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Laura Claridge
Laura Claridge
Norman Rockwell:  A Life
ISBN: 1588360644
Norman Rockwell: A Life
Norman Rockwell’s tremendously successful, prolific career as a painter and illustrator has rendered him a twentieth-century American icon. However, the very popularity and accessibility of his idealized, nostalgic depictions of middleclass life have caused him to be considered not a serious artist but a “mere illustrator”–a disparagement only reinforced by the hundreds of memorable covers he drew for The Sunday Evening Post.

Symptomatic of critics’ neglect is the fact that Rockwell has never before been the subject of a serious critical biography. Based on private family archives and interviews and publishes to coincide with a major two-year travelling retrospective of his work, this book reveals for the first time the driven workaholic who had three complicated marriages and was a distant father —so different from the loving, all-American-dad image widely held to this day. Critically acclaimed author Laura Claridge also breaks new ground with her reappraisal of Rockwell’s art, arguing that despite his popular sentimental style, his artistry was masterful, complex, and far more manipulative than people realize.
—from the publisher's website
Norman Rockwell: A Life
Program Air Date: December 2, 2001

BRIAN LAMB, HOST:Laura Claridge, author of "Norman Rockwell: A Life." When did you get interested in this artist?
MS. LAURA CLARIDGE, AUTHOR, "NORMAN ROCKWELL: A LIFE" 1994 and '95. I went to Cooperstown to the Baseball Hall of Fame and--with my children. And I got very bored at some point just looking at all the--the baseball memorabilia, but in the anteroom, there's--there's an exhibition of good art on spor--different sports subjects. And there was one that I'd--I'd never seen before, but it--I just—it riveted my attention because of the--the striking color and--and the use of form. And it was Norman Rockwell's "Calling The Game." And that--from that point on, I started thinking, gee, this is something I don't know about because this isn't what I--what my image of Norman Rockwell is.
LAMB: What's your image of Rock--Norman Rockwell now?
MS. CLARIDGE: That's an interesting question. As a person, since this is a biography--as a person, a highly intelligent and shrewd, depressive, honorable--deeply honorable, very, very talented. I would say a first-rate artist. I guess I have encompassed both his personality and my--my own judgment of his art.
LAMB: When did he die and how old was he?
MS. CLARIDGE: Died in 1978. He was 84. Lived a long life and was active in his art and his--and a very active man until maybe two years before his death.
LAMB: What age was he when this picture on the cover was taken?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, his family lent me that picture and we--no—none of us have been able to find, you know, the--the--the origins. But we're guessing it was his mid-20s. He was in his mid-20s.
LAMB: What was he doing in his mid-20s?
MS. CLARIDGE: He was a playboy. He was living a--a pretty--a—a debauched life in an open marriage and experimenting with high society in New Rochelle, New York.
LAMB: How many children did he have? How many times was he married?
MS. CLARIDGE: Three children, three marriages, but the three children went with the second marriage. That's interesting. He was a high school dropout and actually--let's see, at 16--at age 16, and never had any formal education after that. And he married three schoolteachers. Not--that's not very difficult, it seemed to me, to see a kind of fulfilling of--of something that he valued. And they read to him. One of the requirements, it seems, of marriage for him was that his wife read aloud great novels while he painted. And the first marriage is--this one I--I refer to in the 1920s. He married 19--1916 and was--and was divorced in 1929 when the woman left him precipitously for a handsome pilot. And it--what's funny about that, or interesting about it, is he almost denied the marriage ever happened, in spite of the fact that it was 14--it was a 14-year-long marriage. His--his three sons found out about it only in the '40s when they read an article in The New Yorker about his life. He'd never bothered--and when they confronted him he said, `Oh, I didn't think it was important.' So--which is that--it's a very strong de--psychological defense of Rockwell's denial, just a repression.
LAMB: We'll come back to that...
MS. CLARIDGE: All right.
LAMB: ...but I want to show some of the art that you have in the book. What is this painting right here?
MS. CLARIDGE: The triple self-portrait, which he did in 1960, and was--it's fascinating because of its--its geniality, it's--but at the same time, a real kind of what some people would call a post-modern spin, where he's pretending to--he's painting himself, but ironically mock--gently mocking himself. If--if you can see the actual black and white on--on the canvas is a younger, more handsome man. He's--he's looking, however, in the mirror as if he's copying what he's seeing, and the image that's reflected back in that mirror, to add yet another layer of--of ambiguity, is opa--the--the eyes are whited out.
LAMB: What's that--who are are those folks up in the right-hand corner?
MS. CLARIDGE: There's Rembran--these are self-portraits and it's--it's important. A self-portrait of Rembrandt, Durr, p--not a self-portrait, but a--a--a painting by Picasso that implies self-portraiture in a complicated relationship with the women in his life. So Rockwell was situating himself, Mr. Modest, among these greats as he himself attempted the self-portrait, and--and admitted he didn't know who he was to some extent.
LAMB: Where can you see that--that painting of--that's of his self-portrait?
MS. CLARIDGE: In the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, which is a wonderful--it's a wonderful building. The architect Robert A.M. Stern designed it, and has an excellent collection, due largely to the insight of his last--of his third wife, and foresight. And about, I guess, from here it's probably about a seven-hour drive from Washington, DC.
LAMB: You point out in your book that in the old museum or whatever, the art gallery that he had there on the Main Street in Stockbridge, he got about 5,000 visitors a year and the new one has 100,000 a year.
MS. CLARIDGE: Yes. And the--and apparently going up--the figure's going up every year.
LAMB: How did Steven Spielberg get into this?
MS. CLARIDGE: I've heard two different stories, but the one I credit, I--I think I'm more comfortably--Spielberg was in town and at the Red Lion Inn and someone went up to him, involved with the museum, and said, `We've heard you like Rockwell, and we're raising money for a new museum and would love for you to be involved,' and arranged meetings, and it went from there. Spielberg does have a longtime affection for Rockwell.
