The Art of the Post: The Rockwell Cover that Led to a Marriage

David Apatoff shares the story of the time Norman Rockwell inadvertently played matchmaker for a neighbor’s daughter.

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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.

The cover of the January 1, 1944, Saturday Evening Post.

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.

Lee and Bob Goodfellow. (Photo courtesy of the Goodfellow family)

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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  1. Congratulations Lee And Bob on the occasion of your 67th wedding anniversary. Your unique story is inspiring. Rockwell’s penchant for ‘detail’ proves that the devil’s not always in the detail…….Cupid is!

  2. Bob McGowan Jr.– Yes, it’s sad that a lot of post-modern “fine” art critics still disparage Rockwell’s work. But on the good side, now that Rockwell’s paintings bring several million dollars at auction several museum curators and art critics are beginning to rethink their original position.

    Paul Zelinsky– A good reminder that Rockwell’s themes are grounded in real life!

    Carol Thompson– Many thanks! It was fun to uncover this one, and interview Bob and Lee Goodfellow in their Vermont home. They are quite a couple.

    Mary Jane Hales– Thanks for your comment. I agree, they are a storybook couple. Lee had many great tales to tell about posing for Rockwell and for her own father, the great illustrator Mead Schaeffer. Many of those stories will be included in my upcoming book about Schaeffer.

  3. What a marvelous article about Lee and Bob. They are truly a storybook couple. Thank you for writing this article.

  4. This is genuinely marvelous…..what a history! Kudos to you for finding…….”the rest of the story.”

  5. David, I’m really sorry to hear that many ‘modern art critics’ still insist (at this REALLY late date) that the tiny details in Rockwell’s paintings are pointless. A good many (if not most) aren’t in a position to be judging ANY art at all!

    They’re the one’s that will rave and marvel over a single dot on a white canvas, or the emptied, filthy contents of a vacuum cleaner bag on display. It’s ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ syndrome. All the fuss over invisible “clothes” as the Emperor was completely nude folks!

    Meanwhile congratulations to Lee and Bob Goodfellow! Not only do they look fantastic for a couple married 67 years, they look better than a lot of people that ARE 67 years old, and younger!


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