Sunday, May 30, 2010

Fantasy Venuses: Frank Frazetta

Cat girl (1984)

Agent Triple P has only just discovered that the fantasy artist Frank Frazetta died about three weeks ago at the age of 82. In most artistic genres there is always healthy debate about who was best at this and who was best at that; rightly, as tastes and key factors relating to appreciation vary from person to person. Agent Triple P would be surprised, however, if the vast majority of people who appreciate fantasy art wouldn't acknowledge Frank Frazetta as the finest fantasy artist of the last fifty years. Many would say finest fantasy artist ever but Agent Triple P thinks there is a strong case for Arthr Rackham there. Nevertheless, despite coming from a comic books background, his loose and impressionistic paintings changed the style of fantasy art forever. He was much imitated but never surpassed. Famous for his outrageously muscled barbarians his women were, in contrast, soft and rounded like overripe fruit.

The Moon's Rapture (1987)

Frazetta was born in Brooklyn, New York and started to draw at the age of two. By the time he was eight he was enrolled in the Brooklyn School of Art and by the age of sixteen was already working professionally on comic books. After years of tight, comic style illustration Frazetta really made an impact with his cover paintings, done in oils, for a re-issue of Robert E Howard's Conan books in the mid sixties. Dark, brooding, impressionistic, brutal and often filled with horrible things they changed the nature of fantasy illustration overnight. Recently, one of these became the first of his paintings to sell for over $1 million.

Saber-tooths (1977)

He also changed the way that book cover artists were treated: insisting on the return of his originals rather than having them sold or thrown away by uncaring publishers and insisting on the acknowledgement of copyrights. The series of books of his work published in 1975 were the first time a popular, commercial genre artist had had a book devoted to his work. This spawned a whole industry devoted to publishing fantasy artists' portfolios that is still going strong today.

Nude (1985)

His paintings got looser and more luminous during the eighties, when he produced some of his finest work on the female form.


He had been in ill health for some time and a series of strokes meant that he had to learn to paint with his left hand instead of his right. Frank Frazetta died on May 10th 2010 in Fort Myers, Florida.

Egyptian Queen

Friday, May 28, 2010

May Venus: Marguerite Empey

Marguerite: reigns supreme

This month we look at the House of Rabbit's May offerings. There are 58 to choose from with only eight in horizontal format (compared with last month's ten). The winner is easy. It is Marguerite Empey from May 1955 who we have featured extensively in an earlier post.

Quite simply, Hal Adam's picture of Marguerite is one of the best ever Playboy centrefolds but we feel we should look at some of the runners up for May. We quickly narrowed it down to eight contenders and from these have selected the following four.

Firstly, we have Diana Lee from May 1988 who is included because she looks sensationally damp; covered in droplets of what you wish were sweat and also because she has to get credit for holding what looks like a very uncomfortable pose on very hard wooden furniture!

Next, from May 1981, we present Gina Goldberg, photgraphed by Arny Freytag. Three things tickle Agent Triple P's fancy here: the long string of pearls, the one stocking and the glimpse of fluff at her rear end. Enticing!

Our third eighties girl is the peerless Susie Scott with her amazing hair. Enough said.

Finally, the picture that would have won if it hadn't been for Marguerite, is from May 1954 and features Joanne Arnold, coincidentally the girl featured in our Marguerite post shown posing for Hal Adams' Hartog shirts advertisement. The zebra skin, of course, is what makes it such a striking image.

Well, it is nearly June already so we had better start reviewing next month's candidates!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Redheaded Venus of the Week 7: Venus by Modigliani

Venus, (1918) by Amedeo Modigliani

This is an unusual nude from Modigliani for several reasons. Firstly, the figure is shown standing, rather than the more usual reclining or sitting nudes of Modigliani's painted nudes period. Rather than being just a nude for the sake of it she is actually named as a "Venus" and is posed in the classical Botticelli way.

More noticeably is her colouring, however. Most of Modigliani's nudes were painted with black or dark brown hair but everything about this one indicates a real redhead. The hair on her head is a rich red and her pubic hair a paler orange colour. As someone who has explored more than few redheads this colour differential is not unusual. Many redheads colour their hair, as red hair tends to lose its colour very early in life; being grey at thirty is not unusual. Henna was a popular dye in the nineteenth century (as it still is: Triple P had a friend who used to source her henna in suspicious looking packages from Casablanca) and this has that characteristic dark tint. Her face has a pink blush on the cheeks which is far more visible than on his other figures. Her nippes are paler than he usually depicted. Above all. her skin is very pale compared with most of Modigliani's other nudes. He tended to render women's bodies in flat, largely unshaded, expanses of fairly dark colour. The different parts of the body were indicated by line rather than tone. The effect is almost like a Roman, terracotta amphora.