LAMB: Also have this painting that you see a lot of. Where is it located now, what is it, and when did we see it, in what publication?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, this is an extraordinary painting. It was done late. What's interesting to me is--late in his career in life. Rockwell was in his--would have been in his 70s just about by now. The problem we all live with. It's a representation of the--of Ruby Bridges having to go to school when--when the South was being deseg--desegregated. And that--that painting is now at the museum also, but what I--it was done for Look magazine. But what I find extraordinary is that it represents this very strong liberal political desire to paint what was happening in the world, that--that Rockwell was willing to go in that direction fairly late for an artist, I mean, to start a very new direction in his work.
LAMB: You point out in your book that he voted for Norman Comas, the socialist candidate in 1948. Was he very political himself?
MS. CLARIDGE: No. Well, he was vociferous in--in announcing to everyone around him that he was not a political man. And that was to get out of all the different requests to endorse so and so or—and also he didn't want to alienate his--his audience by saying the wr--saying the wrong choice, the wrong person. But, you know, that question interests me, what it means to be political. He was not overtly political. He was, however, a man of very deep convictions. And--and I--so--so my own answer would be at heart, yes. His children--his three sons would quickly say to me, but don't forget he didn't--he was avowedly apolitical except for occasional endorsements. He loved Ike the first--for the first term, and then afterwards, he said he had been a little disappointed in him the second time. He disliked Nixon. So he would make those kinds of statements sotto voce or to friends, but that was about it.
LAMB: You point out in--in the book that at one point he had a meeting--a dinner with Eisenhower--General Eisenhower.
LAMB: Where was that and what impact did that have on him?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, I--he came to--he was invited to what he called a stag dinner that apparently President Eisenhower gave to—to gather--to get a little bit of freedom or free room to--to be himself with men he liked. And he--after--let's see, after Rockwell painted his portrait and the two hit it off, then some time later, Rockwell got an invitation in the mail to one of these stag dinners in Washington. And he came. He enjoyed it immensely and spoke of it fondly in years afterwards. But what's--what's interesting to me is he was so nervous. And--and by this time he--he was well-established and well-loved and certainly a cosmopolitan, a world traveler, but he had to take tranquilizers to get through the dinner. And--and he was wear--and his tuxedo didn't fit and nothing was right. So I t--I've always taken that as a sign--all of this as a sign that he deeply respected Eisenhower, to care that much for--for--for his opinion of how--how Rockwell conducted himself or looked during that dinner.
LAMB: This painting of "Willy Gillis in Church," 1942.
MS. CLARIDGE: Yes. Yes. During World War II, Rockwell was—was very interested in providing well to the war effort, what we would call wartime propaganda pictures, and--and that's not necessarily a pejorative. And it was just used descriptively at the time. He had been a bit young to participate in World War II and also there were illustrators who--they were just ahead of him, you know, James Montgomery Flagg and Leyendecker. So at this time, it was Rockwell's turn, is how he saw it. And what I find interesting about the Willy Gillis picture, that one particularly--he did 11 Willy Gillis pictures. And his take--instead of showing the glamorous handsome man that Leyendecker used for World War I, he showed this kind of every--every boy next door, the shock of red hair, in this case, neatly combed. And in this picture, sitting somberly in church as if--we don't know if he's attending a funeral or if this is simply a wartime church service. But there's a quietness about it that's one of Rockwell's attempts to convey the seriousness of war.
LAMB: You say, though, when he was asked by the Marines to do some work in Vietnam he said no. Why?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, that was during the Vietnam War, and he—he never regretted supporting and contributing so heavily to World War II--to the World War II cause, and he was a major raiser of money for the Office of War Information and the Treasury Department. But, you know, by the Vietnam War, not only had he married someone who brought out his most liberal tendencies, a New England schoolteacher, but he himself was--was so anti-violence, had been all his life, all his life, that the ambivalence that many people that he trusted felt towards the Vietnam War gave him pause. So that by the time he had to confront whether he was willing to contribute to the wartime propaganda--pictorial wartime propaganda for that war, he wasn't convinced it was the right thing. So, finally, because he was in the end a very honorable person, he just said, `I'm--I'm--I'm not the right man for this.'
LAMB: When was he the most popular?
MS. CLARIDGE: I guess the 1950s, although I say that with some hesitation because what surprised me in the research for this book was how popular from the beginning of his career--I'm talking by 1920, when he was only 26 years old, he--he had--he had made his fortune or was certainly on the way to making it. He was well-known. The press on him is voluminous. So this is a man who was famous throughout the first, well, throughout a good four decades.
LAMB: You have this painting that says in the cutline that it was 1916.
MS. CLARIDGE: Yes, yes. Can you imagine that? At age 20, barely--maybe he was even 19--he did his first cover for The Saturday Evening Post, the first of what would be 322 and--which is an extraordinary feat. That was the plum assignment to get the cover of the The Saturday Evening Post then.
LAMB: Why The Saturday Evening Post? And, you know, it's now still around, and it's--I think they even still call it the Curtis Publishing Company based in Indianapolis, but it's a monthly and it doesn't have anything close to the circulation it used to have.
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, you mean, why did he choose The Post or why was it so viable then?
LAMB: How did that work out and what happened to the--what happened to the--you know, at what time was it a prominent magazine?
LAMB: And what happened to it?
MS. CLARIDGE: Around the time that Rockwell was born in 1896, The Post had--it had been struggling, and it actually started out as Benjamin Franklin's Gazette--Pennsylvania Gazette back in the 1700s. And at this point, when Rockwell was born, it was struggling for its very existence and Curtis--Cyrus Curtis brought in someone else, George Horace Lorimer, who took it over and revitalized it.
LAMB: Where was it based?
MS. CLARIDGE: It was based in Philadelphia--in Philadelphia at this point. So about--it's important because it's about 100 miles away from where Rockwell was born and growing up in New York City, by the way. He was a New York City boy, which many people don't realize. This was going on and The Post started--it tried to combine a kind of urbanism with a real solid `this is what it means to be American.' And George Horace Lorimer saw as his mandate the idea of unifying an America that was, at that point, 70 p--at the turn of the century, 70 percent of the children in New York City had foreign-born parents, that--which is an extraordinary figure. So Lorimer saw--believed—and some people later accused him of isolationism as a result--that we ought to have a magazine that showed us what it was to unify and be a national consciousness. It wasn't that long after the Civil War, don't forget, when you really think about it.
