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 George James Tetzel  (1892 - 1965)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: painting, illustration

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George James Tetzel
An example of work by George James Tetzel
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:

This following biography was researched, compiled, and written by Geoffrey K. Fleming, Director, Southold Historical Society, Southold, NY.

GEORGE JAMES TETZEL (January 17, 1892 - March 2, 1965)

Artist, painter, and illustrator.  Born in New York City on January 17, 1892, the son of August Paul Carl Tetzel (1866-1912) and Amelia (Emily) Shuster Tetzel (b. 1867).  His father was a successful butcher who operated his own company, both in Great Britain and in New York City.  In 1900 his family lived in Deptford, a town in Lewisham, a borough of Greater London, and by 1910 had returned to America, living in the city on Second Avenue.

It was in New York City that George J. Tetzel would receive his education, most likely studying at the Art Students League.  A great admirer of the noted illustrator Harvey Dunn (1884-1952), he may have also studied with him during the period he taught at the Grand Central School of Art.  By the time he was 18 years of age Tetzel was already known as a successful fashion artist.  In 1917 and 1918 he worked as an illustrator for the Julian Hollendorf Studio, which was located on East 17th Street in New York City.  Around 1920 he was married to a Canadian, Sarah Theresa McPhee (1896-1983).  Together they had four children, including the noted actress of the American stage and screen, Joan Margaret Tetzel (1921-1977).

By 1926 Tetzel was working mostly full-time for the Wright Illustration Company in New York.  While employed there he worked free-lance and created a number of illustrations for other companies.  During this period he worked for Barron G. Collier (1873-1939) of Collier's Consolidated Street Railway Advertising Company, one the largest mass transit advertising companies in the country.  He also illustrated for T. S. Eliot's Criterion, the literary review that Eliot edited from 1922-1939; and Huckins-Smith, the noted decorative illustration company, located on west 40th Street in New York City.  He also began doing a good deal of catalog work, especially for Bellas Hess & Company, one of the premier mail order clothing houses in America and Spies & Company, dealers in military and hardware concerns.

The 1920's were a good time for Tetzel, who was sought after for his finely detailed illustration work.  In 1927 he continued working for a number of the previously mentioned firms.  In addition, he picked up work at the Vogue Art Company, Westerman Pagano, and Kuch & Freeman.  Around 1928 he moved his family to Chicago, Illinois to take up a new position.  It did not last long as nearly everyone in the family disliked Chicago, and by 1930 the family was back in New York City.  After a brief stop on Riverside Drive, the family took up residence on Cambridge Avenue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.  Later they moved a few blocks west to 2708 Netherland Avenue which they rented.  Not long after they purchased a house at 2700 Netherland where the family would live for decades.  In the early days of the Depression Tetzel found work mainly as a free-lancer - a fact he noted in his personal record book.  This included work, again, for Wright, but also for two new clients, the Chicago Mail Order Company and Sears, Roebuck, & Company, where he did a large amount of fashion illustration.

By 1931 he had secured a position as art director at Becker, one of the leading agencies representing commercial artists.  There he continued work for Sears, spending more than seventy-six hours between March and May 1931 working on their "Big Book" catalog (Sears stopped publishing these massive, all inclusive catalogs in 1993).  Sears would become one of his biggest accounts, and would provide an income that would help shepherd him and his young family safely through the depression years.  Beginning in 1934 he would secure further work from other important firms and companies, including from the advertising concerns Ruthruff & Ryan and Lambert & Feasley, and the  MacFadden publication Liberty Magazine, the New York Daily News, the Pictorial Review, Montgomery Ward, and for Rinso, the famous soap made by Lever Brothers.

By 1935 Tetzel's quality of work was known throughout his industry and he began to acquire further clients, mainly located in the New York City metropolitan area.  He began to illustrate for the Herald Tribune and New York Daily Mirror in addition to his already successful work for the Daily News.  He also began designing for Lord & Thomas, the famous advertising firm that so successfully created and promoted Sunkist brand orange juice.  Other magazines began to feature his work as well, including the Canadian Home Journal (1935-36) and Good Housekeeping.

Tetzel designed and illustrated everything from simple ads, to full serials and stories, to funny pages and comics.  His first serial was a story published in the Daily News named Special Squad, which appeared in early 1936.  The stories were based upon the criminal activities of John Dillinger and were published as a weekly column in the Saturday edition of the Hearst newspapers from October 1936 through January 1937.  He also did work for Hearst's King Features and the magazine Women's World at this time.

Beginning in 1937 Tetzel was offered more serial work by the Daily News.  That year he illustrated Roy Vickers's (1889-1965) Find this Girl and Patricia Wentworth's (1878-1961) Run!.  He continued to receive regular illustration work from the Daily News, Sears, and King Features.  Johnstone Studios, Tranquillin Art Studio, and Popular Publications became new clients during the last months of 1937.  In 1938 he illustrated the serial Her Second Choice, by Elizabeth York Miller, which was re-published the following year in Grit, the comic book magazine.  He also did designs for a new toothpaste test campaign in July which included illustrations with comical titles such as "Toothpaste makes a hamburger taste better."

By 1940 much of his regular work was coming through the Daily News.  In addition to his standard illustration work, Tetzel worked on another serial entitled Murder is Not Mute, written by Audrey Newell.  This trend of support by the Daily News continued through much of the next eight years.  In 1942 he illustrated two serials, The Girl Who Stood Alone, by Roy Vickers and Blind Man's Bluff, by Baynard Kendrick (1894-1977).  Kendrick's soon to be famous blind private investigator, Duncan Maclain, was the inspiration for two Hollywood films based on his writings, Eyes in the Night (1942) and The Hidden Eye (1945).

