|| Elaine Duillo: The Romance Begins
Elaine Duillo was born in Brooklyn , New York in 1928. As a teenager at the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan , she met her future husband John Duillo. Elaine was not the first female paperback artist (that may have been Ann Cherry at Avon in the 1950s), but she was the first that most collectors noticed. She was not the only female romance cover artist; she was the best romance cover artist period. Her ability to capture fantasy by using realism captivated us. Her extraordinary talent, vivid use of color and eye-catching details engage the viewer every time. Around 1959 or 1960, Elaine began doing magazine illustrations and paperback covers for the Balcourt Art Service. It was still a man's world in those days, and on some of her early work, especially for the men's adventure magazines, she signed a male name.
“The men's magazine illustrations were usually signed with a man's name as the publisher would not hear of a woman artist”, Elaine told me in a letter last year. “The Art Director of course knew who I was. I no longer remember those male names that I used, nor do I remember the titles.” Elaine tells us her first two covers were circa 1960 romances, their titles lost for now. The earliest paperback cover I have found with the distinctive “Elaine” signature is a 1961 Ace paperback called OBSESSION by Kim Darien.
Elaine painted, in her words, “hundreds of Gothics” during those years. Most romance novels of the day were Gothics, all of them adhering to a strict cover art formula for quick reader identification: a long-haired beauty stands on a lonely moor outside a castle/mansion/old house. There is a light on in a window. There are men inside the books, but never a man on the cover. To her everlasting credit and to the delight of paperback fans everywhere, Elaine broke that mold with a series of covers at the end of the 70s and early 80s that redefined romance art and were immediately copied, aped and/or stolen by dozens of other artists. Elaine understood the genre, she understood the stories but most of all she understood the audience. Perhaps no male artist could have done it with quite the same style. Elaine showed those readers what they wanted. They wanted Fabio with his shirt off.
Over the years, a lot of rumors and guesses about which paperback covers were Elaine got printed as fact. I had also been told she collaborated with/for her husband John. “Never worked on any covers with John!” Elaine told me.
And then there were those Brandon House covers. When I came into the paperback collecting hobby way back in the Stone Age, we were told that all those bright, colorful Brandon House covers were “Elaine covers”. The 3 leading lights in the hobby at that time all told me they were Elaine, and why should I doubt them? They were right about so many other things. It wasn't until years later; when I first interviewed Elaine and asked her about those covers, and showed her a few, that I learned she had not painted ANY of them. Backtracking years after the fact, a group of talented researchers decided that collectors had looked at a couple 60s paperbacks by publishers like Crescent and Tuxedo that were signed “Elaine”, compared them to the unsigned Brandon House books, and concluded that the Brandons looked kind of like them, so therefore they were all “Elaines”. So they called them, and sold them as, “Elaine covers” for years. That error continued on into the 21st century, one can find Brandon House covers identified as Elaine as late as Holroyd's PAPERBACK PRICES AND CHECKLIST in 2003.
But Elaine said no, that was not her. She also sent me this list of paperback publishers she DID work for: Ace, Airmont, Avon, Bantam, Berkley, Crescent, Dell, Fawcett Gold Medal, Lancer, Penguin USA, Playboy Press, Pocket Books, New American Library and Zebra (Kensington). Now some of those were romance publishers (naturally Elaine does not divide her career up into “vintage” and “romance” periods as we're arbitrarily doing here) and not all of them have been identified yet, but here is a look at a few of them. There are dozens of these fine romance cover images available online, and original art by Elaine continues to sell for stratospheric prices. All of those wonderful covers are outside of our purview here. Instead, here's a look at Elaine's work before those now-famous romance covers from 1980 to 2003, when she officially retired.
How was Elaine able to create that bright, luminescent quality on so many of her cover paintings? On some of the books you want to look under the cover to see where the publisher has hidden the light bulb illuminating everything. Illumination is a rare quality used by some of the greatest painters. For example, the 19 th century artist Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's trick was to have an aluminum ceiling installed in his studio, brightening everything like sunlight. An explanation of Elaine's technique is found in the program notes for a 2004 exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Institute called “Women in Illustration”: she employs “layer upon layer of transparent acrylic wash to achieve a luminous effect”
Rockwell, by the way, had something in common with Elaine Duillo – an illustrator who over time became appreciated – and collected – as an artist. Something else Elaine has in common with Norman Rockwell – they are both members of the New York Society of Illustrators “Hall of Fame”. Elaine's place is secure in the company of the finest.