Picturing Dorothy Images 1909-1912

May 12, 2005
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I have started a new thread on Dorothy Gibson in order to post some preliminary documentation on her career as a "cover girl" model for magazine and book illustrator Harrison Fisher (1875-1934) and as a leading lady for the Eclair Film Company.

As I said in posts to the other thread, I'm in the process of identifying (and confirming the identification with experts) of a number of images of Dorothy Gibson during her time as a model for Fisher.

First of all, before I get to the iconography I'm establishing, let me say that, from what I've been able to discover so far, the familiar sobriquet "Original Harrison Fisher Girl" that's been ascribed to Dorothy Gibson is most likely apocryphal.

It would appear Dorothy was not a model for Fisher until 1909-1910, which was early in his career as a popular illustrator but not early enough for her to have been an original muse. There still remains some checking to do on this, however, so I'm not saying the claim is false. My opinion, though, from what I have been reading (and the feedback I've gotten from collectors) is that the label was attached to Gibson at some later point in her life and, as such, may not be more significant than merely indicating her status as one of several of Fisher's first models.

The second thing that needs to be stated, and which I hope to make a good case of in a future article, is that Gibson's successful (if short-lived) career as a model is as historically significant as her appearance in the now lost film "Saved from the Titanic," the only notable vehicle in which she starred while with Eclair studios.

Unlike her appearance in movies, of which there were only 13 and none of which survive, her work as an artist's model has ensured the preservation of her image down to the present day. Her face with its wide-set eyes and curling lips may have been nameless, for the most part, but it inspired one of the most prolific illustrators of the era, whose stylized depictions of her boyish good looks adorned the covers of some of the most popular magazines in print at that time, including the Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan (yep, Dorothy was a Cosmo Girl) and the Ladies Home Journal. Thus, it was undoubtedly her cover girl status that won her the attention of the burgeoning film industry.

I will continue later with a study of Harrison Fisher's known illustrations of Gibson.

In the meantime, here is one of the best known of Fisher's pictures of her. It is entitled "Bows Attact Beaus." It not only graced the cover of Cosmopolitan (July 1911) but was featured on numerous postcards and in at least two of Fisher's gorgeous books of fine art prints ("American Belles," published by Dodd, Meade & Co., in 1911 and "The Little Gift Book," published by Scribner's, 1913)

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"Bows Attract Beaus"
Harrison Fisher
1911
 
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After one has familiarized oneself with Dorothy Gibson's actual features and Harrison Fisher's idealized interpretation of them, it's easy to pick her out among the artist's many models, most of whom were distinctly different in type and coloring.

Fisher realized the flaws in Gibson's facial structure (a longish nose with a noticeably curved or Romanesque ridge from one side and rather rounded eyes) and posed her to best advantage for the illusion of greater beauty. He generally painted her with her head elevated so as to soften the length of her nose and with her eyes lowered so that they appeared half-closed. A heavy-lidded, romantic countenance was the effect produced, although if one looks at these images less sentimentally one imagines that Gibson was always peering over something that obstructed her view.

The dramatically raised mandible or jaw line that was a trademark of Fisher's portrayal of women in profile was utilized in a few of his paintings of Gibson but less so than with other models as he seems to have preferred to feature her "face-on" or with her head only slightly angled.

Here is Gibson in a characteristic pose and in one of Fisher's few full-length studies of her. The illustration is called "Roses" and appeared as cover art, postcards and in several of Fisher's books, including "A Garden of Girls" (1910) and "Beauties" (1913). It is so far the earliest identifiable Gibson image by Fisher.

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"Roses"
Harrison Fisher
1910
 
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This image of Gibson, entitled "Mary," is among her better known (and most easily recognizable) Fisher depictions. Although the original signed canvas, which is being sold at present, has darkened with age, it shows the artist's unadulterated treatment of his subject.

Later postcards and unlicensed prints of "Mary" compromised Fisher's vision by enhancing the color of Gibson's cheeks and lightening her hair. As mentioned in a previous post, this picture was used on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post for April 8, 1911. It also appeared in Fisher's book "American Belles" (1911).

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"Mary"
Harrison Fisher
1911
 
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The following are three recently identified Gibson images by Fisher. This first is one of the few of her in profile:



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"Ready and Waiting"
Harrison Fisher
1911
 
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This image has not yet been positively identified as depicting Gibson but, according to Harrison Fisher connoisseur and collector Arielle Key Benchley, it has the hallmarks of his treatment of her looks.

