Rockwell in the 1950s – Part III of III

A teacher, a soda jerk and a United States president (whose own painting attempts were "terrible" according to the artist)—the 1950s Post boasted some of Rockwell's finest efforts.

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“The Soda Jerk” – August 22, 1953

"The Soda Jerk" From August 22, 1953
“The Soda Jerk”
From August 22, 1953


Perhaps it’s the prestigious position of being a soda jerk, but these young ladies are clearly not just there for the ice cream. Rockwell’s three sons often posed for his paintings, and this babe magnet is Peter, his youngest. In fact, the artist got the idea for this cover while listening to Peter talk about his summer job at a soda fountain.

Tthere is Rockwell’s attention to detail: the non-slip wooden floor behind the counter, the dishes that should have been cleared, even the reflection of the salt and sugar containers in the chrome of the napkin holder. A chubby guy at the counter looks on enviously, thinking, “what does he have (besides ice cream) that I don’t have?”

Alas, every artist has his critics. Peter wasn’t thrilled with the result, saying, “I’m not that goofy-looking.”

“Happy Birthday, Miss Jones” – March 17, 1956

 "Happy Birthday, Miss Jones" From March 17, 1956
“Happy Birthday, Miss Jones”
From March 17, 1956


Anne Braman, from Rockwell’s hometown, posed for this tribute to the schoolteacher in a local classroom. First Rockwell posed the children (love the kid with the eraser on his head, as if he didn’t have time to “straighten up” from mischief before the teacher arrived) and then they were sent to another room where they were given a Coke and a check.

“Then Mr. Rockwell posed me against the blackboard,” Ms. Braman told the Post in 1976. “His late wife, Mary, was present and did not care for the shoes I was wearing at the time, and suggested I put on hers, which were at least two sizes too large for me.” Like other models we’ve reviewed from the 50s, the cover made Anne something of a celebrity. “When I attended my twenty-fifth high school reunion,” she told us, “I was given a prize for being the first member of the class to be a ‘cover girl.’”

But the cover below was Anne’s favorite, for a special reason.

“The Marriage License” – June 11, 1955

“The Marriage License” From June 11, 1955
“The Marriage License”
From June 11, 1955


It is late afternoon on a Saturday (the calendar even gives us the day), and the elderly clerk has his boots on and would like to get home. Couples in love are a humdrum regularity in this office. By contrast, an excited young couple is happily filling out the paperwork for their marriage license, a momentous occasion they are not inclined to rush. This was a real engaged couple, Joan Lahart and Francis Mahoney, of nearby Lee, Massachusetts. Of the big, handsome groom-to-be, Rockwell said, “You know, this is a self-portrait of myself. At least that is what I would have liked to look like if I had had the opportunity.”

This famous 1955 cover meant a great deal to Anne Braman, who posed as the teacher above. Earlier that year, “my mother-in-law died. Mr. Rockwell, knowing my father-in-law, Jason C. Braman, realized how upset he was and he thought if he could get him to model it would give him something new to think about. Mr. Rockwell indicated he had done this sort of thing in the past when someone had lost a loved one.” Mr. Braman made a fine town clerk.

The famous Rockwell detail is there. You can almost touch the cold iron of the stove (it is June, after all). The artist was very specific about what the young lady would wear, and the bright sunshine yellow of her dress contrasts beautifully with all the dark wood. Add the magnificent lighting from the window, and this may be one of Rockwell’s best covers.

Dwight David Eisenhower – October 11, 1952

Dwight David Eisenhower From October 11, 1952
Dwight David Eisenhower
From October 11, 1952


Ike was excited to show Rockwell his paintings and get some expert advice. “They were terrible,” Rockwell said. “His stuff was not quite as good as Churchill’s, who was also an amateur artist, you know, but he was a wonderful man. I guess I liked painting him best of all the presidents. Yea, Ike was as comfortable as an old shoe. Maybe that’s why the two of us got along so well.” This was 1952, but four years later, Ike again appeared in a Rockwell cover, as did his opponent, Adlai Stevenson, whom the artist recalled as “amiable, kind, unpretentious, and quietly charming.” Kind of makes it hard to tell which side of the political fence the artist was on, but it is refreshing to hear that both politicians were amiable and unpretentious.

“Rockwell Meets the President” June 11, 1955

“Rockwell Meets the President” From June 11, 1955
“Rockwell Meets the President”
From June 11, 1955


President Eisenhower invited the artist to a White House dinner in 1955. Post editors got word that the artist “was observed galumphing around his home town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts in a new set of shiny black evening shoes” in an attempt to break them in. It was also noted “Rockwell also bought a cummerbund to undergird his tux, and it almost broke in his stomach, but he stayed with it.” Since the editors enjoyed tweaking Rockwell, they ran this cartoon of a spiffy but uncomfortable Norman on his way to meet the President.

“Easter Morning” From May, 16, 1959
“Easter Morning”
From May, 16, 1959


“Why is papa not going to church—is he ill?” asked the editors of this 1959 cover. “No, his health is sound, except that he is suffering a momentary chill as his family coldly passes by.” Okay, dad really should go to church, but the lure of a comfy Sunday with coffee and the sports pages is stronger than the appeal getting dressed up for a crowded Easter Sunday.

Interestingly, the view outside the window is the exact view outside Rockwell’s studio. On the cutting edge was the sleek Scandinavian furniture—the artist scoured furniture stores for just the right chair. The wife is portrayed by Rockwell’s daughter-in-law, Gail. When the artist was asked if the two young ladies were twins, he replied, “They ought to be. I only hired one model.” Although the “twins” are steadfastly standing by mom, the boy can’t resist a glance at dad, perhaps hoping for a reprieve so he, too, can stay home and relax. If you click on the cover for a close-up, you’ll see the best touch of all: Rockwell gave dad’s tousled hair “horns.”

“After the Prom” – May 25, 1957

"After the Prom" From May 25, 1957
“After the Prom”
From May 25, 1957


It had to be only yesterday that this stylish young lady was a tomboy climbing trees and the dapper gentleman had a secret clubhouse dedicated to keeping girls out. But tonight she is a fairytale princess proudly showing off her corsage to a gracious footman, and he is an elegant prince. Alas, the corsage and tux rental have put a dent in the royal coffers, and the after-dance caviar and champagne will have to be burgers and soda at the local diner. But it doesn’t matter—they will remember it as if it were Buckingham Palace.

We’ve reviewed Rockwell’s art in the sixties and fifties, which of course leads us to the 1940s—next!

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  1. I find myself in complete agreement with Charles Neumann. They’re all great, but yeah, ‘The Marriage License’ and ‘Easter Morning’ are my two most favorite as well. I love all the research that goes with each one too.

    The former comes very close to being a photo, as several other Rockwell’s did in his later years with the Post. In the latter I can SO detect a quiet disgust the Mom and two daughters have with Dad, no doubt the three having discussed it before leaving, will discuss in the car over and back.

    I think Dad knows he’s in for it, and it’ll be all the worse if Mom’s asked at church where he is, why isn’t he there etc., and she has to come up with a graceful, face-saving lie! Not good. No. The son might be his only pal around there for awhile. I’ve seen this cover many times but never noticed the subtle devil’s ‘horns’ on Dad’s hair before! Thanks for mentioning it. Absolutely LOVE this cover!!


  3. Wonderful covers indeed. It is hard to pick my favorite Rockwell’s, but “The Marriage License” and “Easter Morning” are two of them.


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