Richard James Lillis was born October 24, 1899 in Oxford, New York. His parents were Agnes and John James Lillis. They operated a retail green grocery from their dairy farm on Washington Avenue. Richard had two older sisters. He finished high school and attended an upstate New York college for two years, where he became interested in studying art.
In 1918 he registered for the draft in the World War, and was recorded to be medium height, slender build, with blue eyes and light brown hair. He was listed as a student.
After the Great War he returned to the farm in 1920 and worked as a salesman at the family store.
In 1924 he moved to New York City to study at the Art Students League, where he continued to take classes for the rest of his life.
In 1928 he lived at 1947 Broadway on 66th Street, where he worked as a freelance illustrator. His monthly rent was $35.
In 1929 his first pulp cover appeared on West Magazine, which was published by Doubleday, Doran and Company.
He went on to sell freelance pulp covers to Ace-High Magazine, Exciting Western, Popular Western, and Private Detective.
In 1942 he was too old to serve in WW2, so he was among the few professional pulp artists who remained citizens and were very busy during the war, such as Ernest Chiriacka, Sam Cherry, and Rafael DeSoto.
Lillis became a devoted friend of "Ralph" DeSoto. He helped as a studio assistant and he posed as a model for reference photographs to aid DeSoto in painting pulp covers. One such reference photo, which was dramatically staged for the October 1947 issue of Dime Detective Magazine, appears above.
After the war he worked for Double-Action Western, Fifteen Western Tales, .44 Western, Speed Detective, Thrilling Western, and Western Novel & Short Stories. He also painted a paperback book covers.
In the 1950s he lived at 253 West 68th Street and worked as an illustrator for an advertising agency.
He never married. He continued to attend evening art classes at the Art Students League, where he met an aspiring young artist, Steve Kennedy, who consequently decided to become a dealer that specialized in pulp art.
Richard Lillis died at age ninety-four on August 15, 1994.
© David Saunders 2009