Friday, September 17, 2010

Nerman in Hollywood

This is another posting in the irregular series I've been doing highlighting the work of Swedish artist Einar Nerman.

After his ten year stay in England, Einar Nerman and his family returned to Sweden and probably would have resettled there but for the threat of war. His wife decided that she and the children should join friends who were going to America. Nerman was give the choice to go with them and reluctantly agreed. What was going to be a few months once again turned into a ten year stay.

On arriving in New York he went searching for a newspaper or magazine to publish his work. In those days New York had morning, afternoon and evening newspapers chief amongst which was the Hearst published Journal-American. When Nerman went to see the editor he discovered they had been printing his London drawings without his permission or payment. Rather than sue he took a job with the newspaper and for one of his first assignments was sent to Hollywood to draw the current screen favorites.

Sonja Henie was three time Olympic champion and star of a series of popular 20th Century Fox movie musicals. Nerman has captured that ever present Henie smile as she glided across the rink and it may just be me but has he also captured a bit of her reported devilishness in that trailing shadow?

The Hollywood Raj was the name penned by Sheridan Morley to describe the large number of performers from the British Isles who made Beverly Hills their home in the hay day of the studio system. Nominally headed by C. Aubrey Smith they included some of Hollywood's most famous leading players and some of its finest character actors. Many had travelled over to appear on Broadway, made their way to the West Coast and found the sunshine of California more appealing than the cold fogs of London. Nerman had caught some of them on paper during their London days and others he lined during his Hollywood days.

Unfortunately Sir Cedric Hardwicke is probably now best known as King Seti in C. B. Demille's The Ten Commandments. However his career spanned film, theatre, radio and television with performances that won him awards and accolades on both sides of the Atlantic. His Follo in the 1934 Hunchback of Notre Dame is a truly chilling portrait of evil. In day-to-day life he was, like many of his colleagues, a gentle, well-spoken and highly educated man.
Before he became known as Sherlock Holmes, Basil Rathbone was the adversary of many of Hollywood's swashbuckling heros. The irony was that he was one of the finest swordsmen in the world and as he often jokingly remarked: I could have killed Errol Flynn anytime I wanted to.

Nerman captured many actors from the British community while they were still appearing on the London stage - many of them as they enjoyed their first flush of success.

Charles Laughton was a leading actor in some of the most astonishing performances ever committed to celluloid - The Mutiny on the Bounty, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Witness for the Prosecution. Though Edmund Gwenn was a supporting player his Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street is still the definitive and most loved Santa Claus on film.
Claude Rains is probably best remembered as Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca and King John in Robin Hood. Gladys Cooper was a great beauty in her day and known as a fine player of Maugham and Pinero, as she aged she became the grande dame in many movies (Rebecca,
My Fair Lady
) and continued performing on stage and screen until well into her 80s. She also starred in The Rogues, one of the most sophisticated, superbly written and acted - and short lived - series ever shown on American TV.
Many members of the British Colony had been introduced to film goers in the early films of English director Alfred Hitchcock. When he moved to the United States many were to appear in his films and on his popular TV series. Though the most famous caricature of the director was the one he created himself for the beginning of his TV show, Nerman's is a fine representation of the rotund master of implied horror.

In the preface to the book these drawings are taken from composer-Playwright Sandy Wilson quotes Nerman as saying: It is very easy to be nasty, but kindness nowadays means so much. And that is one thing that is notable in Nerman's work - his drawings are seldom unkind to their subject. But that did not stop him from taking the odd sly dig at his sitter if it meant he could capture something of their character with his pen.

We've all heard stories about Joan Crawford - real and apocryphal - about her toughness and her spiky temper. Nerman's lines for this drawing have a sharpness that reflect the character of his sitter.
I may be reading a bit too much into this but in this caricature of Spencer Tracy, I think Nerman rather slyly caught some of the squareness of the man - that solidness that made him beloved of women and men.
Claudette Colbert was one of the highest paid screen stars of the 30s and 40s. She had a flair for comedy and sophisticated scripts but under it all was a will of iron. She made incredible demands of the studios and got most of them. Even Nerman met one of those demands - she insisted on always being photographed from her left side. And I think he also captured a little bit of the steel behind the satin.

One of Nerman's favourite subjects - and close friends - was the reclusive Swedish star Greta Garbo. He seldom spoke of their friendship but she is the Hollywood star who he drew most often.
His drawings of the legendary actress were particularly popular in his homeland and the bottom one was used on a Swedish stamp in 2005 to commemorate the centenary of her birth.

Other postings on Nerman and his work can be found at:
Trans-Atlantic Caricatures
Classical Nerman
Dance, Dance, Dance Little Lady

17 settembre - San Roberto Bellarmino
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Anonymous said...

The last picture is also a logo for a famous gay club named "Gretas" in Gothenburg, Sweden.


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Anonymous said...

I just came across this page while researching Einar and have always wanted to get information about two Einar paintings that I have. They are both portraits of children, Billy and Faye. The portraits were done in 1958 and signed by Einar. Any ideas? Thanks!