They were the magazine and calendar versions of pin-up film celebrities such as Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth, and from the 1930s to the 1960s they could be found on walls, in wallets, on lockers and in lockets around the world. It was all about pose, clothes and expression for the pin-up girl, whose origins were in the far more demure Gibson Girl.
A personification of beauty
Created by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson in the late nineteenth century, the Gibson Girl personified the Western ideal of beauty. Tall and slender but with an ample bosom, hips and bottom, she was portrayed as an ephemeral beauty against whom women began to compare their own looks. With an impossibly hour-glass figure and and famous for her ‘waterfall of curls’, the Gibson Girl was presented as a feminine yet equal companion to men. She gradually lost favour after the First World War, when women turned to a more masculine appearance. But all that was to change with…
…The Varga Girl
Probably the best-known of all the pin-up girl artists, Peruvian Alberto Vargas scored his lucky break in 1940, when he was commissioned to provide artwork for the newly launched Esquire magazine. In the 1920s he produced lobby paintings for Ziegfield Follies and in the ‘30s he painted portraits of Hollywood stars, but he became most famous for his Esquire pin-up girls – known as Varga Girls and presented in monthly centrefolds and calendars. In the 1960s, Playboy magazine commissioned Vargas for a series of paintings they called Vargas Girls, and he became so successful that he held exhibitions of his work around the world. In December 2003, Christie’s sold the 1967 Vargas painting Trick or Treat for US$71,600 at the sale of the Playboy archives.
Girls doing it for themselves
One of the best-known pin-up artists was a woman – Zoe Mozert. A disciple of Rolf Armstrong (who is hailed as one of the best pin-up artists of the early 20th century), she specialised in a pastel finish and often used herself as a model for her work. She’s noted for rejecting the typical clichés of the pin-up, instead depicting alluring females with recognisable features and personalities.
Well, because they were pinned up! The sexy models used in magazines – usually glamour models, fashion models and actresses - were so enticing that people tore them out and pinned them on the wall – on a grand scale. Literally millions of pin-ups were produced of artfully erotic women, both famous and obscure, looking alluring without being too sexy – and increasing the sales of magazines everywhere.
The famous ones
Betty Grable was the siren of the forties, and the image of her in a bathing suit with an innocent grin directed at the camera became one of the most popular pin-ups of its time. Her legs were insured by her film studio for US$1m each; Hugh Hefner has said Betty Grable inspired his Playboy empire. Marilyn Monroe’s dress being blown upwards by an air vent gave the producers of the movie Seven Year Itch a massive promotional boost, and the same thing happened for the 1970s Dukes of Hazzard television show when Daisy – real name Catherine Bach – cut the legs of her jeans away to create the now famous Daisy Duke shorts. There are now more than five million of Daisy Duke’s posters on walls around the world, and probably even more of 60’s sex symbol Racquel Welch.
Taking it all off
In December 1953, Playboy launched its first issue with Marilyn Monroe on the cover. Around 54,000 copies of the magazine were printed, and they were sold out within a few weeks – probably because of the promise of full colour nude pictures inside. This prompted the launch of a number of magazines featuring nude women, and changed the largely innocent status of the pin-up into something far more confronting and less appealing. Eventually it became the early version of soft porn and the innocence of the pin-up was lost forever.