99 44/100% Adorable: Girls in Vintage Soap Ads, Pt. 1 (Ivory Soap)

There is no shortage of vintage advertisements with adorable little girls in them, but those old soap ads seem to be particularly charming. And it so happens that there are tons of them from the major soap brands like Sunlight, Packer’s, Fairy, and most prominently, Pears, easily found on the web. We’ll get to all of these in upcoming posts, but today’s post is devoted exclusively to one of the biggest soap brands of all time, Ivory.

Ivory Soap was first manufactured by the J.B. Williams Company in 1840 under the name Ivorine, but this didn’t last long. The company soon sold its rights to the soap to Procter & Gamble, who eventually changed its name to Ivory. Ivory Soap is known for two famous slogans, “It Floats” and “99 44100% Pure.”  The latter was especially popular for years.  In the ’50s and ’60s their main slogan became “That Ivory Look”, which was associated with the smooth skin of infants and considered the ideal for women.

Most of the early ads were of course illustrated, often by some of the most notable names in the business. One of those was Irving Ramsey Wiles. While he later became a successful portraitist, his early career was largely devoted to magazine and ad illustration, such as the following two variants of the same piece:

Irving Ramsey Wiles – Baby’s Ivory Bath ad (1898)(1)

Irving Ramsey Wiles – Baby’s Ivory Bath ad (1898)(2)

Another major illustrator who did illustrations for Ivory Soap was the ever-prolific Jessie Willcox Smith.  Here are three from her all done right around the turn of the twentieth century.  Note: a full-color illustration by Smith also featured in an ad for one of Ivory’s major competitors, Pears.  It’s already been posted here once, but I will likely link to it again when I make the Pears post.

Jessie Willcox Smith – Ivory Soap ad (1)(1902)

Jessie Willcox Smith – Ivory Soap ad (2)(1902)

Jessie Willcox Smith – Ivory Soap ad (3)

This next piece, although labeled as a Smith illustration when I found it, is not actually her work.  The artist’s name in the bottom left-hand corner, although difficult to make out, appears to be Albert Herter, which makes sense as Herter was definitely a contemporary of Smith and is known to have been a prolific illustrator in his own right.  And although all of the advertising info has been cropped out, you can see that the theme of the piece is the children’s bath.  The young woman here looks to have her hands full with all the kids waiting to be scrubbed clean by her.

Albert Herter – Ivory Soap ad

Yet another highly productive illustrator who did several pieces for Ivory Soap was Alice Beach Winter.  Although no dates are given for any of these, we can judge from the style, and from what we know of Winter, that these are either from the Edwardian period or slightly later.

Alice Beach Winter – Ivory Soap ad (1)

Alice Beach Winter – Ivory Soap ad (2)

Alice Beach Winter – Ivory Soap ad (3)

I do not know the artist for this next illustration, but again, it’s from the same time period.

Artist Unknown – Ivory Soap ad (1916)

Our final Golden Age illustrator is Clara Elsene Peck.  Like Jessie Willcox Smith, Peck focused primarily on the lives of women and children, which made her a natural fit for illustrating Ivory Soap ads.  I especially like this first piece, which I’m posting two different versions of.

Clara Elsene Peck – Ivory Soap ad (1)(1918)

Clara Elsene Peck – Ivory Soap ad (2)(1918)

Clara Elsene Peck – Ivory Soap ad (3)

And now we move on to the era of photography with a trio of ads featuring images by unidentified photographers.  By the ’50s it became fairly commonplace for advertisers to stop displaying the names of artists, especially photographers.

Photographer Unknown – Ivory Soap ad (1951)

Photographer Unknown – Ivory Soap ad (1959)

Photographer Unknown – Ivory Soap – You can have That Ivory Look in just 7 days

But here is one of the exceptions.  Francesco Scavullo’s work was so well-known and prestigious in the ’60s and ’70s that he has been identified as the photographer in these ads.  The idea of mothers competing with their little daughters to look youthful would later become controversial with feminists, of course.

Francesco Scavullo – Ivory Soap – Can you compete with your daughter’s “Little Girl Look”? (1)

Francesco Scavullo – Ivory Soap – Can you compete with your daughter’s “Little Girl Look”? (2)

Edit: I had intended to add this to the post originally, but it was not yet ready. So I am adding it now.  I had another commercial I wanted to post but its size exceeds the limit for upload so I will simply link to it. – Pip

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Ivory Soap Commercial (1960)

 

Two Photos by Francesco Scavullo

Francesco Scavullo was a well-known fashion photographer whose most noteworthy work was done in the ’60s and ’70s. These include a series on actress and model Brooke Shields which began when she was still a toddler and progressed on through her young adult years. One of the images from that series can be seen below. Often when this image is displayed online, it is cropped just above Shields’s nipples; it’s rare to see the full image. Shields is, of course, known for her roles in such films as Pretty Baby, The Blue Lagoon and Wanda Nevada, as well as numerous television roles.

