A young imagination has the power to make a 1950s living room into the Wild West, turning a playful child into a ruthless gunslinger.
Artist and illustrator John Falter once said he tried “to put down on canvas a piece of America, a stage set, a framework for the imagination to travel around in.”
Falter takes a subtle moment to comment on the abilities of a child’s mind for his November 9, 1957 cover of The Saturday Evening Post with the illustration “Good Guys Wear White Hats.”
I once inherited my baby-boomer father’s cap gun and broomstick-horse from my grandmother. Apparently, my father used to believe he was The Lone Ranger’s trusted ally. The now 60-year-old family heirloom of western wars won and lost in front of the television screen passes down the family line of childhood cowboys. I have since given the faux-weapons to a niece, furthering the generational creativity.
In this 1950s image, a time when parents first began to worry about the lethargic effects of television on young minds, we see creativity at work. The little boy interacts playfully with the television housed among bookshelves whose tales and stories older generations valued for creative fictions. The television is the boy’s interactive source of afternoon entertainment.
Could the work’s title hold a deeper observation about the purity and innocence of childhood? The title evokes a common assertion: the one who wears white is a good guy. Except in this illustration, our boy is not wearing his white hat. The little man uses one of his two pistols to hold up the white hat as a decoy while he prepares to trick his on-screen enemy. Is the boy still a “good guy” even though he does not wear the hat?
The answer may be in the color pallet elsewhere in the illustration. The little boy hides behind a beige couch, and he’s kneeling on a khaki colored carpet. His hair is blond and his skin is white. On the opposite end of the frame, the bandit exists inside the dark brown television set surrounded by books. The black-and-white screen further accentuates the bandit’s dark attire. In the end, we know who the bad guy really is.