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A life in funny pictures


It’s probably no coincidence that one of the Keebler Elves is called Roger. It’s also no coincidence that Roger’s distinguishing feature is his size – he’s by far the tallest of the elves, which could hint that he may not be, strictly speaking, a elf. elf, but that he might possess certain human qualities. This, in turn, could be a hint that Roger the Keebler Elf could be a replacement for Roger Bradfield (1924-2021), the man who created him and the rest of the elves in 1968, launching some of the most familiar. modern day characters.

Bradfield’s journey to creating elves was sidetracked. Born in a small town in Minnesota, he was told that when he was a baby his father had died, but in reality his father had abandoned him and his mother, leaving behind only a pool cue. and a scruffy bathrobe. (Bradfield didn’t learn his father was alive until he was thirty, and after initially resisting, he agreed to meet him—they belatedly forged a relationship.) Bradfield’s mother practiced her right to serial marriage (she stopped at four or five), a habit which kept her so busy that Bradfield’s education fell to her maternal grandmother, who enthusiastically accepted the task .

Bradfield has always enjoyed doodling and painting. He served in the US Army during World War II, but upon his release he enrolled in the Minneapolis School of Art. After a few months, he left for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, with his new wife, Joan, who was also an artist. The couple bounced from Paris to London, where Bradfield first caught the eye of advertising agency BBDO After London, he and Joan returned to Minnesota. Corporate stories are often recorded unevenly, but it seems Bradfield’s flair for fantasy led him to design cereal boxes for General Mills, including those for Kix, Trix and Wheaties. (Let it be known that an illustrator named Joe Harris gave birth to the Trix Rabbit, but Bradfield designed an early version of the box, showing the “silly rabbit” next to a pile of cereal against a rich red background.) Bradfield also worked on Mr. Bubble, a diaphanous, pink, masculine figure with skinny arms that adorned the bubble bath boxes and bottles.

The Keebler Bakery had been founded in Philadelphia in 1853, and in 1927 it merged with a few other local bakeries to form the United Biscuit Company of America. It became the second largest bakery company in the country, producing specialties such as Cheez-Its and, under a private label, Girl Scout Cookies, but, in 1968, Leo Burnett, the company’s advertising agency, decided that Keebler needed more popular appeal. At that time, Bradfield was doing freelance work. Burnett got in touch. It’s unclear if some crazy Burnett concocted the idea of ​​a community of nearly twenty elves living cooperatively in a hollow tree, baking commercial-grade cookies in a magical oven, or if Bradfield conjured it all up. Alone. But the look of the Keebler Elves is almost certainly Bradfield’s work: their wardrobe palette of yellow, green, and red; their tall, supple conical hats; the slightly mystifying five o’clock shadows of male elves; their silver fox hair. (Although their ages are never specified, most of the elves appear to be in their 60s or 60s, with the exception of Elwood, who is a teenager, and Ma Keebler and Doc, who both appear to be aged. seniority over the rest of the group. .)

The Elves were a huge hit for Keebler, and over time they popped out of cookie jars and TV commercials and, later, into animated specials. Bradfield probably could have turned that success into some sort of comfortable position with Burnett, but his operant mode was a reinvention. The first step was to pack his family in a Volkswagen pickup truck (which he had customized by painting a big pink nose on the front grille) and drive to a new perch in California, where he freelanced for “Sesame Street” and Disney. The second step was to learn to type on his own, and in doing so, he decided to write a children’s book. His first book was ‘Hello, Rock’ and then he wrote many more – using Jolly Roger Bradfield’s signature – including ‘The Flying Hockey Stick’, ‘Pickle-Chiffon Pie’ and ‘Benjamin Dilley’s Thirsty Camel’ . (Bradfield seemed to be interested in camels; he even trimmed a tree in his garden into the shape of one). years. He also produced watercolours, mainly pastoral landscapes.

At a time when many dads were away all day and too tired at night to play with their kids, Bradfield was the fun dad on the block. He worked early mornings and late evenings, and spent the middle of the day walking around with his five children and their friends, painting their faces, trying out his latest children’s books on them, and letting them tour his studio, qu he had equipped with a putting green, a golf hole and a putter. He was a prankster, a doer of nonsense. “It was really fun to be with him,” one of his daughters, Kari Hansen, said recently. “He was literally the life of the party.”

When Bradfield was in his late eighties, his daughter said, he got a call from Sesame Street. While decorating the Sesame Street headquarters, a staff member suggested trying to find someone who could do “Roger Bradfield-esque” paintings. Who better than Roger Bradfield? He was still drawing and painting happily, with his usual enthusiasm – the one thing in his life that never changed. Its measure has always been pleasure. “When someone looks at one of my paintings, he liked to say, I want them to have the impression that I had fun doing it.