Francesco Scavullo – Brooke Shields (1975)

Around the same time Scavullo photographed another young girl, Yasmine Bleeth, who had not yet become an actress but was destined to become famous herself, mainly for her roles in soap operas and in the TV show Baywatch.

Francesco Scavullo – Yasmine Bleeth (1975)

Scavullo photographed many other famous models and celebrities throughout his life. In fact, the 82-year-old Scavullo was on his way to photograph an up-and-coming news anchor named Anderson Cooper when he died of heart failure in 2004. His life partner, Sean Byrnes, has survived him. Mr. Scavullo also took photos for advertisements, at least one of which will appear in my next major post, which will be about girls in vintage soap ads.

Portraits from a Jungle Paradise – Karolin Klüppel

Karolin Klüppel is a German artist, who to date has produced four albums of work. One of these series is called ‘Mädchenland’ and is set within the village of Mawlynnong, part of the Indian state of Meghalaya. The people of this area are known as the Khasi and are a matrilineal society, whereby the line of succession passes through the youngest daughter and results in women being the main landholders. If the daughter marries then her husband moves into her family’s house and any children that are born take their mother’s name; there is no stigma or disapproval if a woman chooses to stay single. As only daughters can assure the continuity of a clan, women are respected and protected within the Khasi community. However the society is only matrilineal, not matriarchal, as the men still lead Mawlynnong’s village council and are the main employees within the security services.

Karolin Klüppel – Wanda on the Stairs to the Treehouse (2013)

Karolin Klüppel – Prosperity (2013)

Karolin Klüppel – Phida With Balloon (2013)

The photographer spent nine months living with various families in the village. During this time the villagers became comfortable with her presence, which allowed for the creation of some intimate and natural looking photographs. She chose to take portrait photographs of the young girls, rather than making a photo-documentation of the society, as

I did not want to do a classical documentary on their culture, … I decided to make a portrait series of the girls because I was so impressed by their self-assured appearance and thought that this must be how matrilineality becomes visible.

The images show the children as they interact, play or simply stand within their environment and homes, thereby displaying Mawlynnong’s physical beauty just as much as the girl’s individual beauty. These girls do get schooling, first in the village school until their teens, then they travel to the state capital for higher education, after which they can choose to go to college or return to Mawlynnong.

Karolin Klüppel – Ibapyntngen in the Cottage (2013)

Karolin Klüppel – Yasmin Taking Bath at the River (2013)

Karolin Klüppel – Yasmin With Mug (2013)

After its inaugural exhibition ‘Mädchenland’ has gone on to become a multi-awarded and exhibited series and was also published as a book entitled Kingdom of Girls. ‘Mädchenland’ is Karolin’s second series that is focused on a matrilineal society with her previous work, entitled ‘Dabu’, documenting the elderly Mosuo, who live around Lugu Lake, part of China’s Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. A more detailed article about Mädchenland, with fourteen high resolution images, can be found on The New Heroes and Pioneers website.

Compelling Images: Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson – Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy, 1951

Difficult and unspectacular, the Distant Figure is a motif that, by its very nature, demands neglect.

Yet it is a motif that we constantly encounter in our lives and which provokes strong emotions: when we leave our homes, are not most of the people we see far away? And have we not all had dreams in which the sight of a friend walking away, unaware of our presence, too far off to hear us calling, fills us with unbearable melancholy and loneliness?

Distant figures are also surprisingly common in art, especially in photography: the further away the camera probes the more the world is promiscuous, the more space there is for some stray figure to occupy. If the challenge of Still-Life is, what to include within a constrained setting, the challenge of Landscape Photography is, what to do when one has no power to exclude, but only to wait or change one’s viewpoint.

We respond in interestingly different ways to distant figures in photography and distant figures in real life.

In real life we know that a child who occupies only a fraction of a percent of our field of vision is no less a person than the child whose hand we are holding. And we know that in real life the distance can be bridged by taking suitable measures, such as calling out, waving, running or sometimes just waiting.

But in photography the distant figure will never come closer or be reached: physical distance becomes existential distance. And as figures recede, first their individuality then their humanity is lost. Further on they register as just blurs and smears. Finally they disappear.

In Cartier-Bresson’s photograph every girl in the scene has noticed the photographer—who, being 42 when he took this photograph, was still young enough to catch a girl’s eye. Everyone else seems oblivious to him. As if to underline this, the only adult eyes we are in a position to see are crossed out by the wire-work arch at the bottom of the steps.

The three girls stood in front of the church door engaged with the photographer from a distance that balances caution and curiosity. Above them we read the invocation to the Virgin Mary, ‘Ora pro nobis’. According to ancient Jewish custom Mary was betrothed to Joseph at the age of 12—not much older than the eldest of these girls.

One of the girls is making a gesture reminiscent of the women carrying trays of loaves on their heads, and which echos the metal arch in the foreground, the lintel above the church door and the curve of the distant mountain. Her gesture at first appears playful and balletic. But a closer inspection reveals that she is actually holding in place upon her head something large and dark. Her gesture is one of burden, not of grace.

