The Glaser Nobody Knows: Milton’s ‘Monsanto Night’ Celebrity Portraits

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Though celebrity portraits were not a big part of Glaser’s oeuvre (Bob Dylan notwithstanding), he did sometimes draw more traditional portraits for advertising and magazine clients. In 1968 and 1969, Glaser drew Barbra Streisand, Sophia Loren, Pearl Bailey and Carol Channing for advertisements announcing “Monsanto Night,” a series of popular TV specials sponsored by the sprawling chemical company Monsanto, which at the time was promoting its Actionwear line of nylon and polyester products. Knowing how much Glaser admired the woodcuts of Félix Vallotton, it’s hard not to see that appreciation in these portraits in his restrained use of details, strong line, and contrast between black and white.

The specials were executive produced by Richard Cox, who established Doyle Dane Bernbach’s TV division in the mid-1960s. According to Monsanto’s corporate magazine, “Monsanto Night” episodes were seen by more than 32 million viewers. Streisand did at least three specials for Monsanto, including the one above, a filmed concert in Central Park. To see some real pros in action, watch Bailey and Channing live at the Winter Garden Theatre, which I believe was one of the programs aired in 1969 (sadly, no Actionwear stocking commercials are included).

In more recent years, Monsanto became a loathed corporate name plagued with scandals related to the safety of its pesticides (this was in addition to its role in producing Agent Orange in the 1960s). It was acquired by Bayer in 2018.