Neysa McMein

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Neysa McMein carrying the flag at a parade, 1917.
 Portrait of Neysa McMein
Portrait of Neysa McMein

Neysa McMein (January 24, 1888 – May 12, 1949) was an American artist and illustrator.

Life[edit]

Born Marjorie Moran in Quincy, Illinois, she attended the Art Institute of Chicago and in 1913 went to New York City. After a brief stint as an actress, she turned to commercial art. On the advice of a numerologist, she adopted the name Neysa, and she thereafter credited the name change with her rapid success.

A recruiting poster drawn by McMein entitled, One of the thousand Y.M.C.A. girls in France

McMein studied at the Art Students League of New York for a few months, and in 1914 sold her first drawing to the Boston Star. The next year she sold a cover to the Saturday Evening Post. Her pastel drawings of chic, healthy American girls proved highly popular and brought her many commissions. During World War I she drew posters for the United States and French governments and spent six months in France as a lecturer and entertainer. For her efforts supporting the U.S. war effort, she was appointed an honorary Non-commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps, one of only three women to be so honored.[1]

From 1923 through 1937, McMein created all of McCall's covers. She also supplied work to McClure's, Liberty, Woman's Home Companion, Collier's, Photoplay, and other magazines. She created advertising graphics for such accounts as Palmolive soap and Lucky Strike cigarettes. General Mills's Marjorie C. Husted commissioned her to create the image of "Betty Crocker", a fictional housewife whose brand name was intended to be a seal of solid middle-class domestic values.

She became a regular member of the Algonquin Round Table set, along with Alexander Woollcott, Alice Duer Miller, Harpo Marx, and Jascha Heifetz. Franklin Pierce Adams, Robert Benchley, Edna Ferber, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Bernard Baruch were friends.

In 1921, McMein was among the first to join the Lucy Stone League, an organization that fought for women to preserve their birth names after marriage in the manner of Lucy Stone.

Together with artists Howard Chandler Christy and Harrison Fisher, McMein constituted the Motion Picture Classic magazine's, "Fame and Fortune" contest jury of 1921/1922, who discovered the It-girl, Clara Bow.[2]

In 1923 she married John C. Baragwanath, a mining engineer and author. Theirs was an open marriage, and though the proprieties generally were observed, there were exceptions. In his memoirs, the lyricist and publicist Howard Dietz recalled hearing that on one occasion, when Neysa noticed that her model for the day was impatient to leave, she asked: "Have you got a heavy date?" Model: "Yes, with a great guy, Jack Baragwanath."[3] Meanwhile, Neysa was involved for several years with the Broadway director George Abbott, leading her Algonquin Round Table crony Alexander Woollcott to crack that "we now call Neysa’s place in Port Washington the 'Abbottoir.'"[4]

McMein's more private artistic ambitions lay in the field of portraiture, at first in pastels and later in oil. With the decline in popularity of her style of commercial art in the later 1930s, she turned increasingly to portraiture. Among her subjects were Warren G. Harding, Herbert Hoover, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Dorothy Parker, Janet Flanner, Katharine Cornell, Helen Hayes, Dorothy Thompson, Anatole France, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Evans Hughes and Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin.

McMein died in New York City, aged 61.

Film portrayal[edit]

McMein was portrayed by actress Rebecca Miller in the film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994).[5]

Honors[edit]

In 1917, noted poet Berton Braley wrote the following poem about her magazine cover art.[6]

Front Page Stuff

Good-by to the Nobody Homes

Who shirk upon magazine covers,

With never a thought in their domes

Except about dresses or lovers;

Good-by to their fluff and their curls

Their silly and simpering grin,

They've had to make way for the girls

On covers by Neysa McMein.


She draws us some regular dames

With eyes that can kindle and quicken,

Not little fool faces in frames

Depicting the type we call chicken;

No Neysa shows girls we could love

And maids we'd like dearly to win,

We cannot help thinking well of

The covers by Neysa McMein.


Yes, Neysa, we're strong for your stuff,

Your girls who have sense and discretion;

Keep on for we can't get enough

Of maidens who give that impression.

Your vogue is far muore than a fad

So gather the fame—and the tin;

Nope, there is no charge for this ad

Of covers by Neysa McMein.


References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Recruiters' Bulletin". The Recruiters Bulletin (United States Marine Corps) 5 (5): 9. June 1919. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  2. ^ Motion Picture Classics, magazine, January issue, 1922
  3. ^ Dietz, Howard (1974). Dancing in the Dark. New York: Quadrangle/New York Times. p. 236. 
  4. ^ Woollcott, Alexander (Beatrice Kaufman and Joseph Hennessey, eds.) (1944). The Letters of Alexander Woollcott. New York: Viking. p. 97; Woollcott letter to Lilly Bonner dated August 26, 1931. 
  5. ^ Internet Movie Database entry for Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle
  6. ^ Braley, Berton (5 November 1917). "Front Page Stuff". The Washington Herald. Retrieved 7 January 2015. 

External links[edit]