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Campbell, E. Simms 1906–1971

E. Simms Campbell 19061971

Freelanced in the Big Apple

Began Work for Esquire

Aided Up-and-coming Artists



E. Simms Campbell was the first African American artist hired by a national publication, Esquire magazine, and the first black syndicated cartoonist. While he is perhaps best known for his voluptuous enchantresses and Eskythe white-mustachioed, bulging-eyed connoisseur of feminine pulchritude-featured in Esquire, Campbell produced award-winning artwork for numerous periodicals throughout his career. He was a master cartoonist of urbane humor, caricaturist, and artist.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, on January 2, 1906, Elmer Simms Campbell was the son of Elmer Cary, a chemistry teacher and assistant principal in a high school in St. Louis. His mother, Elizabeth Simms Campbell, stimulated her sons interest in art as she frequently painted with water colors for her own amusement. Campbells first wife, Constance, whom he married in 1936, died in 1940, and he married her younger sister, Vivian. They had one child, Elizabeth Ann.

Campbell received his early education in St. Louis. When he was ready for high school, he went to live with his aunt in Chicago, graduating from Englewood High School. Englewood students and teachers were exceedingly interested in student artwork. Some of the schools earliest graduates had already made names for themselves as cartoonists, and students whose artwork appeared in TheE Weekly, were given special notice. Campbells drawings were soon among the most familiar ones in the school paper. In fact, his name was as well known to classmates as were the names of Englewoods athletes. In 1923 he won a nationwide contest in a high school paper for an Armistice Day cartoon showing the debt of the nation to those who died in World War I.

After high school Campbell attended the Lewis Institute and later tried the University of Chicago for a year. Neither school seemed right for him at the time, but he stayed in Chicago and worked on the staff of the Phoenix, a humor magazine. Campbell then registered at the Art Institute of Chicago where he remained as a student for a brief period. At the institute he entered pictures in the International Water Color Exhibits, where they were accepted and commended. He financed his education through scholarships and summer jobs as a post office messenger and a dining car waiter. While in Chicago Campbell also participated in the creation of College Comics, a magazine in which he did many drawings under various pseudonyms. The magazine failed and Campbell returned to St. Louis.

Freelanced in the Big Apple

Back in St. Louis Campbell was discouraged against a career in commercial art because of his skin color, but he was dogged in his determination to break down the discrimination barrier in his area of interest. Serving as a waiter on a dining car, he drew caricatures of the train passengers. Later he succeeded in showing his work to

At a Glance

Bom Elmer Simms Campbell on January 2, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri; died of cancer, January 27, 1971, in White Plains, New York; son of Elmer {a chemistry teacher and assistant principal) and Elizabeth Simms Campbell; married Constance, 1936 (died, C 1940); married Vivian (Constances sister); children: Elizabeth Ann (second marriage).

Briefly attended various schools, including Lewis Institute (Chicago), University of Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, Academy of Design (New York), and Art Students League (New York). Drew caricatures while a waiter on a dining car in St. Louis, 1920s; hired by Triad Studios in St. Louis, c.1927; found work in a New York advertising studio, c 1929; began working for Esquire,1933; also contributed to Cosmopolitan, Red Book, The New Yorker, Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post, College Humor, Playboy, Opportunity, Life, and Judge.

Selected awards: Held honorary degrees from Lincoln and Wilberforce universities.

the manager of Triad Studios, J. P. Sauerwein. Triad was one of the largest commercial art studios in the Midwest, located in St. Louis. Campbell was hired. While his wages were better than those of most young men in their twenties and his job was secure, he continued to have a tenacious yearning to do magazine illustrations, covers, cartoons, and caricatures. Campbell worked for Triad for a year and a half, then went to New York City to try his luck as a freelance cartoonist.

Campbell found a job in a New York advertising studio, where he earned about one-eighth of his St. Louis salary. He also sold gags to other artists, sometimes 50 per week. He enrolled in the Academy of Design to increase his technical knowledge, and he studied at the Art Students League under the noted artist and print-maker George Grosz. Soon Campbell contacted Ed Graham, a friend from Chicago who also worked on The Phoenix. Graham had become one of the most notable cartoonists in the United States and was a regular contributor to humorous magazines. Impressed with Campbells work, Graham promised to help him effect his dreams. With Grahams counsel, Campbell was able to show his work to the editors and make his first sales.

Campbells covers in Opportunity were eye-catching, original, lifelike, and genuine. At Christmas of 1930 he had covers on both Life and Judge; during Christmas of 1931, he designed the cover of Judge. Sometime in the early 1930s, after Campbell had become a well-established cartoonist, he and entertainer Cab Calloway met at the Dunbar Apartments in Harlem. After then, the Campbell and Calloway families became friends.

In Of Minnie the Moocher and Me, Calloway wrote about the close friendship the two men established. Calloway asserted, He was also, like me, a hard worker, a hard drinker, and a high liver. I used to think that I worked hard But Campbell outdid me. He drew a cartoon a day, not little line drawings, but full water-color cartoons. The two men frequented the Harlem after-hours joints like the Rhythm Club, drank, and enjoyed each others company until the next morning. Somebody would get us home and pour us into bed, and wed be back at it again the next night, Calloway later recalled.

