You know the Gerber Baby? It’s probably the best-known single baby image in the world, more recognizable to more people, even, than any single image of the infant Christ….which is a scary thought. It’s also the subject of a major urban legend.
Longstanding rumor has it that the model for the campaign was Humphrey Bogart, or occasionally Ernest Borgnine or Liz Taylor. It wasn’t. Bogart was 29 years old when the sketch debuted as the spokesbaby image for Gerber Strained Foods, in the fall of 1928. Ernest Bornine was 11; Elizabeth Taylor wasn’t born yet. Bogart also wasn’t born on Christmas,
Bogart’s mother, Maud Humphrey, was a commercial illustrator and did use her sketches of her son, including one for a campaign for Mellin’s Baby Food. She also used Baby Bogey as a model for Ivory Soap, for an illustration that, for a time, was almost as iconic as Gerber would later become (though not quite as long-lived). As Bogart put it, related in his son Stephen Bogart’s book In Search of My Father, “There was a period in American History when you couldn’t pick up a goddamned magazine without seeing my kisser in it.”
The model for Gerber was 2 years old at the time of Fremont Canning’s model search, but it was an old charcoal sketch by a neighbor. Her name was Ann Turner Cook. She did become mildly famous, but as a mystery novelist, according to Wikipedia. You can even find her books on Amazon. Here’s one of them.
Also according to Wikipedia, Cook’s father was Leslie Turner, a cartoonist who would later take over the syndicated action/adventure comic strip Captain Easy for decades following the departure of creator Roy Crane, having drawn the daily strips in the ’30s while Crane did Sundays. (The 4-volume Fantagraphics reprint features just the Crane years Sunday strips).
But it was a neighbor, Dorothy Hope Smith, who submitted the rough charcoal sketch of the young Miss Turner that became the baby food’s iconic trademark. Smith was a professional artist, and told Fremont Canning Company she intended to finish the sketch professionally if it was chosen. They decided to use it as-is.
The image of the Gerber Baby debuted in an issue of Good Housekeeping in late 1928. And the rest is weird history…