LAMB: Three hundred and how many covers?
MS. CLARIDGE: Three hundred twenty-two.
LAMB: How many--how often was that consecutive weeks?
MS. CLARIDGE: Not often. I think the most he ever did in one year was 11.
LAMB: Were they controversial ever?
MS. CLARIDGE: Hm. I don't remember the covers ever being controversial. The--the--I remember the--the Civil War piece—the Civil War, excuse me--the civil rights pieces in the '60s were. And--and then he became--he--he actually helped out CORE, which was a radical left racial rights group in New York City. That was a bit controversial. But The Post covers--the only thing I remember is when he would do one--there was one with a young girl who you couldn't quite be sure if she was a girl or a boy, and he got a real overspill of letters on not so much on that he should have been clear about the gender, but what was he doing making a girl look so sloppy? Or what was he doing making a boy look so connected to girlish things, which I--I find fascinating.
LAMB: How many biographies have been written about Norman Rockwell?
MS. CLARIDGE: In the conventional sense of a kind of soup-to-nuts biography, this is the first one. There are several partial stories, and he wrote an autobiography in 1959.
LAMB: How did you go about doing this?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, when I became very serious about it and realized I was determined this was a life I wanted to pursue, I wrote his middle son, Tom Rockwell, and said, `Could we meet?' And expecting that this would be a drawn-out, yearlong process because often it is when you're trying to get the family's cooperation. And to my shock, I got an immediate response , `Come up and see me in Poughkeepsie, New York.' So...
LAMB: What--what's he doing?
MS. CLARIDGE: He's a writer of children's books and--and his wife is an illustrator. They live on a farm. They have for some years. Lovely man.
LAMB: Why--why did you write Tom and not Peter or Jarvis?
MS. CLARIDGE: Somehow I had been told, and I don't remember how I knew, but I had been told that he was the executor of the estate, so I knew he was the right person.
LAMB: How old is he now?
MS. CLARIDGE: The three sons are in their 60s, all three of them, within six years of each other. So he--anyway, he had me up to Poughkeepsie and--and it just happened, when we sat there, he said, `I'll tell you that I've been waiting--I've decided--we've decided--the family, that now is a good time to kind of--to be honest, and to be open.' And, `Do you use footnotes?' And I said--I was taken aback, I said, `What do you mean? I'm a scholar. Of course, I--I'--and he said, `Because we've had people who wanted to do it and didn't want to document or h--use scholarship.' And I said, `Well, of course.' And I thought that was a very sweet question, though. And he's--he's a highly intelligent man and a kind of gentle way of saying--so he asked me to send him a copy of my book that was then coming out, and I did. And we talked some more, and then the three brothers had to talk. And it wasn't that--that they had to authorize it. I wouldn't write an authorized biography anyway, but I thought it would be a re--sh--paying it--not giving it its due, the subject, if I didn't have the family's cooperation at all. So...
LAMB: What about the other two brothers? Where are they?
MS. CLARIDGE: One's in Rome. He's a sculptor, a stone--a stone carver--a stone carver--Peter, the youngest. And then the oldest, Jarvis, is in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
LAMB: Did you talk to all three?
MS. CLARIDGE: Oh, time and time and time again. They--in fact, it was wonderful. I got to go to Tuscany and spend part of a summer with Peter and his wife. And I had thought, gee, this is one book that will keep me right in the Northeast. Unfortunately, I won't get to travel, but who would n--Who would guess? And Great Barrin--Jarvis--they were all so open to--to meeting me wherever and whenever I needed.
LAMB: I think you mention from time to time he had a journal of some kind.
MS. CLARIDGE: That he did or that I did?
LAMB: Norman Rockwell.
MS. CLARIDGE: Yes, he did. And this was a little find. I--one day, I was going through one of the boxes in the museum archives, and I--it's a room, a h--a large room that's just stocked and--with boxes and memorabilia. It's--some of it has not been cataloged. So I was going through one of the boxes that everybody thought had been filed properly, and there was a small, old journal that it turned out was Rockwell's private diary from the 1930s. He had taken a camping trip. And it was this wonderful moment of discovery where I called over the archivist, Linda Perrault, and she was excited because she knows just about everything and she hadn't seen this. And we went through it, and then she told one of the sons, and he was excited. Because it was just nice to read an uncensored account that Rockwell clearly did not mean for public consumption of what it was like for him to go camping for six days when his two young sons were back at home with his wife and what he thought of.
LAMB: But there are other references to--What?--a--either a calendar or something where he would, I know, late--late...
MS. CLARIDGE: Oh, a calendar, late in life.
LAMB: Late in his life. Yeah.
MS. CLARIDGE: Yes. Yes, that was very good, too. At--almost at the end of--when I was finishing the biography, Tom Rockwell decided that--to share with me the calendars that his father had kept the last few years--the last 10 years of his life. And Rockwell would just jot down things that had happened during the day or things he was worried about or what was coming up or what had happened. And it was unbelievably helpful to get a sense of where his thinking was during those last 10 years of his life. To go through--it's actually at this point, they're--I guess they were those little pages you put on a Rolodex card--I mean, what do you call it where the spiral, and so they had been taken off and each year banded with--you know, with rubber bands. So you can kind of just go through each page.
LAMB: Where did you go to find things Rockwell besides the sons?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, the museum archives, which is an unusual resource. Usually when you're doing a biography, you have to go everywhere for years to collect what they have already collected, which was--so that was lovely.
LAMB: Where is it?
MS. CLARIDGE: That's in Stockbridge at the museum. And then I also went--I--I just tried to ferret out, like biographers do, anybody who had had any connection with Rockwell or who had--who was close to someone who had been Rockwell's friend or associate because--so--so, for instance, I met with somebody who had been his--often who had been his housekeeper at the end of his life.
LAMB: Name?
MS. CLARIDGE: Virginia Loveless. A wonderful woman, has a farmhouse and--and--and it--and what was interesting to me is to watch her trust unfold where over the years--I stayed with her often at the farmhouse. And she decided I was all right, and she would share more and more of--of a more intimate nature.
LAMB: Give us some of the things that you learned from her that are important to the book.
