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.

Keith Bernard, the Photographer I Forgot

February 29, 2016 at 10:03 pm | Posted in Memoir -- Non-fiction Stories, Modelling Stories | 1 Comment

Soon after I stopped modelling, I forgot the names of several photographers who hired me. After 45 years, however, I could still recall facts about the sessions – the approximate ages and general appearance of those taking my pictures and, usually, a few short conversations. I remembered shooting styles: some worked slowly, setting up equipment with care, aiming for perfect lighting and composition; others wore several cameras around their necks, clicking quickly, striving for a carefree, spontaneous effect. Certain photographers were more sharply etched in my memory than others, but I remembered at least a few details about each.

Except Keith Bernard. I forgot him completely.

I worked with Bernard when I had black hair. I had started modelling in January 1962 and from then until August of that year, my hair was light blonde. Then, an eight-month break. When I started modelling again, my hair was black. After three months, I lightened it to strawberry blonde and modeled for one more month, finally ending my career in August 1963.

Top-tier magazines usually published their pictorials about eight months after the pictures had been taken. In 1962 and 1963, I purchased a number that contained layouts of me as a blonde and stored these copies along with photos I received from photographers. I left North America before any brunette photographs were published and so didn’t see these layouts until I started collecting vintage magazines in 2006.

In 2008, I discovered a pictorial of me with black hair in a 1964 issue of Ace, a New York publication. Ace called me “Susan Norman” and didn’t identify the photographer. I assumed this was another layout by Michael LeRoy. LeRoy had called me “Suzy” in a 1964 feature that appeared in Monsieur. Like most New York publications, Monsieur didn’t identify its photographers but I knew LeRoy had taken that layout because it included two pictures he had given me. As LeRoy had taken photos in several rooms of a large house, I thought he had used separate rooms for the two different magazines.

The Ace and Monsieur photos differed in style but I ignored this because I was sure I had worked with only five photographers when I had black hair. These were, in order, (1) the guy who didn’t pay me (whose name, I discovered later, was Bill Crespinel); (2) Gaylord Davis (an amateur who took photos for my portfolio – only one nude, the remainder being photos of my face or full-length shots in various dresses); (3) Michael 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 my bangs and so, with each new assignment, they increased in length until, in the set shot by Elmer Batters, they fell over my eyebrows.

As I accumulated more magazines, I came across additional black-haired photos in which I was called “Susan Norman.” Several were shot among trees and, as LeRoy had photographed me outside in a treed lot as well as inside the large house, I continued to believe all were taken by him.

LeRoy contacted me in 2012. During the course of our email communication he stated that he had not taken the Susan Norman photos I attributed to him. Upon close examination of my bangs, I could see that LeRoy took his pictures prior to those published under the Susan Norman name.

A mystery. If LeRoy hadn’t taken those Susan Norman photos, who had?

LeRoy had difficulty finding his negatives of our shooting session. He wrote that initially they had been filed under “Gloria Dawn,” my true modelling name, but Keith Bernard had told him to file then under the name Susan Norman and LeRoy complied, leaving only a note in the Gloria Dawn file. When he hired me, LeRoy explained, he had just completed his apprenticeship under Bernard.

Eureka, I thought when I read this. The forgotten photographer most probably was Keith Bernard. I must have merged my memories of working with LeRoy with those of working for Bernard. Any facts I retained about working with Bernard were stored as part of the LeRoy assignment.

For example, I always had retained a memory of shooting pictures beside a pool. The photographer and I heard voices coming from the other side of a nearby fence, realized the area was too open to take nude photographs, and reluctantly retreated behind some trees. When we heard the voices, we both sighed a sad “ooh.” We had been enjoying the photo opportunities offered in this setting and were downcast when we had to leave it. I never forgot this feeling of disappointment when we had to depart from the pool deck but “remembered” it as being part of the LeRoy session. Only after seeing all of LeRoy’s photos did I realize that it couldn’t have happened then because LeRoy took his photos in a yard that didn’t contain a pool.

