pre·mier (pr-mîr) adj.
1. First in status or importance; a principal or chief: an individual of premier rank. 2. The first to exist; the earliest.
GIjOE’s Premier Artist
I met Sam Petrucci for the first and only time at the 2009 JoeCon in Kansas CIty, MO. He looked much younger than his (then) age of 82, with a tanned face set off by a full head of white hair, and a slim build that showed no trace whatsoever of “old man’s belly.” Dressed in his casual, faded jeans and sweater, he had an aura of “ease” about him and yet appeared uncomfortable with his new role as a revered senior illustrator and “Joelebrity.”
We shook hands, I told him about my own years as an illustrator, and how much his work had inspired me. I grew up LOVING Mr. Petrucci’s earliest renditions of GIjOE as box art for the Action Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine. But it was his later works, the ones portraying the 1966 “Action Soldiers of the World” (ASW) line of foreign GIjOEs that would REALLY make a lasting impression on me. Each illustration was bold, colorful, and full of ACTION. (They were GREAT!)
Times and Tastes May Change, But Great Art and Illustration Never Goes Out of Style
By 1969, Petrucci’s work for GIjOE had raised the bar as high as it could go illustration-wise, and for whatever reason, Hasbro decided to switch gears stylistically for its next GIjOE line: a series of “red-top” figure boxes and equipment sets that would utilize photography—instead of illustration.
GIjOE illustration would languish until the 1970s, when Hasbro would revive it BIG TIME, combining the work of Petrucci with that of famed Adventure Team illustrator, Don Stivers (see article HERE). And then again, in the 1990s, when the world would be introduced to the amazing work of Classic Collection maestro, Larry Selman (HERE).
Indeed, at the Kansas City convention, I was equally agog at meeting Mr. Selman, whom, with the passing of both Stivers and Petrucci, has now assumed the mantle as the world’s reigning GIjOE artist. When he heard of Sam’s passing, Selman kindly offered the following personal memories of the man and his iconic work:
“I had the pleasure of meeting and being with Sam at several of the GIjOE conventions. Naturally, whenever two illustrators meet it doesn’t take long to start discussing painting methods, picture styling and swap stories from the business. Sam would talk about getting props, costumes or models, and his challenges for coming up with new picture ideas, we had a lot in common.
I found him to be very humble and quite surprised by the interest in his work many years after they were originally commissioned. He used to say ‘when it first started, he didn’t think it would go anywhere, and then it just took off like a rocket.’ His astonishment came from the revolutionary concept of boys toys that were dolls, something only girls played with up until then.”
“An illustrator puts many long and lonely hours into producing a piece of art and as soon as its completed, off it goes to the client. Because you worked for a large corporation, your name doesn’t appear anywhere on the cover and yet your artwork is seen all over the world by millions of kids. Suddenly, you are famous—and anonymous—at the same time.
Years later, when that same artwork is viewed again by grown adults, the cherished memories it brings back can be quite profound. I was one of those kids who grew up with GIjOE and was fortunate to have met and talked to Sam personally about what went into his illustrations and what they meant to me personally. The memories of GIjOE, Sam Petrucci, and his art that inspired so many, will continue to do so for a very long time.” —Larry Selman
“He’s Just Tired.”
After I met Petrucci at the 2009 convention in KC, he thanked me for my “kind words,” posed for a couple of photos and then handed me off to his assistant (a son, perhaps?). I purchased five of his superb GIjOE prints (shown above), but I was saddened by the realization that much younger fans simply walked right by, never realizing who the silver-haired gentleman was, or that (unfortunately for us all) “GIjOE’s Premier Artist” was making what would be one of his final JoeCon appearances.
Later in the afternoon, I noticed Petrucci sitting off by himself. Out of the convention hall spotlight, he seemed spent and ready to “call it a day.” As I spoke with Sam Speers, one of the original developers of GIjOE and a Hasbro icon himself, we looked over at his old friend sitting all alone and Speers remarked:
“Yes, well, I think he’s just tired. Sam’s health hasn’t been that great lately. This will probably be one of his last conventions.”
