Ann Turner Cook, 1926-2022 | Washington Examiner
FFrom the Nike swoosh to the brand new Twitter, contemporary society is full of logos, branding, and graphics of all kinds to sell and promote things. Amid all this branding, it’s easy to forget that every seemingly impersonal, corporate-sanctioned logo has, at its heart, a human being behind it: whether they’re designed by one person or a committee, the greatest logos aren’t just symbols of capitalism, but reflections of someone’s creativity, imagination, and maybe even heart.
In the case of the Gerber baby, the distinction between commercial and personal is even less clear than usual. For approximately 94 years, the world-famous sketch of a curious-looking baby with an adorable cowlick has helped inspire loyalty among consumers of baby food and other products made by Gerber, but behind it are two stories American only: artist Dorothy Hope Smith, who sketched the charcoal drawing in response to a company-sponsored contest, and her subject, Ann Turner Cook, who unknowingly posed for him as she wasn’t even 6 months old.
With her likeness glued to more bottles of Gerber food products than can be counted, Cook, who died on June 3 at the age of 95, has become the emblem of something good, honest and true. You could say there’s God and country – and baby Gerber.
Good fortune always plays a part in becoming an icon, and little Ann had plenty of that. Initially, the chances of her becoming the subject of a drawing were high because she was surrounded by artists practically from birth. Born in 1926 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to cartoonist Leslie Turner and his wife Bethel, Ann grew up in Westport. There, by serendipity, his neighbors included Smith, an illustrator who, prior to Gerber’s invitation to artists to submit renderings of toddlers to be considered for his logo, had already concocted a sketch of little Ann in charcoal.
When the Gerber contest rolled around, Smith dug up her drawing of Ann but, in the classic case of a freelance artist not committing to completing a project until there’s a chance it reaches the public, she waited to “finish” it until, what if, Gerber gave it the green light. According to Gerber’s logo story, company officials judged Smith’s design, even in its raw state, favorably over the oil paintings (which it is assumed were in the finished state) . Choosing to adopt the brand’s image in its sketch state, Ann’s wondrous eyes and enthusiastic expression eventually became as ubiquitous, and arguably more beloved by mothers, than the golden arches of McDonald’s.
Of course, in those pre-social media days, consumers wondered if this or that famous person had, in its early days, inspired the iconic design. In his story, Gerber says that Humphrey Bogart and Bob Dole were suspected models, although another alleged model, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman Jane Seymour, could hardly have been taken as an educated guess given that the image began appearing on Gerber products in the late 1920s – and the British actress was born in 1951.
In 1978, Cook let it be known that it was his likeness that helped define early childhood in the 20th century. His many years of modesty about his ubiquity testify to the mores and mores of an earlier generation: Refusing to capitalize on his unusual claim to immortality, Cook kept his head down and led a normal life. A graduate of Southern Methodist University and the University of South Florida, she flourished as an English teacher in the public school system of her longtime state of Florida.
Most intriguingly, Cook, who had four children with her husband, James Cook, a criminologist, enjoyed a second shot at fame producing mystery novels with titles such as Shadow on the cedar key and Trace their shadows. There’s a delightful irony in this innocent-looking baby growing up to write mystery novels, but maybe Cook felt it was time she got credit for doing something rather than being. attracted to someone. At the same time, she seemed to take some pride in the longevity of her likeness. “Although a lot of logos change, the Gerber company has kept me on that tag,” Cook told CNN in a 1997 interview. “I kind of celebrate that: that my picture is still there.”
And it will be so as long as there are mothers, babies and groceries. Yes, Ann Turner Cook helped sell baby food, but she captured our hearts in the process.
Pierre Tonguette is a Washington Examiner contributing writer to the magazine.