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When I Was a Famous Chinese Watercolorist

This is by my famous, Chinese, watercolorist, cartoonist buddy, Randy Enos!

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Visit Randy’s archive –Daryl

This is a word/drawing that Dong Kingman did for me on one of the opening pages of his book.

At The Famous Artists Schools, the correspondence art school I worked at between 1956 and 1964, the instructors all had their own little office or studio usually with a window to the outside. There were a few inner offices because there wasn’t quite enough room around the perimeter. Five courses… cartooning, painting, illustration, photography, and writing were offered. The writers and photographers were in buildings across the street and the artists were in the main building. As time went on, as I’ve mentioned in previous stories, the cartoonists decided that our little group should be all together in one room or “bull pen.” But in the beginning, we all had separate offices along with the others. Outside of each office was a nice nameplate with the artist’s name. They were dark gray with white embossed letters. One of the painters was a very friendly Ukrainian fellow named ZENOWIJ ONYSHKEWYCH, who we called Jack. One day when Jack went out to lunch, someone decided that we should have a little fun with his name plate and carefully painted an “I”,  neatly and perfectly in the space between his first name and his last name. So, the name plate then read “ZENOWIJIONYSHKEWYCH”. It took weeks before it was noticed probably by one of the “tour guides”.

In the summer, a lot of our students would visit the school as part of their vacation trip. They would get to meet Al Dorne, our founder and also instructors that they had had, and in some cases, go out to lunch with us. There were girls that were hired just to show people through the building.

One day I arrived at work to find a couple seated in our foyer waiting for a tour guide. The husband had a wide brimmed straw hat on and bib overalls. The wife was diminutive, pale and looked VERY young. The outstanding thing about them was that the husband was holding a double-barreled shotgun. When Dorne was informed that we had an armed visitor waiting out at the receptionist’s desk, he was more than a little unnerved and shaken and pretty sure that someone had come to kill him. It turned out that it was just a harmless hillbilly who never went anywhere without his rifle. But, that didn’t prevent Dorne from hiring a new man to his staff, later, whose job no one could figure out because he just sat outside Dorne’s office all day at a desk doing nothing. He had a suspicious-looking bulge in his jacket.

When it was really hot in the summer, we were often sent home because there wasn’t any air conditioning at that point in time. But if it was hot, and still fairly bearable we had to, of course, stay at work which prompted several of the painters (they were the troublemakers) to disrobe and stand at their easels and drawing boards in their underwear. So, when visitors would arrive, our receptionist would ring a bell upstairs to alert the nudists to get some clothes on. This also allowed one of our painters (a vain fellow) to don his sun glasses because he thought he looked superbly handsome standing at his easel looking like a movie star.

This is a detail of a Kingman watercolor.

Each of the courses had 12 famous artists, writers or photographers as their “Guiding Faculty. They didn’t actually work there. They owned stock in the company, contributed to the teaching texts and visited the school periodically to lecture to us and observe some of our student critiques. BUT, one of the Guiding Faculty members had an unusual arrangement with the school in that he had to actually put in some time doing student critiques … not full time but a few days a week. I have no idea why, but that was the case. The faculty member was the famous Chinese watercolor painter Dong Kingman. He was a great guy. I liked him a lot. I used to watch him writing letters to his family in China, fascinated by the Chinese characters he would be composing. He only did visual corrections on the students’ work. He wouldn’t do the written critique that the rest of us had to do along with our visuals. Another instructor named Leonard Besser dictated the verbal stuff into the Dictaphone. He’d say things like, “Here you see that Mr. Kingman has shown you how to improve the color on that barn of yours…”

I used to aid Dong by running the slide machine while he lectured to The Westport Women’s Club and others. When the lecture was over and they tried to quiz him on certain aspects of his work, he would feign ignorance of English sometimes to get out of answering absurd questions … “I no unnerstan’ question…”

One time he decided to treat the entire faculty of the school to an authentic Chinese dinner at Westport’s downtown Chinese restaurant. He ordered special stuff from New York instead of their regular menu. The “Birds’ Nest Soup” was absolutely delicious.

On my first day of work in 1956 at the school, they didn’t have an open office for me so they put me in Dong’s office because he was away on a speaking tour. I, of course didn’t know him then and had never met him but there I sat in a little cubicle (it was one of those inner offices, not on the perimeter) with my back to the door sitting at his drawing board. A tour came through and the tour guide girl stopped outside Dong’s office and started explaining to the visitors that this was “Dong Kingman the famous Chinese watercolorist!” She hadn’t been apprised of the new tenant … me! So, there I sat frozen, afraid to move, afraid to turn my head at all lest they see that I was not of the Asian persuasion.

A few days later, Mr. Kingman arrived. As I sat there working away, suddenly behind me, a small Chinese man bustled in with portfolios and papers under his arms and without acknowledging me at all began putting stuff down in a flurry. I quickly gathered up my belongings and backed out of there post haste. My time as a famous Chinese watercolorist had ended.