The GIjOE Collector’s Club chimed in with their own comments about Petrucci, saying:
“It is with great sadness that we have to inform you that our friend Sam Petrucci passed away last week. Sam was instrumental in developing the art for the original GIjOE line back in the 1960s. He was an honored guest at many GIjOE Collectors’ Club Conventions and was quite a character. Always with a sparkle in his eye, you had to watch Sam as he might just be pulling your leg with some of the stories he would tell. We will miss him greatly! Our deepest sympathies and condolences go out to Sam, his family and the entire GIjOE community which he loved greatly.”
And for those who didn’t know much about the man personally, here is his official obituary in full:
“Samuel W. Petrucci, 86, resident of both Gilford, NH and Fort Pierce, FL, died unexpectedly Friday, September 27, 2013, in Scranton PA, from natural causes.
Born on December 22, 1926, Sam grew up in Medford MA and was the son of Salvatore Petrucci and Mary Dunn. He lived a long and colorful life, regaling his friends and family with his many claims to fame. As a teenager, he worked as a bellhop at the Ritz Carlton in Boston where he carried telegrams to Eleanor Roosevelt, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Boris Karloff.
At age 16, he joined the Navy and was the best radio operator on the USS Willard Keith. After the war, Sam studied art at Vesper George and went on to become a successful commercial illustrator, package designer and airbrush artist.
Sam’s career spanned six decades. One of his earliest clients was the Hassenfeld Brothers Toy Company, for whom he illustrated many game and toy packages including Mr. Potato Head, and the Superman, Mighty Hercules and The Banana Splits board games. Most significantly, he designed the original logo and boxes for Hasbro’s G.I. Joe line of toys.
In recent years, he took great pleasure in being a special guest at G.I. Joe conventions where he signed autographs and met his many fans. In the late 1960s and 70s, he worked on the team yearbooks for the Red Sox and for the Boston Bruins. Later, Sam was employed by the prestigious Gunn Associates in Boston where he designed packaging for many well known companies and products including Charleston Chew, Ocean Spray, Very Fine Fruit Juices, Gillette, Newport Cigarettes, Titleist, Marshmallow Fluff, Converse Sneakers, Polaroid, T.J. Maxx, Prince Spaghetti, Salada Tea, Dennison, Bose, BASF, World Wildlife Fund, and countless others. He often used himself, as well as his children and grandchildren, as models for his illustrations. There’s even a Lassie lunchbox that he designed in the Smithsonian Institute.
Sam was a voracious reader and enjoyed golfing with his buddies, fishing with his grandchildren, nature photography, alligator hunting, and painting wildlife and landscapes in oils. He was a member of the Vero Beach Art Club.
Back in the day, he was a regular at The Bayside and The Esquire bars in Revere. Sam personally designed the family home at Lake Shore Park on Lake Winnepesaukee and was admired for his countless talents. As he often pointed out to everybody, Sam was “The Best” at anything he chose to do.
Sam was married to his beloved Leona Petrucci (who passed away in 2008) and is survived by his children, Maureen Beaupre of Fernandina Beach FL, Ken Petrucci of Newburyport MA, Lisa Petrucci of Seattle WA, Linda Petrucci of New York NY, and Steven Petrucci of Peabody MA, as well as their spouses and numerous grand and great-grandchildren. The Sambuca di Amore liquor company will also mourn his passing.
A memorial service to honor Sam will be held at a future date. He enjoyed watching the manatees swim around Fort Pierce, so memorial contributions may be left in his name to The Manatee Observation and Education Center, 480 N. Indian River Drive, Fort Pierce FL 34950.”
Bottom Line: It was an honor and a privilege to have met Mr. Petrucci in person and to have come away from our meeting owning some of his autographed artwork. So many of our heroes come and go without our ever having a chance to meet them or express our affection and appreciation for their skills and achievements. I was fortunate to have attended the KC JoeCon in 2009 and do both. Thank you for EVERYTHING Mr. Petrucci. You will be sorely missed. Rest in Peace.