To Hollywood and back again for Mr. Eugene
If Mr. Eugene's life story sounds a little bit like Hollywood, that's because it is.
Growing up in a small Ohio town, he left there on the spur of a moment one day when he was 21 to pursue a dream of art and fashion in Tinsel Town.
Fifty-nine years later, after a career that included proximity to the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Olivia DeHavilland, he lives in semi-retirement in Pleasant Valley, teaching senior art classes, continuing to paint (his works appear at Back Pages Antiques at 21st Street and Highway 24), and (most recently) inking the Territory Days cover photo for this issue of the Westside Pioneer.
Other than formal matters, he no longer goes by his full name, preferring “Mr. Eugene” or simply “Eugene.“ But Eugene Snively was how he grew up in the small town of Broadway, Ohio. He always liked to draw, studied fashion as a hobby, and by seventh grade, taking night art classes with adults, he had already sold his first painting.
Meanwhile, he chuckled in a recent interview, he kept telling people that someday he'd make it in Hollywood, “but nobody believed me,” until one wintry day in Columbus, Ohio, “'they said it's, snowing, this is a good time; when are you going to leave?' I said, '4:30 p.m.'”
He meant it. When that time of the day rolled around, he boarded a bus to Hollywood, leaving his old life behind. “I decided now was the day to go,” Eugene said, simply.
He couldn't have planned the outcome much better. Within two days in southern California, using his experience as a window decorator at a department store in Columbus, he found a job at the J.W. Robinson department store. This led him to fashion-design opportunities within the store, and eventually to helping at MGM and Paramount studios with luminaries such as Helen Rose, Edith Head and Howard Greer, whose names can be found in the Internet movie database (imdb.com) in connection with dozens of movies.
Stories abound. During filming for an early '50s movie, Ginger Rogers found a cotton dress uncomfortable. Eugene said he told her to put it in a dryer with a damp towel to make it feel soft. On another occasion, studio officials had him take Elizabeth Taylor to lunch to cool her down after a snit about a belt she was supposed to wear. “I remember thinking, 'I'm 24 years old, I'm taking Elizabeth Taylor to lunch and getting paid for it,'” Eugene laughed.
Then there was the time when, on the set of “Some Like It Hot,” he was asked to do pencil sketches of Marilyn Monroe. Looking at how he was portraying her, he recalled, “She punched me on the arm and said, 'You make me look nice.' I said, 'That's not hard, Miss Monroe.'”
But by the late 1960s, life in Hollywood had ceased being as much fun for Eugene. Working with studios had gotten more complicated, and “I wanted to change my whole lifstyle,” he said. “I didn't need the glamour anymore.”
So in 1969 he moved to Colorado Springs, about which he had heard good reports, finding his time-honored department store employment (decorating windows and handling fashion for Neusteter's downtown). He met his wife Lola, and they bought their home in Pleasant Valley in the early '70s.
It was around 1955 that Eugene began a series of drawings/paintings that continue to this day. Each portrays an attractive woman, wearing clothes that reflect his knowledge of fashion history, and each has the title, “One of the Girls.” His work in this issue of the Pioneer, showing a flamboyant woman dressed in a style of the 1800s Old West, bears that title as well.
Westside Pioneer article