MS. CLARIDGE: All right. This sounds so trivial, but it helped reassure me of something I wondered about. The third marriage--I hope this doesn't sound too prurient, but the third marriage was—Rockwell was in his 60s and had lost his wife two years before to an unexplained death and it was very traumatic for him. And he was then the hot bachelor in town in Stockbridge because you can imagine he women who weren't married who were pursuing him then.
LAMB: Let me ask you about Stockbridge. Where is it in the world?
MS. CLARIDGE: Stockbridge is--is within 10 minutes of the New York state line and it's in Massachusetts and it's...
LAMB: West--west end of Massachusetts?
MS. CLARIDGE: I'm doing so bad. East--east end--east from New York, obviously. But...
LAMB: But not east like Boston?
MS. CLARIDGE: In the Berkshires, right.
LAMB: It's at the other end--the other end of the state.
MS. CLARIDGE: In the Berkshires. Absolutely.
LAMB: What's it like there?
MS. CLARIDGE: On the surface, it's a lovely little New England small town, cosmetically attractive in all those white picket ways--white--white picket fence ways; full of intellectuals, full of artists, very little obvious activity that would sustain it financially, and yet, quite a bit of wealth there. So...
LAMB: You have a picture in the book. It's some years ago. Does it still look like this?
MS. CLARIDGE: You know, it does. If you change the cars, update the cars to--to the early 21st century, that's pretty much what it looks like.
LAMB: And you say Norman Rockwell is looking out through that big picture window there.
LAMB: What was that?
MS. CLARIDGE: He had that window put in. He--he--when he moved to Stockbridge, he actually had a studio. That was his studio and he created it above a butcher shop and he needed a lot of--he needed good northern light, so he had the front knocked out and that glass put in. And he liked to just kind of look over the town during the day and—to see what was going on to paint.
LAMB: So now that we see a little bit of the town, go back to the housekeeper. And her name again?
MS. CLARIDGE: Yeah, that's Stockbridge. Virginia Loveless, and she--she had--her husband--or ex-husband had been an art director at Austen Riggs, at the mental--the--the--the institution there for mental--for treatment of mental illness. And Mary, Rockwell's second wife, had been treated there for 10 years. And Rockwell himself had started analysis there and therapy for his depression, so she knew a lot of--of--that they'd--they'd socialized together, been at parties with Eric Erikson, the psychoanalyst, and had heard a lot.

So when--but--but then, the point is that when--when the second wife died and Rockwell was about to remarry, he ended up choosing a schoolteacher, who had never been married, she was in her 60s, and who seemed quite prim and proper. And one of the sons told me that, in fact, Rockwell had shared with him that he was worried what their sexual life would be after marriage. He was just--he was just worried because he didn't know, he said. And--and so I asked Virginia. I said, `You were the housekeeper. You lived with them the last years of their lives. What do you think?' And she said, `Well, I'll think about this,' very proper woman. And so then the next time I saw her, she said, `I want to share with you that I am sure that the Rockwells enjoyed a lovely, passionate and intimate relationship,' and that kind of thing. And she just told me a few substantiating details. And--but the point being that I became convinced that--that what looked like their happiness was on all levels.
LAMB: So the three sons and the housekeeper--anybody else that was close to him or understood him very well?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, I mean, so many. I--I--for instance, one of my research assistants got in touch with a woman who had been--her family had been friends with the first wife's family back in the '20s, which was hard to get at because that's--you know, you're going back there in time. And she wrote wonderful letters to me about what people knew about that wife, about their life, about what had happened during certain situations. So--so that was a personal contact. Someone else who--Robert Baridge, a man in Indiana, has spent 30 years--he's a schoolteacher. And he spent 30 years every summer going around the country researching Rockwell. It's just his passion. So before many of the people were dead who did know Rockwell, he had gotten interviews and he shared a lot of that information with me, which was--I deeply appreciated, you can imagine.
LAMB: What's he done--what--what town does he live in in Indiana?
MS. CLARIDGE: I want so say Evanston--is that--Evans...
LAMB: Evansville.
MS. CLARIDGE: Evansville, right--Evansville.
LAMB: What's he done with all of his material?
MS. CLARIDGE: I don't know. And he--and--and--and if you're listening, Robert, you h--I wish--everybody wishes he would tell us what he plans to do because we're not sure. Nobody knows for sure.
LAMB: How old a man is he?
MS. CLARIDGE: In his--only in his late 40s, I think, so he has—I mean, he started this when he was an o--when he was like 19 or 20. It was his passion.
LAMB: And what kind of material does he have?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, the material that most of us are--are envious of is--is the interviews he conducted with people associated with that first marriage because they're--they're dead now. I think the—the brother of the first wife he interviewed...
LAMB: Irene.
MS. CLARIDGE: Yes, Irene. He interviewed Hotti and--who was a real character and who had lots to say. And so I wish I could have gotten to him, but the man had died by the time I was around. So those kinds of things that--that I envy.
LAMB: Couple of more paintings. This one, "The Card Game," up top--it's actually called "The Bridge Game." Where was that from?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, it--it actually is--I--I would have to remind myself, but I believe it's still in the collection at the museum.
LAMB: It says Saturday Evening Post cover at one point.
MS. CLARIDGE: Right. But the way that worked is the paintings—the paintings themselves were usually returned to Rockwell, at least after a certain date. And so...
LAMB: That was 1948.
MS. CLARIDGE: I'm--by that--he probably did get that one back. But in any event, the--the point of that painting was to show—to experiment with perspective. And it was important because he had been so ambivalent about using the camera in his work even--and--and he lagged behind other illustrators in doing that. But this—this particular painting shows you what he gained by doing that, by giving in finally because he could take--he could take pictures and then paint from them from perspectives and angles he just couldn't get if he was painting live.
LAMB: How big of paintings--well, actually, you say they were...
LAMB: big they were, 38 inches by 24 inches. And are all these in your book on display there at the...
LAMB: the Stockbridge archive?
MS. CLARIDGE: No, not all of them because occasionally—for instance, there was a gorgeous series of paintings he did in the 1920s that were really done as ads for Edison Mazda. But at this time, people like Maxwell Parish were doing--he and Rockwell were doing these ads to show light as a new--the importance of light--of electric light. And they're beautiful paintings that stand on their own as art, but General Electric owns that whole series, for instance, of 20 paintings.
