Monday, June 22, 2009

Hearts for Harlequin

I seem to be running just a little bit behind whatever I do these days. It's far too late for me to comment on the spry and smart Tony Awards broadcast from two weeks ago, one of the best I've seen in years. (The cuteness of the three Billy Elliots as they accepted their Tonys was matched only by the adorableness of host Neil Patrick Harris who, dare I say it, may have even topped my all-time favorite Tony emcee, Hugh Jackman.)

And it's too late to recommend the Heart of a Woman: Harlequin Cover Art 1949—2009 exhibit at Soho's Openhouse Gallery, in honor of the romance novel publisher's 60th anniversary, because I didn't catch it until two Fridays ago, its final day. But it was a hoot, as much from a social history perspective as an artistic one. Forget what they say about not judging a book by its cover; in the world of publishing you certainly can.

As the doctors and nurses on the covers of the novels from the '50s and '60s gave way to the more glammed-up heroes and heroines of the '60s and '70s and then to the chesty Fabio-esque cover models of the '80s, the change in cover art mirrored what was happening in the lives of the women reading these books. How appropriate that some covers from the early days of women's lib 1960s and '70s prominently featured the heroines front and center, while the men were relegated to the background. Nowadays it's not unusual for a cover to feature just the hero, and I'm certainly not sure I like what that implies. Frankly I find the quaint cover illustrations from those days much more appealing than the photographs of the finely chiseled but often generic cover models that so often grace today's novels.

My pal Connie hoped Harlequin was planning some sort of catalog or coffee table book to commemorate the exhibit, but I haven't heard anything to confirm this. If you want to catch a peek at what was, these blogs have some fine photos.

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