Playboy Magazine and The Snowy Day

People who know me well may be surprised that Hugh Hefner’s death triggered thoughts for a blog. Then again, there have been other strange topics covered here from time to time. The second surprise may come in pairing Playboy magazine with The Snowy Day. Hang with me, and I’ll connect the dots.

When he answered the phone, Ezra Jack Keats expected the first words he heard, “Long distance from Chicago.” He’d had a problem with Playboy magazine’s paycheck sent for an illustration he had done for them. They’d overpaid him. Scrupulously honest, he’d called the magazine and talked to a secretary who knew nothing about it but promised to check and get back with him.

But this wasn’t that phone call! A different voice said, “Mr. Keats? This is Ruth Gagliardo from the American Library Association. Are you sitting down? I have wonderful news for you. Your book The Snowy Day has won the Caldecott Award.” She sounded excited.

Still a novice in the children’s book world, Keats had no idea what a Caldecott Award was. He thanked her for the award and figured he’d ask around later and find out what he’d won.

“Would you like to make a statement?” she asked.

How should he respond? “Well, I’m certainly happy for the little boy in the book.”

“Oh, my. How touching! I’ll always remember what you said . . . Your Snowy Day, we all believe, will be a landmark in children’s books.” Mrs. Gagliardo asked him to keep the award a secret until after the press released the story. Keats promised and surreptitiously questioned friends who said the Caldecott was the highest award given for picture books.

If you’re still curious about the Playboy issue, Keats got a another long distance call from Chicago, the Playboy secretary saying the editors decided his art was worth more than the original agreement – no mistake and he could keep the money.

I can’t guarantee that the picture in my photo is the one under discussion since he did several for Playboy, but the magazine date makes it possible. Herbert Gold’s description in the piece of fiction “Happy Hipster” says, “He had a long creased horsy face, intelligent, and with large square teeth, a long lazy body with lots of lean on it.” Seems to me Keats captured the fellow pretty well, and one might actually read the magazine for the story and enjoy the art.

As for Mrs. Gagliardo’s prediction that The Snowy Day would become a landmark, here we are more than fifty years later buying Snowy Day stamps at the post office!