I was saddened to hear of the recent passing of Charles McElmurry, a character designer/layout artist who did a lot of excellent work throughout his career, but especially during the 1950s and 60s. I had the chance to visit him last December in Santa Rosa and spent a delightful afternoon interviewing him for the book. Every so often I do an interview where afterwards I feel that I’ve scratched only the surface, and McElmurry was one of those interviews. Even though there was still a lot that I wanted to learn about his work, I’m glad to have had the chance to meet him, and done one of the few, if not only, interviews that he’d ever given.
During the 1950s and 1960s, McElmurry worked as a designer at many studios including Storyboard, Quartet, Pelican, Filmfair, John Sutherland Productions, Jay Ward Productions and Bill Melendez Productions. He was especially popular at ad agencies and was frequently called upon to help streamline and redesign existing advertising characters. McElmurry is among those designers whose work isn’t as well represented in the book as I would have hoped. That is due largely to the difficult (and nearly impossible) task of finding 50s-era commercial artwork to represent specific artists. He had saved many of his drawings from the 60s and 70s, but we didn’t run across his early work that would have been appropriate for the book.
McElmurry is survived by his wife Rosemary (O’Connor), daughters Jill and Jennifer, and nephews Jim and Gary Wakeman. Memorial donations may be made to the Earle Baum Center of the Blind, 4539 Occidental Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95401. For more details about McElmurry’s life and work, check out these terrific blog posts by his daughter Jill:
Charles McElmurry: The Early Years
Charles McElmurry: The Dad
Charles McElmurry: The Artist
Memories of Charles McElmurry
Here are a few things that he designed.
First, a Philip Morris spot (ca. 1955) designed at John Hubley’s Storyboard.
Stills from a 1960 Quartet ad for Budweiser
Quartet character designs by McElmurry for Marlboro, Budweiser and Bank of America
Two beautiful model sheets by McElmurry for UPA’s 1001 ARABIAN NIGHTS. The expressive drawings here really reflect his extensive fine arts training. He studied for a number of years at Chouinard and Jepson Art Institute, and he told me that his teacher Rico LeBrun was a big influence.