Inside the body and soul of a 1950s paperback femme fatale!

Sometimes I think I read too much noir fiction for my own good. It’s grim, focusing on the baser aspects of human nature. Yet much of the stuff is so well-written that it transcends its tawdriness with aesthetic beauty. I just love to read good writing…or maybe I specifically like to read good writing about bad people, I dunno…

Last night I finished reading Harry Whittington’s Fires That Destroy, a 1951 novel that was reprinted in 1988 by Black Lizard Books, a publisher which got the whole noir paperback revival going over two decades ago…

This is the edition I read. An eye-catching cover in a quiet, moody way...

This is the edition I read. An eye-catching cover in a quiet, moody way...

It’s the story of a lonely, homely woman named Bernice Harper who wants to be treated like the beautiful women she sees in the office where she works, the women who get the promotions, the attention, the fawning of handsome males mostly because they know how to use their looks and flirtation skills to get ahead. Bernice gets promoted to work for an impressive man, too, who wants her sexually as well as for her secretarial skills; but she feels humiliated and repelled by his interest in her because he’s blind…she yearns for a man who can see her and desire her on that basis.

This is an edition of the book from the later 1950s. Moody photo, but bland...doesn't capture the intensity of the story.

This is an edition of the book from the later 1950s, early 1960s, I'm not sure exactly when. Moody photo, but bland...doesn't capture the intensity of the story.

Bernice loathes her boss, hates herself, and when she discovers that he’s hidden away over twenty thousand dollars in cash (a lot of money in 1951), she decides that dough will be her ticket to the life she desires. And so, on the opening page of the novel, she’s just pushed her blind employer down a stairway to his death…

This is the best cover of all. This isn't really what Bernice looks like, but it is what she wants to look like...so it works.

This is the best cover of all, I presume the first edition. This isn't really what Bernice looks like, but it is what she WANTS to look like...and so it works.

Bernice gets away with murder, but her desire to have a movie-starrish-looking man in her life leads to, as we say in our era, “foolish choices.” She meets a guy who is very bad for her, and starts on a spiral of nightmare that leads Bernice to her just desserts as a murderess.

But Whittington (1915-1990) was such a good writer that you feel sadness and pity for Bernice, even though she is a killer. Her desire to be adored, to be worshipped for what she is not, is pathetic but all too human. And in the end, in one of those great ironic twists, she manages to get what she wants even as she loses everything. I’m not giving anything away here—if you know noir, you know that’s how many of these books end, with the most bitter of twists that prove the wisdom of the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for; you might get it.” Although Bernice seems strangely content as she stares at the entrance to hell…

There is much that is evocative of the 50s in this book, as Bernice readily turns over the control of her life (and some of her ill-gotten money) to a worthless dirtbag whose only “virtue” is that he is physically the embodiment of all her erotic dreams. He tells her he’s going to be the “boss” in their relationship, and she’s ready to acquiese as a good 50s gal was supposedly required to do.

Awhile back, I read another book by Whittington called The Devil Wears Wings, and it was a winner too. The guy really cranked some exciting stories. Check out this link for an amazing Flickr site that shows the covers of his many novels; it’s where I found these examples of the cover art for Fires That Destroy.

The book was so immediate and emotional that it seemed as if it were really happening in front of me. What a writer was Harry Whittington! The edition I read also has a great essay he wrote about his life as a writer entitled, “I Remember It Well”—and you can find it online here. It has some terrific advice about fiction-writing, too. And Harry Whittington truly practiced what he preached!

This cover, for another of Whittington's books, best captures the sad and seedy atmosphere between Bernice and the man who leads her to HELL!

This cover, for another of Whittington's books, best captures the sad and seedy atmosphere between Bernice and the man who leads her to HELL!

Jean Patchett versus Bettie Page? Tough choice…

I read in the paper recently that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York had its yearly Costume Institute gala to kick off a new exhibition, “The Model as Muse.”

Looking at the photos of some of today’s female celebrities at that party, I yearned for those muses of yesteryear…

Wow, between Rihanna in her tuxedo-like getup and leather gloves…(yeah, they go together)…

…and Madonna in her whatsis…

…it really must have been something of an ocular nightmare.

So I guess it’s time for us to recall a woman who really could function as a proper muse, right? Instead of females who could inspire nightmares or genetically alter one’s sexuality with the horror of their attire, much like Medusa turned men to stone…

(For full effect, imagine me reading all this to you in the Shakespearean tonalities of the late great John Carradine. I often hear his voice in my head when I write in a semi-pontifical, half-cracked pedagogical manner. See his performance as a grifting lecturer in Otto Preminger’s Fallen Angel for the prototype.)

