Modern art critics have often looked down their noses at Norman Rockwell’s realistic style of painting, dismissing his painstaking details as unnecessary and old fashioned. But for at least one person, the details in Rockwell’s painting led to a life-altering experience.
In this 1944 Post cover, Rockwell painted a pretty young girl asleep in bed at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Rather than go out partying, she dreams about her soldier boy overseas.
Rockwell literally selected the girl next door for his model. He asked his close friend and fellow illustrator, Mead Schaeffer, if Schaeffer’s sixteen-year-old daughter Lee would pose for the cover. Schaeffer lived just up the street from Rockwell in Vermont.
Ever the perfectionist, Rockwell also selected just the right details to tell his story. That clock on the bedside table shows us that it is midnight and the young girl is not out celebrating in those fancy party shoes. The photos of her boyfriend — none other than Rockwell’s favorite GI, Willie Gillis — on the wall tell us why. But do extra details such as the envelope on the floor really make any difference?
Rockwell was such a stickler for detail, when he painted that envelope he used Lee Schaeffer’s actual address. He assumed it would be too small and blurry to be legible when it was finally reproduced on the cover of the Post. The address was just one of the many details that Rockwell captured purely for his own satisfaction.
Unfortunately, Rockwell underestimated the resourcefulness of our young G.I.s. Soldiers were so smitten by the lovely Lee that they got out their magnifying glasses. Before long, letters started streaming in to Lee Schaeffer at home. Lee’s mother became quite upset with Rockwell for putting her daughter’s address on the cover of the Post. She made sure that all of Lee’s fan mail went unanswered.
But that’s not the end of the story. A few years later, a young veteran named Bob Goodfellow, recently back from serving in the U.S. Navy Reserve on Iwo Jima, saw the famous cover. Like others before him, he fell in love with the slumbering girl. But unlike other soldiers, Goodfellow had an advantage. His fraternity brother knew the Schaeffer family and happened to be dating Lee’s sister Patricia. Goodfellow kept pestering his fraternity brother to arrange an introduction, and finally his persistence paid off. The fraternity brother gave in and arranged a double date with Lee and Patricia in New York City. Goodfellow met Lee on a blind date on December 3, 1949. Goodfellow must have made a good first impression because he was able to wrangle an invitation to Mead Schaeffer’s New Year’s party. There, Lee introduced Goodfellow to her parents, he passed the test, and the courtship began.
Goodfellow and Lee Schaeffer were married on March 16, 1951, and they remain happily married in Vermont today. Next March will be their 67th anniversary. The famous Rockwell cover of the Post that started it all is framed and hanging on the wall above Goodfellow’s desk.
Many modern art critics have insisted that the tiny details in Rockwell’s paintings are pointless. They should keep their eyes and minds open. You can never tell where paying attention might lead.
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