Modelling in a Sleazy Motel

November 14, 2016 at 10:31 pm | Posted in Memoir -- Non-fiction Stories, Modelling Stories | 3 Comments
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At the end of June 1962, I resigned from my secretarial job in West Los Angeles and moved into the Hollywood Studio Club, expecting to work as a model a minimum of ten days a month.  Two months had passed and I’d been hired only once.  My dream of working full-time in the field had failed.

I’d been modelling for photographers part-time since January 1962.  Although a Canadian immigrant, I looked like the archetypal blonde California girl and initially obtained plenty of bookings.  Now, however, photographers were reluctant to hire me because my photos had been sold to many well-known Los Angeles publications.  Magazine editors wanted new faces, new bodies.

A cute girl could survive by combining short-term pinup work with nude photographic sessions.  Not live well, but survive.  Unfortunately, I discovered belatedly, my agent, Bill M., lacked the relevant contacts needed to make such arrangements.  He knew most of the photographers who shot nude layouts in Los Angeles because he processed their colour film.  He didn’t know other “power brokers” who hired pinup models – for example, to work at trade shows as greeters, appear in advertisements for flimsy lingerie, and pose as “sweater girls” in local business newsletters.  In late August 1962, after quarrelling with Bill, I stopped modelling completely.

That was when I walked into the Hollywood office of Capitol Records, applied for a job as a secretary, and was immediately hired for $375 a month – the same wage I’d received two months earlier.  My new life was pleasant.  Accommodation and two meals a day at the Hollywood Studio Club cost $86 a month.  With the Capitol office only seven blocks away, I could leave my car in the Club’s parking lot.  Work was easy in the record company’s laid-back atmosphere and the place offered a glimpse of glamour.  I passed Bobby Darin when entering the building one morning; he was exiting after an all-night session.  My co-worker had her picture taken with Nat King Cole.

I loved living at the Studio Club among friendly, ambitious girls whose goals and personalities were similar to mine.  But my son and my mother had returned to Canada when I decided to follow my modelling dream.  I missed them and, in December 1962, I left Hollywood and drove to Canada.  Had the Canadian economy been better, I might have remained there, living in my mother’s house in Burnaby, a municipality adjacent to Vancouver.  But the only job offer I received paid $200 a month – as a secretary for a used car company.  After Capitol Records?  Not likely.  In early April 1963, with my unemployment insurance nearing expiry, I drove back to Los Angeles.

While living in Canada, I saved money by dying my hair black – it was naturally dark brown and reverting to a brunette shade eliminated the expensive touch ups needed every two weeks to keep it blonde.  When I departed for Los Angeles, I kept my hair black so I could promote myself as a “new” model.  To maximize my earnings, I planned to work as a secretary in temporary positions and model part-time.  My new goal was to earn enough to pay the air fare for a trip to Africa, a dream I had entertained, on-and-off, for more than six years.

I already had a place to live; Studio Club policy was “once accepted, always welcome.”  So I moved back in and immediately started working for an agency that provided temp workers for Hollywood-area businesses.  Finding modelling jobs was not as easy.

***

A couple of weeks after my arrival, another resident at the Club told me about an advertisement for nude models.  I phoned the photographer who had placed the ad.  His name was Bill Crespinel.  I had never heard of him but my knowledge about the business aspects of pinup modelling was superficial, even after having worked in the trade for eight months.  Few pinup models knew exactly how it operated.  We relied on agents to find us jobs.

When I described my background to Crespinel on the phone, he said he thought he could use me and we arranged to meet at a motel.  After introductions, we talked.  He sat behind a table near a kitchenette, his hand brushing a camera on the table; two additional cameras lay near his feet.  Other photography equipment – floodlights and a tripod – stood in a corner behind him.  A double bed was pushed against the wall at one end of the long room, a sofa sat in the middle, and the kitchenette, an alcove containing a small fridge and some cupboards, was opposite the entrance door.  Near the head of the bed, a folding door concealed a closet that bulged slightly; it was filled with clothes.  Past the foot of the bed, a closed door concealed a bathroom.  I suspected that Crespinel lived in that motel room and that it wasn’t just a place for meeting models.

I showed him my set of modelling photographs.  In them, my body was displayed in a variety of poses, although my hair was blonde.  Crespinel could view with his own eyes how my face looked when framed by black hair.

Crespinel had a Playmate application on the table and he asked me to fill it out.

“I can’t be a Playmate,” I said.  “I’ve appeared in several magazines.  They only accept applications from girls who’ve never been published in the nude.”

“I’m looking for a Playmate,” he said.  Had he told me this on the telephone, I wouldn’t have bothered to make an appointment.  I turned to leave but then he asked, “You’ve never modelled as a brunette before?”

“Not ever,” I replied.

“So maybe Playboy will accept you.”

“I don’t think so.  They keep their eyes open for those things.  They’d recognize me. Even with a change in hair colour.”

As I started again to leave, he said, “Wait.  I’ll hire you.”

When making the appointment, I had expected it to be an opportunity to look me over and, if found suitable, to set up a future modelling session.  Consequently, I hadn’t brought my bag of accessory garments.  Crespinel had a few props – a white baby-doll peignoir, a pair of white bikini panties, and a string band that circled my hips and was attached to a tattered, red-and-white, heart-shaped cloth that covered my pubic area.  When I saw the last item, the heart-shaped cloth, I thought how tacky, but obediently put it on.  I posed in all his props as well as in my own black bikini underpants and the white and green dress I wore to the meeting.  Sometimes I was completely nude.  We spent several hours in that narrow room and I used all the modelling tricks I knew.