All will agree it is a stunner and is aptly called "My Queen." The picture formed the frontispiece of the Fisher album, "A Garden of Girls" (1910).

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"My Queen"
Harrison Fisher
1910
 

Brian Ahern

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Dec 19, 2002
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Thank you for that, Randy. Your meticulousness is beyond comparison, and it really brought Dorothy to life a little more, by giving an idea of what her working life was like.

One question for you - do you have any idea what her income would have been like? I would assume that, before the days of mass media, models and film actors really wouldn't have been paid so well. But a first class trip abroad in the Spring of 1912 would indicate otherwise.

Any thoughts?
-Brian
 

Kyrila Scully

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Apr 15, 2001
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Oh, Randy! These are absolutely stunning! Thank you so much for sharing them. I certainly enjoyed them. I'll have to go through some of my prints and see if I can find any that look like Dorothy. It never occurred to me before.

Kyrila
 
May 12, 2005
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Hi, Brian and Kyrila:

Glad you appreciate the pictures.

As to your question, Brian, about Dorothy's pay. I'm afraid I don't have an answer to that good question. I hope to find that out and if I do, I'll let you know.

I'm with you, though, in thinking the pay was not normally high for a model or screen actor at that time. Still, as Dorothy worked for a famous illustrator like Fisher and was the current "star" for Eclair films (which was really a first class studio), she might have made a little more money than usual.

We have to bear in mind of course that at the time of sailing on Titanic, little Dorothy had a bit of a cushion to fall back on (quite literally) as the mistress of millionaire film distributor Jules Brulatour, whose involvement in the Lumiere Brothers' work had brought him to the fore in the European as well as American film market. So, if she couldn't have afforded that spring vacation to Italy on her own (though it's likely she could), Brulatour would have funded it.

And Kyrila, yes do have a look through your collection. You may find a prize! I found in my files a 1911 Saturday Evening Post with a Harrison Fisher cover image of Dorothy Gibson that I'd never noticed before.

Randy
 
May 12, 2005
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The following series is courtesy of Jean Collins and represent "unconfirmed" images of Dorothy Gibson by Harrison Fisher. Collins is writing a book on Fisher and is hoping to include a chapter on Gibson, who (big shock!) may have had an affair with the artist. What a movie this would make, eh?

These images all show the Fisher trademark profile and elevated, idiosyncratic mandible, making the sitter more difficult to positively identify. However the pictures all date to the period in which Gibson was known to be one of the artist's favorite models. Another clue is that each of the illustrations, excepting that entitled "The Rose," appeared in "American Belles" (1911), the Fisher album featuring the highest number of positively identified images of Gibson.

Here is "Can't You Speak?" which was used for the cover and frontispiece of "American Belles."

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"Can't You Speak?"
Harrison Fisher
1911
 
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And finally "The Rose" which was published in the Harrison Fisher book "American Girls in Miniature" (1912) but is believed to have been painted late in the previous year. If the model for this study is Dorothy Gibson, it may be one of Fisher's last depictions of her before she left to begin her movie career.

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"The Rose"
Harrison Fisher
1912
 
J

Jose C. Rivera Cosme

Guest
I think I purchased an illustration of Miss Gibson. It is titled "Maid to "something" I don't remember the title. It was done by Harrison Fisher. It was shown in the book "Women and Children First". Is that really her.
 
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Jose,

No, according to what I've found, the model for that image was not Dorothy Gibson but one of three blondes he used between 1907 and 1909. Which one of them it is, I'm not sure but I think her name was Rita Rasmussen (best known by the print called variously "Sunbonnet Girl" and "Maud Muller"). I think Margery Allwork, another of his models from this time, was a blonde.

The illustration you are referring to, which was in the book "Women and Children First" by Judith Geller, was most commonly titled "Maid to Worship" but was also known as "The Blonde." It was first used by Fisher in his book "American Beauties" (1909). It was the cover picture in fact.

Only one image in this book has been identified as Dorothy Gibson and that is the full-length picture (see above) called "Roses." Which reminds me that the date I put below it is incorrect; it is 1909, not 1910. So far, there are no Harrison Fisher images positively "ID'ed" as Dorothy Gibson dating to earlier than this one.

