Adolphe Barreaux claimed the name Adolphe Leslie de Griponne Barreaux, Jr., but was born Adolphus B. Gripon, Jr., on January 9, 1899 in Charleston, South Carolina. His parents were both children of freed slaves and were both of mixed racial ancestry, which at that time were identified as mulattos of African American ancestry. His father, Adolphus B. Gripon, was born in 1870 in Charleston and was raised by Leonore and Clarence Gripon, a tailor, at 39 Hanover Street. His mother, Georgiana Little, was an orphan born in 1873 in Charleston. She was adopted and raised by a mulatto family of Charlotte and James Gadsden, a barber, at 105 Calhoun Street.
His parents married in 1895 and their first child, Helena Gripon, was born in June of 1897. They lived at 36 Alexander Street. His father was a wheelwright at the H. Steenken Company, which was the largest such concern in Charleston.
On October 18, 1899 his father died from typhoid fever at the age of twenty-nine. His widowed mother supported the family by working as a dressmaker. She spent five years in self-employment and then began to work for the Louis Cohen Dressmaking Company. For the next ten years the family lived at a succession of small boarding houses at 10 Marion Street, 38 Morris Street, 5 Lee Street, and 324 Meeting Street, which suggests a somewhat hardscrabble existence.
He always had fond memories of his childhood in Charleston. According to the artist,"There is no place on earth like Charleston. It's unique heritage is priceless. When I grew up the youngsters were happy and the city was safe. The fastest vehicles being drays pulled by tired mules. And so many simple pleasures of local interest: Washington Day Parade, Friday Dress Parade on Citadel Green, Metz Band concerts on South Battery on Wednesday evenings in the summer, September Gala Week, a bally-hoo shouting carnival on Calhoun Street lined with multicolored flares. A child's wonderland. And big delicious groundnut molasses cakes for a penny. On late Saturday afternoons the town's young bloods gathered in front of Pinkusohn's cigar store at King and Wentworth to discuss plans for the evening. I, much younger, would listen to mention of Beresford Street, wondering what Paphian mysteries were to be celebrated in those murky depths. When in Charleston I cling closely to the heart of my beloved city and when moonlight paints the ancient rooftops, I drift off to slumberland as the gentle bells of venerable St. Michael's chime their quarter-hour blessing upon the sleeping city."
Along with these charming memories his childhood was a life threatening bout with thyphoid fever, which lingered over a long recovery period. In 1915 when he regained health his Aunts Marie Gripon, who was born in 1879 in Charleston, and Eugenie Gripon, who was born in 1867 in Charleston, took him away from the hot and humid atmosphere of this Southern port town and brought him to live in New York City. These two aunts two of his father's three sisters (and five brothers).
In leaving the South behind, along with its racist Jim Crow segreationims, the three reinvented themselves as white citizens under assumed names and assumed origins. He became Adolph Leslie De Gripone Barreaus and his two aunts became Marie Barreaux and Eugenie Steele.
They lived at 125 West 90th Street. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School on Tenth Avenue and 59th Street, which was a prestigious school that held the record for the largest enrollment in America.
On September 12, 1918 at the age of nineteen he registered for the draft, but did not serve in the armed forces during the Great War. He was recorded to be a high school student of five-foot-six, slender build, 130 pound, with dark hair and gray eyes.
In June of 1919 he graduated high school, where he had been Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper, Director of Dramatics, and winner of the St. Gaudens Art Medal. He was said to be as "staid as a patriarch."
During the summer of 1919 he worked as an illustrator at the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Company in NYC.
He was admitted to Yale University School of Fine Arts (Class of '23). He moved to New Haven, CT, where he lived as a boarder at 170 York Street. Yale's office of student employment helped find him a job at a local drug store, where he made posters and advertising signs. After a few weeks he was able to find a better-paying job as an illustrator at the Hopkins Advertising Agency, 82 Church Street in New Haven. He worked there part-time during semesters and full-time over summer breaks, at which times he worked as their Art Director.
In July 1920 after completing his freshman year at Yale he submitted a short story entitled "Hunch" to the spicy pulp magazine Breezy Stories, which was accepted and published in the February 1921 issue.