A fourth girl has turned a corner and is emerging ‘de profundis’. Her upturned face catches the light and is joyful, as if she had just turned the corner and recognised the distant man with a camera as a long-lost friend.

Random Image: Marina Castillo

I must admit, like Charles Dodgson, I have a weakness for images that illustrate concepts in mathematics and logic.  This image was appropriated for a module on proportions in the United States; namely, the size of the image varies inversely as its distance from the observer (or the camera).

Marina Castillo – Midiendo fuerzas … (2012)

Marina Castillo lives in Mendoza, Argentina and this image is part of a series called ‘Scenes of dwarfs and giants’.  One cannot be completely sure, but it does appear that these scenes were constructed conventionally and not digitized.  If so, then a special setting or lens would have to have been used to maintain a depth of focus for the subjects in the frame.  This one which means “balancing forces” has the additional appeal of being a nod to girl power.

Sex, Drugs & Fascism: The Dangerous and Disturbing Art of Dopingirl

It appears this post has stirred up some controversy.  We are no stranger to that but the core members of the Pigtails staff feel there is a need for a disclaimer explaining why this item has been presented.  Because of the philosophical bent of modern fascism, it should go without saying that we at Pigtails do not endorse or condone Zashtopic’s message.  However, we do not ignore talent here and it would be foolish to put our heads in the sand and pretend this artist does not exist.  It would be interesting to understand better the artist’s drive  to produce this work and, in time, she may come to regret the folly of her youth and find herself subject to censorship as fashions change in her country.  It should also go without saying that Pigtails is not promoting some kind of pro-pedophilia agenda.  Pip has clearly stated in the accompanying text his disgust at this kind of didactic propaganda.  The existence of this work is a cautionary reminder about the state of society which artists seem compelled to express and that we should never become cavalier about the power of imagery in the service of dehumanizing regimes.  -The Staff

Although I have featured the work of far-right artists in the past (in my last big article, in fact), I have never focused on contemporary artists with far-right leanings, largely for two reasons: first, because the great majority of those artists simply do not produce work which fits the theme of this blog, and second, because, as a rule, I do not like to give any of Pigtails’ precious attention to fascists.  But I vowed when I founded this blog that I would cover the gamut of on-topic work regardless of the social/political affiliations of the artists.  In fact, I’d say that to be truly unbiased in terms of our coverage it was really inevitable that such an artist would be spotlighted here in time.  Rest assured, this was not a decision I made lightly.  If the contemporary artist in question had simply produced some bland one-off, or if he or she created images of little girls with some regularity but they were not particularly challenging or original, then I would likely have bypassed their work for something much more interesting.

But here is a contemporary fascistic artist who, for a number of reasons, could not simply be avoided.  For one thing Katya Zashtopik, who goes by the online sobriquet Dopingirl, is not a complete unknown even here in the West (though she does remain completely underground here and is certainly controversial).  Her work—comprised of illustration, photography and a little videography, sometimes in combination—has apparently been used in advertising and billboards in Russia, though you likely aren’t going to find any examples outside of that country.  Furthermore, Zashtopik herself is young, thin and undeniably attractive, often modeling in her own work.

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (Self-Portrait)

To some extent Zashtopik has created a real brand, with her signature pink and white capsule, sometimes decorated with plus and minus signs (a pill popper’s yin-and-yang) or flames, and her girl & crossbones logo . . .

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Dopingirl Logo

. . . as well as a particular style in both her illustration and photography work which rests somewhere between cartoon cuteness, fashion mag elegance and unabashed sexual bravado, all of it tweaked by the sometimes sly and at other times conspicuous sheen of her far-right allegiances.  If that wasn’t enough to make her stand out, how about tossing pedophilia into the mix?  The most fascinating aspect of Dopingirl’s work, I think, is how she reconciles these seemingly disparate elements into a kind of fantasy world where tall, young, fashion-forward Nazi men date preteen girls and roam the European wastelands as a couple, coldly executing their enemies (and looking like Vogue advertisements while they do it) as the Grim Reaper looks on approvingly.

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (1)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (2)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (3)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (4)

It’s a unique and chilling concept, and yet somehow it all feels of a piece.  There’s always been something a little inherently fascist about high fashion (high fashism?), and the Nazis certainly fetishized the Aryan body.  Moreover, Dopingirl simply takes early 19th century Europe’s obsession with youthful feminine beauty and cranks it up to eleven.  As for the drugs, they are a fixture of pretty much all contemporary youth subcultures whether those subcultures are left-wing, right-wing or no-wing.

The pedophilic aspects, however, are something quite new, at least for modern incarnations of fascism, as pedophiles are usually at the top of the list of categorical enemies of the far right.  I suppose if confronted, Dopingirl’s defenders might argue that the young girl in these images is actually just a stylized waifish young woman, and that argument might have some merit if not for the fact that Dopingirl’s primary muse and most frequent model is a little girl named Olya (last name unknown) whose relationship to Zashtopik is uncertain.

