The newspaper headlines, radio bulletins, and movie newsreels of 1944 surged with war updates from faraway places. The Allied advance across the Pacific: Saipan, the Philippine Sea, Leyte Gulf. The taking back of Europe: Anzio, Monte Cassino, the beaches of Normandy. 1944 was a mix of victory, triumph, and euphoria – alongside destruction, defeat, and despair.
In the Pacific, there were decisive naval victories – and, less talked about, gruesome hand-to-hand combat on the islands, and the beginning of kamikaze attacks. In Europe, there was the triumphant march through Paris – on the heels of the slaughter at Omaha Beach. There was the liberation of the first concentration camp – and the horrors revealed within. The human spirit soared at countless acts of heroism and sacrifice – and sickened at what it was capable of. After six tumultuous years, the direction of the war was finally pointing to an Allied victory. It was, at long last, the beginning of the end.
It was December, and in New York City, a freezing rain seemed to symbolize the coldness that gripped the heart of the world. On the street, and in the office buildings and apartment buildings, weariness and hope competed for dominance.
And yet, beneath the rain and ice, the first signs of Christmas could now be seen, bolstering the side of hope. The side of family and tradition and happiness. Pine wreaths and red ribbons hung in windows and on doors, strings of colored lights brightened the store awnings and window displays – as well as the booths for war bonds, Red Cross blood drives, and the recruiting stations.
Inside Rockwell Publishing, the offices buzzed and bustled, phones rang, and employees hurried to meetings and pushed themselves to meet deadlines. In the Art Department, Mr. Rockwell himself hammered home his expectations for the numerous campaigns and deadlines. He gathered up his papers and slammed shut his folder, signaling that the meeting was over.
But Lillian Drooms stubbornly continued her defense. “Mr. Rockwell, I don’t think you realize – ”
“We’ve got deadlines and this is no time for arguments,” Rockwell said, scowling for emphasis. “I’ve been in this business a helluva lot longer than you. I know what works.”
“Yes, Mr. Rockwell. Of course. I simply meant to suggest that – ”
“When I want your opinion, Mrs. Drooms, I’ll ask for it. Until then, do as I say!” He pushed off from the table and rose to his feet.
Mr. Brache, the head of Art, tried to catch Lillian’s eye, making small gestures with his hands that said – no more, please!
Lillian pressed her lips together, took her drawings, and followed Mr. Rockwell as he made his way through the Art Department. Though he rarely visited this part of his publishing empire, he periodically called a meeting to whip up the pace and urgency of production. When he did so, the effect was that of a small storm swirling through the office. Folders and portfolios were immediately opened and drawings spread out, workers bumped into one another and dropped papers as they hastened back to their desks, everyone in a hurry to respond to his demands – until he was out of the office. Then they would sigh in relief and for the most part, work got back on schedule after the disruption.
But Lillian had worked for the past two weeks on her Glamour in Wartime campaign and was confident in her drawings. Mr. Rockwell was simply missing the point.
He saw her on his heels, which was enough to provoke his ire. If there was one thing he couldn’t tolerate it was disagreement with his ideas.
He tried to ignore her persistence by continuing with his argument, waving his unlit cigar and chopping the air for emphasis. “How is it you always have an opinion about everything anymore? Always second guessing my decisions, always wanting to change a hairstyle here, a dress there. And now it’s age!”
“But Mr. Rockwell, with so many women of all ages in the workforce now, it just doesn’t make sense to depict them all as ‘young and bouncy’ as you say, when in fact – ”
He spun around. “Young and bouncy sells soap!” He held up his hand as Lillian began to argue her point. “End of discussion.
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