John R. Neill - Royal Illustrator of Oz

In the words of Michael Patrick Hearn, John Rea Neill was an illustrator's illustrator. Gifted with natural talent, he developed his style and skills through years of hard work as a newpaper illustrator. Eventually he became well known and received enough work under commission from magazines to leave the daily grind of newpaper work and become a "freelancer." This section provides a biographical sketch of Neill. For more detail on his life and works, see the list of biographical sources for Neill.

From The Unique Monthly, 1901.



Born 12 Nov in Philadelphia, PA, fifth in a family of 8 children. Grows up in Germantown, PA, a suburb in the northwest of Philadelphia. Father dies when he is 10. Mother manages to keep the large family together and run the family laundry business.

As a very young lad, according to his older brother Harry, John routinely wanders from home and becomes lost on frequent adventures. (Is he a role model for Button-Bright?)


Initial art work drawing marine scenes of the Hudson River near his maternal grandparents home near Hook Mountain in Nyack, New York.


June graduates from the Philadelphia Central High School and enrolls in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Drops out of the school after one year because it no longer has anything to teach him.


Starts to work as "cub reporter" for a Philadelphia newspaper doing sketches in Police Court. Then moves to the Philadelphia Inquirer where he stays for three years learning the trade.


Moves to the Philadelphia North American. Now begins receiving commissions.


Moves to NYC to work for the Evening Journal. Here he meets and becomes close friends with Joseph Clement Coll. The development of Neillís style is strongly influenced by Coll.


Returns to Philadelphia and the North American. At this time Walt MacDougal is the chief cartoonist. McDougal is the artist who illustrates the Baum newspaper series of short stories, "Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz."


Marries Elsie Barrows on 7 Oct. She also grew up in Germantown with Neill. They live at 4911 Greene St. in Germantown.


Leaves the North American to work for the Public Ledger. This year begins his career as the Royal Illustrator of Oz. He is approached by Reilly & Britton to illustrate The Land of Oz. He has so much commissioned work at the time that he is reluctant to take on this new assignment. Apparently Reilly & Britton has to hold three conferences with him before he is persuaded to accept the work.
His two nieces, Marie (5) and Roberta (3) are used as the models for the illustrations of Ozma and Dorothy in this Oz book that is the second in the series of 14 that Baum is to write. Neill illustrates all the Oz books that Baum writes, continues with all the Ruth Plumly Thompson Oz books, and then writes and illustrates three of his own in the 1940ís.
Sets up his studio at "Devilís Half Acre," a reconstructed colonial house in Lumberville, PA. He works alone here illustrating most of the early Oz books. Neill also has a studio at 1020 Chestnut St. in Philadelphia.


Returns to the North American, where he remains for the next 7 years. Continues to illustrate the Oz books and others, and develop his contacts for obtaining magazine illustration commissions.


Resigns from the North American to freelance full time as a magazine illustrator.


Moves back to New York City since most of the magazines he is illustrating are based there.


Elsie divorces John for "desertion." They have no children. (He has been separated in NYC for two years.)


Marries actress Margaret Carroll. She is 30 and he is 42. Over the years they raise a family of three daughters, Natalie, Annrea, and Joan.


Moves to Kensington Gardens, Great Neck, LI, NY.


The Depression brings hard times for illustrators as magazines and newspapers cut back on the expense of illustrators and began to use more photographs.


An unsettling period with the family moving many times. First they move south to Palm Island, near Miami, Florida. Then for short periods first in Townshend, Vermont, then New York City, and Scotland, CT.


Buys the "old Yaeger farm" on a mountain top in Flanders, New Jersy. Renames it "Endolane." Lives here for the rest of his life.


Dies 19 September of heart problems, age 65.


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Revised: March 14, 2003