Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pulp Artist R.G. Harris

I've always liked R.G. Harris' work for WILD WEST WEEKLY. Some of my favorite Sonny Tabor covers were painted by this talented artist during the 1936-37 period. I didn't know until recently that Harris had also done many DOC SAVAGE covers, and I bet a lot of people don't that either, as Walter Baumhofer is best known as the Doc Savage artist. Many pulp fans I know have told me recently that they really like Harris' work and always felt that he was an unsung hero of the pulps. Not only did he do DOC SAVAGE, but he also worked steadily for many other magazines such as COMPLETE STORIES, DOUBLE ACTION WESTERN, PETE RICE WESTERN, THRILLING ADVENTURES, WESTERN ROUND-UP and WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE.

Robert George Harris was born September 9, 1911 in Kansas City, Missouri, and he studied at the Kansas City Art Institute. In 1933 he moved to New York City ( says that he drove a motorcycle all the way to New York City and opened up an art studio in New Rochelle) and it certainly didn't take long for him to get work, because from what I can see, his covers for mags such as WESTERN STORY started to appear as early as 1934. Not bad for an artist during the Great Depression.

Harris was one of those that ended up "graduating" to the "slick" magazines such as COSMOPOLITAN, GOOD HOUSEKEEPING, LADIES HOME JOURNAL, REDBOOK, AND THE SATURDAY EVENING POST. Hard to believe that the man behind such gritty covers as this WWW cover....

would end up doing work for staid ladies' magazines, but he did, and the illustrations are wonderful.

Pulp says "During WWII he volunteered to join the USO Artists For Freedom Project, which was organized by the NY Society of Illustrators to bring together over 200 artists to draw thousands of portrait sketches of wounded servicemen recuperating in military hospitals. Harris visited hospitals in New York, Connecticut, Virginia, and North Carolina."

After the war, Harris gained a reputation as a fine illustrator and worked steadily for the slick magazines and such companies as Coca-Cola anad Cannon Sheets. He also gained considerable success as a portrait artist. The Arizona Republic reported that "his oil portraits hang in the Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., and in many private collections in the United States."

In 2004, ILLUSTRATION magazine published "An Artist's Life," Harris' biography co-written by his daughter Marcia Harris Sewell. The article is accompanies by a list of his portrait work and work done for the slick magazines, but not for the pulps.

Harris lived his last years in Arizona and died at age of 96 on December 23, 2007.


WILD WEST WEEKLY, March 28, 1936

WILD WEST WEEKLY, May 23, 1936

WILD WEST WEEKLY, August 15, 1936

WILD WEST WEEKLY, December 26, 1936

DOC SAVAGE, November 1936

DOC SAVAGE, May 1937

DOC SAVAGE, June 1937

DOC SAVAGE, September 1937

DOC SAVAGE, October 1937

PETE RICE, June 1939

For more works by R.G. Harris, go to this page where various works of his were up for auction, as listed by Arcadia Auctions. Included on this page is a portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This page at American Gallery also has several illustrations from the slick magazines. For a list of his work in the pulps, go to the Fiction Mags Index.

Sources for this post, including photo of Harris:
William Lampkin's tribute to R.G. Harris at Yellowed Perils


Evan Lewis said...

An outstanding piece, Laurie. I smell another coffee table book in the works.

Charles Gramlich said...

good stuff. I'd love to have those old Doc Savages.

Walker Martin said...

In 1993 there were two Pulpcons, the usual one in Ohio and one in Tucson, Arizona. I believe the one in Tucson was held just so Robert Harris could be the Guest of Honor.

By the way, I have a Robert Harris painting, but before everyone starts thinking it's a Doc Savage or Wild West Weekly cover, I have to admit it is only a spot illustration for a slick magazine.
It's 8 by 10 and shows bluebirds flying around a birdhouse.

On the back of the frame is a card stating "For Publication in the Saturday Evening Post". The title of the article is "How to Build Bluebird Houses" and the artist is Robert Harris. I believe the date of the issue is November 4, 1960.

Barry Traylor said...

As I mentioned in an email to you when I saw you were going to post about R.G. Harris I immediately thought of the covers he did for Doc Savage and judging by what a terrific job he did for the Doc Savage cover with Doc in a diving suit he would have done a great job doing covers for Astounding. He would have given Hubert Rogers
competition for great SF covers.

Laurie Powers said...

Thanks, Evan. Coffee table book...hmm..

Charles, I like them as well, especially the undersea ones. Anything having to do with deep sea diving and how they perceived it back then...can anyone say "Sea Hunt"??

Walker, that's very cool about the extra PulpCon held for him. I believe my aunt has an original sketch that ended up as a Sonny Tabor cover, but I don't know if it's a Robert Harris. Will have to check that out. It may be a Tom Lovell.

Laurie Powers said...

Barry - yes, see my comment above about "Sea Hunt." Thanks for sending those covers to me.

Ron Scheer said...

Nice work, Laurie. His western covers are brilliant. I'm wondering whether he illustrated any western stories in the slick magazines.

Melissa Marsh said...

Oh wow. I absolutely LOVE his work.

Kyle Henry said...

Thanks for sharing this! RG Harris is one of my favorite illustrators. Although not as well known as other artists from that era, his work is excellent whether it was for pulps or slicks.

Laurie Powers said...

I agree Kyle. I've always loved his work for Wild West Weekly.

Donna said...

I'm looking for a copy of a color illustration done by R.G. Harris for the December 1947 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine on page 54. It is the illustration for the short story "Midnight Visitor" by Robert Blees. Can anyone help--it would be greatly appreciated!

Linda Smith said...

I googled Marcia Harris Sewell and found this wonderful blog. You mentioned the terrific story she wrote about her dad (my dad and hers were great friends when they both were artists in CT), and I am feeling so sad today. Marcia died (very young, age 69) in Scottsdale a couple of days ago. I hope she is telling her mother and father how people continue to love his artwork! I sure do. He ("Bob" Harris) was the best.

Linda Gramatky Smith

Laurie Powers said...

Hi Linda - Thanks for posting your comment. I'm so sad to hear that Marcia has passed away. For those of us who are avid collectors and historians, losing someone like Marcia is just as hard as losing her father, as the children and grandchildren are the only ones who have direct access to their biographies. You mentioned that your father and R.G. Harris were good friends; what was your father's name?

thanks again for posting,

Richard Mann said...

This is such sad news about Marcia. I first met her a few years ago when she called to say she was in Kansas City and asked if she could tour my house (built in 1911 by Robert Harris' father, Harry. This was Robert's childhood home). We began a friendship and she sent old photos and copies of art, etc. She was so kind and loved her father very much, so at least she is reunited now).