Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Lost Art of George Wachsteter

"Caricatures by WACHSTETER"

 "George Wachsteter (1911–2004) was at one time considered one of the most prominent and in-demand caricaturists working in the country. From the 1930's to the 1960's he drew theatrical, radio, television and film related images extensively for most of the major New York newspapers, including the Times, the Herald Tribune, the Journal- American, the World-Telegram, as well as for the 3 major radio and television networks. A gradual loss of his vision ended his drawing career prematurely in the late 1960's and he lived in relative obscurity with his wife (who died in the early '80s) in Elmhurst Queens till his death in 2004. Next to Al Hirschfeld, who he alternated with in the NY Times for over a decade, Wachsteter was one of the most visible American caricaturists working during the '40s, '50s and into the '60s. 
George Wachsteter, 1939

Today, his work is almost completely forgotten. Not one single book on the history of caricature deign to mention George Wachsteter, and very few of his drawings can be found online. But through the efforts of the great caricaturist and caricaturist historian Zach Trenholm who in 2002 made a pilgrimage to visit the forgotten, near-blind widower near his home,  GW-S's work should (hopefully) once again take it's rightful place among the other greats of 20th century caricature. Many of these beautiful, humorous drawings featuring GW-S's streamlined and always elegant line work are from Zach's personal collection. So if the work of George Wachsteter is new to you (which I assume it will be) I hope you enjoy!

All about the huge "Lost Drawings of George Wachsteter" Auction coming up on 3/24/13:

Joe E. Brown
Wachsteter's "Oklahoma", cover for the NY Times Art's & Leisure section, 1945

Eddie Cantor, The Colgate Comedy Hour
Humphrey Bogart
George S. Kaufman

George S. Kaufman

Ted Mack

Ernie Ford paintings

Benny Goodman
Charles Laughten
pencil sketch of Betty Hutton
Cast of The Honeymooners

Basil Rathbone and Jack Carson featured in Huckleberry Finn

Cast of Father Knows Best

A Pocket Book by Earl Wilson from 1957, featuring a cover and interior caricatures by GW-S. I've owned this book for decades, and for years this was the lone work of GW-S's I was aware of.

rough art
Chapter heading caricatures from the book:
 Bob Hope
Arlene Francis
"Tennessee" Ernie Ford
Dinah Shore
Milton Berle

Gisele MacKenzie
Steve Allen
Groucho Marx

Eddie Fisher
George Gobel

Dave Garroway
Judy Garland
...and on the cover of TV Times. GW-S did many covers that were syndicated around the country to various newspaper's Sunday TV supplements.
"The Ed Sullivan show"

My Little Margie

The Honeymooners

Betty Hutton
 Steve Allen

My 3 Sons

A Bell for Adano

The Wizard of Oz
Victor Borge

Art Carney as Charlie's Aunt
Perry Como
The B&W version
Jimmy Durante
Newspaper promotion for "Summer on Ice",
featuring Peter Lawford and Peggy Lee 
WachSteter did many, many covers for the "New York Journal American Sunday Pictorial and TView Section" (quite a mouthful) Here's a selection...

Ethel Merman and Richard Rodgers "The Man they Love" (no, not Ernest Borgnine)
Alfred Drake and Patricia Morrison, "Kiss Me Kate"
Mary Martin
Gene Barry as Bat Masterson

"The Nurses"

Jerry Lewis, Gary Moore

Edie Adams & Ernie Kovacs
"Having Fun on the Range"
Rod Serling, "The Twilight Zone"

"I'm Dickens, He's Fenster", John Astin, Marty Ingels (1963)
Carol Burnett, Bob Newhart, and Caterina Valente from "The Entertainers" (1964)
Zero Mostel and cast in "Fiddler on the Roof"(1964)

The Munsters

The Umbrella's of Cherbourg (1965)
From 1966 and one of GW-S's later drawings:
 Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis in "Boeing, Boeing"...

...and this spanish poster for the film. GW-S did not illustrate this, rather, someone in the art dept used (traced) his art and turned it into their color poster. Was GW-S was paid for it's usage?  Anyone's guess.
In 2011, Shout Factory released the DVD box set "The Ernie Kovacs Collection", which included in the booklet this Wachsteter drawing of Edie Adams and Ernie Kovacs

This exhibition of George Wachsteter's work was held posthumously in 2008 at Wartburg College in Waverly, IA.