He remained at Yale for three years, where he directed several Art School social events and was a member of the Fencing Squad in 1922. The Dean of the Yale School of Art at that time was was Sergeant Kendall.
After the summer of 1922 he did not return to Yale to complete his final year, but instead moved to NYC. He lived at 552 West 160th Street, where he began his professional career as an advertising artist. He joined the Yale Club, the Cosmopolitan Club, the Fencers Club, the Green Room Club, and the Washington Square Club.
He was a member of the Kit-Kat Club and he played a role in the Annual Artists and Models Ball.
In 1923 he studied at the Grand Central School of Art.
In 1924 his quasi-academic article on "Ancient Aztec Mosaics" was published in the July issue of the fashionable art magazine International Studio.
In 1924 he opened an art studio at 244 Fifth Avenue, on 28th Street, where he painted portraits of celebrities, such as the baritone, William Ryder, and the Ziegfeld girl, Marilyn Miller.
In 1926 he moved to a studio in room #600 of the Lincoln Arcade building, at 1947 Broadway on West 66th Street. The Arcade Building was a popular locale for artist studios. Several other pulp artists had studios there over the years, such as Alex Redmond, George Gross, Richard Lillis, and Morr Kusnet. He was elected Director of the Art Alliance of America. Later that year he moved back to live with his two aunts at 158 West 106th Street.
In 1929 he moved to a new studio at 30 West 47th Street, where he hosted meetings of the new Actors & Artists Club of NY and entertained celebrities and professionals from the arts, music, and theatre. He soon became a partner in an advertising agency with Raymond L. Thayer, a forty-three-year-old commercial artist, whose illustrations regularly appeared in Judge and Life.
By 1931 the Great Depression had forced most advertisers and publishers to drastically reduce production costs. As a result, most artists were not able to survive on advertising assignments. His partnership with Thayer ended and he moved his studio to 45 Seventh Avenue on West 13th Street. Thayer soon found a new partner, Charles T. Stoll, who happened to be the father of Gloria Stoll, one of the few women artists in the pulp magazine industry.
In 1933 he became a partner in Beach & Barreaux Advertising firm, located at 305 East 45th Street. After one year he left Beach and became a partner in Jaudon & Barreaux Advertising Agency of 522 Fifth Avenue. Ten months later that partnership was legally dissolved.
While the Great Depression brought hard times to the once-lucrative magazine advertising industry, the pulp magazine industry was enjoying a period of fortunate prosperity. The pulps sold cheap thrills at newsstands and did not depend on subscribers or advertising income.
In July 1933 Adolph Barreaux became involved with Harry Donenfeld and Merle Williams Hersey in an attempted revival of The Police Gazette, which was to feature a comic strip by Barreaux about the saucy misadventures of a Broadway chorus girl named "Flossie Flip."
Although the project never got off the ground, Barreaux soon found steady work drawing story illustrations for Donenfeld's publications, which included a sensational line of magazines, such as Snappy Romances, Snappy Stories, Spicy Adventure, Spicy Detective, and Spicy Mystery.
As a clever businessman that produced risque materials, Donenfeld cloaked the true ownership of his wide-ranging business in a maze of smoke and mirrors. He was a very successful and business was rapidly expanding. Rather than assign and approve a large number of illustrations from a variety of freelance artists, Donenfeld offered Barreaux the chance to run an art agency that would supply all of the black and white interior story illustrations he needed.
They formed a joint company and the Barreaux Studio was opened at 101 West 46th Street, where Barreaux directed and coordinated the production of the pen & ink art that appeared in Donenfeld's magazines.
On June 28, 1934 he married Vera Marie Zirpolo, who was born in Brooklyn in 1909. Her parents were immigrants from Bagnoli, Italy. The newlyweds moved to 269 West 11th Street. Their marriage was performed at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin on West 42nd Street, where he was a lifelong member as well as the Treasurer of the Catholic Layman's Association.
Barreaux convinced Donenfeld to publish an erotic comic strip called Sally the Sleuth. The first installment appeared in the November 1934 issue of Spicy Detective Stories. The idea of an adult comic was innovative and popular. Donenfeld soon included similar comics on many of his other pulp magazines, such as Dan Turner, Diana Daw, Marcia of the Movies, Polly of the Plains, The Astounding Adventures of Olga Messmer - The Girl with the X-Ray Eyes, and Vera Ray, which was named after Barreaux's wife Vera Marie.
