John LaGatta enjoyed painting women more than anything else. It worked well for him as an illustrator and as a result, he and his wife were able to live a very comfortable lifestyle. His career was substantially taken with illustrating women for romantic stories, magazine covers for all sorts of periodicals, as well as creating exotic fashion illustrations, and eye-catching advertising pictures of his beautifully idealized women. LaGatta’s images appeared in the nation’s most famous publications: Life, Ladies’ Home Journal,Cosmopolitan, Delineator, Women’s Home Companion, andAssociated Sunday Magazine. His advertising accounts were with a number of the nation’s biggest corporations, including Ajax Rubber Company, Andrew Jergens Co., Fleishmann’s Yeast, International Silver Company, Lucky Strike cigarettes, Laros Lingerie, Ivory Soap, and Resinol Soap, all of which continually fueled his needs for luxurious travel, eating at popular restaurants and other signs of success.
In reality, John LaGatta came to the US as a poor Italian immigrant, but his lineage, as described by him, was illustrious. The family lived quite modestly in Long Island and his father was not successful in business activities and suffered, as many did, from discrimination against foreign accents at a time when assimilation was the only solution for new comers. It was a tough existence. John’s art talent caused several suggestions that he study under Frank Parsons at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts. After he completed school, he gained his first commission for Life magazine and some advertising work for N. W. Ayer, one of the nation's early and largest advertising agencies.
His images were unique and seductive, even risqué, but art directors were willing to take chances to sell magazines and products.
He was soon commissioned by the Post for a cover image and then hired by US Rubber Company, his first two big breaks as an illustrator. Unlike Rockwell, Pyle, and Parrish, LaGatta did not use photography to try to capture his models on canvas. He enjoyed the banter during his sessions with his models and felt that he could better capture them for readers if he knew them personally, not just copying their God-given beauty from a photograph. Frequently, he could not choose between a blonde, a brunette and a redhead, so he would do covers with all three girls in one image, letting the reader decide which was the most beautiful.
One critic characterized the glamorous women created by LaGatta as “LaGatta’s Chromium-Plated” women. Few illustrators felt that they could compete with LaGatta when it came to bathing beauties. However, at the beginning of his career during the 'Roaring Twenties,' women with small bosoms, narrow hips and long thin legs predominated, known generically as "flappers".” John LaGatta rather liked a different kind of beauty and his girls were very different indeed. They were curvaceous, more full-bodied with thick thighs and heavy hips, more European with a lusty look about them. LaGatta described the fundamental appeal of women thusly: “Women are aware of the psychological effect they possess over men, and regardless of the degree of modesty they pursue, they play it up to suit the occasion-often with charming and ingenious bits of innocence and varying, subtle ways of flirtation. Often women demurely reveal fragments of their anatomy. It is their strength and surely one of man’s incorrigible weaknesses. In most cases I believe it is simply deviltry for the sake of identity.”
At the beginning of World War II, LaGatta moved to California and started a new career teaching at the Art Center School in Los Angeles, and easel painting for his own pleasure. He died in 1977 in Santa Monica, California.