Anyway, let’s attempt to get back on track…

Now, I yield to no man in my admiration for Bettie Page, the most famous pinup model of the 1950s…

In my career as a writer for adult magazines, I’m proud to say I first wrote about her back in 1977 for High Society magazine, long before her popular resurgence and elevation to iconic status…I also wrote about pinup artist Gil Elvgren (see my previous post about Barbara Hale) before he too was rediscovered for a new audience…my only regret is that I didn’t write even more about both, but just went onto other topics. I’m promiscuous that way…

Anyway, Bettie was vivacious, voluptuous, and saucy, but here’s a rare shot of her I found around the Web that shows her in a different mood…

She almost never looks like this in her photos—like a femme fatale. No, Bettie was more sunny in her pix, overall. Even when she wielded a whip in her fetish photos, she never looked too serious about it.

But let’s move on (at last, I hear the audience saying) to the muse for whom I am writing this particular post…another model in the 1950s, but for high fashion magazines, whom I have wanted to write about for years but never had a venue for until this blog.

Although I mostly collect vintage pinup and girlie mags, I have a small collection of 1950s fashion mags too, and that is where I discovered her…who, with her haughty yet subtly wry looks, narrow waist, and extraordinary ability to both wear the closely fitted clothes of the 1950s as well as project a mood in them, deserves to be equally famous as the late Miss Page.

Her name was Jean Patchett (1926-2002).

erwin_blumenfeld_jean_patchett_1950118132802_large

God, how I love this woman’s face.

“I’m Jean Patchett. You don’t darn it, you patch it.” With this down-home style of talk, she would introduce herself to editors and photographers. Despite her status as a supermodel of the 1950s, she was known to address people with, “Yes, ma’am.”No, sir.” She was not a diva. She showed up on time for her shoots, her hair coiffed and makeup done, as was the custom for fashion models back in those early days.

After trying her hand at college and secretarial work, she’d come to New York from Maryland in 1948, lived in a Methodist women’s rooming house for $13.50 a week, and quickly became a model with the recently established Ford Agency. She eventually did over 40 covers. This is possibly her most famous, by Erwin Blumenfeld. At the suggestion of art director Alexander Liberman, the shot was processed in such a way that it used her most memorable features—her eye, her lips, the mole on the left side of her mouth—to create an icon for the decade…

Her face was like a great novel: rich with subtext and shadings.

I don’t know where her mole goes in some of these shots, but sometimes at magazines, the makeup artists or retouchers come into play…

Here’s more…

I really love this one…

And this is pretty great…

She was admired in particular by photographer Irving Penn for her ability to inject “backstory” into a photo—to give a sense that the image was part of a longer narrative, like a movie still. This is one of her famous collaborations with Penn:

What is she thinking about as she nibbles on her pearls? She is so distracted that she is prettily dangling her right pump off her toes, too.

I guess you’ve gathered that I can get almost drunk on pictures of Jean Patchett…

And I want the rest of the world to get drunk on her, too.

Feel tipsy yet?

If I had to be stranded on a desert island just with photos to keep me company, it would be a touch choice: Jean Patchett’s, or Bettie Page’s? I need them both…I love Bettie’s curves and vivaciousness, but I also worship Jean’s hauteur tinged with humor. Not to mention that crazy waist…

Jean married a guy named Louis V. Auer, a young banker her own age who was living at the Yale Club and who sounds as if he were a character out of a John O’Hara novel. Even though she was a regular at the Stork Club, they had their first date at a luncheonette. They married in 1951. At the apex of her career, she made $50,000 a year—very good money in the 1950s. She retired from modeling in 1963 to take care of her children. Louis called her “Pancho”—the nickname evolving from from Patchett t0 Patcho to Pancho. He died in 2005.

“Pancho”—I can see that. Because what I detect in her pictures is a sense of humor. “Nobody could possibly be so haughty, but I’ll give it a try,” she seems to be saying as she perfects, in photo after photo, the steely gaze of a certain archetype of 50s femme.

I believe that if you look quickly, you can catch a glimpse of her walking into an office building in the 1959 girls-in-the-big-bad-city melodrama, The Best of Everything. Unlike Suzy Parker, the 50s supermodel who went onto an acting career and starred in that movie (which is one of the stylistic and dramatic prototypes for the cable drama Mad Men), Miss Patchett didn’t go onto a film career. But with her evocative photos, maybe that just would have been superfluous.

This shot is certainly a movie in itself. It’s more memorable than the entire Revolutionary Road movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, which I desperately wanted to be great because Richard Yates’ novel of 1950s suburban life is one of my very favorite books. It was good, but could have been better. I guess Kate Winslet is just no Jean Patchett!

But who could be, except Pancho?