When I suggested to LeRoy, during our back-and-forth emails, that Keith Bernard must have been the photographer who shot the Susan Norman photos, LeRoy wrote, “Impossible.” From the length of my bangs, we had established that LeRoy had taken his photos first. “I never got to use a model before Keith,” LeRoy wrote. “I was the apprentice. I got the ones he didn’t want.” LeRoy remembered that my agent had left a four-picture sheet at Bernard’s studio, a sheet that Bernard had handed to LeRoy with the comment, “You might be interested in this one.” So initially Keith Bernard had not been keen about employing me as a model.

Why would Bernard change his mind? Maybe, after seeing LeRoy’s photos, Bernard decided I was a good model and that he could take different, better pictures.

LeRoy never believed that Bernard was the Susan Norman photographer. We stopped corresponding when LeRoy entered a hospital. One year later he died. Soon after that, I found one Susan Norman photo with Keith Bernard identified as the photographer. Then, in 2014, I purchased a 1963 issue of Adam that contained a Susan Norman layout, and again Keith Bernard was identified as the photographer. After examining settings and analyzing the photographic style, it was easy to see that Bernard had taken all the Susan Norman photos.

Other than the pool deck episode, I don’t remember anything about working with Bernard, nor did I experience a sense of recognition after seeing a picture of him. Yet I know I was enjoying my session with him from my feelings of disappointment when we were obliged to leave the pool area. So why did I forget him? Possibly because both Bernard and LeRoy took their photos in similar types of houses with similar treed yards (except that the one Bernard used had a pool). Also, they both worked at the same studio. From examining my hair, I can surmise that the job with Bernard took place about two weeks after the one with LeRoy. It is easy to understand why my memory merged those two sessions into one. As I had more interactions with LeRoy – he hired me first, gave me prints with his name stamped on the back, and phoned me twice in the month following our shoot – the merged memory was stored as an ongoing sequence of events involving LeRoy.

I might have forgotten Keith Bernard but he didn’t forget me. He continued to sell my photos until 1968.

Gloria Dawn by Keith Bernard, published in Ace magazine.

Gloria Dawn by Keith Bernard, published in Ace magazine.

 

Gloria Dawn by Keith Bernard, published in Carnival magazine.

Gloria Dawn by Keith Bernard, published in Carnival magazine.

Floundering in the Forest with Sam Wu

January 2, 2016 at 8:05 pm | Posted in Modelling Stories | 3 Comments
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Some modelling experiences stayed clear in my memory. Others were blurred – a short scene or two retained, nothing more. I remember the early ones well: the sessions with Peter Gowland, described here; my first assignment with Ron Vogel, when we shot the cover for Carnival in his studio, followed by a series of outdoor photos in Malibu.

My memories for these two experiences were constantly refreshed whenever I viewed the B&W prints Gowland and Vogel gave to me or the two magazines – Cavalier and Carnival – that published the pictures taken during these sessions. These 1962 prints and magazines were keepsakes, stored and occasionally revisited.

Scenes that occur at the beginning of a sequence, such as my experiences with Gowland and Vogel, are likely to be retained. Also, those that are retrieved and reviewed, and those that are unique, are seldom forgotten. Another factor associated with the long-term recall of events is emotional arousal. Some people say they best remember happy occasions; I am more likely to retain clear memories of unpleasant experiences.

That is why I have always remembered my session with Sam Wu, even though I didn’t see the photos he took for 45 years.

The session occurred in early August 1962. Until July, I had modelled on Sundays and worked as a secretary during the week. Then I quit my job and moved into the Hollywood Studio Club, hoping to become a full-time model.

Prior to this change, my agent, Bill, had always phoned to arrange a new assignment; I never took the initiative to search for new jobs. A week after moving into the Studio Club, having not heard from him, I phoned to prod him. Two months had passed since my last modelling session.

