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Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • In a class of his own

  • He is buried in the Jewish portion of Riverside Cemetery on his family plot.
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  • Just a few blocks away from the Gaba Family home at 308 N. 7th Street was the family department store.
    During the Great Depression you could get overalls for $1.75, work shoes at $1.98 and boys knee pants for $.75.
    Solomon Gaba and his wife surely hoped to pass the business onto their sons Mark and Abe (who went by his middle name, Lester). But Mark, who was a standout in tennis, died in World War II. And Lester, well, Lester had other aspirations.
    He entered a soap sculpturing contest with P&G as a boy, and despite not winning ­— as previously written history indicates — the attempt in the contest literally shaped his life forever.
    In 1930, 27-year-old left for college in Chicago where he studied art and expanded his soap sculpting education. The '30s were good to the former delivery boy turned unique artist, he was making a name for himself. A name that was growing so large that the small town atmosphere of Hannibal couldn't contain him.
    In 1932, Lester headed off to the big city, New York City that is, landing a job with Best & Co. creating mannequins. He became an expert in window displays and captured a lot of attention with the reality his mannequins possessed.
    Even the mannequins themselves gained popularity.
    Lester's style and pristine detail soon became very recognizable. The mannequins became known as "Gaba Girls" and were just as popular as he was.
    Carving offers to do work came in from other organizations too, Dupont, Elizabeth Arden, Coty, CBS, the New Yorker came calling.
    Cynthia, a mannequin, was created for Saks Fifth Avenue. She was dressed in the finest clothes and jewelry. Gaba took her everywhere, even to the set of "Artists and Models," a film Lester had a role in. The two were photographed together just like any real couple would be. At some glances Cynthia looks very lifelike while in some photographs it's easy to tell Cynthia isn't human at all.
    When it came to the world of fashion, design and art, Gaba was at the top of the totem pole. Socially and culturally in his time he was as popular as any other high profiled figure.
    It's not really known what kind of personality Gaba had. One would think it was eccentric in a way given his stature in feminine production and given the fact he took one of his soap mannequins everywhere he went.
    One thing that is known is his relationship with Hollywood director Vincente Minnelli (best known for directing "Meet Me in St. Louis," marrying Judy Garland and being the father of Liza Minnelli).
    According to the book, "Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood's Dark Dreamer," by Emanuel Levy, Gaba and Minnelli were thought of as a couple. The book notes unlike Minnelli, Gaba, at least with some collegues, was not as cautious as Minnelli when it came to being known as homosexual.
    Page 2 of 2 - But there was a difference of the times during Gaba's day. In big city New York, homosexuality could be known or suspected, but still kept private. Where small town Hannibal wouldn't have had a more understanding culture.
    Lester shifted to painting in his retirement years and created numerous oil pieces.
    He died at the age of 80 in New York, was cremated and brought back to Hannibal for burial.
    He is buried in the Jewish portion of Riverside Cemetery on his family plot.
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