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).

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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?

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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.)

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