The Gals at The Iron Gate (Sixth in a Series)

Great gobs of goose-grease (as my mother would say from time to time, during my boyhood days)!

A little bit of a health issue — foot-related, not pandemic-related — and completing a major writing project — to be announced, and coming your way in 2021, but boy, is this a doozy! — almost allowed August to slip by without my adding another installment of “The Iron Gate” series in this space. Almost, I say, al-most, that is!

The Iron Gate, for those who came in late, is a book celebrating the 25th anniversary of Manhattan’s toney “21 Club.” It’s loaded with artwork and essays contributed by many of its famous patrons, and throughout the spring and summer I’ve been featuring rarely-seen pieces from the book, some created by artists familiar to LOAC readers and some perhaps less familiar, but still talented and interesting. To check out the earlier installments of “The Iron Gate” series, click here to see Parts One, Two, Three, Four, and Five.

All caught up? Cool! Because here comes Part Six, filled with the work of three talented female artists and a trio of male artists who offered up some pulchritude, proving that while “21” wasn’t exactly a boys’ club, it was still a male-dominated haunt for Manhattan’s literati and glitterati of the day …

A simple, elegant “Happy Anniversary” piece by Constantin Alajalov, a Russian illustrator whose earliest work was painting murals throughout his native Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution before traveling to America at age twenty-three. After a hardscrabble first few years in this country, he eventually landed work at The New Yorker, where he produced more than seventy covers during his career. He also produced covers for The Saturday Evening Post for seventeen years, his last appearing on the December 1, 1962 edition. Scholars can find Alajalov’s papers, scrapbooks, and photographs shared by both Boston University and Syracuse University.
Multi-talented Betty Betz was born in 1920, passed away in 2010. In college she did a six-month “guest journalist” stint in Japan and produced work for Mademoiselle magazine. She also made appearances in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar and Women’s Home Companion, and in the mid-’40s had two features ongoing in various Hearst vehicles, but her interest in youth culture is where she made her most indelible impression. In 1949 Betty was a Camp Fire Girls Friendship Ambassador, delivering aid packages to needy children throughout Asia and Europe. She wrote the book Your Manners Are Showing, aimed at teenagers, and in the early-’50s had a teen-targeted ABC talk show, Going Places with Betty Betz. At one point her fan club had a membership over ten thousand strong. Her Iron Gate offering above speaks to her interest in and affection for America’s youth.
James Montgomery Flagg likely needs no introduction to readers of this space. Even those unaware of his name have probably seen his Uncle Sam/”I Want You!” poster, which was an American touchstone in both World Wars. The young lady above reminds us that Flagg had a more playful side — and an eye for a pretty lady.
Who knew Mel Graff was such a name-dropper? The long-time creator of Secret Agent X-9 not only features Wilda with agent Phil Corrigan in this “21” tribute, he surrounds them with the names of those patrons with whom he (Mel, not Phil) rubbed elbows. Some names remain familiar in the 21st Century, some have diminished with time, and some have faded into obscurity … but LOAC readers are sure to spot the names of several familiar cartoonists scattered throughout this Graffish roll call.
Gladys Parker puts her single-panel heroine, Mopsy, through her paces in this clever cartoon. Parker based Mopsy’s looks on her own; the name was inspired by Rube Goldberg, who said Parker’s dark curls looked like a mop. Mopsy ran from 1939 to 1965, with a Sunday added in 1945. In addition to her cartooning work, Parker was an accomplished fashion designer, with her own line of clothing debuting at the end of the 1930s. Whether as cartoonist or clothing designer, Gladys Parker was a pioneer and trend-setter. She passed in 1966, too young, at age fifty-eight.
When we talk about pioneers, how about ending this “Iron Gate” installment with a contribution from the first woman to be elected to membership in the National Cartoonists Society (NCS)? Hilda Terry was brought into the King Features stable of cartoonists on the orders of William Randolph Hearst himself; her It’s a Girl’s Life feature morphed into Teena — a play on the just-coming-into-vogue word, “teenager” — and was syndicated from the 1940s through the 1960s. She was married to cartoonist, painter, and teacher George D’Alessio (he had been one of her instructors at New York’s Art Students League). It was D’Alessio who nominated his wife for membership in NCS in 1949, touching off a sometimes-fiery debate within the ranks of the then-all-male membership — some members groused that admitting Terry would mean “we can’t swear anymore;” it might surprise some that Al (Li’l Abner) Capp, never thought of as a proponent of female emancipation, backed Terry’s nomination to the hilt. She was granted membership in 1950, after sending the wry letter shown below, designed to let the hot air out of a few stuffed shirts:
Hilda gained membership and quickly submitted other female cartoonists for admission; they followed her into the NCS ranks. Terry’s career didn’t end with Teena‘s demise: she was a forerunner in the creation of cartoon content for broadcast on the scoreboards at sports stadiums and was on the cutting edge of computer animation, winning the 1979 NCS “Best Animation Cartoonist” award. Following her husband’s lead, she eventually taught at the Art Students League, doing so throughout her eighties.

As you can tell, The Iron Gate is a terrific, fun book, a real look back at the glamour days of New York’s creme de la creme. It’s been such a delight sharing these images, I’ll be back in September for one last “Iron Gate” feature, though one quite different from all previous installments, and one with a surprising admission from one noted newspaper cartoonist.

If that doesn’t bring you back for more, I dunno what will!

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