Trend Soap 1947
Born in Oklahoma, he attended the Vesper George Art School in California, before getting a job at Warner Brothers. He had a few small acting roles before concentrating on art.
His film studio work was as a publicity and production design artist in the late 1930s before moving on to pin ups and advertising work for the likes of Pepsi, Max Factor and Sunkist.
Esquire Calendar Girl 1948
In 1946 Esquire launched a new feature called the Esquire Gallery of Glamour and chose Willis to do the first illustration. He went on to have a long association with the magazine.
Much of his best work was done for calendars for Brown & Bigelow who produced corporate items, such as calendars, which could be printed up with the name of any firm on them.
Agent Triple P came across him years ago when he was given one of his art instruction books, The Nude (1960), by a girlfriend. This book which explained how he drew his spare, elegant figures had a great effect on our own sketching style. He wrote several other art instruction books for the Walter Foster company at about this time.
Calendar girl February 1966
In 1961, Willis produced the first of his Artist's Sketch Pad calendars for Brown and Bigelow and these continued into the seventies; the last survivors of the illustrated classic pin up period.
Willis' pictures had some distinctive features which make them easy to identify. Some of the distinctive features belong to his wife Pat, who modelled for many of his paintings. The use of unfinished sketches on the final painting were another feature of his work. Quite often he would pose his model holding a cup of tea.
A Moment of Pleasure
Unlike many other pin up artists, he also occasionally depicted a girl's fluff which really only Vargas did in his later work for Playboy in the mid seventies.
Willis' women were in complete contrast to someone like Gil Elvgren's innocent cuties. "The Willis Girl", as she was christened by Esquire (they were always desperate to find another "Varga Girl") looked a little older, more sophisticated, richer and a lot more worldly wise than her rivals.
She was no girl next door, nor a damsel in distress trying to deal with errant clothing or appealing for male help as she tried to repair her car.
Willis died on January 13, 1979 leaving a legacy of elegant and poised looking women as the final curtain of the classic pin-up era came down.
Here we present a selection of his redheads. We like his pictures so much that we will find some others to put up in the coming days.