—————–

I got the shot of Madonna here, and the picture of Rihanna here. The images of Bettie and Jean are from various blogs and sites. A quick look at Google Image Search will find you many sources for both of these lovely ladies. My blog is not for profit, and I use these pictures for historical and critical purposes only to illustrate my various passionate theses and theories about the beauty of the feminine through the ages! (Cue John Carradine.)

Barbara Hale does a great femme fatale!

I saw a 1956 crime movie over the weekend on TCM called The Houston Story. It was vaguely entertaining but mostly mediocre, a half-baked drama of a mobster wannabe played by Gene Barry. But it had two memorable elements in it: Edward Arnold as a chuckling mob kingpin, and Barbara Hale as a platinum-haired nightclub thrush and femme fatale.

This is one of my concepts of the perfect woman.

I kinda remember Barbara Hale from playing Della Street, the Gal Friday on the old Perry Mason show with Raymond Burr in the 50s and 60s…but actually I don’t remember that show very well because while I was growing up I was more interested in the Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Ben Casey, and 12 O’Clock High and magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland and giant comic book creatures like Fin Fang Foom. But I loved Barbara as a naughty minx in this movie when I saw it last night in my current state of maturation as a 57-year-old connoisseur of noirishly deceptive doxies. Yes, my eyes have been opened to an actress whose other works I must readily explore.

Barbara sings the same song in The Houston Story that made Rita Hayworth famous in Gilda a decade earlier, “Put the Blame on Mame,” and Barb’s equally sexy in a sultrier, more “MILFy” kind of way.

This is from the trailer for The Houston Story.

This is from the trailer for The Houston Story.

I don’t know if Miss Hale really sang the song or it was dubbed, but the camera stays on her in closeup the whole time, and her facial expressions, and the way she moves her mouth and the way the light flatters her gorgeous cheekbones, made it something I’m glad I recorded on the DVR. If you get to see this movie when it shows up again on TCM, watch how she moves her lips on the word “boys” in the lyric, “Put the blame on Mame, boys…”

In her other scenes in the flick, she really brings the tough babe to rich life with everything from the smallest furrowing of her brow to the freshening of her lipstick. What a dame!

Looking her up on the web after seeing the movie, I found some of these shots at a great tribute site called Big Dave’s Barbara Hale Annex. I also read somewhere else that she may have been a model back in the 1940s for the famed pinup calendar painter Gil Elvgren, the creator of timeless works like this (which can be found at the fine site Pinup Files).

It's a sad day when a grown man envies a cocker spaniel...

It's a sad day when a grown man envies a cocker spaniel...

Well, with Barb’s stems and that wholesome but saucy face, I can sure believe that Elvgren, who was to pinups what Michelangelo was to ceilings, would have loved her!

With women like this on their side, how could our soldiers NOT have beaten the Axis?

With women like this on their side, how could our World War 2 soldiers NOT have beaten the Axis?

Can Mila Kunis have a truly interesting career in 21st century Hollywood?

Although this is a history-oriented blog that spans as many of the centuries as I can wrap my mind around, my absorption and interest in movie actresses is a continuing theme. In fact, I sometimes wonder why I’m not just writing a blog about movies. Maybe because there are more than enough movie blogs already. Or perhaps I just don’t want to limit my drooling to females from only the last hundred years or so. For example, how could I have written one of my most popular posts, about Onorata Rodiana, the beautiful crossdressing mercenary and fresco painter of the Italian Renaissance, if I had to be stuck in the 20th and 21st centuries? I get restless to wander…and boy, if I really had a time machine, would I ever use it!

In any case, a history perspective is useful in contemplating what chance a talented young actress has today for making a truly memorable and varied career such as the stars of the Golden Age enjoyed. Can such a thing be done?

Last night I saw a somewhat feeble comedy (?) called Forgetting Sarah Marshall, about a young guy’s attempt to bring closure to his broken heart after his girlfriend dumps him. In the course of taking a vacation to “get away from it all,” our hapless hero Peter (played by Jason Segel, who actually shows his “peter” in a full-frontal scene) decides to go to the same Hawaiian resort that his ex is at with her current rock-star stud-muffin. But as the mechanics of fantasy-fulfillment screenwriting would have it, the annoyingly whiny Peter gets to meet and mate with the absolutely gorgeous hotel desk clerk (Mila Kunis). He finds in her not only the beauty, but all the better personal qualities, that were missing in his ex—things he did not realize during all the time he was living with her.

The movie wasn’t very good, but I sat there for two hours watching it because I wanted to look at Mila, and hear Mila talk. And watch her laugh, and move, and do double-takes and scrunch her brow in disbelief at the antics of Peter.

