Posted 4 years ago
Very few images of Afro American females exist in Leyendecker's output, and they are usually the same: the stereotypical "Aunt Jemima" of Gold Medal Flour fame and portrayed live by the immortal Hattie MacDaniels in "Gone With the Wind." No pretty young black females appear at all.
I'd say the black female in Leyendecker is characterized by: discourse, cooking and cleaning.
Pic. 1. Dec. 1, 1934: the Mammy tells scary stories to her white charge while making a dessert. Discourse--the ability to entertain through speech--and apple pie. The emphasis: her wide round eyes and face, which hold the boy totally entranced.
Pic. 2. Dec. 26,1935. This time, the Mammy cooks a turkey while a young black boy, probably her son, eagerly watches. The illustration is meant to go with "Reggie and the Greasy Bird"--a story by P.G. Woodhouse. However, a "greasy bird" refers to an unctuous, slippery character, not to the turkey, and the story has nothing to do with the illustration!
Pic. 3: I find this one the most unusual: the mammy is busy scrubbing while her man looks down visibly annoyed and pulls his feet up. In other words: all men hate housework, no matter their race!
Pic. 4: Sept. 24, 1934. A black drummer at a local parade. Blacks also participated in civic affairs; however, the image is so isolated we do not know the background for it. I must admit I added it so i would not waste that space!
My take: Leyendecker's portraits of blacks in his covers, while conforming to prevalent period stereotypes, portray their subjects sympathetically, showing their essential humanity and their place in the social fabric.