A cartoonist for men’s mags and Mann Packing, Eldon Dedini looks back on a vibrant career.
Thursday, November 3, 2005
The name Eldon Dedini may not ring a bell, but one glance at the 84-year-old Monterey County native’s iconic cartoons will likely elicit instant recognition and a wry grin from generations of “gentlemen.”
For the past 45 years, Dedini’s cartoons have graced the pages of Playboy magazine, making him one of America’s most beloved cartoonists, if not a household name. And although his trademark wit and distinct style are most closely associated with the legendary men’s publication, Dedini’s work has also been a mainstay in the tamer pages of other major magazines over the years, including The New Yorker and Esquire.
The cosmopolitan cartoonist returned to his Salinas Valley roots in the 1980s, and since then he has designed ad campaigns for the local ag industry. This weekend, an exhibit of Dedini’s work, aptly titled Broccoli and Babes, opens at Sasoonsti Gallery in Salinas.
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WEEKLY: Does this show contain new work?
DEDINI: Well, there’s late work there, but I’d call it a retrospective. It started with this idea that I should exhibit all the broccoli drawings I’d done for Mann Packing from 1985 to 1994 or so. Now it really covers, you know, 65 years of work…The New Yorker, Playboy, my early Salinas work, the broccoli ads, posters. All these drawings, they’re going to Ohio State to the Cartoon Museum, an archival collection of cartoons from all over the country.
WEEKLY: How did you come to draw cartoons for the agricultural industry after working for Playboy, Esquire and The New Yorker?
DEDINI: My family was in agriculture and so it hit a soft spot. I was still doing New Yorker, Playboy and whatever else. I didn’t stop all that to do broccoli, but I enjoyed it. At the time, the vegetable ads were all looking alike. Everything was a photo of a red tomato or whatever with dew on it. David Stidolph, [Mann’s] marketing director, wanted to shake it up. So we developed this character Broccoli Wokkily. We nurtured him along. He’s still going.
WEEKLY: You’re originally from South County, right?
DEDINI: I was born and raised in King City and went to junior college in Salinas. In the early ‘40s I worked for the Salinas Morning Post and the Salinas Index Journal. I was going to school and I went down there to the paper; I wanted to be a cartoonist even then, and offered my services for free, for the experience. For two years I did editorial, sports, and rodeo cartoons.
WEEKLY: Did you start out intending to be a cartoonist or did you ever have any aspirations to “fine art”?
DEDINI: In art school I took a fine arts course, but you know, that was just to learn. When I graduated I needed a job, so I went to Universal Studios in 1944 to do storyboards and set sketches. I’d hardly got started when the whole studio went on strike, so I went to Walt Disney’s and asked to be in the story department. I worked two and half years there with writers—they wrote and I drew. I worked on Mickey and The Beanstalk, Fun and Fancy Free, Wind and the Willows (also called Ichabod and Mr. Toad) and some Donald Duck shorts.
But all that time I was sending cartoons to magazines. I was working on cartoons at night and weekends and selling a lot to Esquire even in those days. It got to be so much with Esquire that they hired me as a gag writer for other cartoonists in the magazine. I stayed with them as long as I did out of loyalty. They bought my first national cartoon, after all.
WEEKLY: So how did you get involved with Playboy?
DEDINI: I began at Playboy in 1959. Five years after the first issue was published. [Hugh] Hefner had worked at Esquire and he kept badgering me to send to Playboy. When it started I didn’t think they would last, so I waited before sending them anything. Little did I know. I’ve been with them ever since.
WEEKLY: Even today?
DEDINI: I’ve got work in the current issue.
WEEKLY: Do you illustrate other peoples jokes for your cartoons?
DEDINI: No, no I do the whole thing. That’s the secret of the thing. Anyone can draw—I started as a gag writer.
BROCCOLI AND BABES OPENS THIS FRIDAY WITH A RECEPTION FROM 5-8PM AT THE SASOONTSI GALLERY, 40 CENTRAL AVE., SALINAS. CARTOONIST GUS ARRIOLA OF “GORDO” FAME IS THE GUEST OF HONOR FOR THE RECEPTION. FOR MORE INFORMATION CALL 751-1777 OR VISIT WWW.SASOONTSI.COM.