Heavily-curtained windows blocked out the sunlight.  When taking indoor pictures, photographers generally relied on natural lighting supplemented by carefully placed artificial illumination.  Crespinel had no natural source of light; he used flood lights but didn’t have a diffuser to soften their glare.

When we finished, we once more sat opposite each other at the table and Crespinel pushed a model release waiver towards me.

“I get $50 for a modelling session,” I said.  “First I get paid, then I sign.”

“I don’t know whether I’ll be able to sell these,” he said.  “I’ll pay you when I sell them.”

I thought he might be right, that he might not be able to sell these photos given the room’s dowdy, tasteless furnishings and my general impression that he wasn’t a good photographer.  But I wasn’t going to sign a model release without being paid.  So I crossed out a portion of the form and added, in my own handwriting:  “These photos cannot be published until I receive a $50 payment from the photographer, Bill Crespinel.”  Then I signed below.

For the next three weeks, I got office work through the temp agency but no modelling jobs.  Then, I reconnected with my former agent, Bill M.  He found me work with Mario Casilli, Michael LeRoy, Keith Bernard, and Elmer Batters.  With these modelling sessions and work from temporary office jobs, I was meeting my financial goals, earning around $450 a month – and saving a good portion of it.

After two months with no word from Crespinel, I had almost forgotten about that seedy modelling session until I received an angry telephone call from Michael LeRoy.

“You told me you had never worked as a model with black hair before you worked with me,” LeRoy said.

“I didn’t,” I replied.

“I just received a letter from Jaguar.  They said they had recently purchased some photos of you and were sorry now because they liked my photos better.”

I thought about this and then told him the story of my session with Bill Crespinel.  I’d never mentioned that one because I thought Crespinel had been unable to sell the photos he took of me.

“He can’t sell those photos,” I said.  “He never paid my $50 modelling fee and so doesn’t have a valid model release.”

Now calmed, LeRoy realized that I had been cheated.  At my request, he provided information about the person I needed to contact at Jaguar magazine.  Later that evening, I wrote a letter to Jaguar.  I explained that Crespinel had not paid my modelling fee and therefore didn’t have a valid release to publish those photos and that, consequently, the magazine could not print them.

Within a week, I received a letter from Jaguar saying that the photos had only recently been purchased and that I would no doubt hear from the photographer in a few days.  I waited ten days, then again wrote Jaguar, stating that:  Bill Crespinel has not contacted me and I do not know how to contact him.  You cannot publish those photos because neither he nor you have paid me the $50 I am owed.

Two weeks later, I received a $50 cheque from Jaguar.  No letter.  No form to sign.  Just the cheque.

Shortly after that, Michael LeRoy phoned me again, this time in a joyful mood.  “I sold your photos to Monsieur,” he said.  “You are going to be a Monsieur girl-of-the-month.”

I told LeRoy about my correspondence with Jaguar and their subsequent payment.

“Good,” LeRoy said.  “Now he’ll have trouble selling any photos.  Word about his dirty tricks will get around and he’ll be blacklisted by magazine publishers.”

Crespinel never contacted me.  I assumed his photos would appear in Jaguar given that I’d cashed the $50 cheque.  How fortuitous, I thought, that both Crespinel and LeRoy had submitted my photos to the same New York magazine.

***

I drove back to Vancouver in October 1963 and flew to Africa in November. Consequently I never saw published layouts of me as a brunette when they first appeared on the newsstand.  In fact, I didn’t see any until 2007 when I started collecting vintage magazines containing my photos.  Jaguar and Monsieur were easily obtained on the Internet and so I purchased them soon after initiating my search.

Interestingly, the Jaguar pictorial by Crespinel was not published until November 1965, about 21 months after the Monsieur set by LeRoy.  Typically, a five- to seven-month gap occurred between the purchase of photographs by a magazine and their publication.  I don’t know what occurred at Jaguar to produce a 29-month gap between the sale and the publication of the Crespinel photos.  I can only guess.  Probably Jaguar had to obtain the photographer’s model release and then have its lawyers examine all documents before the managing editor approved publication.  Jaguar was a prestige New York magazine and would not want to be sued.

The story should end here – but there is a postscript.  As photos were posted to my folder at My Archives, members of that website discovered four additional vintage magazines containing Crespinel’s photos.  These were in low-distribution, short-lived periodicals.  One or two issues of these magazines would appear on the newsstand and then the company distributing them would dissolve.  The lowest tier of the men’s magazine market operated like contractors who construct a few shoddy buildings and then go bankrupt, reforming with the same main players under a new name.  These bottom-feeder publishers didn’t care if photographers had a valid model release because by the time the model discovered her pictures, if she ever did, the company that had printed them had gone out of business.  The photos in these magazines consisted of unknown girls plus rejected shots from sessions with better-known models.

Later, I found pictures in another magazine distributed by the same company that published Jaguar.  Prestigious publications often purchased more shots than they needed for a layout and then printed the leftovers in a less prestigious periodical at a later date.

So most of Crespinel’s photos were published, two relatively good sets and four layouts containing many terrible shots.  In the poorer layouts, harsh lighting sometimes made my face almost unrecognizable.  In one bad photo, the angle of my body plus shadows from the floodlights made me appear to have three legs.  Another, a colour photo that might have been attractive, was printed even though it was blurry – Crespinel had moved the camera when he clicked.  Plus I was featured in two magazine centerfolds wearing that tacky, red-and-white heart over my pubic area; in both pictures, I was wide-eyed, looking completely bewildered.

Centerfold in Frenchy, v1, n3.

Centerfold in Frenchy, v1, n3.


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