Rockwell Files: Big Night

Norman Rockwell's depiction of a pre-date ritual showed how life had returned to normal after World War II.

Norman Rockwell image
Mating rituals: Rockwell portrays a young man and woman, separately but almost identically, preparing for a date. (Norman Rockwell / © SEPS)

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Another illustrator might have been content with just showing a young man and woman, in roughly similar poses, prepare for a date. But Rockwell liked adding narrative details for readers to discover, as he did in this cover Before the Date from September 24, 1949.

As always, he carefully chose his models and his settings. The model for the young man was a cowboy named Fred Beilfus, a bronco buster at the Snedden Ranch in Ventura County, California. He is seen here in his corner of the ranch’s bunkhouse, surrounded by his hats, boots, pistol, and cigarette “makings” on the window sill. He has stuck a photo of his girlfriend on the wall, though perhaps he’s more enamored of the photo that appears above it: his horse, Zip.

Norman Rockwell image
Mating rituals: Rockwell portrays a young man and woman, separately but almost identically, preparing for a date. (Norman Rockwell / © SEPS)

The young lady was modeled by Beverly Walters, a Hollywood waitress in real life, whose uniform, which hangs on her dresser, readers would have recognized from Fred Harvey Restaurants. Rockwell has her facing the mirror, the room cast in the subdued light coming through a window shade lowered for modesty. We can’t fully see her face, but when Rockwell dropped off the painting at the Post’s art department, he admitted to the editors, “She’s a real cutie.”

The cover would have also had an extra measure of poignancy for readers of the Post. So soon after the horrors of World War II, this simple depiction of pre-date rituals would have been a welcome reminder that life, and romance, had at long last returned to normal.

This article is featured in the March/April 2022 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: © SEPS

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