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Read many more of Randy’s cartooning memories:

When I was a Famous Chinese Watercolorist

My Most Unusual Art Job

A Duck Goes Into a Grocery Store

A Day With Jonathan Winters and Carol Burnett

Illustrating the Sea

Why I Started Drawing

The Fastest Illustrator in the World!

Me and the GhostBusters

The Bohemian Bohemian

Take it Off … Take it ALL Off!

I Eat Standing Up

The Funniest Cartoon I’ve Ever Seen

The Beatles had a Few Good Tunes

Andy Warhol Meets King Kong

Jacques and the Cowboy

The Gray Lady (The New York Times)

The BIG Eye

Historic Max’s

The Real Moby Dick

The Norman Conquests

Man’s Achievements in an Ever Expanding Universe

How to Murder Your Wife

I Yam What I Yam

The Smallest Cartoon Characters in the World

Chicken Gutz

Brought to You in Living Black and White

The Hooker and the Rabbit

Art School Days in the Whorehouse

The Card Trick that Caused a Divorce

The Mysterious Mr. Quist

Monty Python Comes to Town

Riding the Rails

The Pyramid of Success

The Day I Chased the Bus

The Other Ol’ Blue Eyes

8th Grade and Harold von Schmidt

Rembrandt of the Skies

The Funniest Man I’ve Ever Known

Read “I’m Your Bunny, Wanda –Part One”

Read “I’m Your Bunny, Wanda –Part Two”

Famous Artists Visit the Famous Artists School

Randy Remembers Tomi Ungerer

Randy’s Overnight Parade

The Bullpen

Famous Artists Schools

Dik Browne: Hot Golfer

Randy and the National Lampoon

Randy’s Only Great Idea

A Brief Visit to Outer Space

Enos, Love and Westport

Randy Remembers the NCS

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The Bullpen

By Randy Enos.
As I entered my final year of high school in 1954, I had lost some of my childhood interest in the cartoons and illustrations in favor of an interest in painting. It was generated by the emerging New York school of Abstract Expressionists. So, I ended up going to the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts to study painting where I met my future wife. The summer that we were married, I was in Westport, Ct with her and looking for a summer job. We were planning to return to Boston so I could continue studying painting and realize my dream of starving to death in a Greenwich Village garret. I had a job waiting for me there at a hotel where I had worked for the two years I had already spent there at school.

So, I applied for a job working on a new highway (I 95) that was under construction. I was waiting to hear back from them when my mother-in-law invited me to accompany her for lunch at her friend Bud Sagendorf’s house. Bud was, at that time, working on the Popeye comic books. He had worked with the creator of Popeye, Elzie Segar, since he was a high school kid and now continued to work on Popeye as did a few others like Bill Zaboly who did the dailies. I was excited to meet Bud.

As we sat in his yard having lunch, Bud told me that The Famous Artists Schools, there in Westport, had hired him away from his post as comics editor at King Features to head up a brand new cartoon course that the famous correspondence school was offering. He asked me if I could draw cartoons because he was looking for teachers. I, modestly blurted out that of course I could draw cartoons … I was a painter. He said that I should draw up some samples to show to the head of the instruction department. To help me along to cinch the deal Bud told me to draw up some stuff using the method they were teaching which featured drawing a center line down a head, for instance, and then an eye-line to locate the eyes etc.. I did as he asked and went in to apply for the job. They said they would contact me in a few days. A few days later I got calls from the highway department AND The Famous Artists Schools both saying that I was hired. What a dilemma. H-m-m-m, sweat all day in the broiling sun in a road gang … OR … sit at a drawing board all day and draw cartoons?

I arrived the next day at The Famous Artists Schools for my summer job. They informed me that they didn’t hire just for the summer and if I took the job I would have to stay there for the rest of my life. I looked around at all the artists working there in the illustration course and the painting course and the new cartoon course and I decided that maybe I could learn something from all these seasoned veterans.
So, being the youngest person (20 yrs. old) they had ever hired I took my place amongst old cartoonists, ex-art directors and middle-aged painters.

I was the first one hired from the “outside” to work in the cartoon course. There was Bud (director), Pete Wells (co- director), Barney Thompson (brought over from the illustration course) and Bill Feeny (brought over from the school’s art department). The five of us worked in a bullpen situation rather than choosing to have separate offices like all the other instructors at the school. We liked to collaborate freely in one room because the course was brand new and we were feeling our way along. I had to learn how to draw cartoons while I was teaching people how to draw cartoons. And I found out that drawing funny was very serious business. The other four instructors became my mentors and teachers and everything I know about drawing cartoons I learned from them.

Young Randy Enos.

Bud, as I mentioned, was doing the Popeye comic books (he hired me on weekends to work with him on them); Peter Wells (who never let you forget that he went to Yale) had come from drawing the Katzenjammer Kids; Barney Thompson had done gags for Life, Judge and even Playboy. Barney taught me how to draw nifty babes. As “Bud” Thompson, Barney had also drawn the Captain Marvel Jr. comics which I had really loved when I was a kid, so I was particularly excited about working with him. Bill Feeny had come from penciling The Lone Ranger. They’re all dead now, but I owe my life and career to them.

