Wigged Up

April 24, 2012 at 4:45 am | Posted in Memoir -- Non-fiction Stories, Modelling Stories | 10 Comments
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My agent phones right after breakfast.

“Mario Cassilli wants to use you,” he says.  “I told him you’d be there at 10:30.”

Great, I think.  Maybe I’ll appear in Playboy.

A quick brush of my teeth, light touch of lipstick, thin stroke of eyeliner, and I’m off.  Cassilli’s studio is a ten-minute drive through congested Hollywood streets.  A one-story, white building with a rear parking lot, its front façade has no door or windows, no sign indicating the nature of its business.  But the back door – the entrance – displays Playboy’s famous rabbit-head logo.

Cassilli has a pleasant face and a bushy moustache.  When he sees me, his smile disappears.  “I need a blond,” he says.  My agent failed to mention that I had dyed my hair black.

After a pause, Cassilli says, “We’ll rent you a wig.”  He tells me exactly where to drive – a Max Factor boutique specializing in wigs – and gives me a voucher for a one-day rental.

An hour later, I’m sitting on a chair in the back of the store.  The woman takes one look at me and says, “You have a very small head.”  She doesn’t need to measure; she has fitted thousands of models and actors.

She moves to a storeroom and returns ten minutes later.  “Right now, I have only one that will fit you.”  After she adjusts it, I examine myself in several mirrors.  My hair is now light blond, four inches long, with a soft wave.  Exactly right.  It looks natural.   When I brush my hand across the top, it feels coarse.  My own hair has fine strands and flattens easily; the thick strands on this wig will remain bouncy.

“I’ll take it,” I say, giving her the voucher.  She reminds me that the wig must be returned within 24 hours.

By 12:30, I’m back in Cassilli’s studio.  He likes the wig.

In a small, black leather case, I carry my modelling accessories:  black bikini panties, white bikini panties, a front-opening black bra, black garter belt, white garter belt, extra pair of nylons, and gold, open-toed, high heels.  A makeup kit contains bright pink lipstick, bright red lipstick, pale coral lipstick, eyeliner, black eyebrow pencil, brown eyebrow pencil, and mascara.

For makeup, Cassilli wants me to use coral lipstick, brown eyebrow pencil, eyeliner, and mascara.  For clothes, he requires only my black bikini panties and gold shoes.  He provides the other props – a gunfighter belt and quick-draw holster, plus gun.  I tie the holster’s drop-loop around my leg and point the gun at the camera.  It reminds me of playing cowboys and Indians as a child.

After Cassilli takes several photos, I remove the gunfighter outfit and he arranges his lights and camera tripod for a close-up.  He instructs me to hold my right arm across my upper chest and my left arm at a 90-degree angle.  He spends time getting me to hold my arms and hands exactly right.

I’m worried.  Cassilli viewed my body a year ago.  Since then, I’ve lost five pounds.  My legs are slimmer, my bum less prominent, but my breasts have lost some fullness, and consequently have a more pronounced droop.  I know how to hold my body to hide this defect but the pose Cassilli wants, with arms pushed forward, emphasizes my less-than-perfect bosom.  As Cassilli tells me to move my arm “a bit lower” or “a bit to the right,” I feel uneasy, even though I’m smiling.

We finish by four and Cassilli hands me a $50 cheque.  I’m too shy to ask where or when these photos will appear, but see that the cheque has been issued by Playboy.

I have time to return the wig but instead drive home to the Hollywood Studio Club.  At dinner that evening, everyone admires the wig.  Next morning, I buy it.  The store applies the rental fee towards the purchase price, although the $150 is still high on my budget.


For the next year, I search through each month’s Playboy but I don’t see the photos.  Rejected, I think, because of my flabby boobs.

A year ago, I finally saw these pictures.  They were published in the September 1964 Topper.  Cassilli must have sold rejects to Topper.  I almost didn’t recognize myself in the wig.  Although it looked like real hair and not a wig, it was fuller than my natural hair, and this fullness altered my head shape.  In the gunfighter scene, I appear between the legs of another gunfighter – a parody of Gunsmoke.  In the close-up scene, boxes of beer were drawn between my arms.  Cassilli had placed my right arm across the top of my chest, which hid the fact that my breasts drooped.  But although my mouth formed a toothy smile, my eyes looked sad.  I forgot that  emotions felt by a model show on the photo being taken.  The photographer didn’t screw up; the model did.