Immediately after watching the movie I looked her up on the Web. I don’t watch much tv or many current movies, so her oeuvre was a mystery to me. Of course, after observing her deft timing and vivacious eyes and smile in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I was eager to see what else I could check out. Looks like she’s going to be in something called Zombieland, has appeared with Ben Affleck in a flick called Extract (compelling title, no?), and is now shooting The Book of Eli with Denzel Washington. That last one sounds like a barrel of laffs.

Zombieland.

Extract. (I think it already came out, but I’m not sure.)

The Book of Eli.

See what I mean by the title of this post?

If this were 1946 she would be cranking out one interesting film after another, melodramas, crime films, comedies, tearjerkers, westerns, Arabian Nights potboilers. She’d probably be under the yoke of a studio but she would rapidly have a body of films on which her fans could feast until they were gorged. Instead…

Zombieland.

Extract.

The Book of Eli.

No, no, no…Miss Kunis is a movie goddess in the making! She deserves so much more!

Ye gods! Put her in a remake of Demetrius and the Gladiators as the cunning Empress Messalina! Put her in a remake of the old Ann Sheridan noir classic Nora Prentiss, playing a nightclub singer for whom a stuffy doctor ruins his life! Put her in a remake of Topper, playing a sprightly ghost! Put her in a remake of The Lady Eve, in the Barbara Stanwyck role of the con woman falling in love with her mark! I say Mila’s got the chops for it.

Don’t give me Zombieland, Extract, or The Book of Eli. Or at least, give me more than that!

I’m not actually asking for remakes of those classic films, but rather flicks with similar types of meaty stories to satisfy our appetites for variety, spice, and zest! It’s called entertainment.

Hey, put Mila in a movie about Onorata Rodiana! She’d be great at stabbing a lecherous aristocrat who interrupts her fresco-painting!

But why should Hollywood listen to me? It’s making more money than it ever has, so it must be doing something right, right?

WRONG.

Put Mila in a swashbuckler as a scheming countess! Put her in a jungle movie as a daring adventuress! Let her soar, and audiences will soar with her into that paradise of cinema that her beauty and talent deserve!

And by all means, let her play a beautiful nun sometime!!!

Tips for dating Amazons—the sword-wielding kind!

These days we hear a lot about strong and aggressive modern women being “Amazons.” Believe me, a few hours of Horny Time Traveling amongst the ancient Amazons (the sword-wielding kind) have made me realize that today’s gals are strictly Amazon Lite.

Yet, if this lady was your date—

"Fighting Amazons" by Franz von Stuck

Hey, that's a centaur in the background. She fights CENTAURS, fer cryin' out!

—you’d be ready to tiptoe through the eggshells.

There is so much contradictory stuff written about the Amazons, and who they were, and if they really existed, and where they were from, that after awhile, the only thing that matters is that they do exist, fervently and vividly, in people’s imaginations.

So, maybe they were from Libya, or from what is now Turkey, and maybe they fought the Greeks in the Trojan War. Maybe they did lop off their right titty so that it wouldn’t get in the way of their javelin-throwing and archery (although artists of Amazons tend to leave in a full rack; aesthetics win out)…

Not exactly a civilized domestic dispute with the little woman...

Not exactly a civilized domestic dispute with the little woman...

Hercules tangled with the Amazons when he had to do penance to the gods for murdering his entire family (what? our Hercules?). He had to snatch the “Girdle of Hippolyte” from the Amazon queen it was named after, and it wasn’t just a walk in the Acropolis…he had to kill her to get it. (Boy, they really refurbished this guy’s image through those Steve Reeves flicks!)

Reeves' dignified acting style exemplified the noble Hercules—not the nasty one!

Reeves' dignified acting style exemplified the noble Hercules—not the psycho one!

Even when dead, these feisty femmes cast a spell. For example, Penthesilia was an Amazon warrior who was killed by the great Greek soldier Achilles before the gates of Troy. When he went to strip the armor from her fallen body (a custom of the winners), he fell in love with her! Kind of reminds me of the detective falling in love with the portrait of a dead girl in the 40s film noir Laura.

A feller named Tischbein did this painting.

A feller named Tischbein did this painting.

Do you notice that perky right tit? Well, maybe Penny specialized in swordplay over archery…

Anyway, before I take any trip into the past, I do research. I’d heard that Amazon society was what is known in academia as an “alien other,” meaning it was the opposite of the typical society of its time—in other words, the Amazon men (sounds like an oxymoron) did all the domestic things, and the Amazon women were the fighters, and politicians, and hunters. It was a kind of Bizarro, gender-role reversal version of what the world was really like. But, I figured, if I had to do a little cooking or cleaning to have the pleasure of a scrumptious Amazon riding me to climax, I was prepared for it…

Might be kind of interesting to have sex with a gal after she just got back from fighting Trojans...

