by Lara Neel, Trade Marketing Manager, with help from Honor Murphy
In celebration of Lerner’s 60th anniversary this year, I have been digging through the Lerner archives in search of artifacts, long-lost secrets, fun stories, and more.
While perusing the books from the 1960s, I noticed some fantastic illustrations by George Overlie, Mark Springer, Rov Andre, and Joseph Folger. I commented to our wonderful archivist, Eeva Kariniemi, just how much I admired the illustrations and that Lerner employed so many talented artists throughout the years.
In response, she laughed and commented that those four artists were all the same illustrator! As it turns out, Lerner employed the abundantly talented George Overlie as Lerner’s first illustrator. Afraid of being labeled a one-artist publishing house, Harry Lerner decided to give credit to Overlie with four different names – his own, Mark Springer, Rov Andre, and Joseph Folger.
George Overlie illustrated Lerner’s first books, the children’s medical titles about childhood diseases, and subsequently designed the Mr. Bumba series in the early 1960s. In his memoir, Tenacity Well Directed, Harry shares more details about Mr. Bumba:
“In the early 1960s, I received an unsolicited manuscript about an old man named Mr. Bumba, who was kind to kids in his neighborhood. At that time, we didn’t get a lot of submissions, and I read every one we got. The story was well done and cute. It had short, choppy sentences, which I liked. I thought it had a lot of appeal for children…George and I talked a lot about what Mr. Bumba should look like. I wanted a kind, gentle face, recognizable to everyone. Three figures came to mind: Pappy Yokum, Pope John XXIII, and Mr. Magoo. That was the combination that worked. George made a clay model of the face so he could turn it in any direction and still keep the right look. I still have that clay figure sitting on my desk.”
Overlie was a very talented artist who illustrated in many styles and mediums. There is a striking difference between the Mr. Bumba books and his drawings in The Whistle, a story from Benjamin Franklin. Overlie wanted to mimic woodcut prints for this book. His calligraphy was also stunning!
In 1965, Overlie wrote his first and only book. The Tallest Tree tells the story about a boy who climbs the tallest tree, gets stuck and is rescued by firemen. Overlie illustrated the book using only two colors – a soft black and green.
Overlie was raised in Rose Creek, Minnesota and served in the U.S. Army at Omaha Beach. He then became a freelance writer in Minneapolis. He passed away in 2013 at the age of 89.
Lerner benefited so much from George Overlie’s wide-ranging talents!
p.s. – For more blasts from Lerner’s past, check out our Instagram feed every Thursday.