Gorgeous research from Clarence Simonsen…
The Man who Painted the Largest Number of WWII American Nose Art Images
Today you will find a number of Websites dedicated to the ‘best known nose artist’ of the Second World War, Anthony [Tony] Starcer, 16 September 1919 – 9 June 1986. My history is not from the Internet, or copied from books, it is in fact from the lips and words of Tony, the letters he sent to me, his newspaper clippings, and photos of his nose art I collected to send back to him, as he did not process any images of his WWII paintings.
This really began with a few Americans who trusted an unknown Canadian, and the first became an ex B-24 pilot who flew with the Mighty 8th Air Force from England during WWII. Without the friendship, trust, and support of John Woolnough, this history would not be possible, and my story is dedicated to John.
John was born and raised in Chicago Heights, Ill, and joined the U.S. Army in 1941, assigned as a photography instructor. Later he completed flight school and was assigned to fly B-24 Liberator bombers assigned to the 466th Bomb Group at Attlebridge, England. He completed 30 missions over Europe and left the USAAF in 1946, returning to the Air Force in 1949, he completed 15 more years service and retired in 1965. In 1975, John founded the 8th Air Force Historical Society, and became the editor of the 8th Air Force News, with over 20,000 subscribers. In 1976, I became an associate member and exchanged letters with John concerning B-17 and B-24 nose art history. In 1978, John published a 224 page book titled “The 8th Air Force Album”, containing 1,157 illustrations, including nose art photos.
These nose art images contained no information, so I wrote to John and ask if he would start a nose art column in the 8th Air Force News. There was a rich history connected with each 8th A.F. nose art image and it should be saved for future generations of Americans. John answered, giving me a 1/3 page nose art column, which I could edit myself. The result was huge, and at times I feared I had taken on more than I could chew. [100 to 200 letters a month]
Suddenly, I found the nose art column gave me powers to connect with ex-8th Air Force members, who normally would not answer letters from a Canadian. I then began a quest to make contact with my very first WWII nose artist, Cpl. Tony Starcer of the 91st B.G. My first letter to the 91st Bomb Group Association, placed me in contact with editor and historian Paul C. Burnett and next I received the address of America’s greatest nose art painter Tony Starcer.
The first few letters from Tony Starcer were full of surprises, such as the fact he had not picked up a paint brush since the war ended in Europe in May 1945. “When I came out of the service the competition in art was real strong and I wanted to get married, so I just got a job and gave up art.” Starcer worked in a warehouse for the May Company, a distribution center for May D & F Stores in California. Tony had no ego, and he didn’t wish to become famous, he only wanted to enjoy the freedom he had fought for.
In my first letter from Tony, summer 1979, he explained how he obtained regular house paint, which he drained off all the oil base and then added linseed oil to the mixture, working with basic colors of White, Yellow, Red, Blue, and Black. He mixed all his own colors to produce different shades and then went to work. He listed 45 nose art images he completed from memory and later send a completed lists that totaled over 130. He also painted some 200 images on the back of the A-2 jackets, and recalled – “There was a ten man crew in the B-17 and after completing the nose art painting, most of the crew requested the same art on their A-2 jacket.” As I completed the A-2 jacket art, I would stack each leather jacket on top of each, beside my bed.” The pile soon grew to the height of four feet, and then I realized these B-17 crews were either killed in action or a prisoner of war.” I attempted to give some away but they were bad luck and nobody wanted them.” ” They were burnt and forgotten.”
I was also honored when Tony ask me to locate any photos of his old nose art, books on the Vargas girls, and anything else I could find to assist him with repainting the forgotten nose art.
Thanks to my new nose art column in the 8th Air Force News, I was able to feature the history of Tony and this resulted in finding many of his lost and forgotten WWII nose art images. Army General [and future President] Dwight D. Eisenhower had christened his namesake with a bottle of Mississippi river water in April 1944.
This U.S. Army Air Force photo appeared in National Geographic magazine showing the artistic talent of Tony Starcer. The man in photo was not a pilot but in fact Crew/Chief Master Sgt. Mc Daniels who took care of B-17G-40-BO, serial 42-97061. code letter “B”, 91st Bomb Group, 323rd Bomb Squadron.
This letter came in March 1980, and it is the beginning of the rebirth of Tony Starcer and his WWII nose art paintings.
