Charles Santore, a leading illustrator who reached millions of TV Guide readers with his cover portraits of television stars before finding more artistic fulfillment depicting characters from classic children’s books, died on Aug. 11 in Philadelphia. He was 84.
His daughter, Christina Santore, confirmed his death, at a hospital, but said the cause had not been determined.
Mr. Santore’s most recognizable work appeared on about 30 covers of TV Guide, beginning in 1972, some years before the magazine reached its peak weekly circulation of about 20 million. His first cover rendered Peter Falk holding a cigar as the private detective in “Columbo.” Later covers depicted the stars of “Kojak,” “The Jeffersons” and “60 Minutes.”
In a striking composite cover drawing for TV Guide made in 1977, Mr. Santore drew Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro as their characters in the first two “Godfather” movies, which were being shown together in a special TV presentation. His 1976 cover depicting Redd Foxx as the title character in “Sanford and Son” is in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington.
Mr. Santore worked in many different media, including ink, pastels, oils and watercolors. “The medium does not matter,” he told The Chestnut Hill Local, a neighborhood newspaper in Philadelphia, in 2018, when the Woodmere Art Museum in that city held a retrospective of his art. “The subject matter dictates the medium.”
In addition to his work for TV Guide, Mr. Santore illustrated print ads for AT&T, De Beers diamonds and Pfizer pharmaceuticals. He sold illustrations to Cosmopolitan, Playboy, Redbook and other publications.
In the mid-1980s he was commissioned by the publisher Running Press to illustrate Beatrix Potter’s “The Classic Tale of Peter Rabbit and Other Cherished Stories” (1986). He went on to illustrate retellings of “Aesop’s Fables” (1988), “Snow White” (1996), “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (2017) and “The Wizard of Oz” (1991).
In reviewing the new version of “The Wizard of Oz,” Marke Andrews wrote in The Vancouver Sun, “What makes this oversized hardcover so attractive is the 60 illustrations by Charles Santore.”
“The tornado inspires awe,” he added, “the view of Munchkinland bristles with vivid flora and fauna, and his use of various shades of green for the Emerald City scenes makes for spectacular viewing.”
Mr. Santore wrote and illustrated his own children’s books, among them “William the Curious: Knight of the Water Lilies” (1997), an environmentalist parable about a frog who becomes a medieval knight, and “The Silk Princess” (2007), a fairy tale about the origin of silk, with art reminiscent of classical Chinese painting.
Despite his success Mr. Santore was wary of self-satisfaction.
“You have to be humble,” he said in a podcast released last year by the Woodmere. “You have to say, ‘I’ve got a hell of a lot more to learn,’ and try to be open to learn it even if you’re trying to teach yourself. So I never think of myself as a professional, always as an amateur.”
Charles Joseph Santore was born in Philadelphia on March 16, 1935, and grew up in a hardscrabble Italian neighborhood on the city’s South Side. His father, Charles, was a union organizer, and his mother, Nellie (Jackel) Santore, was a homemaker.
He began to draw at an early age, an eccentricity his tough friends tolerated. “I could fight as well as they could, too, so there was no problem,” he told an interviewer for the catalog that accompanied his Woodmere retrospective.
Mr. Santore graduated from high school in 1953 and went to the Philadelphia Museum School of Art (now University of the Arts) on a scholarship. He studied illustration and graduated in 1956, then worked as a freelance illustrator before serving briefly in the National Guard in the South.
In 1963 he married Olenka Litynska. They both became avid collectors of antique Windsor chairs, known for their solid wooden seats with delicate legs and back spindles, and he wrote and illustrated “The Windsor Style in America” (1981), with photographs by Bill Holland.
The book, published by Running Press, was praised by Rita Reif of The New York Times, who noted Mr. Santore’s “arresting drawings of chairs” and his “knowledgeable and absorbing text.” .
“Indeed, this book may well become the bible on the subject,” she added.
Mr. Santore’s wife died this year. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by two sons, Charles and Nicholas; two brothers, Joseph and Richard; and three grandchildren.
His work earned awards from the Society of Illustrators and is in several museum collections, including those of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, Pa.
Illustrating for both advertising and books, Mr. Santore said, led him to appreciate the different creative processes involved.
In an ad, he said, “the entire visual point has to be summed up in one picture, like a poster.” But illustrating a book, he said, “is more like composing a ballet or a piece of music: You build to a climax.”
His latest book, a lavishly illustrated version of Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky,” is to be published next year by Running Press Kids.