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Bergey, Earle K

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Artist.

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(1901-1952) US illustrator, sometimes signing himself Earle Bergey, E K Bergey, or just Bergey, whose prodigious output for the Pulp magazines ranged across all genres, although it is for his sf work that he is best remembered today; towards the end of his life he began painting paperback covers as well, his most renowned being that for the 1948 Popular Library reprint of Anita Loos's (non-sf) Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925). He received his formal art education, such as it was, at night classes at Philadelphia's Academy of Fine Arts, by day working in the art department of the Philadelphia Ledger. In 1935 he left the Ledger to become a full-time freelance illustrator, having already done a fair amount of Illustration for the Fiction House chain of pulps, among others; he also did some work for the Slicks, including the Saturday Evening Post. It was not until 1939 that he began painting covers for the SF Magazines, beginning with the August 1939 cover of Strange Stories. Although Bergey has often been dismissed as the "inventor of the brass brassière" and reviled for having given sf a trashy reputation, the truth is that he and Rudolph Belarski were brought in by Standard Magazines/Thrilling Publications, publishers of Strange Stories, Startling Stories, Space Stories, Captain Future and Thrilling Wonder Stories, precisely to give their publications a bit of overt sex appeal in order to attract youthful male newsstand browsers. Bergey painted 58 covers for Startling Stories, 59 covers for Thrilling Wonder Stories, and 13 covers for Captain Future, among many others, often featuring half-dressed pin-up girls in peril. At the behest of Ned L Pines, owner of not just the Standard Magazines chain but also the paperback house Popular Library, from the late 1940s Bergey (and Belarski) brought the same approach to the covers of that publisher's books. Not long before Bergey's death, Pines, recognizing that his magazines were faring poorly in the challenge from the more up-market competition and under pressure from Congress over Popular Library's covers – notably because of Bergey's illustration for the 1950 Popular Library reissue of John Erskine's staid nonfiction The Private Life of Helen of Troy (1925), which showed the outline of Helen's nipples through her skimpy dress – instituted a change of policy. It became evident that the versatile Bergey was just as capable of painting Hard SF subjects as cheesecake. It is, moreover, noteworthy that, all joking about brass brassières aside, Bergey was one of those artists who helped change the emphasis of sf cover art from gadgetry to people. [PN/JG/JGr]

Earle Kulp Bergey

born Philadelphia: 26 August 1901

died Doylestown, Pennsylvania: 30 September 1952


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