Monday, April 29, 2013

Estate sale discovery: Constance Bannister

I picked this book up at a sale a couple of years ago. I think I spent about ten seconds perusing the pictures before tossing it in a box to be sifted through at some future date. Well, the future date finally arrived and I was able to confirm what I already knew: I'm not a cute baby fetishist and never will be. You will never catch me with an Anne Geddes calendar or a baby doll collection (unless those babies are wooden and weird!). And though what passes for humor in Members of the P.T.A. by Constance Bannister is obviously dated, I'm reasonably certain I would not have found it funny had I been a mother of small children when it was published back in 1970.

But I also confirmed something I else I already knew—that you can make all sorts of interesting pop cultural-historical discoveries while shopping estate sales and library sales. This Constance Bannister was no one-hit-wonder novelty book author; she was an incredibly cool, ahead-of-her time woman with the kind of story that's ripe for a high-end biopic miniseries on one of the prestige networks (HBO, AMC, Showtime, are you listening?). Think Kate Winslet in the title role. Go to the website her daughter has created in her honor to check out a babelicious self-portrait of Ms. Bannister circa 1940. 

So Constance Bannister was a babealicious baby photographer; in the words of the headline for her New York Times obit—she died in 2005—she "photographed 100,000 babies." Her beginnings were inauspicious and reminiscent of more than one legendary country-western singer: She was born in 1913 in Ashland, Tennessee, one of 17 children. As a teenager, she moved to NYC to attend the School of Modern Photography. This was the 1930s, people—that took some serious pluck, don't you think? She moved to Palm Beach to work as a society photographer for the Associated Press. After a few years, she returned to NYC, where she opened a studio and photographed Broadway plays, ballets and the Ice Capades. Somewhere along the way she started photographing babies and pets.  In the ’40s and ’50s, the "Bannister Babies" became something of a phenomenon, appearing on the Perry Como Show, the Frank Sinatra show, Ernie Kovacs, etc. while Bannister was also shooting total midcentury eye-candy covers for Woman's Day, LOOK and McCall's. She published tons of books and had a syndicated comic strip. She was a bona-fide pinup during WWII. She married three times and adopted two daughters. She apparently photographed a baby Christopher Walken. Don't you want to know more about this unsung heroine? I know I do.

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