson I was getting married, he fired me and told me to go Chicago and get a job in an art studio where I belong. He wrote to Earl Gross recommending me highly.

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Got the job. Jackie and I were married in June of '53 and both of us back at work the following Tuesday, working as artists in the big city!

Next: From Stevens Gross to SBD

* Thanks to Heritage Auctions for allowing me to use scans from their image archives in today's post.

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