His studio also created comic strips for other pulp magazines that were not owned by Donenfeld, such as Ace Jordan for Thrilling Adventures, which was drawn by Max Plaisted under the pen name Bob McKay. Plaisted based the name on his beloved Aunt Roberta McKay.
In 1935 Barreaux created the comic strip The Enchanted Stone of Time for syndicated newspapers. This was an educational adventure that featured curious anthropological facts. His strip was marketed to various newspapers in a package deal along with other comics, such as Loco Luke by Jack Warren and Rod Rian of the Sky Police by Paul Jepsen. Both of these artists also worked regularly for Barreaux's art agency.
In 1936 Barreaux contributed to New Fun Comics and More Fun Comics. These were some of the first American comic books that used original material, instead of reprinted newspaper comic strips. A portion of the companies that produced, supplied, printed and distributed these comics was owned by Harry Donenfeld.
Some of the other artists that also contributed to these comics were Jack Warren, Paul H. Jepsen, Henry Kiefer, Clem Gretter, Monroe Eisenberg, and Lyman Anderson. All of them worked regularly for Barreaux's art agency and contributed pen and ink story illustrations to Donenfeld's spicy pulp magazines, along with John Kenneth Battefeld, Raymond Burley, Carl Buettner,Ralph Carlson, Henry Kiemle, Jay McArdle, Harry Parkhurst, Max Plaisted, Paul H. Stone, and Joseph Szokoli.
In 1938 there was a explosion of interest in comic books, which shock the entire world of popular culture publishing. An amazing super hero named Superman was suddenly selling millions of comics and every publisher was rushing into the field. In the spring of 1938 Donenfeld was determined to consolidate complete control over what would become DC Comics. Towards this end he moved Barreaux Studios to his own company headquarters at 480 Lexington Avenue, where it was officially listed in the NYC telephone directory at the time.
The degree to which Donenfeld valued Barreaux's contribution to his comic industry is indicated by this abrupt relocation during those frantic formative months. This heavy-handed move also reveals Donenfeld's silent but controlling interest in the art agency, of which Barreaux was only the titular head.
On March 22, 1938 his son Adolphe Leslie de Griponne Barreaux III was born in St. Vincent's Hospital. Two years later their second child was born, Theodore Eugene Charles Barreaux. His growing family moved to his Aunt Marie Barreaux's spacious apartment at 79 West 94th Street, near Central Park West. His elderly widowed mother came to live with them.
By 1939 Donenfeld was confident of his absolute legal control of DC Comics, and Barreaux was permitted to return to 110 West 46th Street, where the business was renamed Majestic Studio.
During the 1940s Majestic Studio was very busy producing materials for the booming industry of Golden Age comic books. Barreaux contributed work to such comics as The Black Spider, The Raven, The Magic Crystal of History, Tad Among the Pirates, Enchanted Stone, Flip Falcon, Patty O'Day, The Blazing Scarab, and The Dragon's Teeth.
During WWII at the age of forty-three in 1942 he did not serve in the military.
In the late 1940s he illustrated a few children's books, such as Seven Round the Mountain, A Treasury of Humor for Boys & Girls, and A Treasury of Good Night Stories.
In 1949 he became Editor-in-Chief of Trojan Magazines, located at 69 West 46th Street. Barreaux and Donenfeld became co-owners of Trojan Comics. That same year he was promoted to editor of the pulp magazine Hollywood Detective.
By 1952 Trojan Comics had declared bankruptcy, and in 1953 when the Comic Book Code of Decency was adopted by the industry the comic book market collapsed. Barreaux and Donenfeld closed Majestic Studio in 1953.
Afterwards he became an editor at Whitestone, a subsidiary of Fawcett Publications, where he produced several books on artistic nude photography, such as Beauty and the Camera, Salon Photography, Bunny Yeager's Nudes, and Glamor and the Camera.
In 1962 he edited several medical textbooks for Fawcett Publications.
On October 3, 1965 his elderly mother died in Brooklyn at the age of ninety.
Adolphe Barreaux died in NYC at the age of eighty-six on October 23, 1985.
© David Saunders 2009