LAMB: What book is this for you?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, it depends upon how you count, which life. My life as an academic, if I count that, this would be my fourth book. If--if--at writing for a public that's not just in the--in the academies, it would be my second.
LAMB: Where were you in academic and--and are you still doing it?
MS. CLARIDGE: No, I'm not still doing it. The US Naval Academy, I finished my PhD in '86, I think it was, and taught there for 10 or 11 years as a professor of English, very enjoyably.
LAMB: Why the Academy?
MS. CLARIDGE: Let's see, at the time, the dictates of my husband entered into it to into where he needed to be in Washington. And so the job offers I got, I had to kind of think what--what would go best. And I was very happy to get that particular job offer because the faculty there has a good reputation.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
MS. CLARIDGE: Clearwater, Florida, near the beach.
LAMB: How long did you stay there?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, I was--I grew up there till I--I would say till I was 18--18 or 19. I'm a Florida girl.
LAMB: And then went to college where?
MS. CLARIDGE: Florida State, my undergraduate degree, and then ended up doing my PhD back here at University of Maryland.
LAMB: What's your PhD in?
MS. CLARIDGE: British romanticism and literary theory. I have 20th century philosophy for lit crit. LAMB Now is this book the second book for commercial consumption or the third?
MS. CLARIDGE: Yes, it--it's the second one. I did a--a biography of an art deco painter, Tamara de Lempicka, and--"A Life Of Deco And Decadence" before this one. And she was kind of the opposite extreme, you know, the glitz and glitter and glamour.
LAMB: What was the hardest thing about this book?
MS. CLARIDGE: Deciding what my attitude was towards Rockwell, both as a person and a painter. I kept--I vacillated. I started being dubious. I mean, I started out, I was somewhat dubious. Then I had this kind of Epiphany where I so appreciated him. It was a love affair, love =st. And then I went to the other extreme again. And then I had to step back and say, `Wait a minute, you know, what's the proper attitude towards one's subject as a biographer and wa--how can I best serve him and the project?'
LAMB: What caused the fluctuation?
MS. CLARIDGE: I think it's something--I want to say it was something in his personality because he did it with his kids. He did it with anybody who got very close to him. He was a master at creating desire. And I--I would even use the word manipulating that relationship so that he invites proximity and intimacy, and you get close, and then you realize that that's as far as it's going to be allowed. And so then--then there's this kind of coldness. And I hink that that--it took me a while to understand that dynamic, even though his oldest son had been expressing that to me in--in different words, you know, at least four or five visits--for four or five visits where he kept talking about that, when I would say, `Tell me what it's like growing up.' He tried to say that. And I--you know--and I'd go away disgusted, saying, `Come on, you're sounding like a victim and this was a good father.' And--`Yeah.' And then--and then I'd go back the next time and say, `So you were a real victim?' And he'd say, `No, no, no. I mean, I wouldn't say that.' So I think it was a dynamic in Rockwell's personality that...
LAMB: Why did you get this from--and who's the oldest son?
LAMB: Why did you get it from Jarvis and not the other two?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, that's an interesting question, too. All—the three sons are so different in personalities, I mean, more even I think than most siblings were. And Jarvis, who's the oldest, had a particularly, I think, vexed relationship with his parents, probably played out a lot of what Rockwell played out with his parents and so forth. You know, it's all kind of fell upon the firstborn son.
LAMB: When you talk about Jarvis--and here's a photograph of him...
LAMB:, and where--what was that--where was that taken?
MS. CLARIDGE: That was in one of the Rockwell's studios when he was using one of his children, Jarvis in this case, as a model. He did this often, the--the kids modeled for him. And he posed--if you see, he--he would show the pose he wanted for the model to take. He was a great ham actor, always said he wanted to be an actor if that had been given him as a choice. So Jarvis was modeling for him.
LAMB: And when did he--when do you think he began to see a problem with his father?
MS. CLARIDGE: Early on. He says--he says one of his strongest memories is when he was seven years old and he and his father were walking around a w--a reservoir. And he thought at that point that his father was going to open up to him. Now I find this a little hard to believe that at seven, this kind of thing would be taking place, but--but Jarvis swears that--that he's correct on this and that as—as they got--they were walking around the reservoir and just as he felt his father start to open up, whatever that means, he pulled back. And Jarvis says he realized at that moment that it was never going to be different.
LAMB: What about the other two sons? What kind of relationships did they have?
MS. CLARIDGE: Youngest, Peter, I think, was--was the closest to his mother. You know, the baby and his mother was spending the—lavishing attention on him. And so, in one sense, probably the least complicated relationship with his father. I think they--they were friends and not particularly close, but the middle son, Tom, my guess would be was the closest to Rockwell and was the most like him. He was a writer. And he was--his father asked him to help him with the autobiography and--and just being around him, the chara--I get the sense of the humor and the irony, which was very much part of Norman Rockwell's humor--sense of humor. And the kind of mind--I just think--I think that Tom might have been the closest of the three.
LAMB: Was it difficult or expensive to get the rights for a lot of the paintings that you have in your book?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, it--it was not difficult or expensive because the vast majority of them are copyrighted by the family. In other words, they--the family was very generous about cooperating, and so it was not a problem. It would have been a problem, I think, to get--I--I didn't use covers from The Saturday Evening Post as covers. If you notice the logos aren't there on--I used the--the art work, the paintings. That, I understand, is a different issue, that The Saturday Evening Post is not as forthcoming.
LAMB: We are looking at some of the paintings on here. What's the black and white at the bottom?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, it's a story illustration that I found fascinating because it wa--I think it preceded by just a year or so the movie "Wizard Of Oz." And if you notice, if you know that movie at all, when--that awakening scene where Dorothy is back at her aunt's and uncle's, the Tin Man and Scarecrow, the--I think that that movie took those--those personalities directly from this painting. If you--you can actually match them, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow and so forth. But it was for a story. I think--what is it?--"The Peach"? It depends upon what title it was given when I--it was--used different titles...
LAMB: Yeah, "The Peach."
MS. CLARIDGE: ...but "The Peach"--yeah, "Peach."
