Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Exploring the Eclectic Harold Gauer Collection - Image Gallery Essay

The Many Varied Photographs

The Many Varied Photographs of Harold Gauer | Wisconsin Historical Society
Gauer and Bloch Working, Milwaukee, WHI 64728.

Gauer and Bloch working outdoors

Milwaukee, WI. View the original source document: WHI 64728

Trying to explain the images in the Harold Gauer Collection and give them historical context is a difficult proposition. Harold Gauer was a unique individual involved in a such a wide variety of Milwaukee life and events that the collection thoroughly defies being categorized. The collection contains everything from photo shoots with prominent politicians and elaborate costume parties to images of Gauer's work with international aid organization CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere). Other gems in the collection run the gamut from surreal collages of text and images to capturing numerous whimsical experiments with spirit gum and false noses to mildly bawdy snapshots of his friends' wives. The images presented in the Gauer collection are consistent only in their giddy inconsistencies.

A Collection Defined by Gauer's Sense of Humor and Fun

EnlargeDancing Around Whiskey Bottle. WHI 65487.

Dancing Around Whiskey Bottle

Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A couple dances behind an oversized cut-out of a bottle of Seagrams Whiskey, Milwaukee. View the original source document: WHI 65487

The most immediate thing you get a sense of when looking through the images preserved here is Gauer's very particular sense of humor, one that was based in costumed characters striking poses for the camera. Happily, Gauer's sense of fun leaked into the elaborate political campaign shows he was helping to orchestrate, most notably one-time Milwaukee Mayor Carl Zeidler (1940 to 1942), while other images would be incorporated into Gauer's staunch public opposition of Senator Joe McCarthy. Gauer was also involved with a number of other local politicians including Fred Clausen, Herbert J. Steffes, Thomas Amlie, John Bohn, Carter Wells, and Henry Reuss and is credited, along with prolific writer Robert Bloch, for creating the original "releasing-balloons-from-the-ceiling" shtick used by every politician since.

When he wasn't writing books with titles like "How to Win In Politics" (endorsed by none other than John F. Kennedy himself), Gauer could be found occasionally employing his friends to shoot short, gag-filled photographic stories for men's humor magazines, a few of which he shot for "Smiles" magazine are documented in the collection. These alternations between the high-minded and the low-brow cultural spectrum are one of the happy hallmarks of the Gauer Collection.

Horror Author and Screenwriter Robert Bloch a Constant Companion

One of Gauer's dearest friends and political campaign compatriots was Robert Bloch, who would go on to write the novel "Psycho" that Alfred Hitchcock later adapted into the famous film of the same name. A young Bloch is ever present alongside Gauer, appearing as a number of costumed and heavily made up characters. Also preserved in this collection are images captured of Bloch, presumably by Gauer, on the sets of movies and hobnobbing with celebrities.

Gauer's Later Life Saw Other, More Serious Pursuits

Later in life Gauer became involved with fundraising for the international relief agency CARE, eventually becoming their Mid-America director. A number of images in the collection show Gauer applying his personal touch to some of the CARE promotional materials. Rounding out one of the more interesting resumes you're likely to come across, Gauer was also the general manager of the Milwaukee Pops Orchestra.

The lasting impression from the Harold Gauer Collection is that he never lost sight of how to have fun and was able to incorporate that ideal into every aspect of his life. From friends to politics to humanitarian aid, he did it his own wonderfully absurd way.

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