Born in Belleville, Kansas, in January, 1919, Victor Kalin was the oldest child of artistic parents. His father Eugene, a cornet player
with the Barnum and Bailey circus, quit the band to become a dentist—a prerequisite for marriage to Rebekah ("Dot") Benson, an amateur painter and potter. Tucked up against the northern border of Kansas, Belleville was settled in the late 1880s mainly by
settlers from Sweden. (Kalin is likely an Americanization of Kjellin, a common Swedish name.)
He began drawing and painting as a boy. In high school, he won the national Hallmark Student Card Contest, and soon thereafter achieved international recognition by winning a Hollywood contest "to depict the Ziegfield Girl," and help publicize the 1941 MGM
film by the same name. His art studies at the University of Kansas were interrupted for a year when the tug of music (and perhaps genetics) led him to spend a year touring as a trumpet player with the Jimmy Caton Jazz Band. Following his graduation in 1941,
Vic taught drawing and painting for a year while earning an MFA.
It was while there in the Azores that Vic met Catherine (Kate) Bryan, a 6-foot, part-Cherokee Red Cross volunteer
from Oklahoma. The Officers Club show was far behind schedule when Vic was asked to lend a hand by painting
a backdrop at the theater. He caught her attention when, rather than climbing up and down the 18' ladder as he
worked, he stilt-walked it across the stage. Vic and Kate left the Azores together, married, and settled in New York
City's Greenwich Village, where he began work as a magazine illustrator.
Victor Kalin is best known for his illustrations
for magazines (1940s-50s), paperback book
covers (1950s-60s) and record album covers
His first commercial artwork was for the "big magazines": Esquire, American Weekly, Liberty, and Colliers. These late-40's story illustrations were generally lush–full page, full color, and always drawn and painted realistically. They suggested comfort, if not wealth, and most featured beautiful women in relaxed, leisurely poses.
In the 1950s when inexpensive paperback books became the rage, Kalin's ingenuity and technical skills were wide- ranging enough to attract art directors at many different agencies. From the mid-fifties to sixties, Vic created the cover
art for more than 200 paperback books for: Avon, Dell, Signet, Berkley, Ace and Pocket Books. Besides these mystery, gothic and early pot-boiler pulp books, during this time he also illustrated Merrill and Co. paper doll books (e.g., Betty Grable and Ballerinas), playing cards, and symphony concert programs, hard-cover adult and children's books.
As the popularity of the mass market, standardized-format paperback began to wane in the 1960s, vinyl 12” LP records became an important part of the cultural landscape. Luckily for Vic, a music lover, every record album required an album cover. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he created more than 100 album covers as well as other album art (back and inside) for Impulse, RCA Victor, Decca Jazz, Flying Dutchman, Brunswick, Celestial Harmonies and Philco, among others.
A life-long music lover, he traveled to concerts and festivals with a press pass and camera, capturing images that would later appear as illustrations on album covers, liner notes, concert programs and personal works of art. Some photos went as-is directly into jazz magzines and books. A natural photo-shopper before Photoshop, he processed all his own black and white film and experimented with double exposure, distortion, and recomposition.
There was one other art in which Victor excelled, and that was the art of life. Every day was special. In 1973 he went to bed with the flu only to learn that it was, in fact, acute leukemia. He carried on, never complaining, spending less time on commercial art but more on large abstract paintings. He served on the Board of the Norwalk Symphony, was active in the Fairfield Watercolor Group and the Silvermine Guild. Nearest to his heart was the Back Porch Brown Bag Dirty Talk Society, a group of art-loving friends who, for 30 years, met regularly to listen to music, share stories, and laugh.
His great friend and fellow Brown-Bagger, artist Jim Flora, said that Vic "harbored a remarkable ability to excel in an astounding number of pursuits and was magnanimous with his time and skills in the various needs of his friends and his community. A bon vivant, as well as a faithful friend, he captured the loyalty and affection of all who knew him." True. Everyone loved Vic. Always sweet, cheerful, life- positive, and funny, he died in November 1991, with Kate at his side—18 and a half years beyond the grim prognosis of experts. A life well lived.
During World War II, Vic served in the Azores as an artist illustrating print materials and Yank magazine, a popular morale booster available to all soldiers, sailors, and airmen serving overseas. Created by enlisted men for enlisted men, Yank employed artists and writers both in its New York headquarters and on the front. Besides Victor, other Yank artists included his friend Robert Greenhalgh, Jack Coggins, and Howard Brodie, as well as cartoonists Dave Breger (G.I. Joe), and Sgt. George Baker (Sad Sack).
Yank, the most widely read magazine in the history of the U.S. military, was published at facilities worldwide: Britain, Western Pacific, Mediterranean, Europe, for a total of 21 editions in 17 countries, with a global circulation of more than 2.6 million.
© 2015 by Rebecca Kalin