Not long ago, “06880” posted a story on the Gerber Baby. The model was a little Westport girl (Ann Turner); she was drawn by a Westport artist (Dorothy Hope Smith). The tale was as cute as the tyke herself, whose face has adorned Gerber products for the past 88 years.
As so often happens, there’s a 2nd back story to the 1st one. Smith’s granddaughter, Dorrie Barlow Thomas, sent along these thoughts from her father, Peter Barlow — the artist’s son. He writes:
Every year or so, somewhere, a story appears about the Gerber Baby.
It’s always the same: about the very pleasant, 80-something former school teacher and mystery writer who was the model for the famous trademark that everyone seems to like.
The person who is hardly ever featured — sometimes never even mentioned — is the artist who actually drew the Gerber baby. Because the artist lived in Westport, “06880” readers might like to know more of the story.
Dorothy Hope Smith studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. She commuted to school on the elevated railway, often sketching other passengers along the way.
Another student was Perry Barlow, from Texas. He complained about having to draw so many plaster casts. “I want to draw real people,” he told his teachers.
In February of 1922, Dorothy and Perry were married in New York City. They soon moved to Westport. Perry drew cartoons for magazines including Liberty and Scribner’s.
Dorothy Hope Smith (keeping her original name professionally) was more successful at first. She was one of the few artists specializing in children and babies. She illustrated children’s books; her paintings appeared on magazine covers, and she drew advertising pictures of children for products like Ivory soap, Campbell’s soup and Ford cars.
In 1928 she heard about a contest to select a picture of a baby for a new product line. Dorothy did not know many details, but sent a sketch with a note asking, “Is this what you’re looking for? If so, I can make a more finished version.”
No one answered. The sketch was put in with all the other entries — watercolors, oil paintings and drawings. When the judges looked at all the pictures, they chose the sketch. They liked it just the way it was.
The sketch first appeared on boxes of Gerber’s Cereal Food, covering most of the front. The image became known as the Gerber Baby.
Around this time Perry Barlow was selling cartoons to a new magazine, the New Yorker. He became a “regular,” for the next 30 years. He also illustrated many covers. Because he was partially color blind, Dorothy did the coloring — about 130 covers in all. In the late 1930s and ’40s, when photography began replacing art in advertising, Dorothy concentrated on children’s painted portraits.
Also in the ’30s and ’40s, Gerber was so pleased with the response to their baby that they offered prints of the Gerber Baby for 10 cents each. They sold thousands.
Some people liked the picture. Others thought it reminded them of their own kids. A few people thought it was their child, and sued Gerber for invading their privacy.
There were trials and hearings. Dorothy Hope Smith was called to testify for the company. There were no model releases in those days (they’re still not required today), so it was Dorothy’s word against the plaintiffs.
Gerber won each time. After several suits, the company decided to find the original baby and have her sign a release. They asked the artist for the baby’s name and address.
The baby — now grown up and married — was Ann Turner Cook. She had a lawyer. Gerber paid $7000 for her signature. Ann says it was $5000. Maybe so — or maybe the lawyer got $2000.
Whatever the amount, it was a lot of money in 1951 — 20 times what the artist was paid for the original drawing.
Ann Cook became a frequent guest and spokesperson for Gerber, in personal appearances and on TV. Dorothy Hope Smith Barlow died in 1955, age 60.
One postscript: The artist’s granddaughter, Dorrie Barlow, was born many years later. She was fed Beech-Nut baby food — not Gerber’s.