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (5)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (6)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (7)

Zashtopik seems much too young to have a daughter of Olya’s age—between 6 and 11 in the images in which she appears—especially when you see them together:

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (8)

My hunch is that Olya is a young sister.  At any rate, it would be rather more sinister for a mother to present her daughter in such a sexualized manner than it would be for a big sister to present her younger sibling that way, though it’s arguably still pretty creepy.  Although none of Dopingirl’s photos of Olya or the other little girls in her work were blatantly pornographic that I could see, several of her illustrations were (these images, which I will not share here, included fetishized urination and little girls performing fellatio on little boys—the worst one depicted a naked girl of about 12 licking a grown man’s testicles), and a few of them seemed to depict a more cartoonized version of Olya. Thus, Dopingirl’s work comes dangerously close to obscenity.  Again, it isn’t clear that Olya is intended to be the model in those more cartoonish drawings, but there are some quite realistic ones, including a couple of nudes, where it is obviously her.

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (9)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (10)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (11)

In one photo series, Olya, wearing a flesh-tone body suit similar to the one worn by dancer Maddie Ziegler in Sia’s Chandelier video, toys with a large albino python.  In the Sia video the nude leotard was suggestive of a person being presented as raw and stripped of pretensions.  In this case it’s a reference to Eve, the first woman, and her flirtations with the serpent Lucifer.  The images are stylized, presented against a washed out background and endowed with a modish eroticism.  Perhaps the only thing that saves these images from being straight up soft-core erotica is that there is an underlying theme here, a notion that, far from being the innocent victim, Eve was quite knowingly complicit in her dabbling with the devil. Presenting here as a child, then, is problematic.

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (12)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (13)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (14)

Are these photos exploitative?  I would say that in and of themselves they are not, but taken into context with the rest of Dopingirl’s work there is definitely a troubling quality to them.  I’m not arguing that any of these images do not qualify as art, only that the overall picture painted by Dopingirl’s work is disturbing in ways that simple child nudes, even those that toy with an innocent sort of sexuality (as some of David Hamilton’s work does), are not.

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (15)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (16)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (17)

In any other hands this next image would be charming and cute, but from Dopingirl it feels vulgar, as if she secretly approves of this young girl dolling herself up to look like a promiscuous young woman rather than the child she is.  To Dopingirl this is not an innocent little girl playing dress-up; it’s a young whore in training.

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (18)

This one too feels as if the artist isn’t so much commenting on a troubling youth trend as outright endorsing it.

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (19)

Given the hardcore policy of artistic censorship in Russia, the brazenness with which Dopingirl continues to flaunt her pedophilic fantasy scenarios is rather astonishing . . . until one considers who’s in charge there.  No doubt if her work had a left-wing bent she would’ve been censored (at the very least) long ago.  But because it flatters the fascist-leaning Putin regime, Dopingirl is largely left alone.  Such hypocrisy in the far right is historically well-documented.  Even so, if I hadn’t done enough research to know that Dopingirl is deadly serious about her far-right values and her involvement in the fashion industry, I would swear the entirety of her output was pure satire.  Unfortunately, it isn’t.  I worry that she may effectively be pimping Olya, putting her on display for some day in the not-too-distant future when all the best Slavic guys now lining up for her can put in their bids. That day may come sooner than later.

Of course, the most problematic aspect of her work is its unsubtle acclamation of Nazism and especially a kind of sleek modern form of fascism.  Notice in this next photo/illustration collage the reproductions of three painted portraits in the background of (from left to right) France’s far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, US president Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.  The originals of these paintings are hanging in a right-wing affiliated pub in Moscow called the Union Jack.  This appears to be Dopingirl’s office or workstation.

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (19)

Here Dopingirl literally borrows a Nazi icon, the Totenkopf or Death’s Head, and marries it to a well-known sexual symbol, the Playboy bunny logo, thus eroticizing both death and fascism.

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (20)

The sexualization of death is the most common theme recurring throughout Dopingirl’s work.  Indeed, her Instagram is called Death and the Maiden, after the title of a play by Ariel Dorfman.  In many examples of her illustration her little Aryan girl is hinted to be the sexual  plaything of the grim reaper. It’s clever and repulsive . . . mostly repulsive.

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (21)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (22)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (23)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (24)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (25)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (26)

Again, it would be easy to imagine that the world of Dopingirl’s illustration is an entirely separate venture from the photographic work if the evidence against this wasn’t so substantial. Here little Olya is seen not only indulging in gun-play but also kissing and fondling a chocolate skull.  The truly disturbing part of this is Olya’s obvious and casual familiarity with the pistol, which she holds to her head in one image and feigns blowing her brains out by crossing her eyes.  I, for one, do not find this particularly amusing.

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (27)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (28)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (29)

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (30)

Perhaps the most astute of Dopingirl’s symbolic illustrations depicts her little golden girl taking on the grim reaper’s mantle herself and looming gigantic over the city, as if she is embodying the Hindu god Shiva’s words, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (31)

But the image of Dopingirl’s that stays with me is this final one, a cartoonized girl’s head in an SS hat and a spiked collar attached to a leash. It reminds me that, at heart, fascists are about subjugation even of their own people. The girl drools, having been reduced to a slavering sex object.  She does not look happy, and that’s as it should be, for, despite the gloss and glimmer of fascism’s appeal, in the end there is no real comfort in it for anyone but the soulless and the sadistic.

