The Art of Pinball: Roy Parker

Sax von Stroheim writes:

Over the last year or so Mrs. von Stroheim and I have been dipping our toes into the world of vintage pinball, and we finally took the plunge and bought the first (and perhaps only) machine for our collection. It’s a game from 1960 called “World Beauties”, produced by the Gottlieb company, which made the best pinball games up until the 1970s when the older electro- mechanical style that they had mastered was phased out in favor of machines run on circuit boards. We chose the game not only because we prefer the old-fashioned gameplay, but also because it’s a gorgeous machine, featuring the art of Roy Parker, a genuine American Master.

Here’s the backglass for “World Beauties”:

Parker’s specialty

Parker was a commercial artist who worked for Advertising Posters, a printing company in Chicago, which was the center of the pinball manufacturing world. Advertising Posters handled the art for Gottlieb as well as Gottlieb’s major competitor, Williams.

Parker was the artist for 290 Gottlieb machines. From the 1930s until his death in 1966, Parker was the exclusive Gottlieb artist, which gives their machines from this era a very cohesive look. Like all pinball art of the era, Parker’s work put beautiful women front and center, but he also had a great sense of humor. The backglass for “Old Faithful”, from 1949 (his style was a little rougher then) reminds me of Frank Tashlin’s cartoons:

At the time, these games definitely were not for kids…

And I love the “school of fish” in the playfield of “Mermaid” (1951):

The joke at the top of the field is pretty good, too…

He also had a great eye for 50s “atomic age” architecture. Dig the hotel in “Hi-Diver” (1959):

Reminds me of Dan Clowes…

One of the great accomplishments of fandom – whether we’re talking about pinball fans or comic book fans – is to have shined a light on the work of commercial artists which would have otherwise ended up in the dustbin of history along with all the other bits and pieces of culture that don’t have official, institutional support. But thinking about Parker’s work makes it clear just how much luck plays a role in what art gets remembered, preserved, and celebrated. Who knows how many other illustrators could have done what Parker did? And who would have guessed that 70 years later people would be collecting these machines for the artwork? In terms of his legacy, Parker seems to have “lucked out”: working for Gottlieb all those years not only gave him steady work (which is probably all he cared about at the time), but gave his career the kind of shape it wouldn’t have if he was in the position of doing piece work, for a bunch of different employers.

If you ever get a chance to check out some of his machines in person, don’t pass it up!

This entry was posted in Art, Commercial art, Humor and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Art of Pinball: Roy Parker

  1. epiminondas says:

    Nice entry! Enjoyed it.


  2. dearieme says:

    Here we are.


  3. Great posting. And I do love pieces that open my eyes to artforms I’d never given thought to before.

    Gorgeous machine, btw. Congrats. I love old pinball machines.


  4. Fabrizio del Wrongo says:



  5. The Question Lady says:

    Really loved this posting. Learned a lot and am now going to look more into pinball artistry.


  6. Lippy says:

    Very nice entry! I am a big fan of Roy Parker AND George Molentin (do you know HIS work?)


  7. Doug says:

    I have “Pokerface ” from 1953. I love the artwork of Roy Parker. and the way he used “carnival colors” in his artwork. I play it nearly every day and it reminds me of when I was a little boy. Never sell. This era of pinball are national treasures, when America made cool, unique things.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s