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

Ben Denison, In His Own Words: Part 4

Wednesday, November 06, 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 4th excerpt from our email exchange... ~ Leif

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One lunch time, had to be in summer or early Fall 1953, I went down to the McConnel's Restaurant on the first floor of our building, took a table for two, ordered whatever and was eating, when this skinny dark haired guy with a pipe in his mouth asked if he could share my table. He sat down and we chatted a bit. I asked his name and he said, "Hugh Hefner. You?"

I introduced myself and asked the great question: "What d'ya do?" The conversation went on about him quitting Esquire magazine and how he was going to start his own publication in direct competition. Of course I had always wanted to be a famous magazine illustrator so after lunch I took him up to Stevens,Gross and showed him my samples.

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And away we went. At that time he had an office across the street from the Catholic Cathedral. Irony: He rented the office space from the church.

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For the first issue he had acquired two plum pieces. The first was the Marilyn Monroe photographs and second was Ray Bradbury's "Farenheit 451". Of course I did the illustrations, the first in line...

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... and a second in color.

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[Ben also produced the cartoon below for the first issue of Playboy ~ Leif]

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After a year and a half at SG, Stephens, Biondi, DeCicco offered me a larger split and I moved a few blocks away.

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When I first started with SBD, they were on the second floor of the post office on Huron or Erie & St. Clair. There my room mate was Arnie Kohn. Arnie was one of the Chicago School Artists, I'd met him in Chicago while I was freelancing there. He kept getting jobs away from me. We moved to Ohio Street and a much larger space.

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We did lot of modelling for each other at SBD. In my illustration below, that's Bill Baker and his son on the left. The next was the mailman. The next was the maintenance man at the studio and the next was Phil Davies, a salesman. Don't remember the client.

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Bill Baker, Lucia, Danny Toigo, Andy Aldridge, Eddie Augustiny, Araldo Carrugati, Carl Kock, Will Nelson, George Lopac, Reno Biondi of course. Reno could paint foam on a glass of beer and/or moisture on a bottle that would get your hands wet just looking at it.

(Below: advertising art by Reno Biondi, Collier's magazine, 1954)
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(Bill Baker, 1951)
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(Lucia, 1955)
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(Eddie Augustiny, 1967)
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(Carl Kock, 1964)
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Frank DeCicco was a marvelous and resourceful salesman and the two of them made a great pair to work for. The Stevens of SBD was Barry Stevens who ran the New York office, which I'll get to later.

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Below: A joint party between SBD and Steve Heiser Photography in the post office building just after I had started. The people on the upper left are Frank DeCicco (Frank may have had a drink or two too many - he was usually much more serious), Danny Toigo, Carl Kock and a pretty lady.

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The band was (left to right) Eddy Augustiny on brushes, Ben Denison on cornet (I have learned to wear longer sox since), Al Getz, sales man, on accordian, Russ Enriques, salesman, on guitar.

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