Katya Zashtopik (Dopingirl) – Title Unknown (32)

Random Image: 7-Eleven Ad

7-Eleven Advertisement (1966)

This advertisement is nostalgic for me.  It is remarkable how a company’s image can change over the years.  My memories are of a convenience store catering to kids looking for fast food like Slurpees and burritos microwaved right there in the store!  This ad gives the impression of a wholesome place safe for kids and they still called the man behind the counter a grocer.  This model has been imitated by a number of other companies in the form of the ubiquitous gas station convenience store.

If Worship Be the Right Name: Samuel Clemens

One day at Riverdale-on-Hudson, Mrs. Clemens and I were mourning for our lost little ones. Not that they were dead, but lost to us all the same. Gone out of our lives forever—as little children. They were still with us, but they were become women, and they walked with us upon our own level. There was a wide gulf, a gulf as wide as the horizons, between these children and those.  We were always having vague dream-glimpses of them as they had used to be in the long-vanished years—glimpses of them playing and romping, with short frocks on, and spindle legs, and hair-tails down their backs—and always they were far and dim, and we could not hear their shouts and their laughter. How we longed to gather them to our arms! but they were only dainty and darling spectres, and they faded away and vanished, and left us desolate.

That day I put into verse, as well as I could, the feeling that was haunting us. The verses were not for publication, and were never published, but I will insert them here as being qualified to throw light upon my worship of school girls—if worship be the right name, and I know it is. -Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain’s Autobiographical Dictations, April 1908

(Photographer Unknown) – Frances Nunnally and Clemens, London, July 1907

I am always delighted to discover rare tidbits of human interest that relate to little girls. The most notable British case is Charles Dodgson known to most by the pen name Lewis Carroll who was a skilled photographer of children and enjoyed their company. Only a few years ago I learned there was also an American writer of great stature who also had a strong affinity for little girls which manifested itself in an unusual way in the last years of his life: Samuel Clemens (1835–1910), a prolific writer of novels and essays under the pen name Mark Twain. A pseudonym is used to create a kind of alter ego—to distinguish the man from the character of his work. This period in his life in which he became obsessed with school girls is a personal one and, for the sake of convention, I will refer to him as Clemens but when referring to those written works consistent with his other persona, I will call the author Mark Twain.

This interesting epiphany about Clemens’ association with young girls was best fleshed out in a book called Mark Twain’s Aquarium: The Samuel Clemens Angelfish Correspondence 1905–1910 (1991) edited by John Cooley. Cooley was then a professor of English at Western Michigan University. The editor’s first knowledge of the Aquarium Club came from his second cousin, Marjorie Breckenridge, who still had in her possession the letters Clemens had sent her. Fascinated with his cousin’s teenage friendship with Mark Twain, he set out to find out more—scouring the various institutions that housed his papers. The book endeavored to contain nearly every known written communication between Clemens and the young women who constituted his Aquarium Club. Undoubtedly, many of the letters have been lost. Because of its peculiar nature, this aspect of his life has been largely excluded from biographies.

(Photographer Unknown) – Louise Paine and Clemens in the angelfish headquarters, the billiard room, Stormfield, Summer 1908

When the book was written, only seven letters from angelfish survived of the eighty-seven letters Clemens wrote to them during this period. Since Clemens was a diligent saver of letters, it is assumed that his daughter Clara, who strongly disapproved of the Aquarium Club, disposed of many of them after her return from Europe in September 1908.

For example, Hamlin Hill’s important biography of Clemens’ last decade, Mark Twain: God’s Fool (1973), reveals many aspects of Clemens’ last years that strongly contrast with the image of him perpetuated by his daughter Clara and his official biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine. Until then, it was generally believed that Clemens remained the “king” of American humor—a devoted family man and playful public cynic, passing gracefully into retirement and old age. Only more recent biographies gave clues to the breakdown of his family life after 1904, upon the death of his wife Olivia which followed that of his eldest daughter, Susy. His relationship with his surviving daughters, Clara and Jean, became so strained that neither spent much time with their father during his last years. Clemens’ overwhelming vanity and unpredictable rage made him extremely difficult to live with. Quite routinely, after prolonged visits, Clara would place herself in a rest home to regain her emotional strength.

The impulse to be humorous choked a man whose sense of rage at the world in which he lived grew and grew to mammoth proportions. -Hamlin Hill. Mark Twain: God’s Fool, 1973.

(Photographer Unknown) – Irene Gerken and Clemens, Bermuda, Winter 1908

These girls and young women were no doubt reminders of the happy years when his own daughters were younger, and of his girlfriends from that happiest of times, his own adolescence.