Began Work for Esquire

Campbell began receiving plenty of commissions and soon after published his well-known A Night-Club Map of Harlem, an engraving locating cafes and such sites as the Lafayette Theater, the Cotton Club, Connies Inn, and Smalls Paradise; Campbell placed his friend Cab Calloway in a prominent position at 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue. The original drawing became a part of Calloways personal collection.

The editors planning the first issue of Esquire magazine, in October of 1933, approached Campbell after having seen his work. Campbell was commissioned to do a full-page drawing in color. He was permitted to use any subject he liked as long as it had plenty of beautiful girls. For days myriad ideas dazzled him until one day he completed a design of a sultan surrounded by his harem of shapely femmes fatales. The editors published it. The cover was a smash hit and the public clamored for more. Esquire hired Campbell under a long-term contract, and the sprawling signature E. Simms Campbell soon became well-known to a vast number who avidly read Americas humorous magazines. Campbells seraglio beauties paid his bills, built him a bank account, and bought him a beautiful sprawling estate in White Plains, New York.

Campbells splendid black and white illustrations appeared in many other magazines, indicating that Campbells talent was not confined to caricatures and cartoons. His art appeared also in hundreds of newspapers and magazines as a syndicated feature, and commercial advertising agencies employed his talent in the composition of their ads. In his early thirties, Campbell became one of the highest paid commercial artists in his field. He was a tireless worker, producing about 300 full page drawings a year, creating many drawings for ads, serving as cartoonist for newspaper syndicates, and producing creative drawings for special purposes.

Campbell was a contributor of cartoons and other art work to Cosmopolitan magazine, Red Book magazine, The New Yorker, Colliers magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, College Humor, Playboy, and Opportunity. He contributed advertising illustrations and cartoons to Esquire; did full pages of cartoons for the New York Sunday Mirror; and black and white illustrations for Jack Kofoeds Great Dramas in Sports, which appeared in Life magazine. Moreover, Campbell designed the cover Into the Light, a brochure in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Young Mens Christian Association.

Aided Up-and-coming Artists

Because Campbell worked under a contract with King Features Syndicate, which served leading daily papers, his cartoons appeared in 145 newspapers throughout the United States. He won the $ 1,000 prize in the 1936 national competition offered by the Chicago Hearst newspaper for the best cartoon depicting the tax-grabber as the greedy profiteer. Campbell likewise won an honorable mention for water color at the American Negro Exposition in 1940. For a number of years he was represented in the International Water Color Societys shows. A member of the Society of Illustrators, the Society of Artists, and the National Society of Cartoonists, he held honorary degrees from Lincoln and Wilber-force universities. Campbells work was gathered in two books Cuties in Arms (1942) and More Cuties in Arms (1943), both collections of his cartoons by David McKay.

One of Campbells most satisfactory hobbies was functioning as a tutor and advisor to many rising young artists. A great deal of fan mail came to him, much of it from aspiring artists, often very young, or from parents who were eager to learn whether their children possessed an artistic gift. Campbell answered all of this mail and gave generously of his time to young artists by inviting them to his home for criticism and advice, making connections for them in the commercial art world, and encouraging them as once he needed encouragement.

In 1938 Campbell lost a New York Supreme Court application in White Plains that would have required mortgage trustees to sell a 12-acre estate in Mount Pleasant to him for $18,500. His counsel, renown civil libertarian Arthur Garfield Hays, contended that Campbells proposal was rejected because of his color.

In 1957, after his primary employer, Esquire, changed its format, Campbell and his family moved to Switzerland, where they lived for 14 years. After his wife, Vivian, died of cancer in October of 1970, Campbell returned to the United States. He was diagnosed with cancer as well and died on January 27, 1971. His daughter Elizabeth Ann Parks and a granddaughter survived Campbell. His daughter had married Gordon Parks, the celebrated photographer, author, and filmmaker. Funeral services were held in the White Plains Community Unitarian Church. Campbell dedicated his life to amusing countless readers of the periodicals that published his drawings and sources claim that he found peace through achieving his goal.



Bontemps, Arna W., We Have Tomorrow, Houghton Mifflin, 1945.

Brawley, Benjamin G., The Negro Genius, Dodd, Mead, 1937.

Calloway, Cab (with Bryant Rollins), Of Minnie the Moocher & Me, Crowell, 1976.

Downs, Karl E., Meet the Negro, Login Press, 1943.

Murray, Florence, The Negro Handbook, Wendell Malliet and Co., 1942.

National Urban League, He Crashed the Color Line!, National Urban League, 1933.

National Urban League, They Crashed the Color Line!, National Urban League, 1937.

Negro Year Book: An Annual Encyclopedia of the Negro, 1937-38, Negro Year Book Publishing Co., 1937.

Robinson, Wilhelmina S.,Historical Negro Biographies, Publishers Company, 1968.

Watkins, Sylvester C., The Pocket Book of Negro Facts, Bookmark Press, 1946.


New York Times, January 29, 1971.

Opportunity, March 1932, pp. 82-89.

Casper L. Jordan

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