Elmer Wexler was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, August 14, 1918, according to an interview in Alter Ego #36. In the 1920 U.S. Federal Census, he was the only child of Harry and Sarah. (His name was recorded as “Alma” and classified as “daughter”.) They lived in Bridgeport at 445 Maplewood Avenue. His father was a merchant in the tailor trade. Wexler said, “…My father came from Lithuania and my mother came from Poland. They got married when they met in the United States….”
They remained in Bridgeport but at a different address, 633 Colorado Avenue, according to the 1930 census. Wexler was the oldest of three children. His father, Morris (Harry was his middle name), was a tailor. Wexler said:
…I went to Pratt Institute and graduated in 1938. [He received a certificate in Pictorial Illustration at the School of Fine and Applied Art, according to the New York Times, June 9, 1938.] It was a three-year course. The first year was general courses: we studied illustrations, advertising layout, copywriting, and architecture….The second year, we had to make a decision about what we were going to specialize in. I was interested in illustration.
I was very lucky that I was knowledgeable about drawing, and I was offered a free night class. The art director was the head of Street & Smith magazines, which were popular at that time….The only students who allowed to take this class were those the director thought would make it. I started illustrating for Street & Smith even before I graduated….
…I was illustrating for pulp magazines when I graduated: Street & Smith, Popular, and Standard. They were the biggest pulp publishers at the time, and I worked for them all. A year later after I got out of Pratt, the bottom fell out of the pulp business because the war started in Europe. Comic books came in to fill the void and I switched to comics….
…In those days, we were getting ten to fifteen dollars an illustration for the pulps. When I worked for the studios, I was charging the same, and that wasn’t making me wealthy by any means. I had moved to New York City by then and needed to do better. Borge and I and two other friends were renting a house when I got a call from P.M. magazine, which was a liberal newspaper. A lady there had seen my work in comic books and wanted to know if I’d try my hand at comic strips. I asked who’d do the writing, and she got a guy by the name of Kermit Jaedeker [sic—Jaediker, 1911–1986, Social Security Death Index] and someone else [Charles Zerner according to Ron Goulart, The Funnies (1995)]. The strip was called Vic Jordan and it was fun to do.
Courtesy of Alter Ego
The New York Times, November 10, 1943, reviewed the exhibition, “Marines Under Fire”, at the Museum of Modern Art. Wexler’s piece, “The Japanese Enemy”, was mentioned. His art was included in the show, “The War Against Japan”, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., from May 27 to June 19, 1945. An issue of Editor & Publisher, Volume 98, 1965, said: “…During World War II he served as a combat artist with the U.S. Marine Corps. His drawings at Okinawa, Guadalcanal, Bougainville and other battles were sent back to Washington for publication in newspapers and such magazines as Look and Life….” Harold Helfer’s story “The Beautiful Bungalow” was published in The Field Artillery Journal, November-December 1948. He was in the same outfit as Wexler. His story can be read here (scroll down to page 275).
According to the Connecticut Divorce Index, 1968-1997, at Ancestry,com, he married Mae Hillman in September 1944. Editor & Publisher said: “…[Wexler and Hillman] are graduates in different years from Pratt Institute, where they studied art….”
The Trenton Times-Advertiser (New Jersey), August 18, 1946, published this item: “Elmer Wexler, free-lance artist and an illustrator of Houghton, Mifflin Company juveniles, was chosen to record the recent atomic last at Bikini. His vantage point was in front of a television set in New York City. During the war Wexler sketched the Bougainville and Okinawa landings as Marine Corps combat artist.” In 1946, he also drew the strip Jon Jason; samples from October 5, 11, 12, 18, 24, and 28.
Wexler said, “…After I got out of the service, I went to work in advertising and illustration and left comics behind. I did a lot of work for Johnstone and Cushing…”, a studio that produced comics advertising. He added, “…I started my own studio after Johnstone and Cushing….” In 1967 he was the editor and publisher of Dimensions in Living, a monthly newspaper supplement. Lack of advertising caused the supplement’s demise after three issues. He and Mae were granted a divorce January 19, 1972. Later, he remarried to Pauline.