Might be kind of interesting to have sex with a gal after she just got back from fighting Trojans...

Yeah, I thought, might be kind of sexy to watch my personal Amazon (since Penthesilia, alive or dead, was already Achilles’ date) dismount and stride into our tent for a nice foot massage after she slew a few ornery Hellenes…

Wait, is she already getting ready for the next battle? Fie on these multi-tasking minxes!

Wait, is she already getting ready for the next battle? Fie on these multi-tasking minxes!

Still, I’m glad I didn’t just rely on a few Web articles for my facts. I went to my storage space, full of various obscure “sexual history” texts that I’ve accumulated over my pseudo-scholarly life as a “man of erotic letters,” and I discovered some strange stuff in a tome entitled The Many Facets of Love (W.H. Allen, London, 1963), a well-written work of popular history by the prolific romance novelist Barbara Cartland. I quote from p. 69:

“The Amazons had a curious habit of breaking the leg or the arm of the captives they took in battle. This was not only to prevent their escape but because the Amazons believed that the genital member of the body would be strengthened by the deprivation of one of the extremities.”

Uh-oh…and it’s a thousand against one…poor…male…namely…ME!!

Do those thunderous hooves portend the snapping of my puny femur?

Do those thunderous hooves portend true love or a nasty limp?

Barbara Cartland concludes: “When reproached for the limping gait of one of her slaves, an Amazon queen replied, ‘the lame best perform the act of love.’ ”

Hmm, I thought, better check this out further. And I learned that the Amazons even prepared their male children for a good love life in the future by cutting off one of their hands or legs.

Hey, thanks Mom!

So what are my tips for dating an Amazon? Either bring your own splint…your own hook…or don’t do it!

A modern example of Amazon art.

A modern example of Amazon art.

Better yet, maybe just find a girl to date in Atlantis! It’s easier to reach now that it’s only buried under sand, instead of lost in the middle of some damn ocean!

As long as you don't maim me, Queen Antinea, you can crush me with your love!

As long as you don't maim me, Queen Antinea, you can crush me with ALL your love!

————-

In doing this post, I discovered a fantastic artist I had never heard of before: Franz von Stuck. Check out a gallery here. I found the sculpture of a golden Amazon on horseback here. And Queen Antinea of Atlantis was portrayed by the sadly underused Israeli actress Haya Harareet in Edgar G. Ulmer’s strange 60s epic Journey Beneath the Desert, available on home video. Her most famous role was as Esther in Ben-Hur.

And a shout out to my friend Phil Leibfried, an expert in that lost civilization specialist Sir Henry Rider Haggard, the author of She. A few months ago, when I first started this blog, Phil suggested I do something about the Amazons, so here it is at last. Check out Phil’s book about Haggard here.

Happy birthday, Chelo Alonso!

Chelo Alonso, the Cuban-born dancer and actress who became a star of 60s European sword-and-sandal films with her steamy dancing and femme fatale antics, turns 76 today. She was born April 10, 1933. As far as I know, she lives in Italy now. She married a film producer back in the 60s and then phased out her film career.

But what a memorable career it was! Check her out in Goliath and the Barbarians with Steve Reeves; Son of Samson with Mark Forest; or Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops with Gordon Mitchell, all readily available on DVD. Nobody was better at playing a feisty barbarian princess or evil queen. When Chelo comes on-screen, you’ll eagerly surrender to the allure of her blazing torches, slashing swords, or crocodile pits.

Last night I was with some friends and we were watching an Italian tv documentary that showed her behind-the-scenes on the set of Goliath and the Barbarians. As sexy as she is when she plays sultry for her scripts, these candid clips that showed her laughing and smiling with co-star Reeves as Reeves gets playful “instructions” from their elderly, gentlemanly director on how to kiss her were even more transcendently beautiful! Many actresses are called “legends” and “goddesses” but for most the term is just not true. But Chelo does not disappoint. In that behind the scenes footage, she also did a dance on a table, and then stepped with her bare foot on a guy’s hand so he could help her to the floor, while balancing herself with her own hand on his balding head! She did it with the fluid effortlessness of a woman who knows she really is some kind of goddess…or at least that some men want to watch her act like one!

These are a few of my favorite Chelo pix, which can be readily found all over the Web. Your life will not be complete unless you see her at least once in a movie! So don’t delay, put “watch Chelo Alonso movie” on your Things to Do List today!

Happy birthday once again, Chelo, you are forever our queen!

"Your queen, hmm? Then fetch me a soda..."