Randy
 
May 12, 2005
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84645.jpg


Above is one of a series of publicity portraits of Dorothy Gibson taken in 1911 at the time of her start in films for the Eclair company.

Below is the familiar picture of Gibson which was used in promoting her only hit movie, "Saved From the Titanic" (1912). This image was first published in issues of Moving Picture News and Billboard Magazine in late 1911.

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And finally, here's a 1910 photo of Dorothy Gibson posing for Harrison Fisher. It illustrated an interview with Fisher in the Ladies Home Journal.

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J

Jose C. Rivera Cosme

Guest
Randy-

How do you know what model was used for what illustration? Can you share your source?
 
May 12, 2005
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Jose,

I'm not making a general study of Harrison Fisher's models - he used hundreds, I understand - so I assure you that I don't know which model was used for each illustration. I don't know that all his models' names have even been recorded. The most famous ones, however, were Dorothy Gibson and Olive Thomas (who went into the "Ziegfeld Follies" and, like Gibson, into the movies)

I am concentrating only on those images that have been already identified as portraying Dorothy Gibson and others that can be identified with the help of collectors and art experts.

Some of my sources have already been shared above. Other references include the following books:

"The Complete Works of Harrison Fisher," by Naomi Welch (considered the most comprehensive study of his life and career)

"Harrison Fisher: Defining the American Beauty," by Tina Skinner.

"Harrison Fisher" by David Q. Bowers.

I have a number of articles that I could list, which also mention Gibson, but I don't think I should give the whole game away yet. No one has done a serious treatment of her career as a model and actress and so I am eager to do that. I will put what I have found into an article which will cover all bases, or as many as I can, and people can judge it for what it's worth at that time.

I try to be very meticulous and careful about attributions and sources so I promise the end result will not be a jumble of thrown-together, unresearched facts.

I am sorry your picture is not one of Gibson but you can fairly easily find one that is by checking eBay. Picture postcards of "Bows Attract Beaus" and "Mary" were both recently up for auction. And I believe the stunning "Roses" is available now as a poster print for a fairly reasonable price at some online art stores.

You can check with Amazon.com for books on Harrison Fisher or BookFinder.com but to buy one of his luxurious original art books, you might need to take out a bank loan!

Randy
 
May 12, 2005
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All:

This is a general call for assistance with my project on Dorothy.

With a submission deadline set for August 31 for the marketing of a series of small books called "Titanic First Ladies", the publishing group I'm working with is in need of help from members for the first of this series, which will focus on the life and career of Dorothy Gibson.

The manuscript is almost finished at this point, with sections of the Titanic chapter still being ironed out. We plan to be in touch shortly with specialists and experts on the ship who can assist us in proofing this chapter.

Right now we are concentrating on collecting images from public and private sources. The Fort Lee Film Commission, the Library of Congress and the UCLA Film and Television Archive have been of inestimable help in tracking down photos of Dorothy, both while an actress with Eclair Films and as a model for Harrison Fisher. However we want to invite the Titanic community to share images or other material for consideration in publication. Phil Gowan has naturally been consulted for pictures of Dorothy in her later years, his collection being the best source by far.

One thing we are looking for is a photo of Dorothy's grave in the civil cemetery at Saint Germain-en-Laye. We are also very interested in photos/illustrations of Titanic that have not been generally published.

We are soon to be in touch privately with the following individuals whom we're hoping can assist us with specific questions - Phil Hind, Olivier Mendez, Phil Gowan, Brian Meister,Inger Sheil, Jenni Atkinson, Ben Holme, George Behe, Don Lynch, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Tennaro, Ken Marschall, etc. If other members of this forum have information to share or know of someone who does, please contact me at navarrocountystar@sbcglobal.net or at LucileLtd@aol.com. We are happy to make appropriate acknowledgment to all contributors. Payment for photos used is negotiable.

For all my interest in and research on "Lucile" and Edith Russell, it's strange that my work on Dorothy Gibson will see print first! This will be a package that includes a book in magazine format (akin to the collectible celebrity special editions), a CD of images of the actress as well as separate art prints, suitable for framing, of Harrison Fisher's illustrations of her. The package will be advertised shortly on this site (I hope!) as well as at amazon.com and elsewhere. The title of this first book package is "Finding Dorothy."

I am arranging it so that a good portion of proceeds go to the Fort Lee Film Commission, the British Titanic Society and Encyclopedia Titanica.

Best wishes to all,
Randy