Modigliani painted quickly, in rapid bursts of energy, often finishing a painting in a couple of hours. Drink and drugs fuelled his endeavours: his normal companion when he painted (he never let people in to his studio when he was working) being a bottle of brandy. The sculptor Chana Orloff once observed of Modigliani that "To work well he had to have two or three glasses of wine. After the first it didn't work; after the second things were a little better; after the third his hand worked on its own...he threw a way sketches when he was sober. He drew with incredible facility when intoxicated."

This painting was sold at Christies New York, in November 2006, for $15,920,000.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Venus by Request: Priscilla Wright

Priscilla shows us her tiny, tiny waist

CK Dexter-Haven has requested the March 1966 pictorial featuring Playmate Priscilla Wright. Priscilla was just nineteen when photographed by Mario Casilli (1931-2002) who shot 57 Playmates in total; in other words nearly 10% of them!. Much of the text, and indeed the pictorial, concentrated on the fact that she was a keen golfer. Typically, for Playboy in this period, she is dressed in all of her pictures save one plus her centrefold. It is, perhaps, no wonder that Penthouse started to eat into Playboy's market in the sixties.

No, its not a golfing magazine, it really is Playboy

She became a Bunny after her centrefold appearance and was featured in the Bunnies of Hollywood feature in December 1967. Fortunately, we have some photographs of her not playing golf.

From the December 1967 Bunnies of Hollywood feature

Very sixties hair!

At the time she was a very petite 5'2" tall and a very trim 34-19-35. Most notable, of course, are her extreme tan lines, something which Agent DVD appreciates. Agent Triple P is not such a fan of this, however: he prefers his women the same colour all over, not looking like saddleback pigs!

Now that is an houglass figure!

Lovely smile!

Lovely tummy!

Lovely effect of gravity!

We are listening to Cy Coleman as we put this together. Coleman (1929-2004), of course, composed Playboy's Theme which was used for Playboy's TV shows. In 1966, the year of Priscilla's pictorial, he was nominated for a Tony Award for his musical Sweet Charity which is currently enjoying a successful run here in London starring the rather splendid Tamzin Outhwaite; much missed from one of Triple P's favourite TV series Hotel Babylon.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Indian Venus: Sarasvati

Agent Triple P has always liked this exquisite ivory statuette of the Hindu goddess Sarasvati (which is now in Vienna, we believe). It is an amazingly intricate piece of carving and her delicate face is beautifully done. When we were younger we were quite struck by the potential of a young lady with four arms! We have had experience of several Indian girls and can say that if they had had any more hands we would have been quite overwhelmed!

Sarasvati was originally a water deity, goddess of the river of the same name which flowed west from the Himalayas. In ancient times the river and its goddess were celebrated for purifying, fertilising and for flowing clear to the sea. The river today peters out in the desert, however. Later the goddess became more associated with the rituals performed along the river's banks and led to the belief that she influenced the hymns involved and therefore also identified her with Vach, the goddess of speech, who was said to have invented Sanskrit.

Later, and today, she is largely thought of as the consort of Brahma and is the goddess of all the creative arts (especially poetry and music), learning and science.

She is usually depicted as a graceful woman with white skin who rides a swan or a peacock or is seted on a lotus flower.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Centrefold Venus of the Month 12: Marguerite Empey

May 1955 centrefold

Marguerite's balletic May 1955 pose is one of the most striking from Fifties Playboy. It was photographed by Hal Adams, who was famous for his Hartog shirt advertisements which always included a semi-nude girl.

Adams had actually featured in Playboy as early as March 1954 when the magazine ran a pictorial on the shooting of a Hartog advertisement featuring model Joanne Arnold, who would become Playmate of the Month for May 1954.
Adams and Joanne Arnold in 1954. The chap in the middle's expression is most diverting!

Adams shot 10 Playboy centrefolds from 1955 until 1957 and was a well known photographer also doing record covers. Richarrd Avedon used to use his studio when he was in Los Angeles. he died in 2006 at the age of 92.

A young Marguerite

Marguerite Diane Empey was born on July 29 1932 in Los Angeles. Her parents (her father was a writer and her mother a minor starlet) divorced when she was six and she was brought up by her mother. She studied classical ballet under Russian ballerina Maria Befefi and took part in school productions as a dancer and choreographer. It was whilst leaving her ballet class at the age of sixteen that she was approached by a photographer and asked to pose in her ballet outfit. She spent some time in San Francisco where she got a job as a dancer at a supper club called Bimbo's which started in the thirties and closed in 1969. However at only 5'2" tall she was too short to get leading roles. Many of her subsequent photos used a dance them to take advantage of her balletic posing.

She also did her first nude figure drawing modelling for an art class at the University of California at Berkeley. When she returned to Los Angeles she had already had some photographs taken and her career as a model started to take off, although she still had to supplement her income with temporary jobs at one of which she met her future husband, Joe Webber.

