A Tribute to Artist David Lax — David, We Owe Ye!
© Copyright 2016 — Robert M. Holley, Jr.
Yer Roots Tracker — Miami, FL
I’ve been researching family histories now for well over a decade– including lots of hard work exploring the quite mysterious earliest years of my Holley clan, but, until just recently, I had done very little examination of my own father’s life.
How pitifully unaware I was of this man’s pure talent and sheer determination to succeed– and succeed he surely did— a kid from a small Oklahoma cow-town who made it big in New York City (NYC) starting at the age of only 19.
I had always believed that Dad’s first break in partaking of the “Big Apple” was his employment by Esquire Magazine about 1937. Once he was accepted, they published about 25 of his cartoons—mostly of a risqué barnyard rooster genre:
Seventeen of his popular cartoons appeared in the centerfold of the October 1940 Esquire issue, just a month after my birth. For a brief time, Dad became known as the “chicken man,” and a rooster later became his commercial logo
Turns out, though, that the Esquire experience was only a follow-on to something that happened a few years earlier and probably was much more important to his life’s work. The discovery trail I followed started off innocently enough with my looking for a signature logo. My mother had told us that Dad did the art for some sheet music covers published during the 1940s— his art firm used the signature IM-HO on its work (the IM-HO studio took its name from the first two letters of its proprietors’ surnames— Sol IMmerman and my father Robert HOlley).
Over the years, my daughter and I collected IM-HO covers as we occasionally visited antique shops and the like— never ever dreaming how many covers IM-HO really produced. One day in 2013, I got the bright idea to use the Internet and E-bay to search out IM-HO covers. After scanning through “mouse-overs” for many thousands of “for sale” images, I discovered that, in addition to 500+ different sheet music covers signed IM-HO, there were many others signed “Immerman,” ”Immerman/RH,” or “HOLLEY.”
At this sitting, I have collected images for over 850 tunes for which covers were produced by IM-HO or individually by one of the two artists. For certain, some of the cover art was reused for several different tunes, and it also appears that the IM-HO studio eventually employed perhaps a half-dozen independent artists, but even so, these folks likely produced more than 300 unique pieces of classy, original art during the period 1937-1944— a truly prodigious feat. They seem to have had a virtual “lock” on publicity art for the New York music business.
While doing my very first research on Immerman with the assistance of art historians Andrew Brozyna and Piet Schreuders, I had discovered that Sol had a “family connection” to Harlem jazz clubs– and that really synched. My father lived in Harlem the first few years he was in NYC, and after his death, his collection of taped jazz recordings was so extensive and so well indexed it was donated to, and happily received by, the Florida State University Library.
To my astonishment, I discovered that Sol (Solomon Isiodore Immerman) was the much loved nephew of one Connie Immerman (1893-1967), a well-known bootlegger, racketeer, and impresario of various NYC jazz clubs and cabarets in the 1920s, going forward into the 1940s. My father, to me at least, always appeared to be one of the most straight-laced human beings alive on this planet. To have him frequenting post-Prohibition jazz cabarets came to me as quite a shock.. and it gets worse… (or better depending on how you look at it !)…
Formerly immigrant (Russo-German) delicatessen chain owners, Connie and Sol’s father, George Immerman, owned and operated , from 1923 to 1933, the very popular Connie’s Inn just a few blocks from Harlem’s “Jungle Alley” district — the hottest spot in Jazz Age New York. It was second only in notoriety to the famous Cotton Club. After brother George was kidnapped by the mob about the last year of Prohibition, Connie closed down his Harlem club and moved it to Broadway.
Connection-wise, Connie was a big-timer in the big city. To quote noted journalist Damon Runyon, Connie was “one of the big rajahs of the night club business with his club in Harlem. He was contemporaneous with the mightiest downtown night club combination that ever operated in the city and later with the mob era of night club domination.”
And, while Googling for more information about the racy Immermans, I also stumbled onto a paragraph that probably best explains my father’s ultimate artistic and business success and may well explain why I am alive and well today. On page 103 of One Man Show, an excellent and moving 1976 autobiography written by artist DAVID LAX, I read:
“To give some idea of the things which make up an artist’s experience, it is important to speak of an interlude which took place in about 1932. For eight months, I ran the art department of Mills Artists, Inc. It was another world. The company acted as business manager and agent for many popular orchestras and performers: Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ina Ray Hutton, Lucky Millender, and others. Working with me in the art department were various artists of ability. One was Sol Immerman, who later became art director and vice-president of Pocket Books, Inc. Another was Bob Holley, whom I had met in Tallahassee. Bob was to make a reputation for himself as creator of the famous barnyard rooster cartoons which were a humorous feature in Esquire Magazine for many years. At Mills Artists, we had to get out all sorts of ‘paper’ for the attractions we managed—24 sheets, ads, press books, lobby displays, window cards, and so on. With publication deadlines to meet and the first rate technical finish required for ‘mechanicals.’ it was a difficult and demanding job.”
For certain, reading this paragraph was an “Oh my God” moment! This was my father’s real intro to big-time commercial art; it was a stepping-stone to the IM-HO enterprise, and thereby to the ground floor of NYC show business. And, if not the person who actually hired him at Mills, David Lax certainly was his mentor and guiding light! Now, it suddenly dawned on me why so many NYC notables had showed up at Dad’s wake (I was floored). They showed up because my father– either through his leisure time in the jazz clubs, his work with Lax at Mills Artists, through IM-HO sheet music production, or through his subsequently established advertising business— had come to know, and had the respect of, most EVERYONE who was anyone in the New York music business from the mid-thirties on. His art work indeed had helped put some of them on Page One! I knew he did work with some show people like Perry Como, the Andrews Sisters, and had various accounts with musical instrument companies
— Zildjan Cymbals , for example,
But, I had no clue as to the extent of his background and experience. I guess in retrospect this stupid kid never asked, but he surely never told.
There is a line in “The True Gentleman,” my father’s and my SAE fraternity creed, which goes in part ” … the man who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements..” Definitely not— no boasting whatsoever from my old man!
Before I discovered many of my father’s connections to the Immermans and to David Lax, I had been able to engineer a brief biography for Dad, which I was fortunate to have accepted by the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_M._Holley ). With the idea of revising that Wikipedia piece slightly to bring in the Immermans and Lax, I wrote a biography for David Lax, who turned out to be a brilliant, but largely unrecognized artist, AND also one of America’s largely unrecognized war heroes (he won a Bronze Star and many other commendations for reportedly being America’s most outstanding combat artist in World War II).
For reasons I don’t really completely understand, the Wikipedia folks saw fit to reject my biographical piece on artist David Lax, so I am obliged to publish it here on my own.