“I’m settled,” I told him. “I’m available to work on weekdays now, not just on Sundays.”

“I’ll get back to you,” Bill replied.

Four days later, he phoned.

“Go to see Sam Wu tomorrow morning at ten,” he said. “He wants to look you over.” Bill gave me Sam’s address, which was only a few blocks away.

After hanging up, I wondered why I needed to be looked over. When I started modelling – yes. Both Peter Gowland and my agent wanted to take test photos. After that, I never again had to audition for a job.

I’d never heard of Sam Wu. In retrospect, I can see how naïve I was about the business. I didn’t know the important photographers nor anything about the magazine market; I simply relied on Bill to find me jobs.

The next morning, I walked five blocks to Sam Wu’s studio on Sunset Boulevard.  I paid little attention to my hair or makeup, using, as always, only eye liner, eyebrow pencil, and light lipstick. If my wavy blonde hair got tousled by the breeze and my eye liner smeared a bit while strolling under the August sun, it mattered little to me; I was a proven commodity, an experienced figure model.

But I was impressed upon arriving at Sam’s studio. In the windows were pictures of dozens of magazine covers – True Story, True Romance, True Confessions and similar women’s romance magazines. All featured faces of beautiful young women.

After entering and introducing myself, I asked, “Did you take the photos of those covers?”

“Yes,” Sam replied.

I thought but didn’t say, I would love to be a cover girl. Instead I asked, “How much do you pay a magazine cover model?”

“Girls come to me. They walk in off the street and work for free.”

Sam turned away from the cover display and examined my portfolio pictures. He never asked me if I would be interested in posing for a cover, although I wanted him to. I’m not pretty enough, I thought. I’m cute. I’ve got a good figure. And that’s why I get modelling work. But I’m not a cover girl beauty.

After inspecting my photos, Sam looked carefully at me.

“Tomorrow morning,” he said. “I’ll pick you up at nine. Fifty dollars.”

I left, happy that I had a job.

The next morning, the ride alongside Sam was long and tedious. Generally, photographers drove to a spot near their studio. Generally, photographers tried to get me to relax because a relaxed model was a more flexible one. Once at ease, I would talk and talk – and talk. No one who knew me considered me shy, but I was an introvert who needed someone to break the ice. Ron Vogel put me at ease immediately, as did my Studio Club roommate, Adrianne. Nothing more was needed than a few words of encouragement to calm my apprehensions.

Sam Wu offered no such encouragement. He remained silent and, therefore, so did I. Sam drove for over an hour. Finally we entered a hilly area where I saw a sign by the roadside – Angeles National Forest. Immediately I became wary. In 1962, the laws against public nudity were strict and I would be arrested if found nude or semi-nude in a public place. On my first shoot with Ron Vogel, he was taking photos in Malibu on a deserted beach in front of a private residence. Ron wanted some topless photos and so he kept watch on a small group of people in the distance. When it became obvious they were not going to leave, he gave up on the idea of topless beach photos and shot his nudes in the back yard of the private residence.

The Angeles National Forest would offer no private secluded area. I hoped Sam knew where he was going.

He didn’t appear to. Twice he slowed the car, peered down a ravine, then moved on. He was obviously looking for a place he must have scouted earlier but was not exactly certain where to turn off. Finally, we stopped. He parked the car and we walked down a narrow path with our gear. He carried his camera equipment, a blanket, and a bulky coat and pants; I carried a bag containing my usual modelling accessories – black bikini panties, black front-opening bra, open-toed gold shoes, tight blue sweater, low cut blouse, and white shorts.

My modelling apparel was not needed because once we reached our destination, Sam wanted me to completely disrobe. The clothes I was wearing were placed on the blanket, along with the bulky jacket and pants. In bare feet, I tread cautiously on ground that was mostly sand and rocks with a few tufts of grass. Although sunlight filtered through the trees, it was cool in that gorge. A long branch had broken from a tree, stretching over a sandy basin. Maybe during the rainy season a stream ran through there, but now it was dry.

