Without Westport, Mommy Would Never Have Kissed Santa Claus

Alert “06880” reader Dorrie (Barlow) Thomas writes:

Surely everyone has heard that Christmas song, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” It’s never been a favorite of mine, but I have a family connection to it, so I can’t help but smile every time it comes on. Well, maybe not every time, but…

Here’s the story.

My paternal grandfather is Perry Barlow. He lived in Westport all of his adult life and made a good living as an artist, doing magazine covers for (among others) Collier’s and the Saturday Evening Post. He was especially prolific at The New Yorker, drawing 135 covers and many cartoons for them over his long career.

One of his covers came out in 1939:

New Yorker

More than a decade later, Saks Fifth Avenue used the cover for their annual Christmas card. To promote the card, they commissioned a song. The rest is history.

Now, if only we got royalties!

15 responses to “Without Westport, Mommy Would Never Have Kissed Santa Claus

  1. The creative talent in Westport during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s was astounding. When did the bankers take over, such a shame.

  2. My first artist’s agent was Whit Stillman at Riley Agency in NYC. ( Whit later sold it and became an independent film maker). He had inherited the agency from his uncle Ted and most of his artists were New Yorker artists ( Sempe, Benoit, Pierre Le Tan and others). I wonder if Perry Barlow also was represented by him? Wonderful art and story!

  3. The depth of artistic history in Westport continues to amaze. 135 New Yorker covers! Has the Historical Society ever featured Perry Barlow in an exhibit?

  4. I know a lady from Starbucks down in Florida and she lived in Westport as a young person, with her parents, in the late 1940s. Her father, with someone else, was responsible for the song “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” He worked for a department store in the late 1930s and somehow the song was used as an advertisement, but ended up being one of the most popular Christmas songs.

    • To Jack Backiel. Good memory, Jack. Her name was Barbara May ( that was her single name), Her dad, Robert May, wrote the song for Montgomery Ward. His brother, Richard and wife Helen, lived on Riverside Ave. Barbara would stay with them summers. Richard died last year. Helen
      still lives in Weston. I dated Barbara the summer of 1950, a long time ago.

      • Gary, The woman I know is named Jennifer and her father was the artist that drew Rudolph. He worked with someone else who wrote the music so that must be the Mr. May you are referring to. I’m guessing both men worked in the New York City store. I copied her your comment and I’m hoping she answers me.

        • Jack,I think ( but not totally sure ) that it was Chicago. Robert May lived in Evanston, Ill, a Chicago suburb.

      • Tom Allen '66

        Gary, Richard and Helen May had two daughters. The younger daughter, Margaret, was in my class at Saugatuck El in the 50s. Her sister was a couple of years older.

        • Tom, I hate the cliche “it’s a small world” . . . but it really is. The Six Degrees of Separation” theory works.

  5. Talk about coincidence. I have been immersed in New Yorker covers–including all of those by Perry Barlow. He’s one of the artists to be featured in “Cover Story: The New Yorker in Westport” an exhibit which will open on January 26 at the Westport Historical Society. Featured will be 13 Westport area artists who created 696 covers for the New Yorker. (That’s right–696!) It will document the influence of James Geraghty, another local, who was the Art Editor for the New Yorker from 1939 until 1973 and who influenced many of the artists to come to our area to live. A companion exhibit in the Mollie Gallery will be “Can’t Tell a Book by Its Cover” which will highlight New Yorker Westport area writers.

    And there’s a PS to the Perry Barlow story–his wife, Dorothy Hope Smith, was the creator of the Gerber baby drawing that has been the logo for the Gerber Baby Food brand for generations.

    • Yes, this is another part of my family…and another story I’d be happy to contribute to Dan’s blog sometime in the future!

  6. Eve, as Phil Rizzuto used to say: “Holy cow!” Can’t wait to see that exhibit. And Dan, another great find.

  7. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    To be an artist or cartoonist for The New Yorker would be the happiest (yet most demanding) job!
    To have your art on the cover would be sublime! Great story.

  8. Thanks to Dorrie for submitting that very interesting and timely story. I hope you and Dave & maybe some of the kids–plus your Dad, of course–can come down to Westport to see the exhibit that Eve Potts described above. It will be open all winter-early spring until the end of April. So if you can’t make it to the opening in January, do try to come at another time. And let us know in advance so we can arrange to see you. Katie & Bill

  9. Sarah Geraghty Herndon

    What a wonderful little story, Dorrie! Your grandfather was the reason my parents moved to Westport (later Weston) in 1947. And one of the reasons my father became art editor of The New Yorker. Perry invited Jim and Eva Geraghty out to Westport when they were looking to move out of NYC. Your grandmother, Dorothy, encouraged them to buy a little house they saw in Rayfield Place, so they would be able to then look for the house of their dreams. My father had first started sending ideas to NYer artists in early 1939, and your grandfather brought him to the attention of the editors!
    I remember your grandparents being at our house many time “talking shop”
    and my brother posed for the Thanksgiving cover of a little boy looking at the turkey in the oven!