In 1942 Tetzel started doing work for The Apostleship of Prayer, a catholic religious publication first founded by the Jesuit order in France in 1844.  That year he created "2 pen & ink drawings" for the publication.  His success with this periodical would lead him to become one of the "illustrators of choice" for several religious publications and magazines over the next two decades.  That year he illustrated one more serial for the Daily News, entitled The Chinese Shawl, by Patricia Wentworth.  The serials A Wife to Raise, by Margaret Weymouth Jackson (1895-1974) and The Chimney Crashed, by British crime writer Alice Campbell, were illustrated by Tetzel for the Daily News in the spring and summer of 1943.  In the fall another serial, The Clock Strikes Twelve, by Patricia Wentworth, was illustrated for the News as well.  On average Tetzel received between $500 and $800 per serial, depending on the number of illustrations and weeks it ran in a particular publication.

In addition to The Apostleship of Prayer, Tetzel pulled in some new clients in 1944, including American Weekly Inc. and True Story Magazine, another MacFadden publication.  The Daily News again commissioned him to illustrate three new serials, One is Missing, by H. Verner Dixon, The Key, by Patricia Wentworth, and Private Investigator Maclain, by Baynard Kendrick.  Four further serials followed in 1945; Silence in Court and Pilgrim's Rest, by Patricia Wentworth, The Wicked Mrs. Steel, by Roy Vickers, and With Bated Breath, by Alice Campbell.

King Features commissioned a serial in 1946 entitled The King's General, based upon the novel by Daphne Du Maurier (1907-1989), which was followed by another serial, The Faithless One, by May Edington.  The Daily News came calling again later that year with the serial Latter End, by Patricia Wentworth.  Tetzel returned, in 1947, to King Features to illustrate the serials The Salem Frigate and Home Port.  Even though he would continue to illustrate serials for the Daily News (such as Child's Play, by Alice Campbell, Six Came to Dinner, by Roy Vickers, and Eternity Ring, by Patricia Wentworth, all published in 1947), more and more of his routine work was coming from Catholic related publications.

By the spring of 1948, The Messenger, the monthly publication of the Jesuit Fordham University, had hired Tetzel to illustrate for them.  It was here that Tetzel would, by 1949, receive the majority of his routine illustration work, though he did continue to illustrate serials for the Daily News through 1954.  His serial work for 1948 included The Seventh Man, by Nina Wilcox Putman (1888-1962), Miss Silver Comes to Stay, by Patricia Wentworth,  and Silence for the Murderer, by Freeman Wills Crofts (1879-1957), one of the 'Big Four' authors of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. 

In 1949 Tetzel joined the firm of Baptiste & Sanchez which represented him for many years.  Though he was working more and more on Catholic publications, he did receive some new commissions during this period, including from Reader's Digest.  Tetzel illustrated the serials Inside Passage, by George Harmon Cox (1901-1984), Calling All Girls, author unknown, Threat of Dragons, author unknown, The Collections, by Patricia Wentworth, and Nest of Vipers, by British author, Tod Claymoore, in 1949.  The serials The Hungry Spider, by Selwyn Jepson (1899-1989) and The Ivory Dagger, by Patricia Wentworth, were completed and published in 1950. 

One of the longest serials that Tetzel illustrated during this period was Sword's Point, by Marie De Nervaud (1884-1973), which ran 42 chapters before its conclusion in the spring of 1950.  In 1951 his routine illustration drawing was now almost exclusively for The Messenger, while the Daily News ordered two new serials, The Watersplash, by Patricia Wentworth and His House in Order, by Mignon  G. Eberhart (1899-1996), whose works, noted the New York Times, were "Pervaded by the atmosphere of horror and suspense . . ."  In 1952 Tetzel illustrated the serials Tiger Loose!, by Margery Allingham (1904-1966) and Vanishing Point, by Patricia Wentworth.  That year he began illustrating works for the Catholic Book Publishing Company and Manhattan College, both located in New York.

1953 was a year of further inroads into Catholic publishing, where Teztel began working for both The Brooklyn Tablet, the official publication of the Diocese of Brooklyn, and The Jesuit Seminary News.  Two more Daily News serials were completed that year, including the now famous Say it with Bullets, by Richard Powell (1908-1999) and The Benevent Treasure, by Patricia Wentworth.  His final serials, all published in 1954, were A Match for Hire, author unknown, Desperate Reprieve, by Andrew Garve (1908-2001), The Listening Eye, by Patricia Wentworth, and, ironically, one entitled Final Crossroads, by Maude Parker.

From 1954 forward Tetzel would work mainly for The Apostleship of Prayer and The Messenger, as well as working on special projects relating to both publications.  In 1962, with his health beginning to fail, he created his last illustrations for the Fordham Press.  Hospitalized from August through November, his final illustrations were for the story entitled Via Nuovo, which were delivered on December 19, 1962. 

George James Tetzel died on Tuesday, March 2, 1965 at the Harkness Pavilion of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City.  He was buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, located in Hawthorne, Westchester County, New York. 

As in the case of so many illustrators little of his original work has come to market, been donated to museums, or been released by his immediate family.  In some ways this has made it difficult to understand how broadly his work was published and respected during his own lifetime.  This biography, in part, will hopefully remedy this situation.

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