Earl Steffa Moran was born in Belle Plaine, Iowa in 1893. He first studied art under John Stich, a German artist who also taught illustrator W.H.D. Koerner. As a child, Moran was influenced by the work of Charles Dana Gibson, the creator of the famous Gibson Girls and illustrator James M. Flagg, who was known for his propaganda posters. He went on to study drawing at the Chicago Art Institute and at the Art Students’ League in New York City, in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
In 1931, he had a studio in Chicago where he focused on photography and illustrations. He created some illustrations of bathing beauties that he sent to Brown and Bigelow. By 1932, he signed an exclusive agreement with them and his fame as a calendar pinup illustrator was rising. By 1937, millions of calendars sold featuring his work. Life magazine featured Earl Moran in an article called “Speaking of Pictures” in 1940 and gave him celebrity status. In 1941, Moran helped Robert Harrison, a publisher of a gossip magazine, launch his first “risqué” magazine called Beauty Parade and continued to provide pinups for several other magazines Harrison published for many years. Some of his earlier works he did while working with Harrison were signed “Steffa” or “Black Smith”.
In 1946, Earl Moran moved to Hollywood to continue to paint starlets. Soon he met a young model that wanted him to paint her for extra money. She was Marilyn Monroe and he would paint her for the next four years and they became good friends. She once said he made her legs look better than they really were. In February of 2011, a Moran Marilyn pastel sold for $83,650 at auction. The work he created during this time has become the most sought after in his career. He continued to live and work in California until 1955, after which he moved to Las Vegas. Around this time he began to move away from the pinups and focused more on fine-art nudes.
He worked with Aaron Brothers Galleries and continued to paint until 1982, when his eyesight failed. Earl Steffa Moran died in Santa Monica, CA in 1984.