His earliest sweetheart was Laura Hawkins. Clemens recalled her as a blond, blue-eyed “charmer” who wore white summer frocks, plaited her hair into two long tails, and lived across the street from the Clemenses in Hannibal. She was also the inspiration for Twain’s Becky Thatcher in Tom Sawyer and other stories. In the fall of 1908 Laura contacted him and was invited to come visit.

About next Tuesday or Wednesday a Missouri sweetheart of mine, is coming here from Missouri to visit me—the very best sweetheart I ever had. It was 68 years ago. She was 5 years old and I the same. I had an apple, & fell in love with her and gave her the core. She figures in “Tom Sawyer” as “Becky Thatcher” -Samuel Clemens in a letter to Margaret Blackmer, October 1908.

(Photographer Unknown) – Dorothy Quick and Clemens, Tuxedo Park, August 1907 (1)

Another important sweetheart was Laura Wright. She was fourteen when she met Clemens, an age of some significance appearing frequently in his stories. Years later his rules of the Aquarium Club stipulated that only school-age girls were eligible for active membership. In 1906, Clemens dictated a remarkably detailed passage for his autobiography concerning his brief romance with Wright, one summer forty-eight years earlier while she was sailing on a freighter with her parents from St. Louis to New Orleans.

I found that I remembered her quite vividly and that she possessed a lively interest for me notwithstanding the prodigious interval of time that had spread its vacancy between her and me. She wasn’t yet fifteen when I knew her.

Clemens stated that he was never more than “four inches from that girl’s elbow” during their waking hours over the next three days.

That comely child, that charming child, was Laura M. Wright, and I could see her with perfect distinctness in the unfaded bloom of her youth, with her plaited tails dangling from her young head and her white summer frock puffing about in the wind of that ancient Mississippi time. … I never saw her afterward. -Samuel Clemens, The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Charles Neider ed., 1959.

Wright’s parents did not approve of her continued association with Clemens who was the pilot of another ship. He wrote to her many times, but the letters were intercepted and disposed of. He did not hear from her until the publication of these passages 48 years later. She wrote to him to ask for money which he sent her, thrilled at the prospect of being her hero. He was quite dismayed by her change of circumstances, having a modest career as a teacher.

When I knew that child her father was an honored judge … What had that girl done, what crime had she committed that she must be punished with poverty and drudgery in her old age? … It shook me to the foundations. The plaited tails fell away; the peachy young face vanished; the fluffy short frock along with it; and in the place of that care-free little girl of forty-eight years ago, I imagined the world-worn and trouble-worn widow of sixty-two -Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain’s Autobiographical Dictations, August 1906.

(Photographer Unknown) – Margaret Blackmer and Clemens in the cart; Maude, the donkey, with her groom Reginald, Bermuda, March 1908

Clemens’ fond recollections were not just from his own adolescence, but from the joy of spending time with his little daughters. And during the period of their childhood, Susy, Clara and Jean Clemens more than filled his need for contact with teenage girls. He teased and played with them and frequently created stories for their entertainment. His desire to relive these wonderful moments was made more acute by the death of his eldest, Susy, in 1896, the death of his wife, Olivia, and the lack of grandchildren. Two manuscripts devoted to his family, “A Family Sketch” and “The Children’s Record” (Mark Twain Papers, University of California, Berkeley) reveal how much pleasure his young daughters gave him.

For Clemens, childhood was the most important time—the central experience of life. Although boyhood portraits figured prominently in Mark Twain’s best-known and greatest works, in later years the author turned his attention to the adolescent female.

Clemens’ repeated concern for the innocence of his angelfish suggests that he believed young women became spoiled or perhaps corrupted upon entering the age of sexual activity. In both his fictional and his autobiographical writing, Clemens returns with some frequency to the idea of the “platonic sweetheart,” in which a somewhat older and more experienced male both longs for and wishes to protect his school-age sweetheart. This paradigm is most clearly expressed in the short story “My Platonic Sweetheart” (1898), which purports to be a report of Twain’s recurring dreams in which he is always seventeen and his love is an innocent maid of fifteen. Although he kisses her and they walk “arms-about-waists”, he insists that it “was not the love of sweethearts, for there was no fire in it.” Nor was it the mere affection of brother and sister, but something “finer than either, and more exquisite, more profoundly contenting” (Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories, 1922).

(Photographer Unknown) – Dorothy Sturgis (?) with Clemens, Bermuda, Winter 1908

Clemens worked out his concept of young female innocence in greatest detail in his Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1895). Clemens remarked that Joan of Arc was written out of love, not for money, and that his heroine reminded him of his daughter Susy and believed it to be his best work. He was something of an authority on Joan—citing eleven books on the topic in his preface. Other revealing though minor portraits of young women appear during Clemens’ last decade of writing: “The Death Disk” (1901), “Eve’s Diary” (1905), “A Horse’s Tale” (1906) and an essay, “Marjorie Fleming, Wonder Child” (1909). There is a note of pessimism in his interpretation of the Saint Joan story: that an innate and powerful goodness cannot survive long in the real world, certainly invoked by his memories of Susy.

