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and The Art of the Pin-up

The Age of Photography

pin-up n.
  1. a. A picture, especially of a sexually attractive person, that is displayed on a wall.
    b. A person considered a suitable model for such a picture.
  2. Something intended to be affixed to a wall.
cheese-cake n.
  1. A cake made of sweetened cottage cheese or cream cheese, eggs, milk, sugar, and flavorings.
  2. Informal. Photographs of minimally attired women.
Betty Grable Photographic cheesecake had existed since the very beginning, but it wasn't until the 40's and 50's that it came into its own. When the US sent it's boys overseas, they took with them pin-ups as reminders of what it was back home they were fighting for. Cheesecake was painted on the noses of airplanes and photos and magazines decorated lockers and bulkhead walls. The women in the pictures were both nameless "girls next door" and movie stars.

Two of the most famous pin-up pictures ever are photos of movie stars, Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. The picture of Grable to the left was the most popular pin-up of the war and established her as the GI's #1 favorite Pin Up girl. Soon Lloyd's of London insured her legs for a million dollars, a move that strangely echoed the title of her 1939 film, "The Million Dollar Legs".

In 1949, photographer Tom Kelley paid the then unknown model, Norma Jeane Baker $50 to pose nude on a red velvet background. A couple of years later he sold one of the pictures from that shooting to a calendar company, and the next year he sold them a second. In 1953, Hugh Hefner bought the rights to publish one of the calendar shots, "Golden Dreams" and used it as the centerpiece of the first issue of his new men's magazine, Playboy.

The New Wrinkle -- Calendar shot Golden Dreams -- Calendar + Playboy On The Knees -- Recently Published On The Knees -- Recently Published Published in Playboy, January 1997 Published in Playboy, January 1997 Published in Playboy, January 1997

"A New Wrinkle", "Golden Dreams", and other shots from the Kelley session.
A New Wrinkle, Golden Dreams and other Kelley Marilyn Monroe shots.
I don't believe that it is exaggerating to say that Kelley's photographs of Marilyn, especially Golden Dreams, are among the most influential pictures of the twentieth century. To this day, they stand out as not only some of the most beautiful pin-up pictures ever taken, but the most beautiful photographs ever taken. Marilyn as we came to know her from the movies was an undeniable star, but these pictures, taken before she was famous, before Hollywood made her over in its own image, capture not only her beauty and charisma, but her innocence and vitality.

Photographs of naked women in magazines before Playboy, and in fact in most magazines since, have a tawdriness to them, which if it is not pornography outright, is still cheap and disreputable. Hefner tried to capture the classiness of Esquire's Petty and Varga Girls, and Kelley's picture of Marilyn as the Sweetheart of the Month managed to set the standard for that tone. In doing so, it brought Playboy a sense of respectability and Playboy, in turn became one of the liberalizing elements of what became the sexual revolution.

Playboy started 1955 off with a Playmate in some ways very different and in others very similar to Marilyn: Bettie Page. Bettie, like Marilyn was a small town girl with an eager innocence that seemed untouched by the nudity and sexuality of the pictures she appeared in, but where Marilyn ended up at the top of the Hollywood glamour heap, Bettie posed in more down-scale arenas: photo clubs, nudie magazines, and cheap black and white prints, often with B&D/SM themes.

Bettie is said to be the most photographed pin-up model of the 50's. Given the thousands of pictures of her sold at Irving Klaw's Movie Star News, the many men's magazines she appeared in, and all the photo club sessions she modeled for, the "Queen of the Pin-up" title seems quite plausible. In that vast majority of these pictures, neither the skill of the photographer nor the quality of the picture is what stands out. It's pure Bettie: her smile, her energy, and her wholesome good looks. In 1954 she met up and coming glamour (and glamourous) photographer Bunny Yeager in Miami. They collaborated on a number of photos, easily Bettie's best, one of which Playboy bought for $100.

We, like most of our readers, like pretty girls. And if they are as pretty as today's Birthday Suit girl, 20-year-old Stephanie Rahn, who cares whether they are dressed or not?"
Perhaps the best known British cheesecake series are the "Penthouse Pet" and the "Page 3 Girl", published on the third page of two prominent English tabloids, the Sun and the Star. The origins of the two series are intertwined, but since then they have evolved on very different paths. The Sun was bought out by Rupert Murdock and relaunched at about the same time that the first issue of Penthouse magazine was published in late 1969, and so page 3 of the premiere edition of The Sun featured a non-nude glamour shot of Ulla Lindstrom, the Pet of the Month who would appear in Penthouse's third issue, cover dated November.

For the next year glamour shots appeared regularly on page 3. On November 17, 1970, the first anniversary edition of The Sun came out, and to celebrate that event, the Page 3 Girl went topless. The model was Stephanie Rahn, seen here with what I believe was the original caption. The Sun's competition, the Daily Star followed suit, and British tabloids have featured topless pin-ups ever since.

Today, some 3 decades later, The Sun has a circulation of about 3 million, and the Page 3 Girl is still going strong, both in the papers and on the Web. The Sun operates www.Page3.com and the Daily Star has their own site at www.megastar.co.uk. Additionally there are Page 3 fan sites such as "Classic Page-3 Girls".

The evolution of Penthouse and the Page 3 Girls illustrates the difference, I think, between cheesecake and porn. Back in 1969 and 70, Penthouse, like Playboy, featured pictorials that were basically about pretty girls, au naturel, which fulfills the definition of cheesecake that I started these pages with: "pictures of sexually attractive women, provocatively clad". This is pretty much what Playboy and Page 3 features today.

Liv Lindeland,
Miss January 1971
Colleen Shannon,
Miss January 2004

A couple of weeks after the Page 3 girl took off her top, the Playboy Playmate responded by taking off her pants when Liv Lindeland, Miss January, 1971, was the first Playmate to expose her pubic hair. The pose was actually quite similar to Miss Rahn's Page 3, and while it caused some controversy in its day, it doesn't stand out as being any more explicit than the months before.

Playboy has continued to become a little more risque in the intervening 30 years — as pubic shaving has become more the norm there's a little more flesh shown in the nether regions, for instance — but by and large the content of Playboy really hasn't changed much since then. Witness 33 years of change to the right.

Page 3 has changed even less. The pictures are now in color and a bit more polished, but otherwise are much as they were in 1970.


Penthouse, on the other hand, decided the only way that they could compete with Playboy and expand their market to the US was to be more daring and risque. At first, this started out by showing a little more — pubic hair and a hint of what lay beyond. Similarly, the posing became a bit less innocent and coy.


Playboy responded at first by following suit, but were hesitant to alter their magazine too much, so instead they decided to compete on multiple fronts. In October 1972, Playboy came out with a US version of the French L'ui, which they called Oui.

Soon, though, Penthouse escalated from showing more body parts to close-ups of body parts, and the poses went from sexy to explicitly sexual. Playboy gave up the war of escalation at that point. After a few years, they let go of Oui.

The independent Oui has changed style from continental sophistication to a more modern edgieness, Penthouse emphasizes sex more than beauty, and while Playboy has updated its style with the times, the general esthetic remains the same. The pictures continue to be of the pretty girl and not just her body parts or her actions. Virtually all of their pictures still feature her eyes and smile.

In the next installment, we return to Playboy, but this time not the photographers, but the painters.


The text of this page, and the page as a whole is © Copyright 1996-2004 Jim Burrows.
All Rights Reserved.

The pictures used to illustrate the styles and artists reviewed here are all copyrighted by their respective creators (or their estates) or publishers and are used without explicit permission. I've done what I can to keep that use within the definitions of fair use.