Who Kissed Santa Claus? The Cover Behind It All

Our Illustration Art auction on January 22 features a section of works by cartoonists and cover artists from The New Yorker magazine. As the January catalogue is sent off to press this Christmas week, we are reminded of the story surrounding one of the magazine’s most famous covers and the yuletide song it inspired.

The December 23, 1939 New Yorker issue flew off the shelves because of its charming cover by artist Perry Barlow, which featured a little girl carried by Santa Claus (a.k.a. her father dressed as St. Nick), watching in shock as her mother plants a smooch on his cheek. Good thing she is seemingly unaware of mom’s affectionate hand on Santa’s leg! It was the only cover of the magazine up to that point to sell out on newsstands.


Our upcoming auction of Illustration Art includes designs for other New Yorker covers, including this stylish one by Max Rée.


Fourteen years later, Saks Fifth Avenue chose Barlow’s irresistible image to promote the store’s Christmas card for 1952 and commissioned 13-year-old Jimmy Boyd to record a song inspired by it. The famous result, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” became an instant hit, selling over two and a half million copies in its first week and reaching number one on the December Billboard chart. The controversial tune was condemned by the Catholic Church which accused the lyrics of implying adulterous and inappropriate behavior, but the ban was ultimately lifted when Boyd met publicly with the Archdiocese to explain the misunderstanding.



And, speaking of Santa, this Irving Penn portrait of Dorian Leigh and Ray Bolger, shot for the cover of Vogue magazine in 1946, was one of the highlights in our December photography auction. It sold for $11,700.

Thanks to Christine von der Linn for this festive post!