The Gerber Baby: The Sequel

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.

Dorothy Hope Smith, at work.

Dorothy Hope Smith, at work in her studio.

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's ad for Mercury autos.

Dorothy Hope Smith’s ad for Mercury autos.

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.

The Gerber baby. (Copyright Gerber Company)

The Gerber baby. (Copyright Gerber Company)

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.

Not the Gerber baby -- but one of Dorothy Hope Smith's many child portraits. Perhaps the subject was a Westport girl.

Not the Gerber baby — but one of Dorothy Hope Smith’s many child portraits. Perhaps the subject was a Westport girl.


7 responses to “The Gerber Baby: The Sequel

  1. Fascinating back story! (And I love the postscript.) This is truly a story of local history intersecting with a legendary ad campaign and it indeed embodies your slogan of “Where Westport meets the world.”

  2. Stories like this remind me why I became a member of the Graphic Artists Guild which lobby and advocate for artists rights. Mind you I am grateful for the laws that do protect us but they don’t go far enough. Seems “everyone” is a able to benefit commensurately in the value of art used commercially except the artist. They seem to have a better balance in Europe, artist effectively own all their creations and mostly cannot lose their copyrights. Each usage of their work is mostly negotiated. If their work keeps getting used by a company they keep getting paid. In this country most artists are grateful to be paid anything at all for their work, and readily give up their copyright because the companies demand it to get paid, but the companies keep reaping the rewards without “just” compensation to the artist. In fairness back then $200 was a lot more money then it is today, but today, a half century later, the price they often pay a grateful artist can be the same.
    By example when an actor is in a TV commercial, they get paid every time the company airs that commercial for…ever.
    Most artists hesitate joining the Graphic Artists Guild because the membership fee is steep (coincidently it’s $200 today) for someone willing and grateful to get paid anything for their work, but some of the money is used to lobby in Washington for their rights, how else could we fight against the corporations staff lobbyists and legal teams. By example their is a law being fought for today, once again I might add, proposing that each time a fine artists work gets resold for a profit that the artist get a small piece of the profit. To begin with when work is originally sold by a dealer or representative they generally get half the sale money to start with. (in the world of commercial representatives for contracted art they only get about 1/3, but that can often be more profit then the artist after their costs to create the work)
    From my perspective…Thank you for this story of how graphic artists, and artists in general are underpaid, underappreciated (except by their loved ones 🙂 ), and most importantly under protected in the law. If you are an artist go to the Graphic Artists Guild website TODAY! You will learn more then you want to know but benefit immensely from it.

  3. larry weisman

    We have an oil portrait by Dorothy Hope Smith of my wife, Mary-Lou as a tot.

  4. Peter Barlow

    To Larry Weisman – What was your wife’s last name when she was a tot?
    It’s possible there are other portraits of her – the artist often made several variations. I have quite a number of portraits that are un-identified.