The Greek Slave: naked, chained, but forever pure…

Every fan of cult or schlock cinema has heard of the “nunsploitation” genre, dramas which purport to expose the sleazy activities and atrocious lusts that over-active imaginations desperately hope run rampant inside cloistered religious institutions…

Many of these films were made in Europe, in countries long under the sway of the church and hence far more susceptible to the resentments that foster rebellious genres like nunsploitation. Interestingly, the genre is also big in Japan, even though that’s not a Catholic country; one explanation is that it’s used there as a underhanded way for the East to puncture the pious bubble of the Western nations whose missionaries tried to convert the Japanese to Christianity…

But America has its own tradition of nunsploitation, which goes back to the early part of the nineteenth century. Anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant sentiment, expressed by “nativist” groups like the Know-Nothings, set the stage for the 1836 publication of Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, a purported memoir of a young woman’s sexual and emotional mistreatment at the hands of nuns and priests in a Canadian convent. It became a huge bestseller, but it turned out that Maria’s story was completely fabricated by her guardian, an anti-Catholic activist, and a group of ghost-writers, all of whom ended up fighting over the profits of the book. It was revealed that Maria was mentally defective and emotionally unstable due to a childhood injury (she apparently rammed a pencil into her ear), and that she had never been in the convent she was supposed to have written about. Left destitute and discredited, she drifted into obscurity, had a child, married a man who left her, and died at the age of 33 in 1849 after being thrown in jail as a pickpocket.

Even though her story was shown to be fabricated, the book went on to sell 300,000 copies by the time of the Civil War, and as recently as the 1970s, her sensational “claims” have been republished and presented with an aura of legitimacy in modern editions.

Maria Monk appears to have been the perfect victim for predatory men.

The thing that’s interesting is how this trashy book became so widely read in the very strait-laced America of the 1830s. Obviously, its supposed concern for hypocritical outrages made its muted pornography acceptable to genteel readers; though not explicit in the manner of modern smut, I imagine that its restrained intimations of illicit sex behind convent walls were enough to make many readers stir moistly in their breeches or petticoats.

A few years later, in 1847, a statue of a female nude called The Greek Slave became very famous in America, and made its creator, Hiram Powers, the most acclaimed American sculptor of his day.

The slave is a Christian girl captured by the Turks, stripped, chained, and presented on the auction block. Her demure posture and forbearing expression balanced out the obvious titillation factor of this lovely presentation of alluring feminine flesh…

Here was the sculptural equivalent of Maria Monk, a girl still chaste in her heart despite her predicament, her sexually oppressed image presented for the polite delectation of the masses. The sculptor explained what he meant by his creation:

“As there should be a moral in every work of art, I have given to the expression of the Greek slave what trust there could be still in a Divine Providence…with utter despair for the present mingled with somewhat of scorn for all around her. She is too deeply concerned to be aware of her nakedness. It is not her person but her spirit that stands exposed, and she bears it all as Christians only can.”

…with somewhat of scorn for all around her.” (My italics.) Was this a slip of the pen? Did Powers not realize the scorn of the Greek slave could be for the crowds that paid admission to view her? Well, obviously the irony was lost on most people of the time. It became a visual symbol for the abolitionist movement to wipe out slavery in America…and ministers urged their congregations to view the statue at exhibitions. Countless miniature reproductions were sold, and often stood under glass in parlors across the nation.

Personally, I like this sculpture very much, and have ever since I first saw it in the Metropolitan Museum in New York (there are a number of copies of it in different locations); but I knew little about it until I decided to research this post. Despite the verbal sincerity and tremendous skill of its sculptor, it nonetheless strikes me as prurient as it is exquisite; but I don’t hold its prurience against it. Prurience is a part of life, and we deny its hold on our minds at our peril…

We must rather be careful not to wallow in prurience to the exclusion of other things in life.

Even today in America, many prefer their prurience with penitence, or at least the upwardly striving narrative of triumph over adversity in the sleazeball zone. For example, modern memoirs about strippers usually depict them as girls eager to better themselves, often stuffing themselves with education, so that they may rise above their profitable but lowly status in the naughty and nasty lapdance trenches to spiritually triumph as 21st century century equivalents of ever-pure Maria Monks or ever-untouchable Greek Slaves.

People, and not just in America, seem to want to believe that no matter what a woman has experienced with that miraculous vessel of complex cultural symbolism, her naked body, that she remains good at heart.

From stripper and peepshow girl to Oscar-winning screenwriter—how much more uplifting can you get?

From stripper and peepshow girl to Oscar-winning screenwriter—how much more uplifting can you get?

—————-

Writing this post took me to interesting sites, where I got various facts and illustrations. For more information about the Greek Slave and Maria Monk in particular, with links to further material, go here. I found John Absolon’s color painting of the Greek Slave exhibited at London’s Crystal Palace here.

Gentlemen act like asses around girls with guns and glasses!