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  1. It’s interesting, picturing what’s going on in these pieces of your life. Thank you.

  2. Shannon–

    I liked the fast-paced opening. Another captivating story of a young model’s experience, with last minute preparation, wig-chasing, anxiety and all.

    But I continue to wonder if you aren’t a bit too self-critical. Isn’t the photographer in a shoot like this the producer, and thus responsible for the model’s look: emotions, outfit, make-up and all? All models and actors perform with various levels of emotional comfort; isn’t it the norm for the photographer/producer/director to recognize and guide the model? Unless, of course, the shoot is a very low-budget one, a la men’s magazines of the time. But the Playboy involvement suggests the shoot might be more than a quickie. And the photographer savvy in these matters.

    Although, I’m among the fans of Shannon who’s returned to tell us of the life of a nude model 50 years ago when I was 9, the term “rejects” also seems overly critical. Photos not purchased by the agent who commissioned the shoot (Playboy) aren’t necessarily rejects, are they? Even if some low-rent illustrations have been added for apparently humorous effect. Photos are not used come editorial decision time for many reasons besides quality.

    And isn’t modeling less about perfection than the illusion of perfection? A perusal of Playboy shoots during it’s first 15 years attests to many imperfections that hardly got in the way of its success. While a model sees her drooping breasts, a sailor on a Navy ship off Guam saw heaven in man’s favorite objects of worship and searched for a pencil and paper to write for an autographed photo in hopes of striking up a correspondence and romance!

    Shannon, I suspect the model in you hasn’t retired. You write as if you are still trying to get it right, a trait I admire! I await more “memories.”


  3. Great story Shannon 🙂

  4. I agree; it’s a great story and very well-written. And, Dave, “reject” is a term of art within the trade. It means a photo which is not used by the owner for publication. At the time at least 90% of photos from a shoot would be rejected. If you follow the soft-core glamour trade, you may notice that from time to time a scad of photos of a long-retired model will show up. Sometimes photographers saved them, sometimes editors.

  5. Have just read it – a nice commentary on an initially unknown experience. presumably your group would not have had the ‘benefit’ of seeing the photos, but the ‘beer advert’ one does prove the saying a picture paints a thousand words – even though I prefer you as a blonde that one does nothing for you except to show how uncomfortable you you must have felt. However, that is not just down to the model but the photographer as well not being sensitive to the models feelings.

    T T

  6. Thanks for the clarification, Charlie, regarding “rejects.” “Reject” and Shannon don’t connect for me. Now I can sleep at night!

  7. Thanks everyone for your kind comments. To be fair to Mario Cassilli, he was one of the easiest photographers to work with — no fuss, no hurry, completely relaxed. And he couldn’t be aware of what was going on in my head at the time; I didn’t tell him, and my lips formed a big smile. He had never worked with me before, and didn’t know that I usually smiled also with my eyes.

    Also, I don’t think the wig photographed as well as it looked. In person, it looked great, but its strands were much thicker than my normal hair and I think that this “came through” in the two-dimensional picture much stronger than in the three-dimensional world.

    Plus, as Charlie said, Playboy might have rejected it because after they commissioned the series, they decided that they didn’t like the concept. Not only were my two photos in the Topper layout, but also pictures of two other models that obviously were part of the same series. So I probably was too sensitive about being “rejected.” However, I wrote the story in the present tense to convey how I felt at the time, as a 22-year-old very concerned about her body image. Only the last paragraph is written from the point-of-view of a more mature me.

  8. Shannon, Thanks for the follow-up on both this story and ‘Helena.’

  9. […] LeRoy; (4) Mario Casilli (who shot photos of me wearing a blonde wig – the session is described here); and (5) Elmer Batters (the session is described here). While modelling as a brunette I never cut […]

  10. […] LeRoy; (4) Mario Casilli (who shot photos of me wearing a blonde wig – the session is described here); and (5) Elmer Batters (the session is described here). While modelling as a brunette I never cut […]

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