Thursday, January 1, 2015

Mystery of the 1977 Gandalf Poster

It's not an image of Gandalf you see every day -- but I used to. I bought this poster for my bedroom wall in 1977; when I left the next year for college, it came with me, and I've kept it ever since, though it spent the last twenty years or so rolled up in a closet. Today, I decided to take it out of storage and frame it, and it was only then that I started to wonder -- where, after all, did this Gandalf -- pre-Rankin-Bass, pre-Bakshi, and certainly pre-Jackson, come from? My only clue was the artist's name, which was clear enough: "Alvin Hudson." But who was that? There was no artist of that name with any sort of online presence; the only image of another copy was from an old listing on eBay Canada -- that, and the entry in the US register of Copyrights: ""Gandalf the wizard. Half port, of bearded old man from The Hobbit, wearing large hat, holding pipe & walking stick. Painted by Alvin Hudson. Col. reproduction of painting. © Spellbound, Inc.; 30NOV77; K128162."  And who was Spellbound, Inc? The US Patent and Trademark office showed that the company had filed for its trademark in January of 1977, and had been based in Akron, Ohio, not far from my hometown of Cleveland. The trademark had expired in 1985.

So I wonder: is there anyone out there who can tell me anything about Alvin Hudson, or Spellbound? Did they put out other posters? Did they license the names? And could it be -- as seems very possible -- that Ralph Bakshi was influenced, just a bit, by this image in his conception of Gandalf  for his Lord of the Rings movie? I'd be interested to hear from anyone who knows.

UPDATE 6/11/16: With thanks to my old friend and former student Patrick Robbins, I can report some additional detail on Spellbound, Inc. -- according to an item in the Akron Beacon Journal on December 6th, 1977, the company was founded by Bonnie Anderson and Merrilee Antbe (that surname may be an OCR error), whose ambition was to become "Poster Queens." The article mentioned the popularity of Tolkien's work, and the recent airing of the Rankin-Bass Hobbit cartoon. It went on to note:
There are Tolkien posters, jigsaw puzzles, sweatshirts, T-shirts, calendars, games, national fan clubs and posters but not, as Bonnie and Merrilee saw, any made from oil paintings. The first poster from Spellbound is, of course, the Alvin Hudson painting of Gandalf.
Alas, Bonnie and Merrilee were not destined to become poster-making magnates -- but certainly their first was a brilliant one. The article mentions Alvin Hudson as though his name would be recognized -- but he remains resolutely obscure.

7 comments:

  1. I browsed some of your past entries and I must say that you really have a great collection. This one, though, is easily one of my favorites. Hmmm, it seems it would be almost impossible to find out who Alvin Hudson is, considering that the painting was made long before the internet allowed us to see the faces behind the names. I hope you’ll succeed in finding out who it is. If you do, maybe you can share the information to us as well.

    Hoa Bracken

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  2. Hoa, thanks for your comment. My best guess is that this was a locally-produced poster (Spellbound was a spinoff from an Akron comic book store, and I grew up in Cleveland), and so it never got all that well-known. I'm still searching, though!

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  3. I went to college at the University of Akron from 1974-1979 . I walked into an art gallery in Peninsula Ohio, north of Akron, sometime around 1977 and purchased an original water color by Alvin Hudson, and still own and cherish it to this day. I remember paying about $60 for it back then and it was a drawing of Gandalf and Bilbo on a path. I vaguely remember the gallery owner mentioning to me that Al Hudson worked on one of the first animated films based on the Hobbit, but Ive never been able to confirm. Peninsula was an artist colony town of sorts with a real hippie vibe to it. I know that he did more than one water color from the Hobbit, but I have yet to see any come up for sale.

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  4. Thanks, Armys Auto for your comment -- that's amazing, I'd be very interested to see an image of your painting by Mr. Hudson. I've actually done a great deal of research on the early animated Hobbit by Rankin-Bass, and so far as I know, Alvin Hudson wasn't associated with it. The character art for that version was done by a guy named Lester Abrams (I have an article about it in the latest issue of Hogan's Alley, #20). Still, the Gandalf is not too far from te Bakshi version; perhaps Mr. Hudson was involved with that? If you could, drop me a line at rpotter[at]ric,edu.

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  5. p.s. I remember Peninsula OH from that time pretty well ... the Cuyahoga Valley RR went through there -- a very picturesque town!

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  6. My uncle just gifted me one of these posters. It's awesome, and I thought I'd look into it. Similarly to you, I've found nothing. In fact, this thread is the only thing I've found associated with it. I was wondering if you'd found anything out since your last comment.
    If you remember, how much was it going for on the ebay page you said that you found it on?

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    1. I did just find out a little more (see update to main post). It's certainly a rarity, and the company doesn't seem to have lasted long, or gotten its posters very widely distributed outside of Ohio.

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