In 1928, the new baby food company, Gerber, held a contest to find a face for their advertising campaign. Westport portraitist Dorothy Hope Smith submitted an unembellished charcoal drawing of a baby with a note promising to finish the sketch if she won the contest. Educated at the Art Institute of Chicago, Smith specialized in children’s portraits. In addition to her own work, Smith also colored covers of The New Yorker drawn by her colorblind husband, cartoonist Perry Barlow. She won the contest, but Gerber liked the simplicity of the illustration and requested that she not finish the embellishments. Smith’s drawing became one of the most recognizable product advertisements and later, trademarks of the 20th century.
While many people claimed to be the inspiration for the Gerber baby (and some even sued over the use of their likeness), Smith’s inspiration was one of her neighbors—Ann Turner Cook. Born in 1926 in Bridgeport, Ann Turner spent her early childhood in Westport. She had her own artistic connections—her father, Leslie Turner, was the illustrator of well-known, syndicated comic strips like “Wash Tubbs” and “Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune.” Even though Cook was the true Gerber baby, fans wildly speculated anyone from Humphrey Bogart to Jane Seymour to themselves inspired the portrait. In 1951, Cook reached a settlement with Gerber for several thousand dollars, but she received no other royalties for her likeness. While Smith testified to the truth decades earlier in court, Cook did not reveal her Gerber baby identity until the drawing’s 50th anniversary in 1978. Almost a century later, Gerber continues to use Smith’s sketch on all of their products but also started a yearly baby contest in 2010 for a “Chief Growing Officer” to celebrate a diverse range of babies.