1889 - 1936
Charles Leslie Thrasher was born in 1889 in Piedmont, West Virginia, at the foot of the Allegheny Mountains 150 miles northwest of Washington, DC. As a teenager Thrasher studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, then received a scholarship to study in Paris.
In 1910, Thrasher moved to Wilmington, Delaware to study under renowned illustrator Howard Pyle, the “father of American Illustration.” Thrasher would become one of Pyle’s most commercially successful students.
In 1912, Thrasher sold his first cover painting to the Saturday Evening Post. His illustrations were known for their light-hearted, humorous reflections of everyday American life, with colorfully animated characters set against a white background. He ultimately completed 23 covers for the Post, as well as covers for Everybody’s, Collier’s, Red Book, Popular Magazine, and many other publications. He produced advertisement illustrations for such companies as Chesterfield Cigarettes, Cream of Wheat, DuPont, and Fisk Tire.
During World War I, Thrasher served in the Army and was assigned to a camouflage unit in France where he suffered lung damage from poison gas. After the war he returned to Wilmington, married, and moved to New York City.
In 1926, against the advice of fellow artist Norman Rockwell, he agreed to complete a cover a week for Liberty Magazine over a six year period. He was paid $1,000 a cover, the equivalent of over $13,500 a week today. This series was titled “For The Love o’ Lil,” and became a favorite among readers. The series followed the lives of an average middle-class couple, Lil Morse and Sandford Jenkins. Thrasher used his own features for those of the husband/father in the series.
While the series made him famous, it was a challenge to come up with so many original cover ideas at a backbreaking pace. Liberty invited readers to contribute ideas and each issue had a page-long article related to the cover’s illustration.
The series became so popular it was later made into a movie by Columbia Pictures and is considered the prototype for today’s soap operas.
Norman Rockwell, a friend of Leslie Thrasher, wrote in his autobiography that Thrasher “painted one of the most famous Post covers ever published. I still get letters from people who think I did it. It depicts a lady and a butcher standing on either side of a scale in which lay a chicken. The lady was pushing up on the scale; the butcher was pushing down. The cover appeared on 3 October, 1936.”
That same year, 1936, the 47-year-old was rescued from his burning summer home on Long Island only to die a few days later of pneumonia caused by smoke inhalation. Leslie Thrasher completed as many as three hundred sixty magazine covers during his short career. Many feel that had he not died at an early age, his work could have surpassed Rockwell’s.