Like all normal right-thinking, normal, red, white and blue blooded American boys I started sneaking Playboy magazine around nineteen fifty-five or six somewhere around then. I would have started earlier, but in ole Gravel Pit where I grew up the forces of decency banned the sale of Playboy and its soul-devouring, moral corrupting, devil inspired nekkid pictures of upstanding American womanhood.
I wasn’t sure exactly what upstanding American womanhood might be but I was sure that I wanted to see those nekkid pictures.
So being young and full of spit I hopped on my bike and pedaled the five miles over to Tarrant County where the forces of decency weren’t as righteous and where Amon Carter International Air Port was located and where businessmen took planes out of Ft Worse to their big-city appointments.
Now Dallas had an air port where businessmen took air planes out to big-city appointments and they did look at magazines but it was twenty-three miles away and not even a hormone powered eight year old boy on the fastest English racer could do that and be home in time for dinner and still have time to look and get his fingers smudgy with cheap printers ink and see all the forbidden wonders that THAT magazine held, so Amon Carter it was.
And what wonders there were inside THAT magazine. Cars which looked like they came straight off Alex Raymond’s drawing board, jokes and poems by Shel Silverstein which couldn’t be understood for another five years but were still a source of fascination and awe and cartoons so wicked and funny that they could make confession on Saturday an event for the local parish priest if anyone actually went and confessed which of course they didn’t cause you wouldn’t admit that you have been reading or looking at THAT magazine even if they held your feet to the fire.
And then there were the Vargas Girls. I didn’t know at the time that they were Fine Art or very talented renderings of a brilliant mind, I just knew that no girl which looked anything like that ever lived in Gravel Pit.
Oh yes, the Centerfold. Well, contrary to the comics I did not grow up thinking that all girls came with a staple in their navel nor did I think that the air bushed beauties in the middle of THAT magazine were going to be working at Piggly-Wiggly. I didn’t lose my moral compass, didn’t go blind and didn’t suffer physical weakness and loss of athletic ability, (I really didn’t have any athletic ability to lose so that probably didn’t matter one way or the other.), and I did respect my parents and learn to read and write.
And it was the reading part which finally worked its way through all of the blood pounding, heart-thumping, heavy-breathing. The stories and articles were amazing. In Gravel Pit we didn’t think about such things much less talk about them, world politics, the Civil Rights movement, current literature, good films and Fine Art.
Fine Art? With GM on one side, stamping out Chevys like they were gingerbread men and LTV, well it was Temco during the war and then merged with Chance Vought for the Korean War and that’s why it was LTV for Ling Temco Vought the nice folks who would bring NAPALM to Viet Nam a few years later, testing high-thrust jet engines on the other, the main topic of conversation was either who would win the election in whatever year it was or how would the Gravel Pit Gophers fare in high school football?
So without THAT magazine I would have known nothing about Fine Art or fast cars or nekkid girls not necessarily in that order.
And one of the artists I saw a lot of was LeRoy Nieman. I always wondered why they guy who got so much space in THAT magazine couldn’t paint? He had these hazy images with colors here and splashes there and no definite shapes at all and sort of whirly, swirly and then the reports started coming in from California and I knew. He was on drugs!
I mean those tie dyed T-shirts had the same sort of color combinations and the posters for the west coast music events were painted like that all splashy and bright with vague shapes and sort of misty and nothing for the eye to latch on to and the reason was all of those dirty, drug-crazed hippie dope-freaks taking cough syrup and No-Doze and mixing it with Jim Beam and TAB and staying up all hours of the night doing things that the Baptist minister would never approve of and making all sorts of ungodly indecent sex-crazed dope-fed stuff!
But even after the Sixties passed LeRoy never changed, fortunately by that time the worst of the Testosterone Poisoning had passed I could with some reasonable effort think and cogitate and I noticed that the paintings I had found so undisciplined and random a few years ago now looked amazing and innovative.
LeRoy Neiman captured sport in a way that no other artist has managed and created some of the most iconic images of the later half of the twentieth century. And if you think his work is all Rocky and Femlins you haven’t seen his Lincoln or the magnificent African animals he did.
Mr. Neiman’s estate jealously guards his work and well they should so I cannot post any of his works here, but I can add a link which amazingly enough I just did and now you can go and see for yourself assuming you weren’t a red-white and blue-blooded, normal, American boy in the fifties and started sneaking THAT magazine before Marilyn’s photo had completely dried from the offset roller cause if you were you saw his work as it was being done in-between looking at the Vargas Girls and the Centerfolds which in no way caused mental illness or hair to grow in your palms unlike what Coach told all of us so see you have nothing to fear and if you do happen to go back and take a look at the originals don’t stop to look at the Centerfold of Fran Gerard, Reagan Wilson or Marilyn Cole or you’ll never get anything done. Okay, you can stop at Frannie’s pictures cause she single-handedly killed Dorothy Parker’s famous quip about girls and glasses, but don’t linger and do take a look at the treasure of LeRoy Neiman’s art.
LeRoy Neiman American artist, died June 20, 2012.