Valerie Barclay was born Violet A. Barclay on November 5, 1922, in the New York City borough of Queens, New York. Her birth was recorded by the New York City Department of Health in “Births Recorded in 1922—Borough of Queens”, page 696: “Barclay…..Violet A…..Nov. 5…..[birth certificate number obscured]”.
In Alter Ego #33, February 2004, Barclay was interviewed by Jim Amash. Barclay said she was born in Manhattan.
Barclay’s father was Robert Clifford Barclay who was born on May 6, 1888, in Long Island City, Queens County, New York. When his first wife died in 1917, he married May Skilton, an English native, on November 30, 1918, in Surrey, England. The marriage date is from Find a Grave*, and location from marriage records at Ancestry.com.
On November 29, 1920, Mr. Barclay applied for a passport. He planned to take his wife and infant daughter, Irene, to England. He was a steelworker residing at 143 William Street in Long Island City. The family was to sail on the S.S. Aquitania on December 14. The family is pictured below.
The 1925 New York state census recorded Barclay as the fourth member of the family who resided in Manhattan at 501 West 31 Street. Mr. Barclay was employed as a driver.
The 1927 and 1928 Sacramento, California city directories listed a salesman named “Robert C Barclay” whose spouse was “May”. They resided at 2221 I Street. Barclay did not mention living in California.
The Barclays have not yet been found in the 1930 census.
In the 1940 census (enumerated April 3), Barclay’s mother answered the enumerator’s questions. The Barclay family numbered six with the addition of two boys, Robert and Arthur. They lived in an apartment building at 4207 34th Avenue in Long Island City, New York. Mr. Barclay was a milkman at the Sheffield Milk Company. According to the census, seventeen-year-old Barclay had three years of high school education and still in school since March 1, 1940.
Barclay may have graduated in June 1940 or in January or June 1941. Many high schools had two graduating classes in the winter and spring. Barclay (born November 5, 1922) said she was seventeen when she met Mike Sekowsky at the specialized high school, School of Industrial Art (SIA), which was founded in late 1936. Sekowsky was born November 19, 1923, so he may have graduated in 1941 or 1942. Gil Kane, who also attended SIA, said Sekowsky graduated and immediately found work at Timely Comics. Howard James and Allen Bellman graduated from SIA, around the same time as Barclay, and joined the Timely staff.
Barclay said she was seventeen when she worked as a restaurant hostess at Cafe Rouge which was in the Hotel Pennsylvania**. Barclay said her hostess income helped support her brothers and mother, who left her father. It would appear the family break-up occurred after the census enumeration. However, when Barclay’s father filled out his World War II draft card, on April 25, 1942, her parents were at the same address.
In the interview, Barclay said “I was married before I met Mike, but my husband’s divorce was not final. Later my mother kept asking him for the divorce papers. After that, his wife sent him divorce papers, and they were dated after our marriage. But I had to go to court and get an annulment. Mike paid for it and it cost $350, which I didn’t have. My husband hated him.” If Barclay was married before meeting Sekowsky the marriage would have been before 1940.
Barclay was referring to Robert Ainsley. In the 1940 census there was a Robert Ainsley, age 21, who was married to Jeanne. They resided in Manhattan at 201 West 103 Street. Ainsley had one year of high school and worked as an elevator operator in an apartment building. Additional information about him has not been found.
According to the New York City, Marriage License Indexes, at Ancestry.com, Barclay and Ainsley obtained a marriage license in Queens on October 1, 1941. A week later they married on October 8. Barclay’s sister was a witness. It’s not known wby Barclay changed her birth year from 1922 to 1919.
Barclay said Sekowsky helped her get a job with a higher salary as an inker at Timely. Amash asked Barclay when she was hired. Barclay said it was Christmas 1941 when she was nineteen. Amash noted that Timely was in the McGraw-Hill building at that time. Barclay replied, “Yes. Just after the party was when Timely moved to the 14th floor of the Empire State Building….” My research showed that Timely moved to the Empire State Building in 1943, not 1942.
