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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Michael Smollin, 85

Michael Smollin, an acclaimed artist and illustrator who called Westport home for almost 40 years, died Sept. 23 in Fort Meyers, Fla. He was Image
Michael Smollin: Westporter for almost 40 years. photo

Smollin was most widely known for his first concept illustrated to become Sesame Street’s best selling book of all time, “The Monster At The End Of This Book,” a classic now in its third printing, which captured the hearts of children and adults since its release in 1971.

His illustrations graced a variety of magazines and publications for 30 years.

In a varied career, Smollin also won an Emmy for his work on “The Great Space Coaster” television program. Baby Boomers have all seen television commercials he directed between 1951 and 1968 such as Milkbone’s Doctor Spot, an original Smollin character, who warned that tooth-tartar is the main cause of “Bad breath in dogs!,” and the Triple S Blue Stamps’ trio of dancing vaudevillians.

As an advertising guru, he was the creative force behind commercial themes and imagery for Ford, Lipton Tea, Sugar Crisp cereal, Gulf Oil Corp., Tide and Milbrook Bread, among others. He was one of the Madison Avenue elite who inspired the original television series Mad Men.

Smollin’s “The Monster At The End Of This Book” was followed by a sequel, “Another Monster At The End Of This Book.”

Many other books and special projects were also created for Sesame Street, including commemorative calendars and vinyl record-presentations. Key titles include; “The Day The Count Stopped Counting,” “Mother Grouch Nursery Rhymes,” and “Lovable Furry Old Grover’s Resting Places.”

The illustrator produced 62 book titles during his second career, along with a slew of interactive pieces inspiring children around the world to the joys of life and the excitement of exploration.

His illustrations brought a great sense of humor to many books published by Random House Inc, Jim Henson Productions and The Western Publishing Company, which include Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” three “Strawberry Shortcake” stories, and a collaboration with Theo LeSeig (aka Dr. Suess) “Maybe You Should Fly A Jet! Maybe You Should Be A Vet!”

Smollin had a flair for creating classic characters in interesting situations with exceptional drawings and paintings, compelling for their charm, sense of humor, imagination, technical execution, scale, beauty, and rich colors. He did illustrate two books for grownups: “The Hamptons Health Spa Diet Cookbook,” (1977), “The Permanent Press,” and “Bob and Ray’s Story Of Linda Lovely and the Fleebus,” (1960), Dodd, Mead & Co.

As managing director, he administered the independent Illustrator’s Workshop in collaboration with prominent illustrators, Bernie Fuchs, Robert Heindel, Fred Otnes and Mark English, at Marymount College in Tarrytown, N.Y., from 1977-78, assisting art-school-graduates hone their skills and polish portfolios.

As freelance illustrator, Smollin’s regular clients included TV Guide, Good Housekeeping Magazine, Time Magazine, Golf Magazine, Colorforms Toys, Fisher-Price Toys, Playschool Toys, Golden Books, and Ray Favata Productions.

Most recently he completed a seven-year contract with Egmont Publishing in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he and his son Mark created, designed and illustrated a large series of children’s books and companion learning tools produced in seven languages.

A catalog of career works and key illustrations can be viewed online at

Born in Sag Harbor, N.Y., in 1925, and raised on Talmage Lane in East Hampton, N.Y., he was a first generation American of immigrant parents, Michael Anthony Smollin from Grodna, Poland, and Alberta “Alice” Zaboski from Vilna, Poland. He learned piano, and played trumpet in the East Hampton High School Band.

After graduating with honors in 1943, he joined the U.S. Army during World War II, and served in the Battle Of The Bulge, where he sustained shrapnel wounds and was later awarded the Purple Heart medal.

During convalescence in London, he taught drawing and painting to other service men at the USO, and was honorably discharged.

He attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. on the GI Bill and designed scenery for the professional John Drew Theater during summer breaks.

Upon graduating with honors in 1950, he was awarded top prize from the Art Director’s Club of New York, entitling him to several job opportunities from major ad agencies.

Initially, Smollin took a position at Carloni Studios as a production artist, and was soon drafted by Young & Rubicam as television art director, where he worked on the Lipton and Swansdown accounts.

As art director at Ed Graham Productions, he developed animated commercial spots for Tip Top Bread, Milbrook Bread, Tide, and Triple S Blue Stamps.

He later formed an advisory advertising company with TV and radio comedians Bob & Ray, producing commercials that were awarded top prizes from The Society of Illustrators New York, The New York Art Director’s Club, and The Cannes Film Festival.

Next, he joined J. Walter Thompson as creative art director on the Ford account to produce award-winning commercials that achieved increased automobile sales.

David Ogilvy convinced Smollin to join Ogilvy & Mather, Inc. (O&M)—the world’s fifth largest ad agency—as senior vice president in charge of all the company’s visual output.

He resigned from O&M a year later to begin a new career as an independent illustrator/designer; in part helping The Children’s Television Workshop launch its merchandising efforts, and freelancing as animation designer for Ray Favada Productions on its Sugar Crisp account and The Great Space Coaster television show, which won him an Emmy.

In 1951 Smollin married Cornelia “Neil” Mueller, a fellow classmate at Pratt. They took residence in Westport from 1953 to 1992 and became parents of four children: Mark, Elizabeth (d 2000), Steven (d 2008), and Jennifer, who all inherited creative genes from gifted parents.

The couple liked to cook together, planning elaborate meals and elegant parties for their friends, and donated time to community service.

In addition to their Westport home, they had a beach house in Amagansett, N.Y., adjacent to his home town, for serenity and love of the sea.

In addition to his artist talents, Smollin was a devoted father, a generous and charismatic soul, avid reader, ruthless card player, great gardener, antique collector, interior decorator, practical jokester and gourmet cook, among other interests.

The family plans to host a private memorial party in Connecticut later this year.


Posted 09/30/10 at 06:25 PM  Permalink


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