ARTIST: William Steig

William Steig: Poor Pitiful Pearl

Poor Pitiful Pearl doll, william steig. photo ©Liza Cowan

Poor Pitiful Pearl. Photo ©Liza Cowan 2008. Print of this photo is available at my online store

William Steig, author, cartoonist, illustrator, famous for Shrek, Dr. DeSoto, Sylvester and The Magic Pebble, zillions of New Yorker Covers, and a reluctant advertising illustrator, was also the creator of my favorite doll: Poor Pitiful Pearl. Pearl was my first and my only true doll love. She was made in 1958, and stayed in production in various incarnations throughout the sixties.

A couple of years ago I was putting together an exhibit of 20th Century Works on Paper,  and had just purchased this poster:


william steig, we clean 'em, shell oil, advertising poster, 1944, Liza Cowan Collections

Wm Steig, We Clean 'Em. Shell Oil, 1944. Collection of Pine Street Art Works.

This gorgeous, huge lithograph was made for Shell Oil in 1944. As I was researching the poster and Steig I came across the fact that Poor Pitiful Pearl was a Steig creation. Of course! But I hadn't realized it as a kid, even though our family subscription to The New Yorker was a favorite of mine, and I poured through it weekly looking at the cartoons.


william steig, the new yorker, 1935, Liza Cowan Ephemera Collections

William Steig, The New Yorker, 1935. Liza Cowan Ephemera Collections,

We had enough New Yorker magazines and New Yorker cartoon collections around the house that I could have been, should have been familiar enough with the Steig canon to have been able recognize his style on my darling doll. But I didn't. The New Yorker...dolls? Nuh uh.




william steig, poor pitiful pearl, we clean 'em, shell oil, Liza Cowan
Poor Pitiful Pearl and We Clean 'Em. Not to scale. I made this collage in Photoshop. Pearl is much smaller than the man in the poster.

But check this out. How much more alike could they be? Even the clothing matches.

Pearl even came with her own little Steig book:

Click the smaller images and they will pop up.


  • Blog pearl cover
  • william steig, poor pitiful pearl book
  • william steig, poor pitiful pearl book
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Poor Pitiful Pearl William Steig  booket cover. Liza Cowan Ephemera Collections

Poor Pitiful Pearl booklet by William Steig. Liza Cowan Ephemera Collections