Thursday, November 20, 2008

More of Herb Caen and the Gordons

Herb Caen was a very powerful man in Northern California. We heard the owner of Danville Hotel say that when his place was mentioned in Herb's column he rushed to the phone and hired three extra waiters for a week or ten days. And still people had to wait to be seated.

Once there was an art show that asked me to enter something. I really had nothing available. As a joke I found a portrait of a beautiful girl, the sister of a friend. I changed her eyes, and painted small raisin size dark eyes. And then I signed it
NEAK RETLAW. When it was accepted I told Herb what I had done. Naek Retlaw is Walter Kean backward. He mentioned it in his column. The story does not tell if Walter Keane knew about it.

The first time I heard about Walter Keane was early in my career. We were both exhibitors at the Berkley Sidewalk show. We were sitting across the street from each other. I set up early and then waited for my first victim. A lovely elderly woman came by and wanted to know what I was doing. I told her I was there to do quick sketches of anyone who wanted to see themselves in charcoal. I said 'Why don't you sit down and I will do a quick sketch of you. I won't charge you, I will just use you, to get my fingers charged up. She sat down and she was easy to catch. When I was pleased with what I had caught and there were only details to finish I told her she did not have to sit any longer. While I was working on a little lace on the brim of her hat she stood behind me and studied her likeness. Suddenly I realized that she was crying. What's the matter? I asked. She put her hand on my shoulder and said 'It looks exactly like my father.' Do you look like your father? No, not at all.

Across the street Walter Keane and his wife were busy. It was the first time I had seen his large eyed portraits and my first feeling was How cute! But it did not take long for it to seem old hat.

It was a fun time for me and I was lucky it happened on a weekend. Sam was home and I knew the children were in good hands.


Anonymous said...

What a good practical joke on Walter Kean! Personally, I could never stand those big-eyed children he painted, which makes your joke even funnier.
The portrait of Herb Caen is very good.

Kirsten N. said...

I found an odd website ( that claims that Walter Keane didn't paint all those paintings, but that his wife did. Do you think that's possible?

~~Silk said...

I wondered about Walter Keane, too. The site is the gallery, where you can buy originals and copies. Wikipedia ( tells the same story, that he claimed credit for her work.

kin said...

sventso - were you really painting on the canvas as it was framed like that, or was this another publicity photo??

i like your play on walter keane! hilarious! do you still have that piece or photos of it?

Haphazardkat said...

You are a woman filled with such talent. I am awe-struck :)

Vancouver, WA