It is known that about three hundred letters were written and received by Clemens and the schoolgirls as well as personal notes indicating the extent to which the girls occupied his thoughts during the last five years of his life. In 1908, the Aquarium Club was at its height and Clemens sent several letters a week to the angelfish and received an equal number in reply and became his “chief occupation and delight”. Despite the author’s usual inventiveness in his writing, this correspondence was much more formulaic in his attempt to plead for letters and visits from his young friends. Nonetheless, amongst the gushing sentimentality, one can find small gems of wit, wisdom, and humor we would normally associate with Mark Twain at his best.

In grandchildren I am the richest man that lives today: for I select my grandchildren, whereas all other grandfathers have to take them as they come, good, bad or indifferent.  Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain’s Autobiographical Dictations, April 1908.

(Photographer Unknown) – Dorothy Harvey and Clemens on the front steps, Stormfield, Summer 1908

The spark for the Aquarium Club came from Clemens’ correspondence with a girl named Gertrude Natkin whom he met during his travels. Then one “golden day” in the winter of 1907, a fourteen-year-old English girl and her mother came to visit. Since then, Dorothy Butes and Clemens maintained a correspondence and he considered her his first angelfish. Only later did he begin “collecting” and corresponding with schoolgirls in earnest: Butes was followed by Carlotta Welles and Frances Nunnally, girls he met while on a ship for England. On the return voyage he also met Dorothy Quick. The first half of 1908 is when Clemens formulated his plan to establish his aquarium to be comprised of a school of girls of bright and lively temperament. The club really began to take shape during Clemens’ two winter trips to Bermuda, adding Margaret Blackmer, Irene Gerken, Dorothy Sturgis, Hellen Martin, and Helen Allen. Clemens notes that most readers will understand that, like all collectors, we believe our fad to be more rational than any of the others.

… As for me, I collect pets: young girls—girls from ten to sixteen years old; girls who are pretty and sweet and naive and innocent—dear young creatures to whom life is a perfect joy and to whom it has brought no wounds, no bitterness, and few tears. My collection consists of gems of the first water. -Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain’s Autobiographical Dictations, February 1908.

Each of the girls received a pin as a memento of their friendship.

Heather Morgan – Angel-fish pin given by Mark Twain to Louise Paine (Mark Twain Library, Redding, CT)

In June 1908, Clemens moved into a new home in Redding, Connecticut aptly naming it ‘Innocence at Home’ to commemorate his latest fascination. This villa was able to accommodate the angelfish during their numerous visits. New acquisitions at this point were Marjorie Breckenridge, Dorothy Harvey, and Louise Paine. Clemens’ daughter Clara disliked the name of the villa and its associations and had it changed to Stormfield—a name apropos to a period of discord in Clemens’ domestic life and the eventual decline of the Aquarium Club to come.

(Photographer Unknown) – Dorothy Harvey, Clemens and Louise Paine in the “Fish-Market”, Stormfield, Summer 1908

Clemens’s own awareness of his destructive pessimism, of his great rage at the swindle of life, must have driven him all the harder to construct about himself a small court of happiness, innocence, and youthfulness, which he set against the ever painful reality of his life. Thus, his indulgence in stories and tales involving young female characters and his collection of young angelfish serve as a surprising antistrophe to the strophe of his rage and despair. -John Cooley, Mark Twain’s Aquarium, 1973.

Although Clemens’ last years were often dominated by loneliness, illness, and depression, his angelfish letters are nearly always optimistic, loving, and playful; they reveal the depths of his loneliness and the size of his need for attention and affection.

(Photographer Unknown) – Dorothy Harvey and Clemens, Stormfield, Summer 1908

It is interesting to examine this work in the context of his other writings of the period: his autobiography, The Mysterious Stranger, and in his late stories, essays and letters. The contrast between this and his angelfish correspondence helps us appreciate the conflict between his natural inclination for youthfulness, playfulness and affection against his growing fatalism and cynical rage.

Clemens’ writing during his last decade does not include young female characters and reveals his preoccupation with predestination and a corruption seemingly inevitable in adulthood. In one of the most bleak yet most important works of his last years, The Mysterious Stranger, Twain has his cosmic representative, a young cousin to Satan named Philip Traum, reveal that human and earthly reality are purely an illusion. Despairing as this seems, he concluded that the great, unbeatable weapon of the human race is laughter. In another work, What is Man?, the old man declares that nothing is able to shake humanity of its fundamental cheerfulness, not even the most bleak facts of existence.

For Clemens, there seemed an eternal dichotomy between evil and good, darkness and light. As Albert Stone expresses it, Clemens sought to maintain a “desperately delicate balance between despising mankind and loving certain individuals, between intellectual assertion of a meaningless universe and intuitive awareness of love’s reality” (Albert Stone, The Innocent Eye: Childhood in Mark Twain’s Imagination, 1961).