LAMB: What about the one right above that where the woman is sitting on the bench?
MS. CLARIDGE: Yeah. Again, another story illustration that was early in Rockwell's career. And I thought a beautifully painted—you know, the oils and the--the color, the tonal variation there as well as the dramatic use of space I thought was a particularly nice example of those--those values.
LAMB: And then up top there is "The Checkers Game."
MS. CLARIDGE: Yeah. That's actually Jarvis' favorite painting. And I was happy to hear that because it's possibly mine, too. That painting is--the--the color is--is impossible to describe. It's--the--the values and saturation that the yellowness of the yellow and the scarlet of the red as well as the folds of the clown--of the clown's costume. Again, an illustration--an illustration for a magazine.
LAMB: You had any reaction from the family on the book?
MS. CLARIDGE: They've read the introduction only. And--and they all three were--were--were characterist--they all three were positive, and Jarvis, though, was, `Wow, I'm really interested in this. I can't wait to read this book.' And I--I actually open the book then—the next chapter with a story about him basically. So I hope he retains his enthusiasm once he--once he reads it. But I did--I got the sense from the sons that they felt I had been fair. I'm sure they don't agree with all my assessments, but...
LAMB: But you do get fairly intimate.
MS. CLARIDGE: Yes, I do.
LAMB: And do you think they'll have the same reaction when they read all the gory details? And what I mean by that, all the personal relationships between the wives and all that.
MS. CLARIDGE: The reason I think they'll be comfortable with it is we worked out a lot of their discomfort in person. I'm not good—as an interviewer, I don't like to go there either. You know, there's a sense of it's very easy to project yourself into the other person's position and you say, `I wouldn't--how would I want somebody treating me?' But I said to them, `Look, if we don't include this information, I can't give a fully fleshed portrait of your father. It won't be genuine.' And there's a way to do it, I think, with a certain amount of propriety, which--which I think I--I maintained. And they all—I mean, I felt as if I saw Tom Rockwell gulp visibly at times and make himself talk. But I--so there--I think that I was careful not to quote or attribute where I was asked not to. And so I think they'll be comfortable with what I've said.
LAMB: Where do these four paintings--covers, I guess, of The Saturday Evening Post fit in his fame as--he called himself an illustrator, but...
LAMB: ...and what's the difference between an illustrator and a—an artist?
MS. CLARIDGE: Boy, the last one is the subject of so many books and heated debate, so I'll start with the first one. "The Four Freedoms," which are being plastered--reproductions of these--all over New York City right now. It's amazing--and popping up in office buildings and on computers. "The Four Freedoms" was a series of paintings that Rockwell did to illustrate Roosevelt's--well, a combination--the—the speech he gave to Congress in January of '41, and then the meeting he had with Churchill off of Newfoundland, and--which resulted in the Atlantic Charter. The--the ideas that were promulgated in those two circumstances became known as "The Four Freedoms," the abstractions, in the long run that actually became, I guess, a backing to the UN's charters, too.
LAMB: Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
LAMB: In what time period?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, he painted those in--in 1942, and they were published beginning in February of 1943. Again, to promote the—the war effort. And, actually, the Treasury Department made $133 million off of touring those four paintings in 16 cities and selling them--selling war bonds with the--well, the picture of one of them was on the cover actually of one of the war bonds. So--but--but it was interesting because Rockwell was dying to do those. He wanted to those more than anything. And I found a memo. He--he went to a doctor once and apparently during this period he was told to have an operation. And the memo back to himself says `I can't.' And then he underlines the line, `This is more important to me than anything I have ever done.' And it--it's more than the war effort. He was so idealistic. He was so pro-living for those kind--living that kind of idealistic existence that this was a chance, he thought, to put the big ideas into concrete form.
LAMB: Where did he live in his life?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, he grew up--until he was really in high sch—in high school or in jun--the last year of junior high in New York City and in what now is Harlem, Morningside Heights. But it was--it was a nice, lower, middle-class neighborhood that he then stigmatized later in life as a real dump and the source of all violence, which is interesting.
LAMB: Now the picture--he is fairly easy to pick out in this, the young fellow there on the left. Who are the others?
MS. CLARIDGE: The--the boy next to him, standing behind him, is his--his very unattractive brother, not physically, but emotionally, Jarvis--Jerry, as he was known. And then his father and mother wearing--is seated holding his--holding the--the boys' mother, Nancy.
LAMB: His relationship to his mother, Nancy?
MS. CLARIDGE: Unpleasant, in that--Victorian. She was a product of a Victorian age and that was replicated in their relationship. There she is. She was a coquette who got what she wanted; that she passed on to Rockwell, who, in spite of being Mr. Nice Guy, when he wanted something, definitely got it. I was told that again and again. But she--she--she was spoiled and she also suffered from depression in a period where people didn't--weren't very good at analyzing that. I'm sure that influenced the relationship negatively, too.
LAMB: But how long in his life did she live and what influence did she have on his family life?
MS. CLARIDGE: On his early family life?
LAMB: No, his late family life.
MS. CLARIDGE: Late family life. He actually took care of her when her husband died in 1933. And he took care of her for another—over 20 years financially. She often--she would come--she would alternate living with Rockwell and his family, or at least down the street. He would put her in some nice apartment complex, or living with cousins in Rhode Island. There they are again.
LAMB: 1911, where were they then?
MS. CLARIDGE: 1911, they would have been in Mamaroneck—in Mamaroneck, New York. They moved to the suburbs of New York City, where Rockwell was much happier, in Mamaroneck, and then a little bit later in New Rochelle--onto New Rochelle.
LAMB: And in his adult life, where did he live?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, basically, three--there were three major periods. He lived in New Rochelle until 1939. Then he moved to Vermont, a kind of bucolic community in Vermont, not very far from the New York border, though, once again. And then he moved in...
LAMB: Which--was this Arlington?
LAMB: And the picture you have in there of the Arlington House. This is--Which house is this?
MS. CLARIDGE: That's the--the gorgeous house that had a--a twin next to it just like it. A kind of big old farmhouse that you went through a very romantic little covered bridge to get to. And it's—and he--they enjoyed it very much because you could go tramping around the mountains behind or visit the stream in front and go swimming.