Photos from her nudist magazines period

Unlike Agent DVD, Marguerite was not a fan of tan lines and she and Joe started to attend nudist and naturist clubs. She was spotted by the publisher of nudist magzines and her 39-23-37 figure started to feature regularly. The couple were featured in a magazine Naked and Together: The Wonderful Webbers by June Lange in 1967 which documented their nudist life style (not surprisingly, only Marguerite appeared on the cover!).

She had already been shot by Hal Adams and the success of Playboy had many photographers submitting pictures to Chicago. Adam's picture of Empey was chosen for the May 1955 centrefold. This was still, at this time, only a two page centre spread and the name of the Playmate was not yet given.

February 1956 centrefold by Russ Meyer

She became the Playboy centrefold again, the following year, by accident. Photographer, and later film director, Russ Meyer had sold some unsolicited photos of a model named Diane Webber (the name she used after getting married in 1955) to the magazine for the February 1956 slot. Playboy hadn't realised that Margeurite and Diane were the same girl although it was acknowledged in the final pictorial, which also included a few black and white behind the scenes shots. The pictures had to be very carefully shot as she was six months pregnant at the time!

A well covered Marguerite hides her bump in February 1956 Playboy
Playboy obviously forgave her this faux pas and featured her on other occasions subsequently, including as cover girl for their 1958 calendar.

After this she studied acting (even being taught by a pre-Star Trek Leonard Nimoy -she became a big Star Terk fan) and appeared in a number of films and TV shows. She had taken up scuba diving and became proficient enough that she got work as an underwater stunt perfomer. This led to her mermaid phase where she was often photographed or filmed underwater.

One of these watery sessions led to a photo which has caused people to say (on Wikipedia for one) that she was the first girl in Playboy to show her pubic hair. This photo was taken in the mid-fifties and, indeed, appears on the Playboy website in one of Marguerite's pages but it never appeared in the magazine; it would have been far too racy for 1956. It is another case of people being too lazy to check with the actual magazines and, instead relying on the internet. Nevertheless it is a rather enchanting photograph which sums up her "mermaid period".

Her only starring role was in the minor film Mermaids of Tiburon (1962) much of it shot in a sort of cod (sorry!!) documentary style where a treasure hunter is assisted by a beautiful mermaid queen (Empey or Webber as she was credited as).

The film didn't do well and it was later re-edited with extra topless scenes and re-released as Aqua Sex, although Marguerite keept her top on (just). Some footage from this was re-used in the TV show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea where Marguerite was conveniently hired to play a mermaid again in the episode, Mermaid (1967)

Marguerite on the set of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea with a lucky David Hedison

Some of Marguerite's underwater pictures featured on the covers of LP records as well. Agent Triple P actually has the Nelson Riddle one on his iPod. We often listen to its slinky tones when writing these blog entries!

Nelson Riddle Sea of Dreams (1958)

Les Baxter Jewels of the Sea (1961)

She appeared on some other record covers too at this time.

Marty Paich Jazz for Relaxation (1956). Triple P owns this one too!

Seija Hiraoka Quintet Bed Time Music

Xavier Cugat Chile con Cugie (1959)

Marguerite had had to give up ballet due to a knee injury but a trip to a Middle Eastern restaurant brought her into contact with belly dancing for the first time. She found a teacher (not easy at that time) and in 1966 was hired to appear in a show in New Mexicio.

Marguerite with her troupe at the age of forty
In 1969 she founded the the Perfumes of Araby dance troupe using her students from the classes she gave at the Everywoman's Village in Van Nuys and they performed as a group for ten years. She carried on teaching belly dancing into the nineties and taught thousands of women to belly dance sometimes doing as many as forty classes a week.

One country that certainly gave Marguerite the stamp of approval was the Democratic Republic of the Congo (where they, of course, drink Um Bongo) which issued a set of stamps in 2000 featuring film stars. Amazingly they picked Marguerite amongst a line up which included Louise Brooks, Jane Russel, Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe, Martine Carole, Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Fonda and Sophia Loren!

She died in August 2008 at the age of seventy six from complications following surgery for cancer.

So, Marguerite Empey/Diane Webber: double Playmate, top nude model, underwater stuntwoman, actress, choreographer, belly dancer, Star Trek fan-fiction writer, painter, costumier and, latterly law librarian and horsewoman. A very worthy Centrefold Venus of the Month!

Our favourite picture!

Marguerite in the January 1957 Playboy Playmate review pictorial

Playboy also featured her in an article about a series of advertisements run by the Magoffin company typographers in the trade journal Media Agencies Clients. The advertisements featured a series of partly clad young ladies illustrating a particular font. The story said that the advertisement used to illustrate the "railroad gothic" font (of a bound and naked Marguerite Empey on a model railway track) was too rude to be published so the company ran an ad in the magazine saying their picture had been censored but if anyone would like a copy they should write in to claim one. Two hundred people, the article claimed, did so. All nonsense, of course, as the piece ran in the April 1959 edition.