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.