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Obituary

Eulalie Banks; Illustrated Children's Books

November 23, 1999|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eulalie M. Banks, who illustrated more than 50 children's books and wrote a few of her own in her native England and her adopted California, has died at the age of 104.

Banks, whose pen name was simply Eulalie, died Nov. 12 at the Beverly Health and Rehabilitation Center in Sherman Oaks, according to her nephew, Peter Turney of Burbank.

Known for her charming, fully dressed and humanized animals, Banks continued to draw and paint until she was 90, amassing an impressive number of books, cards, calendars and murals. At the age of 82, she illustrated the cover of a children's book for the blind featuring Peter Rabbit and produced by the Los Angeles Braille Institute.

Banks also created murals in Southern California homes and dentists' offices as well as the children's room of the now-razed Santa Monica Library, signing them as she did her books with a little mouse in blue velvet pants and an artist's smock.

But when a child observing that library mural exclaimed, "Look, there's Mickey Mouse," the insulted artist wiped out her little four-footed signature.

"I was doing my mouse when Walt Disney was in diapers," she told The Times in relating the incident in 1977.

It was almost true. Born in a large three-story house in southeast London, by the age of 12 she was designing colorful Christmas cards for family friends for about 30 cents a dozen. At 14, she showed her work to a publisher and soon was selling commercial greeting cards and illustrating a children's story each month for a magazine. Other sketches were sold to London newspapers.

When Banks sought formal art training, the English schoolmaster said no, that might ruin her natural style. She protested she wanted to be able to "do something big."

"Well, go home and wash an elephant," he retorted.

At the age of 18, she wrote and illustrated her first book, "Bobby in Bubbleland," published in London in 1913. Unfortunately, the plates for that and other early books were destroyed in the World War I dirigible blitz of London.

After her marriage to Arthur L. Wilson, the artist moved to Pittsburgh in 1918, where they became naturalized Americans and lived an itinerant life pursuing his work as an early radio engineer.

Three years later, Banks illustrated her first American children's book, a version of Mother Goose that is still in print. Soon aligned with the New York publishing firm Platt and Munk, she churned out endless animals for books of nursery rhymes, fairy tales and folk stories that have been reprinted for generations of children.

Her 1952 illustrations for Robert Louis Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses," for which she earned $950, has sold more than 2 million copies and is still in print.

"I have always done rabbits, chickens, ducks, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons--any kind of animals that children love," she said later.

Divorced and living in California during the Depression, Banks painted murals for wealthy Hollywood stars, including the nurseries of Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin.

She returned to England for the decade surrounding World War II, illustrating books, magazines, calendars and greeting cards. Several examples of her card designs were exhibited at the British Industries Fair in 1948, shortly before she returned permanently to California.

Banks was outraged in 1983 when she was asked to remove gnomes, elves and fairies from a mural she did for a decorator's showcase house in Pasadena.

"They told me the children didn't know what they were," she told The Times afterward. "It's cruel [how] children don't read anymore. . . . Now they sit and watch television."

Asked what she would say to a modern child, she said: "Do believe in fairy tales. Hang on to the magic. Never lose your sense of wonder and whimsy, or you'll lose a part of your soul."

Her talents extended into her personal life. When a purse snatcher attacked her as an octogenarian, she said she "dashed home, called the police, had a drink of whiskey, and by the time the two detectives came, I'd already done a picture of him." The mugger was located and arrested.

"I've had an awful lot of setbacks and been broke often," she said at the time, "but I've had a jolly life."

In addition to her nephew, Banks is survived by one daughter, Athalie, and a granddaughter.

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