[This picture was published in "Night in the big swamp", by John Randolph Phillips, American Magazine, July, ca. 1940's. Oil on canvas, 25.5 x 37.75"]
A versatile storyteller, Walter Baumhofer (1904-1986) was a dominant force in the pulp magazine market and a steady, inspired mainstay of the general interest magazines. Though the time he spent illustrating pulp magazines was relatively brief, Baumhofer had an enormous impact on the genre. The prolific artist recalled in a letter to Walt Reed in 1968, "I doubt if anybody did as many pulp covers as I did in the '30s. I had a contract with Street & Smith for three or four years to do 50 covers a year. In addition to this, I was turning out Lord knows how many covers for Popular Publications, and illustrating for Liberty." In the artist's files is a scrap of paper listing 521 pulp covers - and it is likely that even this impressive number falls short of his actual output.
Baumhofer's first professional assignment came from Adventure magazine, where he was commissioned to do black- and-white interior illustrations. Another pulp artist, H. Winfield Scott, who had made quite a splash the previous year, advised him in 1926: "Why fool around with those black and whites, why not try covers? They pay all of $75!" Baumhofer took Scott's advice and soon sold his first cover to Clayton Publications for Danger Trail. From there, he proceeded to do covers for Ace-High, Dime Detective and other pulps, leading to his creation of Street & Smith's Doc Savage, for which he created all 43 covers between March 1933 and September 1936.
The artist's popularity has been explained this way by Robert Sampson in The Pulp Collector: "Baumhofer brought to pulp magazine covers the resources of fine art. He created covers of unified design, focused and balanced, done in a transparent richness of color and swimming with clear light." From a practical point of view, versatility was the key. By the artist's accounting, he painted about 750 covers and illustrations for general interest magazines, primarily in the Forties and Fifties. He also did advertising for Lucky Strike, Maxwell House, and Beauty Rest. During his association with the American Artists agency, he worked for just about every nationally circulated magazine with the single exception of The Saturday Evening Post. As many publications began relying heavily on photography, Baumhofer's options became limited. His venues became calendars and sporting magazines. Hunting and fishing subjects gave him adequate opportunity to exercise his humorous side.
In 1982, Baumhofer reminisced: "These works represent my whole life. They bring back so many memories - memories of times long past, of models, assignments, stories, editors, and long hours of work; of days when illustration was alive and vigorous." These pictures represent a consummmate professional with limitless energy and a genius for consistently capturing the decisive moment, the moment that illuminated the story, hooked the reader and sold the magazine.