Later we hired on a young guy named Warren Sattler and also Frank Ridgeway (who on our lunch breaks created “Mr. Abernathy”). I remember the day he was called at work by King Features when they bought the strip. Frank was also a Saturday Evening Post gag cartoonist. He would work on his gags there at work. Once I said, “Hasn’t that gag been done before?” Frank said, “Yes, but has it been done this week?”

Pete Wells taught me the old cartoonists’ trick of drying up puddles of ink with a lit cigar. Sometimes he and I would sit at work with green eyeshades, puffing on cigars as we wielded our trusty Gillott # 170 pens.

Years and years later, we had a great reunion art show of all the old Famous Artists Schools people. I put in 3 or 4 big fairly abstract color linocuts. I hadn’t seen Pete in a very long time. The minute he spotted me, he ran over. He didn’t say, “Randy, nice to see you”. What he said was, “Randy, QUICK, come over here, somebody has put up some God awful pictures and they put your name on them!

A lot of amazing Famous Artists Schools stories to come.

Randy Enos

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Famous Artists Schools

The Pushpin Debacle at the Famous Artists Schools

The great self-taught illustrator of the 30’s and 40’s, Albert Dorne, was nationally known and making $100,000 a year at the age of 20. He was a great favorite of mine. In 1947, he went on to create The Famous Artists Schools, the most famous correspondence art school in the world. He enlisted 12 of his friends like Norman Rockwell, Al Parker, Ben Stahl, etc. to become partners in the venture and to write the textbooks and assignments which would be critiqued by instructors like little me. When I went there at the ripe old age of 20, I told Al of my love for his work and the huge file I had on him. This endeared him to me and he was always very fatherly towards me. After I had been there for 8 years, he urged me to go forth and become a free-lance illustrator.“You didn’t grow up to be an instructor at The Famous Artists Schools” he said, “Get your ass in New York and get working!” I was already working a little for Playboy, Harper’s and others but it was just the push I needed to go full time at it.

When I first started at the school in 1956, Al lived and worked in New York. Eventually he came to Westport where the school was located. We got half the mail that came into Westport in those days and had a big mail truck of our own.

He bought a lovely house there and the instructors were sometimes invited over. He had a big Ad Reinhardt painting over his bed. You could eat off the floor of his garage. Like my father, Al had grown up a poor boy and became very fastidious, well groomed and excruciatingly neat and clean when he became rich. He dressed impeccably and was always shaved and perfumed as he strode the halls of his empire. He smoked great long expensive cigars but had a pipe rack on his desk which featured a pipe for each day of the week. I never saw him smoke one of them.

One fatal day he summoned the entire staff of the building to his small office to view a purchase he had made. We crowded in there as best we could with many left to gawk through the door from the outside.

He explained to us that he felt bad about not having a drawing board in his office. He said it probably reflected badly on him when visiting students (we had many from all of the country… and world) would be ushered in to meet him. He also pointed out that he did do a drawing at least once a year for the school magazine… SO… he gestured toward his acquisition which was a beautiful mahogany single post drawing board off to the side of his desk. He beamed with pride as we all gasped in envy. He explained that no one was to touch this glowing jewel of a drawing board. He didn’t want anything put on it, taped to it or stuck into it.

Then… he left for lunch with his secretary Pauline Engler (who, by the way, found out, when she applied for a passport that her actual real name, on her birth certificate, was recorded by her parents as “Baby girl Engler “).

There were plenty of jokers in our midst, mainly in the painting department for some reason. One (or two) of them decided to have a little fun with the boss. They took a push pin and cut the point off of it and then dabbed a dollop of rubber cement on the head and gently placed it smack dab in the middle of the mahogany masterpiece.

Dorne returns from lunch and suddenly a huge bellow is heard through the halls of the building rattling the Robert Fawcett’s almost off the walls. Once again, we are all summoned to his office where we find an enraged, red faced Dorne, his plentiful eyebrows furrowed ferociously.

“WHO DID THIS?” he screamed. With mouths gaped open, we were frozen in silence. “Who did this?” No one said a word. Then, Dorne went to his desk drawers, rummaged around and came up with
a push pin. He said, “If it has one hole in it, it might as well BE FULL OF HOLES!” And with that, he proceeded to stab madly at the beautiful mahogany board to everyone’s horror. The stabbing, of course, jabbed the original pin loose and it fell to the floor. He looked at it in disbelief shouting, “I’ll find out who did this and they’ll pay!”

We left in silence like a funeral procession. No one ever fessed up. The staff was terrified. Dorne never found the culprit. To this day, no one knows who did it.

But … I’ll tell you this … It was either Chip Chadborne or Mike Mitchell … or both. That’s for sure.

Randy Enos

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