Some Websites credit the 1990 movie “Memphis Belle” as the rise of Tony but that is false. The movie came out in 1990, and Tony died 9 June 1986. It was the B-17G “Shoo Shoo Baby’ that made him famous again, plus the video release of the 1943 William Wyler classic film which featured the original Memphis Belle. Released in April 1944, it was shown in 16,000 theatres in the United States and today is in the U. S. National Film Registry. Forgotten is the fact this extraordinary WWII color footage also captures the images of original Tony Starcer nose art.
Boeing built B-17G-35-BO was assigned serial number 42-32076 when she rolled out of the Seattle plant on 23 January 1944. The next day she was flown to the USAAF Wright Field, Ohio, and delivered to 8th Air Force Depot at Burtonwood, England, arriving on 2 March 1944. All B-17 aircraft manufactured after 1 February 1944, remained in natural finish, giving them longer range, due to no wind resistance on the painted surface. B-17G #42-32076 was one of the last bombers assigned to the 91st Bomb Group, 401st Bomb Squadron, wearing camouflaged paint. She was assigned to the crew of Lt. Paul McDuffee, at Station #121, Bassingbourn, England.
T/Sgt. Hank Cordes was assigned as 8th Air Force Crew/Chief for the newly arrived B-17G, and he was the one who named her “Shoo Shoo Baby” after his wife’s favorite song, a 1943 version by the Andrews Sisters on Decca label. Corporal Tony Starcer was asked to paint the name on the B-17 nose over the camouflaged paint, and the lettering was “Gothic script.” Tony wanted to painted the Blonde Vargas girl with the name but it was never completed due to the fact the bomber camouflage paint was ordered removed. After the removal of the camouflage paint, Tony went to work and repainted the name “Shoo Shoo Baby” and the famous Vargas blonde nose art. The new B-17G flew her first mission on 24 March 1944, and Lt. McDuffee and crew completed 19 more in Shoo Shoo Baby, the last to Berlin on 25 May 1944. The B-17 was now turned over to Lt. Robert J. Guenther and five days later they developed engine trouble and landed in Sweden, finishing her missions at 22.
In December 1944, the United States Government officially gave Sweden seven B-17 aircraft as a gift, and Shoo Shoo Baby became one of them. The proud bomber now became a Swedish passenger liner carrying fourteen passengers and cargo. In November 1945, she was sold to Danish Air Lines and became OY-DFA, with nickname painted on nose “Stig Viking.” In April 1948, the Royal Danish Air Force took possession and she was given serial number 672 and nose art of Viking pulling a Viking boat with name “Store Bjorn” [Great Bear]. The B-17 was fitted with special radio equipment and made flights between Greenland, Iceland, and Goose Bay, Canada.
On 6 June 1949, she returned to U. S. for one flight. [It is believed she was involved in spying on the new Soviet threat to world peace.] Officially retired by Danish Air Force in January 1953.
Royal Danish Air Force Nose art on B-17G #42-32076
Photo Dana D. Lakeman 1980
In 1955, the Babb Company of New York purchased “Shoo Shoo Baby” and resold her [for profit] to the Institute Geographique National in Paris, France. She flew as a survey aircraft until 15 July 1961. As a friendship gesture the French gave the B-17 to the U.S. Air Force in 1971. She was disassembled, crated, and flown to Ohio in a C-5 transport, arriving in May 1972. From June 1972 until July 1978 she remained in 27 crates at the Air Force Museum at Dayton. In 1979, the 512th MAW at Dover, Air Force Base began the task of restoring the B-17G to her WWII condition. That is where I entered the history with artist Tony Starcer and a major ‘nose art’ problem was developing.
Photos taken by Dana D. Lakeman Dover Air Base, 1979
Sweden June 1944
This original photo was taken from the original negative in Sweden in 1944, and shows three “Shoos” in nose art painting by Tony Starcer. Image from Dana D. Lakeman, 14 January 1980, came with above letter.
Upon making letter contact with Tony Starcer, I learned that the original pilot Lt. Paul McDuffee was most upset that his B-17G was being repainted using three “Shoos” in the nose art. Being an ex-police officer, I contacted Paul to learn his side of the story. I believe it is only fair to all aviation historians to see what Paul McDuffee wrote to me in August and September 1982. These letters have never been published before.
I have been repainting replica WWII nose art for the past fifty plus years. Please look closely at the top “Shoo” and it is clear to see the “S” and “O’s” are not the same quality or style as the bottom letters. The top music note is not the same as the bottom one. I believe the top “Shoo” to be the artistic work of a different artist, but that may never be determined. Tony Starcer could not recall, so the powers that be ordered it repainted with three Shoos.
