Life and CareerEdit
Born in Quincy, Illinois, McMein attended the Art Institute of Chicago and in 1913 went to New York City. After a brief stint as an actress, she turned to commercial art. On the advice of a numerologist, she adopted the name Neysa, and she thereafter credited the name change with her rapid success.
McMein studied at the Art Students League of New York for a few months, and in 1914 sold her first drawing to the Boston Star. The next year she sold a cover to the Saturday Evening Post. Her pastel drawings of chic, healthy American girls proved highly popular and brought her many commissions. During World War I she drew posters for the United States and French governments and spent six months in France as a lecturer and entertainer.
From 1923 through 1937, McMein created all of McCall's covers. She also supplied work to McClure's, Liberty, Woman's Home Companion, Collier's, Photoplay, and other magazines. She created advertising graphics for such accounts as Palmolive soap and Lucky Strike cigarettes. General Mills's Marjorie C. Husted commissioned her to create the image of "Betty Crocker", a fictional housewife whose brand name was intended to be a seal of solid middle-class domestic values.
She became a regular member of the Algonquin Round Table set, along with Alexander Woollcott, Alice Duer Miller, Harpo Marx, and Jascha Heifetz. Franklin Pierce Adams, Robert Benchley, Edna Ferber, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Bernard Baruch were friends.
In 1921, McMein was among the first to join the Lucy Stone League, an organization that fought for women to preserve their birth names after marriage in the manner of Lucy Stone.
Together with artists Howard Chandler Christy and Harrison Fisher, McMein constituted the Motion Picture Classic magazine's, "Fame and Fortune" contest jury of 1921/1922, who discovered the It-girl, Clara Bow.
In 1923 she married John C. Baragwanath, a mining engineer and author. Theirs was an open marriage, and though the proprieties generally were observed, there were exceptions. In his memoirs, the lyricist and publicist Howard Dietz recalled hearing that on one occasion, when Neysa noticed that her model for the day was impatient to leave, she asked: "Have you got a heavy date?" Model: "Yes, with a great guy, Jack Baragwanath." Meanwhile, Neysa was involved for several years with the Broadway director George Abbott, leading her Algonquin Round Table crony Alexander Woollcott to crack that "we now call Neysa’s place in Port Washington the 'Abbottoir.'" They had one daughter, Joan Baragwanath (later Leech).
McMein's more private artistic ambitions lay in the field of portraiture, at first in pastels and later in oil. With the decline in popularity of her style of commercial art in the later 1930s, she turned increasingly to portraiture. Among her subjects were Warren G. Harding, Herbert Hoover, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Dorothy Parker, Janet Flanner, Katharine Cornell, Helen Hayes, Dorothy Thompson, Anatole France, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Evans Hughes and Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin.
In 1942, she began drawing the comic strip Deathless Deer, written by newspaper publisher Alicia Patterson. The strip was about an Egyptian princess who had been cursed 2000 years earlier and awoken in 1942.
McMein died in New York City, aged 61.
McMein was portrayed by actress Rebecca Miller in the film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994).
- Women and the Comics
View Neysa McMein's memorial at Find-A-Grave.
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