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.