Norman Rockwell’s Ghost

The most artistic collaboration of the entire Apollo program.

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Before this trip to Florida, Rockwell thought he might paint the three Apollo 11 astronauts surrounded by many of the world’s explorers, such as Columbus, Magellan, and Admiral Richard E. Byrd. I told him that might be sort of old-fashioned, and suggested he show the three astronauts flanked by numerous NASA and industry people who had helped make the first manned moon landing possible. He liked the idea, and this is what he eventually painted. He also had the Holiday Inn manager photographed, and, believe it or not, put him in the final painting in the lower righthand corner, portraying him as NASA staff. Rockwell told me the reason he depicted all of the heads as profiles was because it took much less time to paint only half of a face. I assisted him back at his studio by painting the background, the Apollo assembly building and launch tower, and the astronauts’ helmets and suit valves. The Look article illustrated with this painting, as well as three others by me, wasn’t published until right after the Apollo 11 crew’s return to Earth on July 24, 1969. (No one was certain the mission would succeed; had it failed, there obviously would have been no congratulatory article.)

Rockwell and I worked together on other projects through the years and continued our friendship until his death in 1978. At one time, while visiting Washington, D.C., to promote a book of his work, he and his wife Molly went with me to an airport in Warrenton, Virginia, where I took each for a flight in a sailplane. I must say Molly had a better time than Norman. While in the air, he kept repeating, “As long as I know Pierre is at the controls, everything will be all right.” It dawned on me that I had the safety of this great artist in my hands.


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