John Neil O'Keeffe was born April 19, 1891 in Creston, Iowa. His father, John William O'Keeffe, was born in 1849 in Ireland and came to the U.S.A. in 1867. His mother, Ella Murphy, was born in 1857 in Ohio of Irish ancestry. His parents married in 1878 and had four children, of which he was the youngest, Clara (b.1880), Frank (1882), Rosella (b.1887) and John (b.1891). His father served as a Colonel in the Iowa National Guard and worked as a Clothing Merchant. The family lived at 300 South Division Street in Creston, Iowa.
In 1895 his mother died at the age of thirty-six.
After this tragic death the family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where the father worked as a salesman for a publishing house. The elder son, Frank, also worked at the same company in the advertising department. The family lived at 4226 Russell Avenue.
In 1909 at the age of eighteen John Neil O'Keeffe began to work as an artist at a St. Louis engraving company that printed advertising for newspapers.
In 1910 he studied Evening Art Classes at Washington University in St Louis, MO.
In 1913 he worked on the art staff at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
By 1915 he lived independently in St. Louis, MO, where he operated an artist studio in suite #1100 of an office building at 722 Chestnut Street, while his residence was the Delway Hotel.
In 1916 at the age of twenty-five he married his first wife. Her name is not known. They had no children.
In 1917 he was hired to work as a staff artist at the Western Advertising Agency in Racine, Wisconsin. The company was located at 213 State Street, while he and his wife lived at 500 Park Street. He illustrated several books for juvenile readers for Whitman Publishing Company of Racine, Wisconsin.
On June 5, 1917 he reported for draft registration during the Great War. He was recorded at the time to be age twenty-six, medium build, with light brown hair and hazel eyes. He was selected for military service and served overseas. He was honorably discharged in 1918, after which time he and his wife moved to 608 Sixth Street, apartment #2, in Racine, Wisconsin.
In 1919 his wife died.
The cause of death is not known.
After this tragic death the widowed young artist moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he lived at 4621 Sheridan Street. He worked as an artist in the Advertising industry, and also studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, where his instructors included George Bellows (1882-1925).
In 1922 he moved to New York City, where he lived at 47 East 9th Street in Greenwich Village. He worked as an illustrator of advertising and also studied at the Art Students League. His teachers included Robert Henri (1865-1929) and George Bridgman (1865-1943).
His illustrations appeared nationwide mainstream magazines, such as Collier's Magazine, The New Yorker, The American Legion Monthly, and Woman's Home Companion.
He also illustrated pulp magazines. His work was published in Adventure Magazine, Argosy, Everybody's Magazine, and Romance Magazine.
In 1924 he moved to the popular artist community, New Rochelle, NY, where he lived at 195 Elm Street. Other celebrated illustrators who lived in this area included Norman Rockwell, Joseph Christian Leyendecker and his brother Frank Xavier Leyendecker.
In 1927 he married Margaret Preston Skinner. She was born in 1899 in Galveston, Texas, and was the daughter of Mr. & Mrs. W. O. Skinner. She worked as a private secretary for an author.
In 1930 moved to 39 Woodhaven Avenue in New Rochelle, NY.
In 1932 they lived at 89 Young Avenue in nearby Pelham, NY, where their daughters Nan Elizabeth O'Keeffe and Margaret Neil O'Keeffe were born in 1932 and 1933.
In 1936 he was hired as the Art Director for the Tracy-Locke-Dawson Advertising Agency of New York City and Dallas, Texas. In this way he and his family were able to spend a portion of each year with his wife's relatives in Texas.
In 1938 he replaced Lyman Anderson as the artist who drew Inspector Wade comic strip for King Features.
In 1941 he illustrated the book You're On The Air by William Heyliger for the Appleton-Century Publishing Co..
He illustrated stories for Liberty Magazine.
In 1945 he was the Art Director The American Weekly, which regularly featured illustrations by artists such as Walter Baumhofer, Robert Graef, William Soare and Stockton Mulford.
In 1947 he was listed in New Rochelle at an art studio located at 38 Westminster Court.
In 1947 he drew Dick's Adventures in Dreamland with writer Max Trell (1900-1996). The comic strip ran for nine years in William Randolph Hearst's syndicated newspapers.
In 1949 Dell Comics produced a one-shot comic book of Dick's Adventures, which was composed of reprinted material from the popular newspaper comic strip.
Neil O'Keeffe enjoyed golf, which was popular with several professional artists living in the area of New Rochelle, NY, such as Rube Goldberg (1883-1970), George Kerr, Fontaine Fox (1884-1964), Edgar Franklin Wittmack, Saul Tepper (1899-1987), C. D. Williams, and Oscar Lebeck (1903-1966). In 1952 Neil O'Keeffe had a remarkable day at the Pelham Country Club golf course, which was featured in Ripley's Believe It Or Not.
In 1955 the family moved to Darien, Connecticut, where they lived on Hawks Hill Road.
In 1959 the artist retired from illustration and moved to Houston, Texas, where his wife could be near her Skinner family relatives.
Neil O'Keeffe died at age seventy-seven in Houston, Texas on August 3, 1968.
© David Saunders 2014