Sam asked me to stand in the sand holding that branch while he took photos from behind a camera secured to a tripod. After shooting a few, he walked up to me, moved a leaf on the branch and lightly brushed my breast at the same time. I shivered. The photographer was not supposed to touch the model. That was the rule. Sam’s movement was so quick – he immediately returned to his camera – that I wasn’t certain whether this was deliberate. Had he meant to touch my breast?

Then we heard voices. Hikers. I quickly dressed in the thick jacket and saggy pants that Sam had carried.

The hikers passed close by but we didn’t see them and they didn’t see us. We must have been close to a hiking trail, although the sandy gorge was not directly on the path.

When their voices could no longer be heard, I again undressed and once more approached the branch. This time, Sam wanted me to put my leg over it. How do you straddle a prickly branch when you are naked? Carefully. I stretched my leg alongside it, not completely mounting the branch, and tried to look sexy while being poked by twigs. Sam took a few more photos.

Then we heard more voices. Another group of hikers. Quickly I put on the jacket and pants. Again we didn’t see the hikers and they didn’t see us, but from the sound of their voices, this group came closer. I didn’t want to remove the pants and jacket. I shivered and said I was cold. It wasn’t really that cold, just a bit cool, but I was frightened of being discovered nude in a public place. Sam took a few photos of me balancing on the branch while wearing the jacket and pants. A few more with the jacket open to show my breasts. Then we heard voices from a third set of hikers. Sam gave up trying to film in the gorge. We gathered our belongings and returned to the car.

Sam drove further down the road, looking for a place to shoot. He stopped when he saw, some distance from the road, a shady tree near a mound of large boulders. After walking to what was a relatively secluded area, he again laid down his blanket, had me disrobe, and started taking photos. He had taken very few, when he walked up to me and moved my arm, softly brushing my breast with the back of his hand. I tensed up. Shortly after he returned to his camera, I said I felt ill under that hot, early afternoon sun. I trembled and shivered and put on Sam’s bulky jacket.

A car drove slowly down the road. We watched, but it didn’t stop. Still, this was the last straw for Sam. We packed up and took the long drive home.

We arrived at Sam’s studio around three in the afternoon. I just wanted to sign a model release and get paid but Sam wanted to take more photos. Normally a session ended around four. So Sam improvised with items he had in his studio and took a few photos of a very sullen, uptight model. I didn’t smile, didn’t stand on my tip-toes, didn’t attempt to look sexy. Finally, Sam finished and wrote my cheque. I left the building without glancing back.

I never mentioned the episode to my agent because I was uncertain whether Sam had meant to touch my breasts. If he had groped them, I would have been indignantly angry. But he moved so quickly, touched so lightly, that I couldn’t be sure.

A week later, my agent drove me and two other girls to Palm Springs to take part in a bikini contest. That evening in our motel room before the contest, the three of us bonded, telling each other stories. One girl, Paula Angelos, had modelled for many of the same photographers that I had, including Sam Wu. When I mentioned that he had touched me, she said that he had touched her also, but she thought that was because he was Oriental and Orientals liked to feel things. Paula was sweet but naïve.

He touched her and he touched me, I thought. He’s a pervert. I was glad I had disrupted his planned modelling session.

I didn’t see any of Sam’s pictures until 2007, when I found a centerfold layout in a 1963 issue of Nugget. Three-quarters of the double page displayed a colour photo of me with my leg stretched alongside the branch. The photo was nicely composed and I was standing on my toes so I was still trying at that point, but my expression wasn’t sexy and my hair was disheveled. In the top corner of the double page layout was a small colour picture – me standing behind the branch looking perplexed. The rest of the layout contained B&W photos of me wearing the bulky jacket and pants, one where I was fully clothed while straddling the branch, two others where I was posed behind the branch with my breasts slightly exposed.

