Classic Covers: Listen to This!

“Eavesdropping” was a common theme for Post cover artists. If “curiosity is the very basis of education,” to quote writer Arnold Edinborough, then some very curious individuals on our covers have certainly learned a great deal. Perhaps more than they bargained for …

We hate to rat out a famous Post cover artist. But, alas, that is exactly what our editors did regarding the June 7, 1952, cover. Apparently, an interesting young lady was “number two” on the party line. When artist Constantin Alajalov was visiting Nantucket, number two rang and, according to Post editors at the time, “he, being alone at the moment, picked up the receiver and found that a young man was making romantic statements to a young woman. After eavesdropping for half an hour, the artist decided maybe he was eavesdropping, and hung up.” We’d like to report that is all, but there is no shame among snoops. Number two rang again, and “Alajalov found that it was the same girl and a different man …” The situation is getting rather sticky, isn’t it? The editors tell the rest of the story: “After a third different man had gone through the works, Alajalov was in love with Miss Ring Two himself. So then did he, a bachelor, marry the girl, and thus make us a swell story? He did nothing, the quitter, but paint a cover.” Well, we’ll settle for the Telephone Party Line cover, simply because it is fun.

Albert Hampson<br /><em>Hotel Switchboard Operators</em><br />June 21, 1941
Albert Hampson
Hotel Switchboard Operators
June 21, 1941

We also love Artist Lawrence Toney’s 1928 cover of two aproned matrons talking on the phone and four, count ‘em, four nosey neighbors listening in with various facial expressions. Alas, not one of those expressions is shame!

Being a switchboard operator provided a classic opportunity to eavesdrop on interesting conversations. In Albert W. Hampson’s 1941 cover, the young blonde lady is getting an earful indeed. Is she overhearing a cheating lover or, heaven forbid, a murder plot? Whatever it is, it is apparently scandalous.

We were surprised to find this behavior bouncing into in the 1960s. But not as shocked as Constantin Alajalov’s April 1962 operator! Whatever juicy secrets those two ladies are sharing have our lady-of-the-headphones stunned. Are the two hatching a homicide? Maybe they’re just talking about someone the astonished operator knows. Or thought she knew.

Norman Rockwell<br /><em>Travel Experience</em><br />August 12, 1944
Norman Rockwell
Travel Experience
August 12, 1944

You don’t need a switchboard or party line to eavesdrop. Just being a pesky little brother is license enough. George Hughes’ November 1949 cover shows Junior not only listening to big sis’ conversation (with a boy, no doubt), but relentlessly mocking her. We told you there was no shame among snoops. This same artist shows a young man listening in on the extension while his sister is on the phone. Any female who was, er, blessed with male siblings will tell you this is not uncommon behavior.

What kid doesn’t want to know what grown-ups are saying? While the youngsters in Hughes’ December 1950 cover are supposed to be tucked up in their little beds, they aren’t. Ears pressed against the banister, the two older ones are listening intently to adult secrets. Since this is a December cover, perhaps they’re hoping to unravel some Christmas gift mysteries.

Some of the most interesting eavesdropping is not what Mom and Dad or the neighbors are saying, but listening in on lovers. Who can resist? Mushy stuff must be going on behind the beach umbrella in Amos Sewell’s August 1960 cover, because the boy and girl listening in are finding the conversation hilarious. And let’s not forget Norman Rockwell’s famous Travel Experience cover (of a girl on a train) from 1944 showing the young lady in question watching unabashedly at the goings-on in the seat behind her. Perhaps she is getting more from her travel experience than her mom bargained for. And one of the cutest eavesdropping covers is Rockwell’s November 1936 cover showing a man attempting to read his book on a park bench. While he may look somewhat stuffy (spats, no less!), the gent is discovering that, at times, real life is more interesting than fiction.