LAMB: How long did he live there?
MS. CLARIDGE: Gee, I guess 10 years, at least in that house.
LAMB: So you--when we started, you mentioned that he had three wives. And the first wife was Irene, married to her for 14 years. Which one is she in this picture? I can't quite understand the cutline.
MS. CLARIDGE: Right. She's the one to the far right.
LAMB: With the hat on in the back...
LAMB: ...looking out.
LAMB: And all three boys were borne from Irene?
MS. CLARIDGE: No. The second marriage, from Mary.
LAMB: From Mary.
MS. CLARIDGE: From Mary.
LAMB: So they didn't have any children.
MS. CLARIDGE: They had no children. Apparently--I found out--again, very late in the process, but I found out from someone who knew—knew them that she didn't--she refused to have children, and he very much wanted to.
LAMB: What happened to the marriage?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, that's the marriage that she--she ran off with--embarrassed him very much--ran off with the brother of good friends of theirs in New Rochelle, socia--very--socialites that he had--kind of had set him up. They took him--the socialites took him to Europe, and while they were gone, one of the couple--the--the woman of the pair, her brother, took Irene away. And for them to, I guess, consummate their affair. And when Rockwell got back, Irene notified him she wanted a divorce. It was very public because he was so well-known, and humiliating for him.
LAMB: What happened to him then? The what did he do?
MS. CLARIDGE: He became--he was very discouraged and depressed and he left New Rochelle for a couple of months and moved back to New York City, the city he supposedly hated so much, he kept returning to, and holed up in a hotel and gave parties and tried to kind of find himself. Then went out to California after about three months and met and married within weeks his second wife, Mary Barstow.
LAMB: Up there in the top left. And there she is with her--seated. And then finally, down at the bottom with their son, Jarvis, and...
MS. CLARIDGE: Right. And aren't those happy pictures? I--it's hard to find pictures like that of Rockwell where he's relatively spontaneous or being forced to be loose physically.
LAMB: How long were they married?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, 30 years.
LAMB: What happened to that marriage?
MS. CLARIDGE: She--the last 10 years of their marriage—actually more than that, maybe last 15 years, she suffered from really aggravated depression that sh--she not only was hospitalized for it, but she had to have electric shock treatments and so forth. And at the end of--the end of that marriage, she was not feeling well one day and went up to take a nap and sh--was only about 50 years old, and he went up to find her when she didn't wake up and she was dead. Apparently, the cause was a heart attack. She'd had so much stress on her heart from various reasons, although around town, it was assumed she committed suicide since she had been suicidal for 10 years.
LAMB: In what year did she die?
MS. CLARIDGE: 1959, August.
LAMB: What impact did that have on him?
MS. CLARIDGE: Well, there's actually a picture in there that shows him just so gray and haggard. He was lost. I talked to people around town, a professional photographer there, Clem Kalischer, who said he used to see him looking like death--just death walking around town. You can see in the mirror...
LAMB: Is this the picture you're talking about?
MS. CLARIDGE: Yes, you can see his face there.
LAMB: So is he actually looking into the mirror then?
MS. CLARIDGE: Yes. And somebody took the picture.
LAMB: And--and there's a picture of her there on the wall, right at the top.
LAMB: Actually, it is on the other s--page here. It this the same picture?
MS. CLARIDGE: Right. No, that's--actually, there's a slight difference in years. Those are two separate portraits.
LAMB: But over there on the wall up there.
MS. CLARIDGE: Right. He loved her very much. It was--it was a strong marriage. You know, it was...
LAMB: What impact did the--her death have on her three children?
MS. CLARIDGE: By that point they were on--they were all out on their own and had just gotten married or at least they--and so they were--they grieved, but I think there's a sense--and I'm just surmising this from different things they told me--that they were somewhat relieved because she had suffered so much for so long with no cure in sight.
LAMB: What's this picture?
MS. CLARIDGE: That's a sad picture, in spite of its occasion, which is Tom Rockwell's marriage. Tom is the--the young man to the far right and his wife Gail. And their parents are in the foreground looking excited and happy. And then Mary, who was at--was receiving electric shock treatments and had just been kind of let out for the day--she and Norman are in the very back of the picture looking out of place a bit, which apparently from reca--from stories I've heard, that she did feel very much out of place.
LAMB: Talking about them living in Arlington, Vermont, and then what year did they get to Stockbridge?
MS. CLARIDGE: They got to Stockbridge--they--they spent a few years in around 1952, '53 going back and forth a lot from Stockbridge to—to Arlington, which is just a couple of hours' travel, for her treatment. And then they actually, in 1954, moved to Stockbridge permanently and--which means that actually they had been--it was more like 14 years they had lived in Arlington. And so now they--they moved to Stockbridge and that was kind of the third major phase, in my mind, of his--of his geographical locations.
LAMB: When did he marry the second Mary?
MS. CLARIDGE: Right, the second Mary, exactly, who we'll--who—whom we'll call Molly. That was in '61. And, let's see, that's the summer of '59 is when the second Mary--that Mary Rockwell, the second wife, died. And then he married Molly in--two years later.
LAMB: How was that marriage?
MS. CLARIDGE: Very good. It was--it was a--a--a calm, even-tempered, even-keeled marriage, kind of the opposite of what he had just had for 30 years, I guess. Of course, there were no children, and it was more a question, I think, of real deep companionship. She'd had a very rich life herself as a single woman, schoolteacher in a private academy, a very bright woman. And so she saw this as an adventure being married to a famous illustrator.
LAMB: In that photograph I just showed of the bicycles, you tell a story about the late years where they used to go out and ride their bicycles every day. What--they went...
LAMB: You actually had the number of miles, 4.7 miles a day.
MS. CLARIDGE: Right. Right. They were that precise. That was Molly's doing. She measured things like that and--and kept up with it. Yes, they did that every day, and it kept them healthy and hardy until the end, when a couple--there were a couple occasions where Rockwell fell off his bike and un--unexplained, and he couldn't remember afterwards what had happened, one time when they were in the Caribbeans, and it--it appears in retrospect, he had mini strokes, I mean, little M-I-N-I--mini strokes. And they tried to deny it for a long time to the point where they also had a routine of going out driving every afternoon, even though Molly was a terrible driver, and the townspeople kind of knew when they'd be driving and avoided them and--and watched out for them, and yet, avoided them. And finally, all this had to be given up as Rockwell kept deteriorating.