The British actress Peggy Cummins (born 1925) is best known for her role as the sociopathic sharpshooter in the 1949 film noir Gun Crazy. Although I haven’t seen that film recently, I can still remember her ferocious femme fatale energy in it…

Actually, of the three shots above, the one I find most interesting is the third one, because it shows the emotionally penetrative power a fatal woman can exercise without a gun…the power they have all too often in the lives of normal men—i.e., not men on the run from holding up banks, like the characters played by Cummins and John Dall in Gun Crazy

The power to simply overwhelm men by manipulating masculine need

I haven’t seen Gun Crazy lately because I actually find it depressing. About a year ago I bought a DVD copy, and I still haven’t opened it. I identify with John Dall in that shot above…replace Peggy Cummins with a stripper soliciting a lapdance, and you have a photo-portrait of your Horny Time Traveler, a man who respects and fears the allure of the charismatic woman, whether she be psychologically healthy or twisted…

I was thinking about Peggy, who enjoyed a career from the late 40s to the 60s, because I saw her the other night in The Late George Apley, wherein she plays a headstrong (but charming, not abrasive) Boston girl in 1912…

In the latter film, she rebels in a fairly respectful way against the loving stodginess of her father, and he ultimately gives his seal of approval to her love for a young literature professor who—horror of horrors!—is not from Boston…

Not a great film, but an enjoyable one, and Peggy was feisty and intriguing. Apparently she got this part (according to Robert Osborne’s intro on TCM) when 20th Century Fox decided to replace Cummins in the coveted lead role in 1947’s highly anticipated costume drama, Forever Amber (a film I still have yet to see). Osborne said the studio felt she looked too “young” to play the ambitious 17th century wench Amber, but I wonder if that was reason…maybe Cummins would have been a little too intense in the role, perhaps too richly real? Linda Darnell, no slouch herself in the allure department, replaced her, but after seeing Cummins in both Apley and Gun Crazy, I gotta wonder what coulda been…

She also made an intriguing mystery thriller called Moss Rose in 1947, in which she played a Victorian chorus girl. I saw this a few years ago on a tape somebody made for me from a tv broadcast. I don’t think it’s on DVD yet…I remember it was twisty and atmospheric, and I wish I could remember where I put the cassette so I could rewatch it!

A part Peggy would have been wonderful in would be that of the unpredictable, manipulative, yet ultimately poignant prostitute in an adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s trilogy of short, interconnected novels about London lowlife about 1930, Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, one of the finest books I’ve read in recent years…it tells the story of a doomed triangle between a would-be writer/waiter, a streetwalker, and a barmaid. Hamilton was the author of the plays on which the classic films Gaslight and Rope were based, but I think his novels are even more impressive. Check out his novel Hangover Square, too, which was made into a good movie which nonetheless was not very faithful to the book.

Anyway, the point I finally want to make is this. These fine actresses of yesteryear like Peggy Cummins immediately get me scrambling over to the computer to find out what else I can see them in. I don’t feel that way at all about contemporary actresses, although I am somewhat curious to see what January Jones and Christina Hendricks of AMC’s Mad Men do apart from that show…

I think part of the problem is that the films today just don’t have the kinds of rich stories that pull me in and make me want to plunk down twelve bucks for a ticket. So it’s not just that I prefer the actresses of long ago, but that the stories they were presented in are more to my liking in their variety, their tone, and their subject matter. Or maybe it’s the promotion of today’s films; maybe the stories are just as good, but the advertising doesn’t make me feel intrigued enough to find out. There is no alluring ballyhoo to pull me into the theaters…unless I’m supposed to be intrigued by an actress’s upcoming film because People magazine says she’s “dating” some football stud-muffin or riding some rock star schlong.

All I know is that after watching Peggy in The Late George Apley, I wanted more. And here’s a nice leg shot that I found, to keep me entertained until I turn up more of her films…

Just a healthy dose of good old-fashioned cheesecake!

——————-

I found the great screen captures of Peggy and John, and Peggy sharp-shooting, at writer Chris Orcutt’s interesting site; and Peggy’s leg shot at the always vivid Starlet Showcase.

1964: Girls in girdles and tight-fitting bras!

I’ve been a freelance writer for 35 years—geez, I can’t believe I just typed that number—but no matter how long I do it, I always get a thrill seeing my newest work in print, whether it’s a piece of erotic fiction, a book review, naughty copy for nude pictures, or one of my favorite assignments, The Horny Time Traveler column for GALLERY magazine…

The new issue is about to hit the stands, and if you’re over 18 and enjoy explicit photos of enthusiastic exhibitionistic girls, you definitely want to check it out!

Does anybody remember when girls named "Nelly" were supposed to wear gingham dresses and milk cows?

