Arthur P. Dickson
My grandmother had a brother who died relatively young — 15 years before I was even born. He’d been a commercial illustrator, and visiting her house growing up, I saw evidence of her brother’s former existence.
I remember she’d hung one his paintings in an upstairs bedroom — of a well dressed man with a very white collar. She said that he had painted it for an Arrow Shirt ad, but I never saw the advertisement. It would be interesting to find it, but I reckon it would be pretty hard. Since any online search would only yield the work of another, more celebrated illustrator: J. C. Leyendecker.
If you’re hoping to make a mark on the world, dying too soon can put you at a disadvantage. Leyendecker lived to the age of 77, but my great uncle, Arthur Parkinson Dickson was 51 when he died (of tuberculosis) in 1939.
As a result, he’s now widely unknown. So finding any information about his life and career online is difficult. Still, we have certain clues…
Like Albrecht Dürer, Arthur Dickson (sometimes) signed his work with an “AD” monogram. He actually used two different monograms. The first version, taken from his self portrait above, is shown here: a square mark with a circular AD carved out as negative space.
Arthur Dickson’s 1915 Silent Film Heralds
I found his “AD” monogram in this illustration of Theda Bara. The reproduction here isn’t so good. I had to do some image processing to make visible the faint “Vampire” type (and bat!) behind the figure. It would have been better, of course, to find the actual May 1915 issue of Exhibitors Bulletin (Fox Film’s “Lively Magazine for Theatre Owners”) depicted in the ad. Other issues of Exhibitors Bulletin (1917–1918) can be seen at Hathi Trust, but the May 1915 issue seems to be unavailable.
William Fox founded his Fox Film Corporation in 1915 and my great uncle appears to have been been there right from the start of the silent film era.
If we search for vintage Fox Film posters, we don’t find anything with this monogram. Search instead for “William Fox movie heralds,” however, and we find plenty. “Movie Heralds” were the inexpensively printed flyers that were given away at the box office to promote upcoming films.
The earliest commercial illustration by Dickson that I’ve found online is the one below. My great uncle would have been 27 at the time.
A Vamp There Was
It’s been pointed out, that this is not a good likeness of Theda Bara, and I don’t think it’s Dickson’s best work. He captured the Theda Bara vibe much better in his illustration for “The Vampire.” But “A Fool There Was” was a pivotal film for both William Fox and Theda Bara, launching the actress as a major silent film star and establishing her typecast “vamp” persona.
Although I’ve always understood the meaning of the term “vamp” (a seductive woman), I never realized that it derived from the word “vampire.” And, apparently, this was movie that coined the term for popular usage.
Clipping of vampire. From a character type developed first for silent film, notably for Theda Bara’s role in the 1915 film A Fool There Was.
Wiktionary: “vamp” (etymology 2)
(More about Arthur Dickson’s work for Fox Film Corporation: after the fold…) [Read more…]