Tuesday, March 29, 2016

We've enjoyed "Big Eyes" art for years

This is the print Dan and Margaret Keane McGuire gave us in 1981.
      Sometimes there is a good story hanging on your living-room wall, and it goes unrealized for years.
    So it is with our "Big Eyes" framed print, which we have had for almost 35 years.
     It has a prominent location here in our apartment -- just as it has wherever we've lived -- and we always knew it was a special gift.
    Until Saturday, we didn't realize how special. There is a story within the story.
    The inscription on our print reads: "To Bea and Nico with much aloha. Margaret Keane McGuire" (above that: ©MDH Keane, 1981) 
    Margaret Keane is the famed "Big Eyes" artist -- world renowned, really -- and our print is a big-eyed Oriental girl in a colorful kimono, sitting alongside an equally big-eyed Siamese cat. Judging by the date, it was her latest effort.
    It was one of several going-away presents from our wonderful friends at The Honolulu Advertiser (RIP) when we left to return to the mainland after my 19-month stint (1980-81) on the sports desk there -- one of the most enjoyable jobs I had.
    (Six years later we would get a Siamese cat that looked just like this one -- Rachel's 8th birthday gift, Kitty, who stayed with us for 16 years through four states.)
    We did not know Margaret, but her husband, Dan McGuire, was a parttime sports columnist at The Advertiser. He would visit the office a couple of times a week to bring in his column and, like many of the people at that paper, he was a genuinely nice person.
    He had been in the journalism/sports business for 40-plus years and, although his column didn't need much editing, he appreciated what touches this sports-copy editor would add.
Margaret Keane (from her web site -- keane-eyes.com/about-Margaret)
    So to receive a print from Margaret Keene McGuire then was meaningful. We were told she was a well-known artist, but to be honest, we did not know the full story.
    Occasionally, someone visiting our place would comment on the print, and it is in the background of several of our photos. The years rolled by. Margaret Keane was just a name on the print.
    On Saturday, Bea was meeting with her SAGE medical-school students when a young man asked about the print. He recognized Margaret as the artist, then mentioned the recent movie done on her.
    Movie? What movie? 
    As Bea pointed out to me, we often get locked into our own world and miss what might be pertinent to us. An example is the movie Big Eyes. It's the story within the story.
    This is the story of Margaret Keane's life and work, and the deception she and second husband Walter Keane used to make millions of dollars from the artwork in the 1960s. That's right, deception.
    A 2014 production directed by Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Batman, Beetlejuice, etc.) and starring Amy Adams as Margaret and Christoph Waltz as Walter, it tells of how the husband claimed for more than a decade to be the artist painting the waifs -- sad-looking children -- and how she, scared, went along with the scheme.
    In short, he bullied and threatened her. Convoluted, controversial story that evolved into suits and court battles. Lots about it on the Internet. (Several story links listed below.)
    Bea told her students that I knew Margaret's husband, that he worked at the Honolulu paper. So the young man asked, "Is this the husband [in the movie]?"
    Of course, I was clueless about the movie, but I assured him "no way." Dan McGuire, a gentleman, never would have done that.
    Then I went to my computer and researched Margaret Keane (she is alive, at 88, living in Napa, Calif., and still painting daily, according to stories I saw). Plus, I dug in my files for the stories I'd saved on Dan McGuire's obituary (sent to me by my Advertiser friends in 1983).  
    Dan had his own great story. He was, as the obituary noted, "perennially good-natured." I'm one of thousands who can vouch for that.
    He had wavy, thick gray hair by the time I met him in 1980 -- he was 62 then -- and just the year before had gone from fulltime sports columnist to parttimer. He was popular with his co-workers and the readers, and known for his ever-present cigar.
    He was a West Coast guy, a sports writer in California before World War II, then a United Press war correspondent in the Pacific, and twice a sports columnist (1946-50, 1963-79) at The Advertiser.
    In between, for 13 years, he was the publicity director for the San Francisco 49ers. Dan loved him some NFL, and the Niners. He was friends with such stars as Frankie Albert and Y.A. Tittle, and with the PR director of the Niners' main rival, the Los Angeles Rams -- Pete Rozelle.
    (If you're not an NFL person, Mr. Rozelle later was the best commissioner that league will ever have.)
This is from a 1970 Life Magazine story. In the caption
on this photo, it refers to Dan as a sportswriter for a
Honolulu newspaper and Margaret is quoted:  "He
helped  me to become a lot less timid and afraid. For
 a year, I couldn't paint anything at all."
    Dan loved golf as much, maybe more, than football. He and Monte Ito -- The Advertiser golf writer for years and years and a sweet, beloved human -- began and led the "Dawn Patrol," a group that played regularly and was the subject of much sports department story-telling and laughter.
    Dan had been through one marriage (and nine kids) when he met Margaret in Hawaii a year after her bitter breakup with Walter. She had moved to the Islands, and they hit it off, married in 1966. 
    It was Dan, according to a UPI story in December 2014,  who influenced Margaret's career recovery after her struggles.
    From the story:
    It was during those first few years of marriage to McGuire that Margaret came to a decision about how she wanted to live her life.
    "I made the decision that if anyone asked me [about the paintings] from that point, I was going to tell the truth," she said.
    McGuire "told me not to be afraid. He really was a good support and helped me get the courage to do it."
    Dan died of pancreatic cancer less than two years after we left Hawaii, and our Advertiser people -- plus golf, the Niners and the NFL world -- and, most of all, Margaret lost a true friend.

       If you go to www.margaretkeane.com, you can find her history and links to her colossal collection of artwork. It is astounding to see the list of notables who commissioned her to do portraits of themselves, loved ones or friends.
    It took a couple of minutes to find a copy of the print we have. It is entitled "Ladies in Waiting" (we never knew that) and the print purchase price is listed at $250. A 30x24 poster is $45, a magnet or small greeting card is $2.50, a double matted card is $12.95.
    We have our own print -- and it was a great gift. We love it, and we know for sure, just as the whole world does now, that Margaret Keane was the artist. We knew it all along.


  1. From Kathleen Davis: WOW, what a fabulous discovery!

  2. From Karen Bryant Dye: Great story. You have had such an interesting life. The print is beautiful.

  3. From Helaine Nierman Braunig: Great story. We saw the movie a year or so ago -- shocking all the way around.