Sunday, March 18, 2018

Robert Grossman, 1940-2018: Yes, Lolita, there IS a Santa Claus

From Los Angeles Times West magazine, July 23 1972 pg. 2

Robert Grossman (left) and Peter Bergman. Date/photographer unknown. From “The F Files” archive of Fred Wiebel

In honor of iconic illustrator Robert Grossman, who died this week, here’s a gallery of his drawings from the archive of the Firesign Theatre and my own collection. Bob Grossman and Peter Bergman were roommates at Yale and collaborated on the school humor magazine The Yale Record, and their friendship eventually led to Firesign commissioning this iconic work for the cover of Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers in 1970:

From Bergman’s archive, here’s one of their previously unpublished collaborations, from Feb. 20 1958: an excerpt from Bergman’s illustrated school essay “The Fundamentals of Writing an Art Paper” which attempts to answer the question: “What is the secret of the art paper, and how can it be most efficiently exploited?”

“…Now that I have described the psychological factors underlying the teacher’s choice of a certain object, I am ready to present and explain the “Four Step Plan” of formal analysis. I have chosen for my subject Norbert Wellrock’s famous painting, “Rock with Granny Frickert.” Step 1 entails a very careful study by the student of the general tonal and emotional effect of the painting. Special attention should be given to the contrasting light and dark areas in and around the feet.”

“In Step 2, the student should divide up and number the picture into the major areas of perspective, light reflection, and outline detail.”

“At this point the student is ready to attempt Step 3, which carries him into the realm of advanced art appreciation. The object of Step 3 is to discover in the painting those hidden symbols and allegories that escape the layman. … Isn’t it amazing what you’ve been missing?”

“Step 4 is the culmination of the process, and since the success of the paper is greatly dependent upon it, it is imperative that the student master the first three steps before tackling it. Step 4 is the abstracting of the picture into its basic geometrical forms. In this way the student is able to get a clearer insight into what motivated the artist.”

Here are some of Grossman’s illustrations for the Yale Record (Grossman was a contributor in 1958, and by 1960 he was the paper's Chairman):

Yale Record Vol. 86 No. 8 May 1958, pg. 13 

Yale Record Vol. 87 No. 3 November 1958, pg. 2

Yale Record Vol. 87 No. 3 November 1958, pg. 11

Yale Record Vol. 87 No. 3 November 1958, pg. 13

Yale Record Vol. 87 No. 7 May 1959, cover

Yale Record Vol. 87 No. 7 May 1959, pg. 11

Yale Record Vol. 88 No. 3 December 1959, cover

Yale Record Vol. 88 No. 3 December 1959, pg. 10

Yale Record Vol. 88 No. 3 December 1959, pg. 13

Yale Record Vol. 89 No. 2 October 1960, inside front cover

Yale Record Vol. 89 No. 2 October 1960, pg. 7

Yale Record Vol. 89 No. 2 October 1960, pg. 9

Yale Record Vol. 89 No. 2 October 1960, pg. 20

Yale Record Vol. 89 No. 5 Feb. 1961, cover

Yale Record Vol. 89 No. 5 Feb. 1961, pg. 1

By 1962 as a fresh graduate Grossman was already selling cartoons to the New Yorker:

New Yorker Jan. 13, 1962

Grossman had a long run illustrating articles for the Los Angeles Times Sunday magazine supplement West - I snagged hard copies of all of these while I was working in a newspaper store in Burbank in 1997:

Los Angeles Times West June 2, 1968 pg. 16 "Her Son the Vulcan"

Los Angeles Times West August 4, 1968 cover "Florida's Kirk: Ready for the G.O.P."

Los Angeles Times West December 15, 1968 pg. 66-67 "California Is a Fadist State"

Los Angeles Times West January 5, 1969 cover "Howard (Las Vegas) Hughes"

Los Angeles Times West November 16, 1969 pg. 32 "Ol' Bob Finch Keeps Smilin' Through the Shootouts Along the Potomac"

Los Angeles Times West January 9, 1972 pg. 27 "How Do You Like Being Cary Grant?" "I Like It Fine"

Los Angeles Times West January 23, 1972 pg. 8-9 "You Know I Can't Hear You When the Jets Are Flying"

Los Angeles Times West July 23, 1972 cover "Alexis Smith"

Los Angeles Times West October 8, 1972 pg. 10-11 "The Last Marx Brothers Movie" (Note: Bergman had this one hanging on his wall at home for years.)

Here's an illustration for Saturday Review from 1972, presaging Volkswagen's giant scam to be uncovered decades later:

Saturday Review June 10, 1972 pg. 48 "The Bug Meets the Brain"
Here's an illustration for the college papers ad campaign for Firesign's Dear Friends LP circa March 1972 (he later graciously agreed to let us use it as the back cover of our book/DVD Duke of Madness Motors):

Grossman designed the ad campaign art for the Proctor and Bergman project Americathon (1979):

And in 1993 he reprised the airbrushed Dwarf cover in a line drawing for Firesign's 25th anniversary tour program:

Grossman drew about a billion illustrations in his career, so here's hoping a major gallery takes the obvious step and puts together an exhibition soon.


  1. This is wonderful. Thank you for posting this, Doc!

  2. Thanks for this excellent sampling of Mr. Grossman's work. He will be missed.

  3. Ahh, thanks so much for posting this! Wonderful stuff. He had such talent, I've always loved his work. Yes, it'd be wonderful to see an exhibition, and/or a book collection!


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