Barclay said she learned inking by watching staff artist Dave Gantz use a brush. Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999 shows Barclay working for Timely to 1949, then freelancing for other comics publishers and Timely in the 1950s. The Grand Comics Database lists many of Barclay’s credits.
In the interview, Barclay said “I was seventeen when Mike first saw me. The last time he saw me, I was 29 and he had come to the apartment where my husband and I were living, though we weren’t married yet….” That event happened in 1951 or 1952. Barclay said she married Jerry Smith but did not say when and where. Barclay said she signed some of her comics as Valerie Smith.
In the interview, Barclay referred to a Christmas party at Timely where she met Sekowsky’s wife, Joanne. The New York City, Marriage License Indexes said Sekowsky and “Jo Anne Latta” obtained a Manhattan marriage license in 1952. The marriage date is not known.
The Florida Divorce Index, at Ancestry.com, recorded the divorce of Barclay’s parents in 1950 at Volusia. The 1950 census said Barclay, her mother and brothers lived in Queens at 21-24 31st Street, apartment 2F. Barclay was an advertising comics artist.
When the comic book industry collapsed, Barclay said, “…I tried waitressing, I became a restaurant hostess for several places. One time, Buddy Rogers, the actor, asked me out. He called me “Miss Astoria.” Astoria, a neighborhood in Queens, is next to Long Island City where Barclay grew up.
Barclay said she studied with Jack Potter at the School of Visual Arts (SVA). Potter joined the school in 1957. Barclay did not say when she started at SVA.
The passing of Barclay’s father was reported in the Long Island Star Journal (Long Island City, New York), November 2, 1960.
Robert C. BarclayCanadian Army VetEpiscopal services for Robert C. Barclay, 72, of Astoria, a native of Long Island City were held last night in the Thomas M. Quinn and Sons Funeral Home at 35-20 Broadway, Astoria.Services were to he held at 1 P.M. today in the Trinity Episcopal Church of Astoria. Burial was to follow in St, Michael’s Cemetery.Mr. Barclay enlisted in the Canadian Army in World War I and was wounded in France. He died Saturday in St. John’s Hospital after suffering a heart attack. He lived at 32-85 35th street.Mr. Barclay was a retired truck foreman for the Sheffield Farms Corporation in Manhattan. He was a member of the McKenna Post, American legion, and the Crescent Social Club, both in Astoria, and the Maple Leaf Club, a Canadian veterans organization in Manhattan.Surviving are his wife, Mrs. Kay [sic] Skilton Barclay; two daughters, Irene and Valorie [sic] Barclay; two sons, Robert W. and Arthur W., and four grandchildren.
Barclay said she studied at The Art Students League of New York which is located at 215 West 57th Street. At some point Barclay lived at 442 West 57th Street in Manhattan, according to a public record at Ancestry.com.
Barclay passed away February 26, 2010 in Massapequa, Nassau County, New York. She was laid to rest at Pinelawn Memorial Park and Arboretum.
* The photograph posted at Find a Grave is not Mr. Barclay. The man is Edward Milton Berry whose signature is partially visible on the left side of the photograph. The passport applications, viewed at Ancestry.com, are in a bound volume. Berry’s photograph was pasted on the back of his application and faced the first page of Mr. Barclays’s application.
SIDEBAR: Valerie Barclay’s Siblings
Alyce H. Barclay, step-sister, June 14, 1913 – July 28, 1986
Irene May (Barclay) Eckhart, sister, January 5, 1920 – October 9, 2003
Robert William Barclay, brother, January 2, 1927 – March 24, 2003
American Showcase of Photography and Illustration, 1978, Robert W. Barclay Studios, Inc.
Bernardsville News, March 27, 2003, obituary, Robert W. Barclay, 76, fashion photographer
Arthur W. Barclay, brother, January 3, 1938 –
(Next post on Monday: Alex Jay’s Comic Book and Comics-Related Logos, Lettering and Graphic Designs)