Now, my personal fascination for retro babes is just about endless, whether they be the snake-wielding hotties of ancient Crete, the clever adultresses of medieval Europe, the crossdressing female mercenaries of the Renaissance, or the silky-stockinged flappers of the Roaring 20s—just a few of the curvy characters I’ve written about on this blog. But even a diehard mental adventurer in the 4th dimension likes to take a break now and then, and when I do, GALLERY keeps me up-to-date on some of the loveliest women of contemporary times, whether she is the winner of May 2009’s Girl Next Door Contest, the sultry brunette Elkie from Brockton, Massachusetts, or the spectacularly blonde and b-b-busty Jami, who takes on a lucky stiff named Totti in a pictorial that’s guaranteed to make anyone’s gonads stand up and shout (so to speak)…yes, I’m still recovering from a hot shot on p. 139 where she takes Totti in hand, and looks right into the camera as her lovely and l-l-large breasts hang down…

But while I still have some brain cells left, let’s get back to my column! This month, I take you on a journey to 1964…twelve months that witnessed events as momentous as the passage of President Johnson’s Civil Rights Act, to the fun-filled New York World’s Fair, to my own humble bar mitzvah, and to the publication of brassiere ads like this one…

These were the kinds of adolescent-altering ads you saw in magazines and newspapers in 1964.

These were the kinds of psyche-altering ads you saw in magazines and newspapers in 1964. Well done, you Mad Men!

We visit 1964 through the pages of two girlie magazines of that year, TAB and VUE, in which we meet alluring actresses of the time like Shirley Anne Field…

Shirley is also on DVD in 1963's Kings of the Sun, a lusty melodrama of the ancient Aztecs with Yul Brynner.

…and read about everybody and everything from Frank Sinatra to top-heavy British pinup June Wilkinson; from how Tokyo striptease shows were being influenced by Western culture, to how celebrities like Anthony Quinn were boldly fathering children outside of marriage and shocking the hell out of folks; plus, there’s a great selection of cool ads for 1964 stuff like elevator shoes, 8mm burlesque movies, and a book entitled “How to Wow a Woman.”

Yes, after you’ve read about 1964 through my column, you might suddenly have a craving for a woman who dresses (or rather, undresses) like this:

The word "gay" certainly meant something different to most folks in '64!

The word "gay" certainly meant something different to most folks in '64!

…or maybe like this!

A "cougar" before the term was invented!

A "cougar" before the term was invented!

The May 2009 issue of GALLERY also has an interesting profile of actress Carla “Watchmen” Gugino, whose career as a performer is analyzed through fascinating details of her unusual childhood experiences; a roundtable discussion with NBA superstar broadcasters like Chris Webber, Ahmad Rashad, and Marv Albert, that takes you insightfully into the day-to-day workings and challenges of the job; and, last but never least, there are lots more nekidd girls!

Editor David J. Evans has done another bang-up job with this issue, so look for your copy on the stands. It’ll be wrapped in plastic not only because it’s XXX-hot, but it’s got a DVD included too.

Meanwhile, I’m climbing back into my girlie-mag time machine for another journey into the past!

—————-

If you want to learn more about my magazine column, and how it intersects with this blog, check out the “Who I Am” page.

The illustrations you see here in this entry are not the illustrations in the GALLERY article, but specially chosen for this post. I found the Montgomery Ward catalog cover here; the Shirley Anne Field portrait here; the Maidenform bra ad here; and that amazing girdle ad here!

Those Vermeer Girls…

I wish I had time to just read about all the fascinating things that capture my imagination. The list is endless…

I started looking for pictures of “bawdy wenches” and then “tavern wenches” for a possible post, and then I found myself at a site called “Good Jesuit/Bad Jesuit” that had this wonderful painting by Vermeer called “Officer and Laughing Girl.”

Sometime tavern-keeper Vermeer only sold one painting in his life.

Sometime tavern-keeper Vermeer only sold one painting in his life.

The post at Good Jesuit/Bad Jesuit talks about the connections to China in the paintings of Vermeer. I won’t attempt to summarize; if you’re interested, check out the link! It’s a well-written discussion of a book called Vermeer’s Hat.

Meanwhile, the observation I want to make is this: it said in the New York Times today that in this stressful era of recession, more and more people are enjoying candy—everything from Tootsie Rolls to Gummi Bears—as a way to make themselves feel better as they try to cope. I would like to say that the fascinating tranquillity of the women in Vermeer’s paintings has a similar soothing effect on your Horny Time Traveler…

So here are a couple more Vermeer girls for the road…

You can hear a pin drop...

You can hear a pin drop...

Yes, it’s time to take another break from 2009!

"Ah, Mr. Time Traveler!" she says. "Why don't you join us?"

"Ah, Mr. Time Traveler!" she says. "Why don't you join us?"


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