A core issue in this counterpoint between light and dark is Clemens’ ambivalence about sex and sexuality and as Mark Twain, he generally avoided dealing with the subject. A set of writings published posthumously bears this out. Letters from the Earth (1909) concerns morality, the hypocrisy of religion and racism. It takes the form of a personal report to Satan, informing him of the numerous foibles of Earth’s human denizens. Clara Clemens initially objected to its publication in March 1939 but finally conceded that “Mark Twain belonged to the world”. The letters were first collected, edited and published by Bernard DeVoto. Twain writes the following startling revelation expounding on humans’ obsession with sex, despite the well-known presence of Biblical admonitions.

The law of God, as quite plainly expressed in woman’s construction is this: There shall be no limit put upon your intercourse with the other sex sexually, at any time of life.

The law of God, as quite plainly expressed in man’s construction is this: During your entire life you shall be under inflexible limits and restrictions, sexually.

During twenty-three days in every month (in absence of pregnancy) from the time a woman is seven years old till she dies of old age, she is ready for action, and competent. As competent as the candlestick is to receive the candle. Competent every day, competent every night. Also she wants that candle—yearns for it, longs for it, hankers after it, as commanded by the law of God in her heart. -Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth, Letter VIII, 1909

(Photographer Unknown) – Helen Allen and Clemens, Bermuda, 1908

Not all the letters have a cynical tone. Twain speaks eloquently about the beauty of the “sweeter sex” and that of the nakedness of an uncorrupted human body.

The pleasant labor of populating the world went on from age to age, and with prime efficiency; for in those happy days the sexes were still competent for the Supreme Art when by rights they ought to have been dead eight hundred years. The sweeter sex, the dearer sex, the lovelier sex was manifestly at its very best, then, for it was even able to attract gods. Real gods. They came down out of heaven and had wonderful times with those hot young blossoms. The Bible tells about it. -Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth, Letter IV, 1909.

The convention miscalled modesty has no standard, and cannot have one, because it is opposed to nature and reason, and is therefore an artificiality and subject to anybody’s whim, anybody’s diseased caprice. And so, in India the refined lady covers her face and breasts and leaves her legs naked from the hips down, while the refined European lady covers her legs and exposes her face and her breasts. In lands inhabited by the innocent savage the refined European lady soon gets used to full-grown native stark-nakedness, and ceases to be offended by it. A highly cultivated French count and countess—unrelated to each other—who were marooned in their nightclothes, by shipwreck, upon an uninhabited island in the eighteenth century, were soon naked. Also ashamed—for a week. After that their nakedness did not trouble them, and they soon ceased to think about it. -Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth, Letter III, 1909.

This last passage expresses effectively a key philosophy of Pigtails in Paint. Also of interest is a book written by one of the angelfish, Dorothy Quick, Enchantment: A Little Girl’s Friendship with Mark Twain, 1961.

(Photographer Unknown) – Dorothy Quick and Clemens, Tuxedo Park, August 1907 (2)

*Mark Twain’s Autobiographical Dictations are part of a collection of Mark Twain Papers housed at the University of California, Berkeley.

Compelling Images: Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark – The Damm family in their car, Los Angeles, California, 1987

A phenomenon that embodies the disinterested cruelty of Time is hiding in plain view. I first noticed it several decades ago whilst walking down my town’s high street.

A small family was approaching me from the opposite direction. The two parents looked to be in their early to mid-twenties, my own age at the time. But their appearance betrayed, maybe even boasted, the harshness of their lives—a harshness arising maybe from adverse circumstances (the economic base of the region had recently been destroyed), but also from bad living, as evidenced by the cigarettes, the tattoos, what looked like needle marks on the mother’s arm, their loud speech, laced with obscenities, and the father’s strutting walk that signaled a readiness for violence.

Between them skipped a girl of about six whose unspoiled delicacy was reminiscent of an upper-class child in a period drama. She was strikingly beautiful, with inquiring, intelligent eyes, and a face still friendly to the world. Her physique and her bearing had the sprung vigour of a young wild animal.

Despite the contrast between this girl and the adults who accompanied her there could be no doubt as to their kinship: both the man and the woman were recognisable in the girl’s features. And presumably the mother, when a little girl, had looked as beautiful and unspoiled as her daughter did now.

The family in Mary Ellen Mark’s photograph (Crissy aged 6, Jesse 4, their mother Linda 27 and stepfather Dean 33) were homeless and living in their car when Mark spent a week with them in 1987.

The photograph contains a grim equation: we can subtract the appearance of little Crissy from that of Linda, her mother. The resulting difference is the sum of the physical changes Time brings plus the traces that Life has left on Linda.

Time simultaneously grows us and wears us away. We are like young mountains that are simultaneously raised up by tectonic movements and eroded by the harshness of the environment, leaving crags, crevices, alluvium, screes, glaciers and valleys on their surface.

The article accompanying Mark’s photos (written by journalist Anne Fadiman) makes it clear that when this photo was taken Crissy was already all too familiar with the difficulties of life. But they had not yet left a visible trace. Eight years later Mary Ellen Mark would revisit the Damm family. In the resulting photographs Crissy’s appearance has begun to speak eloquently of the life she has been made to lead.