Walter Robert Popp was born on May 19, 1920 in New York City. His biological father was Gustave Gutgemon (1860-1952), a German immigrant artist, who had a significant career as a muralist and instructor of architectural detail at the Pratt Institute. His unwed mother, Kathe Popp, was born 1880 in Austria and was trained as a professional cook. In 1909 she immigrated to the U.S. on the S.S. Amerika and settled in New York City. She found work as an artist in Gutgemon's busy workshop, where decorative designs of flowers, birds and animals were created for stylish New York furniture companies.
Two years later in 1922 Walter's younger sister Florence was born. The children were raised by their mother in Hoboken, New Jersey, at 258 Seventh Street, where their monthly rent was $25. Both children eventually joined their mother at work in Gutgemon's shop, where they first learned to paint. His sister grew up to become the illustrator, Florence Laven.
He graduated Hoboken High School in June of 1938. He then studied art at the New York Phoenix School of Design, 160 Lexington Ave, NYC, where the pulp artist Laurence Herndon taught.
In the 1930s Gutgemon's wife died, after which he and Kathe Popp lived together at 420 Washington Street in Carlstadt, NJ. Walter and his sister Florence were thereafter the acknowledged step-children of Gustave Gutgemon.
By 1940 Walter Popp worked briefly as a commercial artist and sold freelance illustrations to pulp magazines, but he soon entered the U.S. Army on October 10, 1942 and served in the Medical Corps in Europe as a TEC-5 during WWII. His enlistment papers record him as being twenty-two years old, single, five-eleven, and 151 pounds.
After the war he studied art and architecture at the Shriverham American University in England. In 1946 he returned to New York and attended the Art Students League, where he met another art student, Marie Mulligan, a native New Yorker from Queens. They fell in love and married in 1947. They moved to his parents home in Carlstadt, NJ, where they raised nine children.
He painted freelance pulp magazine covers and interior story illustrations for Amazing Stories, Fantastic Adventures, Fantastic Mysteries, Fantastic Story, Fifteen Western Tales, Space Stories, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder, and Western Story Round-Up.
In the 1950s he painted covers for paperback books, which were produced by such publishers as Ace Books, Flying Eagle Publications, and Popular Library.
He also painted covers for large format true crime magazines such as Master Detective and True Detective, as well as the digest, Manhunt.
During the 1950s and 1960s he painted covers and interior story illustrations for men's adventure magazines, such as Action Life, For Men Only, Impact, Male, Man's Illustrated, Man's World, Men, Men Annual, Outdoor Life, Real, Saga, Stag, and True Adventure.
In the mid-1960s, when classic illustration art was out of fashion, he began to do package design for toy and sporting-goods manufacturers. He also worked on the art staff as a full time employee of the Norcross greeting card company, at 244 Madison Avenue (Near 38th Street) in NYC.
In 1968 he moved his family to 23 Palm Court in Paramus, NJ.
In the 1980s and 1990s, he and his wife, Marie Popp, collaborated on book covers for a new line of gothic romance novels. They also produced several editions of limited prints of romantic fantasy scenes for fine art galleries. These projects brought him new acclaim in his twilight years.
Walter Popp died in Paramus, NJ, at the age of eighty-two on November 10, 2002.
© David Saunders 2009