Dublin Core




Gillen, Denver Laredo



Still Image Item Type Metadata


Born in 1914, Denver Laredo Gillen was the son of a sea captain from Vancouver, British Columbia.
Apparently, his childhood was a bit rocky. He loved nature, which helped him with his later illustrations for Outdoor Life, with their dramatic depictions of hunters and fishermen in grand surroundings. Gillen was also an accomplished landscape painter, and those pictures combine a feeling for the beauty of nature along with its rough-and-tumble. In one painting, a bear takes a chunk out of a hunter’s leg!
Young Gillen had little formal schooling after his sailor father was lost at sea. He worked at a variety of jobs during his teens, including going to sea himself.
When he was 17, he spent a long stretch in a hospital recovering from an illness. It turned out that his doctor was an amateur artist who encouraged Gillen to beat his boredom by drawing. The doctor then helped him get a job in the art department at Canada’s Hudson Bay Co. department stores.
Gillen later worked as an illustrator in Toronto before arriving in Chicago and Montgomery Ward in the late 1930s.
In 1939, the retailer Montgomery Ward in Chicago wanted a holiday story booklet to give customers. It turned to an advertising copywriter named Robert L. May.
Inspired by “The Ugly Duckling,” he wrote a tale in verse about a reindeer who was teased for a disability that turned out to be an asset - a red nose.
But company bosses worried that red noses were attached to drunkards, not reindeer, and were about to nix the project. So May hauled his co-worker Gillen to Chicago’s zoo to sketch some deer. His images were so darn cute, the honchos changed their minds. Some 2.4 million booklets were distributed in the first year alone, and 6 million by 1946.
Gillen never got rich with Rudolph. Montgomery Ward owned the copyright. But his colleague, May, faced enormous medical expenses after his wife became ill, and in desperation, he asked the company’s president to turn the copyright over to him in 1947.
As his career took off, Gillen began freelancing, and moved to New Milford, Conn., to be near the publishing houses of New York City. “He’d travel to New York once a month, and make the rounds and get his assignments,” his daughter recalls.
Gillen and his wife eventually retired to Taxco, Mexico, where he died in 1974.





Media Details


Signature Position

Signed, lower left


Gillen, Denver Laredo, “Episode,” Westport Public Schools Digital Collections, accessed August 8, 2022,

Item Relations

This Item dcterms:relation Item: Staples Art Storage
This Item dcterms:creator Item: Denver Laredo Gillen