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Classic Covers: You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby

Published: July 17, 2010

Artist J.C. Leyendecker did dozens of covers of babies, including this cutie. So how did a baby become a cover model for America’s most famous magazine?

Leyendecker Baby David L. Johnson.
Photo courtesy of Mr. Johnson

The cute tyke in the high chair? Why, that’s one of our cover models, and how we loved hearing from him recently! David L. Johnson was one of Post cover artist J.C. Leyendecker’s famous New Year’s babies. The smiling gentleman is Mr. Johnson today. Same charm, more teeth.

Baby Delivery Boy with Hat boxes and Flowers – April 10, 1909

Baby Delivery Boy with Hat boxes and Flowers
JC Leyendecker
April 10, 1909

Along with sometimes lavishly dressed ladies and gentlemen, Leyendecker painted children and babies – lots of babies! His winsome tots did everything from delivering Easter boxes to carving a Thanksgiving turkey. The first New Year’s baby was delivered by the stork to welcome the fresh New Year 1908. The last New Year’s baby was bravely fighting the Nazis in 1943. These precocious youngsters did it all.

New Year Ticker Tape – December 30, 1933

New Year Ticker Tape
JC Leyendecker
December 30, 1933

In the 1930s, these poor little tykes were mighty worried about the economy (we told you they were precocious). The one greeting 1934 was encouraged at what he saw on the ticker tape. Which brings us to 1935, and our friend and cover boy, David L. Johnson. The artist depicted David trying his darndest to balance the budget. Walking a tightrope between a bottle of red ink and a bottle of black, he precariously balances the budget atop his cute little head.

Johnson tells us his grandfather was an illustrator named Orson B. Lowell. Lowell attended the Art Institute of Chicago and later moved lock, stock, and motherless grandchild to New Rochelle, which had become something of an artists’ colony. There Granddad hung out with artistic types like Post cover artists J.C. Leyendecker and Norman Rockwell (“He knew all those guys,” Johnson tells us). When J.C. Leyendecker was looking for a model for New Year’s 1935, his artist pal–Johnson’s grandpa–knew just the child.

Baby New Year Flying Bi-Plane – January 1, 1910

Baby New Year Flying Bi-Plane
JC Leyendecker
January 1, 1910

We get a brief history lesson reviewing the Leyendecker baby covers. The baby welcoming the year 1910 was flying a new-fangled bi-plane, a feminine baby in 1912 was carrying a “Votes for Women” sign. 1914’s tot was cruising the soon-to-be-opened Panama Canal.

Global War – December 30, 1916

Global War
JC Leyendecker
December 30, 1916

The Post welcomed 1917 with a Leyendecker baby looking with concern at a damaged globe – could global war be looming? Alas, 1918’s tiny boy was helmeted and armed and ready to report for military duty.

Votes for Women – December 30, 1911

Votes for Women
JC Leyendecker
December 30, 1911

Thank you so much for getting in touch with us, Mr. Johnson. You’re the first Leyendecker baby we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know. By the way, we could still use your budget balancing skills. Questions about Saturday Evening Post covers can be sent to: d.denny@saturdayeveningpost.com or by comments below. And if you know of former Post cover models, we’d love to hear from them!

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  • Frank James Davis

    The baby motif works. These unique covers are colorful, amusing–and, yes, I suppose–“cute.”