Illustration Magazine #4

“Sam Savitt – Painter, Author,
Teacher and Horseman”

St. Louis, MO 63110

ILLUSTRATION is a beautiful, educational, and scholarly magazine devoted to the history of the American golden age of illustration from 1860 to 1960. It’s published by Daniel Zimmer. For those with an interest in popular culture, commercial art and design, publishing history, comic books, paperbacks, pulp magazines, or collecting original art, this magazine comes highly recommended.

My cover article on Sam Savitt was featured in issue #4 of 2002 and may also be accessed on the Sam Savitt Art site.

Sam Savitt

I have been recognized as an authority on the work of Sam Savitt whose gouache paintings graced the covers of Dell comic books produced by Western Printing in the fifties.

After seeing an article in Equus magazine #150 in 1990, titled “The Mustangs of the West,” with paintings by Sam Savitt, I suspected that he might have painted the covers for Roy Rogers’ Trigger, Gene Autry’s Champion and The Lone Ranger’s Famous Horse Hi-Yo Silver. I wrote Savitt in care of Equus asking about the Dell covers. A few weeks later a letter of conformation arrived. Bette Orkin, his wife, had kept records of his work. When I met them in 1995, I’d already accounted for more than double the covers on her list. Savitt was eventually able to confirm even more for a variety of Dell titles that Robert W. Phillips and I discovered in the following years.

Sam Savitt viewed his covers for Western/Dell as merely means to an end, paying bills, etc. He never made an effort to regain possession. He eventually wised up after his wife Bette built a successful cottage industry from his gallery art and prints. By the time Savitt returned to Western Printing to retrieve his originals they were long gone. Of his 150 plus covers, he only saved three! This writer has only seen another dozen original Dell covers via various online sources.

I took this photo of Sam Savitt at his North Salem home circa 1979 holding one of only three original Dell covers he was able to salvage from his publisher. In his early 80s, he was still riding his big Standardbred.

In the 1950s when Sam Savitt was working for Western Printing, illustrators were not allowed to sign their work. It was a way for companies to maintain reproduction rights. My research was referenced in an affidavit drawn up by his lawyer and cousin Joseph J. Savitz to claim authorship of the work. The affidavit was notarized in the Common Wealth of Pennsylvania, County of Luzerne and signed by Sam Savitt in September 1995. It consists of seventeen claims including the following:

“The undersigned, Sam Savitt of North Salem, Westchester County, New York, being duly sworn according to law deposes and says that: 6. In 1950, he was doing comic book covers for Roy Rogers’ horse, Trigger, Gene Autry’s horse, Champion, and the Lone Ranger Hi-Yo Silver horse. 7. He did the above cover book pictures for approximately 5 years from 1950 to 1955, painting approximately 140 covers for Western Printing and Publishing Company, which he believes subsequently became Dell Publishing Company. 13. That a collector of comic book covers, namely Leo Pando of N. Richland Hills, Texas has apprised the deponent of Pando’s collection of comic book covers and has asked the deponent to authenticate the same, having listed many works of the deponent after extensive research accomplished by Mr. Pando.”

Roy Rogers’ Trigger, issue number 16.
Zane Grey’s Stories of the West number 31
Gene Autry’s Champion number 4
Zane Grey’s Stories of the West number 38
The Lone Rangers Famous Horse Hi-Yo Silver number 3.
Morgan horse gouache portrait by Sam Savitt for his 1962 book “Around the World with Horses,” Dial Press, New York.

Four Color #568 “Gypsy Colt” 1951. Magnificent gouache on illustration board painting by Savitt.
Savitt wrote and illustrated around 15 books. His images were featured in over 150. The Silver Brumby is to Australia what Black Beauty is to Great Britain and the Black Stallion is to the United States. 
In the 1950s comic books were required to do include educational feature pages. On occasion Savitt painted breed portraits like this mustang. 
Savitt’s wife Bette Orkin favored this book of equine related poems and Sam’s pencil drawings. The images and text were especially inspired. 
Like his hero Will James, Sam Savitt could draw horses in any pose without photo references. 
Savitt’s work was used over and over, usually without permission or royalties, in this case a recent DVD set.
Sam Savitt didn’t merely draw with pencils, he painted with them. This magnificent Arab stallion charcoal portrait was done in 1973.
Bay portrait, one of a number of plates from a Savitt portfolio
Portrait of a Cocker Spaniel by Savitt. He often did horse and dog commissions for collectors and art patrons.

The Oaktree Express Volume 3, No. 3 Little Oak Enterprises Newhall, California 1996 “Preserving western memories. . . honoring western legends.” One of my first published essays, “Sam Savitt – Horse Painter from a Golden Age,” was featured in the now defunct Oaktree Express. Savitt’s spectacular illustration cover for Roy Rogers’ Trigger number 7 graced the cover.