Before she became a legendary Hollywood super star, Marilyn Monroe was trying to find work as a model. She was paid to pose nude for pin-up photographs at a calendar company. Some people knew that they existed, but they could not prove it, or find the original photographs. When she went on to a more serious movie career, she left nude modeling behind and tried to play more glamorous characters. However, her costumes were still very tight and showed off her curves, and she was obviously known for being an international sex icon.
Marilyn Monroe’s most famous scene was from The Seven Year Itch where the wind blows up from the New York subway to her her skirt is a perfect example of what pin-up was supposed to be. It captures an “oops” moment when a modest women just so happens to accidentally get in a situation where someone else gets to see something they normally never get to peek at, while still never revealing too much. The vast majority of Monroe’s roles continued on with this same sort of style- classy and yet sexy at the same time. Even though she tried to keep up this reputation for herself, Hugh Hefner got ahold of her nudes, and published them in the first issue of Playboy.
Even though a lot of the photos of pin-up girls are white, that doesn’t mean that women of color were not getting in on the action, as well. In the 1920’s, some of the most famous African American pin-up models were also burlesque performers, like Josephine Baker and Lottie Graves. These women became symbols of the jazz age in both France and The United States, and they are still idolized for their beauty and grace to this day.
In 1951, the African American magazine Jet began to print photos of women posing in bathing suits as their “Beauty of the Week”. They were not afraid to public articles discussing how difficult it was for women of color to make it in Hollywood. One performer named Sahji Jackson danced in a movie called Jivin’ in Bebop in 1947, but she could not expand her career beyond that, so she moved to South America and had an explosively popular music career. In 1965, Jennifer Jackson became the first black woman to win Miss America, and she also had a music career, but even then, these examples were few and far between.
Eartha Kitt is remembered for her tremendously successful singing and acting career. She acted in several broadway musicals, put out her own albums, and acted in several movies. Even Orson Welles called her “the most exciting woman alive.” Her song “Santa Baby” is still played on the radio to this day, and her iconic gravely voice can be heard as a villain named Yzma in the Disney movie Emperor’s New Groove.
When she was young, Eartha Kitt she got her start pin-up modeling, but she never got into some of the more risque areas of the genre. But even as she got older, she was not afraid to pose in front of the camera. She was not alone. Many famous actresses started out getting pictures taken in the pin-up style to show off their body without revealing too much. She went down in history as being one of the most successful African American actresses of all time.
In 1953, Hugh Hefner founded Playboy Magazine. He had served in World War II, and he knew how much men loved pinup model photos. When they returned home from the war, it was very difficult for men to buy that kind of material, and it was illegal to send through the mail. All magazines geared towards men were about hunting, fishing, and the outdoors. Publishing such a racy magazine was risky, but Hefner knew it would be a success, because there was a huge demand for it.
In the very first issue of Playboy Magazine, Hefner purchased the photo of Marilyn Monroe’s nude pin-up from a calendar company. This was a legendary picture that nearly every man had heard of, but very few had actually seen, so they were dying to get their hands on it. Not surprisingly, the magazine sold like hot cakes, and it has been a huge success ever since. Eventually, many models would consider Playboy to be the highlight of their careers.
Bettie Page was the most photographed model of the 20th Century. She actually didn’t start modeling until she was 27 years old, but people thought she was much younger, and she became “Miss January 1955” in Playboy Magazine. Hugh Hefner said that Bettie Page “…was a remarkable lady, an iconic figure in pop culture who influenced sexuality, taste in fashion, someone who had a tremendous impact on our society,”
When she passed away, her grave even said “Queen of Pin-ups” on her tombstone. Betty Page’s look became iconic, because of her black hair with bangs and bright blue eyes. She inspired several characters throughout pop culture, including Jenny Blake from The Rocketeer. From then on, women in comic books were always drawn in a pin-up style, and even popular female brunette characters who existed before her peak of popularity, like Wonder Woman and Veronica from the Archie Comics may have been influenced by Bettie Page when artists designed future incarnations of their characters, because she redefined beauty in American culture.
3. In The 1960’s and 70’s, Innocent Pin-Ups Were No Longer Popular
By the 1960’s, the United States went through the free love movement, and pin-ups were no longer popular. In pin-up artwork, women were never revealing their undergarments on purpose. It was more about the idea of catching a woman in a private moment that you’re not supposed to see. It was all about teasing or leaving a lot to be a mystery. Magazines like Hustler showed more than Playboy, and pornography became more common, and women looked straight into the camera with bedroom eyes.
The public opinion of sexy photos has changed, too. Now, almost every girl has a selfie where she poses in a sexual way. But back in the 30’s, being a pin-up model was considered to be a shameful thing to do. Now, it is something that is completely expected by famous actresses. Today, it is difficult to find an actress who doesn’t have a sexy photograph. By comparison, the vintage version of pin-up is seen as being far more wholesome than what we see today, which is why a lot of women still enjoy modeling in the pin-up style.
For years, pin-up art was seen as yesterday’s news. It became so tame, that people did not want to use it for pornography any longer, and yet it was too raunchy to be taken seriously as fine art. So it was stuck in a strange limbo where only dedicated fans and collectors were holding on to the original pieces that had been re-printed thousands of times in advertisements, magazines, and calendars.
Since the 2000’s, there has been a new interested in vintage pin-up, and collectors absolutely love to buy the original artwork when they can. On average, an original pin-up painting by a famous artist will go anywhere from $2,000 to $100,000. One piece called “Gay Nymph” by art artist named Gil Elvgren sold at auction for a whopping $286,000 in 2011. Back in the 1930’s, no one would have ever imagined that these borderline pornographic images of women would ever sell for just as much as fine art. Even after the economic recession of 2008, the price of pin-up artwork never dropped.
1. Nostalgia Is Bringing Pin-Up and Burlesque Back
In a world where entertainment is constantly trying to push the envelope of going one step further than the next guy, being edgy is often more profitable than playing it safe. However, it leads to a society where cringe is almost a genre of its own. In horror, we can barely watch what we see in the gruesome scenes. And in romance, now even S&M is acceptable to watch in the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey.
For a few decades, pin-up artwork was seen as being very dated, but by the 2000’s, people began to feel nostalgic for times when the definition of “sexy” was actually very innocent in comparison to what is expected in today’s world. For years, men were the #1 fans of pin-up, and now, women are embracing it more than ever. There are several clubs and organizations as well as conventions that celebrate women’s love of pin-up, and there are opportunities for women who want to model in the vintage style. Even today, women like Dita von Teese are becoming famous as a modern version of a burlesque model and performer.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources: