Maxwell Coburn Whitmore

1978 Hall of Fame Inductee: Maxwell Coburn Whitmore

Their names were Amy, Victoria or Gabrielle. The men they loved madly or drove crazy were called Bill, Ben, or Mark. They were sunny blondes, curled up on couches, or creamy brunettes gazing over champagne glasses. They were sultry redheads in a pout, or the girl-next-door in wide-eyed innocence. They were never cheap. They were very, very sexy-all of them.

These were Coby Whitmore’s women and they were ideal for the 30 years they appeared in McCall’s, Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping. Because of them Coby was an idol to other illustrators. Although there were many boy/girl artists, Coby was paramount. He could create a softness around even the most sophisticated temptress; behind that arch look was a real heart. To the most guileless, fresh-faced kid he gave his unmatched Whitmore elegance. He used props for more than composition. A lady’s jewelry, the cosmetics on her dressing table, her choice of flowers told more about who she was, or thought she was, than the next. Coby painted women in every aspect of their utterly feminine world, a world apart: women applying make-up, women dressing (oh! All those magnificent shoulders) and, like no one else, he painted them in bed. Looking at his Beautyrest ads, you couldn’t care less about the independent springs. It was the sleepy sexiness of the stretching ladies that sold you.

Coby’s women were touchable, but their availability was never tawdry. It came more from the feeling that they were creatures who were looking for, and could give, “true love.”

Maxwell Coburn Whitmore is described as “the nicest man I ever met” by most who know him. This gentle, considerate man was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1913. After training at Dayton Art Institute he went to Chicago where he apprenticed at the studio of the renowned Haddon Sundblom. After a stint at the Herald Examiner he worked at Charles Jensen Sudio in Cincinnati. 1942 brought him to New York where his long association with the famed Charles E. Cooper Studios began.

Bob Levering, who, when he started at Cooper, cleaned out Coby’s paint trays, said Whitmore “is one of the most skillful users of values” he’d known. Working primarily with Winsor & Newton designer colors, Coby was quick, sure and unfailingly tasteful.

The eternal enthusiast, his interests are eclectic and far-reaching. One fascination-streamlined cars-grabbed Whitmore when he was a teenager. This love grew and reached full flower when he raced a car of his own design at Sebring. Though best known for his romantic ladies, Coby also worked for Esquire, Saturday Evening Post and Sports Illustrated. The excellence of his illustration has been awarded by the Art Directors Clubs of New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. His work is included in the permanent collections at the Pentagon, the USAF Academy, The New Britain Museum of American Art and at Syracuse University.

Since 1968 Coby and his wife, Virginia, have lived on Hilton Head Island. In a studio overlooking Calibogue Sound, his considerable talents have gone into his highly prized portraits.

There cannot be enough said about the beauty of Coby Whitmore as a person. If he’d never painted a stroke, he’d still be up for the Nice Guy Hall of Fame. It’s almost too much to believe, but his praises are sung from every quarter and sung high. Never blasé, he has a child’s delight in all things. A man of genuine humility, he seems truly not to know how good he is. Bob Levering characterized him as having a “great, ambling confused amiability. And underneath he’s sharp as a razor blade.”

The SI is honored to add Coby Whitmore, a dashing fellow with a penchant for creamy white suits, to their Hall of Fame-on all counts.