Today we honor a brilliant Diesel Era artist who was considered among the best of his peers.
Frederick Manley Blakeslee was born December 4, 1898 in Buffalo, NY. He studied mechanical drafting and basic art training at the Albright Art School in Buffalo. He worked from 1915 to 1920 in the drafting department of the Curtiss Aeroplane Factory, which was only three blocks from his family home. He was transferred to a Brooklyn factory in 1921, and afterwards studied art at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute, and received his certificate in 1926.
While a student at Pratt, he became engaged to Lorna Jones, a pupil in the librarian program. They married June 21, 1930, but never had any children. At this same time, Blakeslee joined a circle of young Pratt Institute artists who were soon to work in the pulps, including H.W. Scott, Walt Baumhofer, A.L. Ross, E.M. Frandzen, J.F.Gould, and Rudy Belarski, who helped Blakeslee to get his first cover assignments for pulps in 1929.
Blakeslee became a leader in the field of avaiation pulps, as well as a top cover artist for railroad pulps. He was also a top pen & ink man, who drew over one thousand interior black and white story illustrations for Popular Publications, his primary publisher.
Blakeslee painted 423 pulp covers — 306 of those appeared on every issue of Battle Birds, Captain Combat, Dare-Devil Aces, Dusty Ayres and His Battle Birds, and G-8 and His Battle Aces, which was an amazing feat that no other pulp artist can claim.
A few words about Dusty Ayres. It was a short-lived magazine started by Robert Sydney Bowen in 1934. If most of Blakeslee's artwork of the period was dedicated to WWI, his covers for Bowen's magazines are fantastic in every sense of the word.
Dusty Ayres, air ace, is a pilot of unmatched skill and bravery. He alone had saved America from the Black Invaders once before, and now--would he trade his life to save the President's son, from the demonic Fire-Eyes?
In an action-packed mission towards peace, Bowen creates a very visual, intriguing ascent to battle the Black Hawk and prevent a horrendous explosive force from destroying an entire nation and its capitol. Are Dusty's heroic efforts mere foolishness? -- or can he soar to victory in his Silver Flash?
Dusty pulled the Silver Flash clear and poked its cowled nose straight up for heaven. Up--up he went, straight through the swarm of American planes wheeling and reversing about the slowly circling bomber.
For a split second he flashed a look at the giant wing, started to check his climb, and then cursed and pulled the Silver Flash up steeper.
No, it was useless to try the last part of his plan. The first part had to be taken care of. He had to get the control ship high above him. Once he got it, the bomber's controls would automatically go back to neutral--the gyroscopic stabilizer would do that--and the plane would fly a straight line course to the end of its fuel supply.(Source: Vintage Library)
In 1941, Fred & Lorna Blakeslee moved to Roslyn Heights, Long Island. During WWII, he served in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve as a Seaman 1st Class on routine coastal patrols for Nazi U-Boats.
After the war, Blakeslee found only a little work for slick magazines, such as American Weekly and Argosy. As freelance work became harder to find, Blakeslee returned to his earlier occupation as an industrial draftsman for Sperry-Rand Corporation at nearby Lake Success, NY, where he worked for 15 years.
Frederick Blakeslee died of a heart attack at age 74 on March 5, 1973.
Feel free to browse our new album (31 images). Or enjoy the slideshow:
The most complete gallery of Dare-Devil Aces covers can be found here, as well as dozens of Blakeslee black-and-white illustrations (see menu on the right side of the page) and more detailed biography article. 2007 reprints of G-8 and His Battle Aces are still on sale.