This was the publicity text announcing the show:
March 18, 2008
WAVERLY, Iowa- The Waldemar A. Schmidt Gallery of Wartburg College will present “The Lost Drawings of George Wachsteter: A 30 Year Retrospective.”
The exhibit is open through April 12. Gallery hours are 9 to 7 p.m. daily, and admission is free.
A lecture on the exhibition by Matthew Wilson, art gallery director, will take place at 6 p.m. Friday, March 28, in the gallery. A reception will follow.
New York illustrator and caricaturist George Wachsteter drew for The New York Times, New York Herald, New York World Telegram and NBC, ABC and CBS radio and television networks from 1937 through 1967. He was considered one of the nation’s most prodigious theatrical caricaturists during the 1940s and 1950s.
Wachsteter lost his vision in the 1960s, which ended his drawing career. His life works, including paintings, sketches and drawings, were found in boxes after his death in 2004. Wilson worked with Wachsteter’s family and estate to archive the collection for this exhibition.
Among the pieces in “Lost Drawings” are drawings and watercolors of performers like Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Humphrey Bogart, Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, Marilyn Monroe, Zero Mostel, Louis Armstrong, Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson.

Caricaturist Zach Trenholm meets caricaturist George Wachsteter in Elmhurst Queens in 2002

 Wachsteter's's biography from an edition of "Who's Who":

Birth: March 12, 1911 in Hartford, Connecticut, United States

Occupation: Illustrator

Family: s. Josef and Therese (Weiss) W.; m. Thelma Altshuler, July 29, 1939 (dec. 1991). Education: ed., Hartford,. Addresses: Home, 85-05 Elmhurst Ave, Elmhurst, NY, 11373-3357.

Positions Held: syndicated feature illustrator, Hallmark TV Drama Series, 1964-69; drama artist, N.Y. World Telegram, 1964-66; artist TV mag. covers, Hearst Syndicate, 1963-65; artist TV mag. covers, N.Y. Jour. Am., 1958-63; featured drama artist, N.Y. Jour. Am., 1956-63; artist TV section, N.Y. Times, 1950-51; caricaturist, Theatre Guild On The Air, U.S. Steel, 1945-63; contbr. illustration and caricature to drama and polit. pages, N.Y. Times, 1938-50; weekly illustrator and caricature to drama pages, N.Y. Herald Tribune, 1941-50; illustrator, CBS, NBC, ABC Radio and TV Networks, 1937-70; illustrator, Major Advt. Agys, Theatre and Motion Picture Prodns., 1936.

Illustrator, caricaturist (book) NBC Book of Stars, 1957; portrait Taft Meml. Fund Campaign, 1956; numerous work in pub. and pvt. collections.
George Wachsteter, 2002: Photo by Zach Trenholm

Thanks to Leonard Maltin and Steve Cox. Very special thanks to Zach Trenholm


  1. What a damn treasure trove of material. Guys like Zach deserve a medal for doing this. And a big thanks to Drew F. for all of the scans. I wanna see more!

    1. On March 24, 2013, the caricature collection from the estate of George Wachsteter (1911-2004) will be offered. This remarkable collection of Illustrations and drawings, mostly from the illustration board layout for the New York Journal American TV Section Cover, include almost every notable face of the 50’s. Visit our website http://auctions.thomastonauction.com/asp/searchresults.asp?st=D&sale_no=302&ps=25&pg=28&view=view1#103000

  2. I have the NBC Book of Stars, too. And that was the only example of his work I'd seen until now. The B&W line work is brilliant! How can he be forgotten? And how did I manage to miss out until today?

  3. Fantastic stuff--thanks a million for posting about the man.

  4. really great article with lots of great samples of his work... thanks a bundle for sharing this..


  5. Love that Bob Newhart!

    I immediately thought of Hirschfeld when I saw these but his work also reminds me of a wonderful cartoonist called Victor Weisz who used to work for London newspapers in the 1930s. You really can't beat lines drawn in black and white.

  6. Wow, cannot believe I have never heard of this fellow. What a great line. Thanks for all the efforts, Drew and, of course, Zach Trenholm.

  7. Holy crap this guy was good. I had never heard of him. Thanks very much for bringing him to my attention!

  8. LOVE the Ernie-Edie cover drawing. I want that on my wall. :)

  9. SUPER EXCITED - On March 24, 2013, the caricature collection from the estate of George Wachsteter (1911-2004) will be offered at auction. This remarkable collection of Illustrations and drawings, mostly from the illustration board layout for the New York Journal American TV Section Cover, include almost every notable face of the 50’s. Contact me at auction@kajav.com if you have any questions.

  10. Drew...don't know if you remember me, but I interviewed you for my book "Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia" because of a drawing I'd found by you of Lucy, Vivian Vance, Xavier Cugat, and Michael Richards. I just discovered a treasure trove of half a dozen Wachsteter drawings at auction online...all about Lucy & Co., and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, guest stars included. He was one of the best. Best regards, Michael Karol