Two websites state that McDuffee was forgetful and could not support this photo proof. I do not believe that is fair to the original pilot, this was his aircraft and his original nose art. A photograph should not lead readers to conclude that Paul McDuffee is crazy or incorrect. Like a court of law, please read what he has to say, then decide. It was truly important to pilot original McDuffee and he is gone and forgotten.
The Steve Birdsall photo from Dana Lakeman, which caused all the problem.
In March 1980 , Dana Lakeman and nose artist Starcer joined to send me an original strip of skin from B-17G #42-32076, “Shoo Shoo Baby”
United States Air Force photo Dayton, Ohio
Today this famous B-17G remains in the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Dayton, Ohio, painted showing three “Shoos.”
I became indirectly involved in this aviation nose art conspiracy that greatly affected the original pilot Lt. Paul McDuffee. Paul felt insulted and betrayed by the post-war historical revisionists who never flew in the bombing campaign, and had nothing to do with the naming or painting of his “nose art.” In our phone calls,  he expressed anger, frustration, with his endless struggle to have his own B-17 painted as “Shoo Shoo Baby.” In the end this brave pilot lost his battle, but his letters can now carry on, I hope.
Boeing B-17G #42-32076 was named by the crew chief, the favorite song title his wife loved so much. Lt. McDuffee flew her in camouflage as “Shoo Shoo Baby” in black Gothic lettering only. He then flew her in natural finish with name “Shoo Shoo Baby” and April 1944 Varga girl painted by Starcer, until 25 May 1944.
Historians should record history for the learning of future generations, and never, never, change history to what they believe.
This was the retirement letter from Tony and you can see he became totally involved in the restoration project of the Memphis Belle. On replacement aluminum skin squares he painted nose art of Shoo Shoo Baby and Memphis Belle which were sold as a fund-raiser. I sent him negatives and photos of his lost nose art and he never forgot me.
Images sent to me from Tony painting [Shoo] Shoo Shoo Baby and England 1944, painting his “Thunderbird Marnita No. 2” B-17G serial 42-5724, code LG-T.
Tony used the pin-up ladies from the Esquire Inc. “Varga” calendar as his inspiration, this from February 1944 issue became “Mount ‘N Ride” serial 42-31585, career ended in Switzerland.
When cartoonist Milton Caniff introduced a new hidden identify for Miss Lace in the strip created for serviceman only, she was named “Madame Shoo-Shoo, and Tony painted her on B-17G.
This original “Memphis Belle” Orange Juice label was sent to me from Tony. It was created during the Memphis Belle war bond tour across the United States in 1944.
Tony also created many insignia, this completed for the Southern California Wing of the Confederate Air Force, with headquarters in Van Nuys, California.
This signed artwork by Tony hangs with pride in my home in Airdrie, Alberta, Canada.
This was the last nose art painted by Tony Starcer, which he mailed to me in January 1986.
The local chapter of the Confederate Air Force had ask Tony to paint the nose art on the restored C-46 Commando, and he finished his work in December 1985. The aircraft was originally christened “Humpty Dumpty” but members felt it was too whimsical. The new nose art reflected on the C-46s that flew over the “Hump” in China and Madame Chiang Kai Shek, the China Doll.
His next nose art was slated for Chino airport with the name “Piccadilly II”, then in May 1986, Tony was admitted to Kaiser Hospital in Hollywood with Leukemia. Tony required massive blood donations and many members of the aviation community stepped forward. Tony then suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed on his right side and he did not respond to treatment. He passed away at 5:10 am, 9 June 1986.
Tony had planned to repaint the Memphis Belle nose art, just like he had painted the original in England. Some websites state that nose art on the Memphis Belle was painted by Tony Starcer.
That is not correct.
In 1988, I wrote to ask permission to use the Tony Starcer history in my new Nose Art publication. Phil Starcer was kind to inform me he had repainted the nose art on Memphis Belle, and this print appeared in the October 1987 issue of “Flypast” magazine in England.
Replica nose art painted by Phil Starcer and still on the Memphis Belle
In 1983, I wrote to Dr. Harry Friedman Director of the Memphis Belle Memorial Association in Memphis, Tennessee. They were stripping eight layers of old paint off the Memphis Belle B-17 during the first part of the restoration and this would expose the original Tony Starcer nose art completed in England. It was impossible to save this art work but I ask if he would please take photos for me.
Images from Dr. Harry Friedman 1983
The last letter I received from Tony, March 1986.
The April 1941 “Petty” girl, from Reid Stewart Austin in Simonsen collection
The Greatest American Nose Artist from the Greatest Generation
Well done Tony.