LAMB: And where's this picture from there?
MS. CLARIDGE: Yeah, the last one. I had to fight to include that because those who love him, not his family, but friends didn't want to show him like that. That's at the very end of his life on his what they call esca--escapebo, which is a little private area of their house that Molly had built, that they could go out on and escape the crowds that would come--that would go by the street and try to gawk. And he had put a tea cozy--I don't know if you can see in that picture, but on his head he put a tea cozy--even though he was at the very end of his life and often suffering from dementia, he still had this incredible sense of humor. And he was kidding with Molly, who's in the front, and the nurse in the back--and took the tea cozy and put it on his head as a hat.
LAMB: Why i--why is he important enough to have a biography written about him?
MS. CLARIDGE: Because to many people--and by the way, in the world at large, Europe and the Middle East and the Far East, as well as—as America, he represents the idea of America in the 20th century. Now--now what--what people mean by that may be very different from what he intended or--or how he's best "used," but he represents a kind of--there it is, exactly, saying grace. And that's a wonderful illustration of the idea of America as a--as a tolerant, generous, capacious country where you--on the one hand, the right values obtained--prayer, sobriety--on the other hand, room for people who may not share those values and who, nonetheless, can be invited in. If you notice at the corner of that picture, there are actually slivers of people--there's somebody looking in that's deliberately not fully captured, as if to invite the--the audience into that painting.
LAMB: 1951. On the other page, is this the art critic? And that--that--his son didn't like this.
MS. CLARIDGE: No, his son--in fact, I don't--his--none of his sons like it because it's so fraught with meaning. The woman in the—in the portrait on the wall, the model for that was--was Mary Rockwell when she was ill with depression.
LAMB: The--the--their mother.
MS. CLARIDGE: Their mother. And the--the boy, the art critic himself, was Jarvis. He was used as the model. And then the--the--the group portrait on the other side, "The Dutch Fathers," represented a tremendous kind of matrix of influences in Rockwell's life, both his ancestral painter relief, antecedents, Rembrandt, Halls but also his own father who was very interested in Dutch art.
LAMB: Why didn't they like this?
MS. CLARIDGE: Because if you--I don't know if it shows up on that reproduction, but "The Art Critic" is shown as ri--as--as examining with a magnifying glass the--the bosom of the woman. I mean, supposedly it's a-it's a pin on the woman's gown, but--but the joke is that he's leaning in too close, that it's lacking in decorum. And "The Dutch Fathers" are laughing in mock--mock dismay. So it's somewhat--taboos were being violated there about mother-son relationships.
LAMB: Have they ever totaled up the number--the total number of paintings he's--drew in his life?
MS. CLARIDGE: No, but a rough figure is that he did over 4,000 pieces, which would include ads and portraits and Saturday Evening Post covers.
LAMB: How much was he worth when he died?
MS. CLARIDGE: Not that much considering. He had given away so many--had given away so many of his paintings because he--they hadn't become real marketable in terms of money until late, that a lot of the best works have been given away. Molly then tried to get--to get them back for the museum, not for their own personal wealth. So I would say he--he was just an upper middle class guy in terms of his in—what he--what he left them in terms of an estate or legacy financially.
LAMB: You start off by saying that Charles Dickens played a role in his life. Mr. CLARIDGE: Yes.
LAMB: How?
MS. CLARIDGE: I think it cannot be overstated, and this may be my background as a literature person in terms of my own training, but he said again and again how he was indebted to Charles Dickens. And people, as they often did with Rockwell's self-pronoun--pronouncements, ignored that. But if you go back, he--his father read Dickens to him aloud every night for a couple of years when he was seven and eight and learning to draw. And he would actually draw from the Dickens stories. But even more important is that his view of life, and he says this very quietly but seriously a couple times in his autobiography, `I was taught how to view the world through Dickens, including an insatiable curiosity.' And I don't doubt that, absolutely--and also Dickens helped him give form to chaos, you know, anti-city, pro-pastoral, ways to act out or to give shape and form and impose narrative form on some of his own bogeys, I guess, psychological bogeys.
LAMB: The last painting you have in the book is called "The Connoisseur."
LAMB: What's that from? 1962.
MS. CLARIDGE: Yes, and that--that painting's gotten a lot of press lately in terms of very good explications of it. But it--it is a wonderful example of what--what you just touched upon earlier of what Rockwell could represent to this country, this tolerance. He has a conservative-looking man standing there with his even then dated hat and cane and so forth--umbrella, looking at a faux Jackson Pollock or something that--that America would have seen as, `Oh, it's that abstract expressionist stuff.' And he--it's a way of--he--he treats that abstract expressionist piece very respectfully. I mean, it's--it's done fairly nicely. And he treats the conservative man respectfully. And he doesn't show us the face, so there's this amazing interplay of--in a museum of one type of sensibility vs. another.
LAMB: Where do you live now?
MS. CLARIDGE: In Brooklyn.
LAMB: How many children do you have?
LAMB: Four?
LAMB: At what age?
MS. CLARIDGE: Various ages. And I have to admit, two I inherited from my marriage, two from my own loins--16-year-old, 18-year-old, 24-year-old, 27-year-old.
LAMB: And what's your husband do?
MS. CLARIDGE: He was in the entertainment--in the music industry, and he is now with an Israeli high-tech company that--that's--it's an American stations in New York City.
LAMB: And do you have another book in mind?
LAMB: What is it?
MS. CLARIDGE: I can't tell you.
LAMB: Why not?
MS. CLARIDGE: Because I want to make 100 percent sure that it's the one I should do.
LAMB: Is it a biography?
MS. CLARIDGE: It is a biography, but I'm trying to think of an exciting new way to take the idea of a biography, not what Edmund Morris did with "Dutch," but--but--and expand it into being about something else as well. How's that for oblique?
LAMB: Our guest has been Laura Claridge and this is what her book looks like, "Norman Rockwell: A Life." Thank you very much.
MS. CLARIDGE: Thank you.
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