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Ann Turner Cook Dies at 95; Her Face Sold Baby Food by the Billions

For years, the suspects were legion:

Humphrey Bogart. Shirley Temple. Elizabeth Taylor. Brooke Shields. Bob Dole. Richard M. Nixon.

Any one of them, or so the urban legends ran, might have been the model for the most ubiquitous baby picture in the world: the charcoal sketch of the winsome infant that for more than 90 years has graced the label of every Gerber product, from infant formula to baby food to bottled juice.

But the one name no one thought to mention — because for half a century no one knew it — was that of Ann Turner Cook, a retired Florida schoolteacher who died early Friday at 95 in St. Petersburg, Fla., where she lived, her family confirmed on Saturday.

Ms. Cook was the bona fide Gerber baby, the winner of a nationwide contest in 1928 that has since seen her portrait reproduced on billions of jars of baby food and other items sold round the world.

In 1990, The New York Times described the sketch, by the artist Dorothy Hope Smith, as being “among the world’s most recognizable corporate logos.”

Ann was about 2 by then, but Ms. Smith submitted a simple sketch she had made in early 1927, when Ann was 4 or 5 months old. She considered the sketch unfinished and told Gerber that she would embellish it properly if she won.

Ms. Smith’s sketch was competing against lavish paintings done in oils, but Gerber’s judges were captivated by its innocent immediacy: The dewy-eyed Ann gazes straight at the viewer, her lips pursed as if in wonder.

Insisting the sketch not be altered, the judges declared it the winner. Gerber trademarked the image in the early 1930s.

“I have to credit Dorothy with everything,” Ms. Cook told The St. Petersburg Times in 1992. “I was really no cuter than any other baby, but she had wonderful artistic talent and was able to draw a very appealing likeness.”

For decades, Gerber chose not to identify its flagship baby, or even to disclose its sex: The very universality of the sketch — in it, any mother could glimpse her own child — was a marketing boon.

As a result, rumors flew. The one fingering Bogart, who was in his late 20s when Ms. Smith made her drawing, was so persistent that for years Gerber kept a Bogart-denying form letter on hand to send to inquisitors.

(Those inquisitors were at least partly right: Bogart’s mother, Maud Humphrey, was a renowned commercial illustrator who used little Humphrey as a model for much of her work, which included ads for Mellin’s Infant’s Foods, a turn-of-the-20th-century brand.)

The long anonymity of the Gerber baby also ensured that there was at least one pretender to the throne. In the 1940s, one family sued the company, claiming that its child was the baby on the label. Testifying in court, Ms. Smith disclosed her model’s identity, and the suit was decided in Gerber’s favor.

Ms. Cook, who had been aware of her role since early childhood, kept her own counsel. After moving with her family to Orlando, Fla., in the late 1930s, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, followed by a master’s in the field from the University of South Florida. She taught junior high and high school English, becoming the department chairwoman of Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Fla.

As a young teacher, Ms. Cook, fearful of the exquisite brand of disdain at which adolescents excel, chose never to disclose her infantile identity. Only in the late 1970s, with Gerber’s commemoration of the drawing’s 50th anniversary, did she publicly reveal herself as its subject. Her students, she later said, were intrigued.

Ms. Cook’s husband, James Cook, a criminologist who was a major with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Tampa, died in 2004. Her survivors include three daughters, Jan Cook, Carol Legarreta and Kathy Cook; a son, Clifford; eight grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

After retiring from teaching, Ms. Cook wrote a series of self-published crime novels. She grew amiably reconciled to life as the Gerber baby, granting interviews and appearing on the television quiz show “To Tell the Truth.”

Bogart was a small lingering irritant, but he could be borne.

Ms. Cook’s long-ago likeness remains a cultural touchstone to this day. In recent years, Gerber, now a subsidiary of Nestlé, has held an annual babies’ photo contest, awarding a grand prize of $25,000 and using the winner in its advertising.

Once she identified herself as the Gerber baby — and as the mother of four to boot — Ms. Cook left herself open to a question that she had to answer cagily. She gave just such an answer when The Globe and Mail, the Canadian newspaper, put the question to her in a 1987 interview:

Did she feed her own children Gerber baby food?

There was a slight pause.

“Not exclusively,” Ms. Cook replied.

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