A while later, I discovered a full-page B&W photo published in Figure Annual, and again I’m leaning on the branch. My poise and relatively neat hair suggest that this was one of the first shots Sam took – an attractive picture that is a harbinger of what might have been had he not upset me.

Since then, I’ve seen a small colour photo of me with the branch published in Gent and a colour photo taken in Sam’s studio that was part of an erotic playing card collection. One fan sent me a B&W photo that appeared in a photography book Sam published; I’m sitting on a blanket, shaded by a tree, eyes glaring.

Sam must have made enough money to cover his expenses for that day but he probably didn’t make a profit.

Wu_Figure_Annual

Gloria Dawn by Sam Wu, published in Figure Annual.

p36_r1_f_r_j

Gloria Dawn by Sam Wu, published in Nugget.

Sam Wu - in darkness_r_f_j

Gloria Dawn by Sam Wu, published in Sam Wu’s photography book.

Nude in Black and Blonde

March 13, 2013 at 6:24 pm | Posted in Memoir -- Non-fiction Stories, Modelling Stories | 14 Comments
Tags: , , ,

It’s 1963 in Los Angeles and I’m twenty-two and restless, bored by office work and trying to revive my career as a figure model. Pictures of me as a blonde have appeared in a dozen men’s magazines, so my hair is now black. Change the hair colour, change the name and readers will think it’s a new girl. That’s what people in the business believe.

My agent books me with new photographers and between sessions I work at one- and two-day office positions for a temp agency. When not on a job, I share stories with other girls living at the Hollywood Studio Club. We’re all young and employed – or trying to find employment – in the entertainment industry. A few of my friends seek stardom, but most, like me, are just looking for a bit of glamour, some excitement. Figure modelling is not a long-term career. My future, I believe, lies in finding the right man, but since my “great romance” disintegrated eight months earlier, no special man has turned up.

Black hair may be hindering my quest for a new relationship. In my case, it appears true that “blondes have more fun.” But as a brunette, I’m getting more bookings.

In mid-June, Bill, my agent, phones to arrange a modelling session with Elmer Batters. I met Batters once, in Bill’s office, and vaguely remember seeing the two men hunched over my photographs. A matched pair, I thought, two middle-aged jowly men, with forgettable faces, thick waists and thinning hair.

The next morning, Batters parks in front of the Studio Club and I slip into the passenger seat clasping the leather hatbox that stores my modelling accessories: black bikini panties; black garter belt; black bra; sheer pink baby-doll peignoir; tight blue slacks; blue sweater with buttons opening down the front; open-toed gold shoes with two-inch heels; and a makeup kit containing eyeliner, mascara, eyebrow pencils, and several shades of lipstick.

I’m wearing white bikini panties, a white garter belt and an armour-like white bra designed to support large breasts. Its clasps are unfastened; when they are hooked, the bra’s straps pull tight, leaving deep red grooves in my shoulders. So I’m wearing a dress over a loosely swinging bra. My long-sleeved, flowing shirtwaist dress is white with a green leaf pattern; it’s office apparel, not a modelling accessory.

Elmer Batters drives east towards the San Fernando Valley and then beyond into the desert. He says little. Most photographers attempt to put me at ease by conversing prior to a shoot.

We ride for an hour until we reach a desolate road, finally stopping at a derelict movie set. Not much remains except scruffy wooden planks and crumbling plaster buildings. Beside this deteriorating structure is a railway track leading nowhere. A gurgling stream runs nearby; no other sound permeates the silence.

From the back seat of his car, Batters pulls out black nylon stockings with seams that he asks me to exchange for my pale seamless ones. He also hands me a pair of black stiletto shoes. But he doesn’t want me to remove my dress, just my bra. He shoots pictures of me in the dress, top buttons open, with my breasts revealed but still supported, making them appear full and firm. I pose on a concrete ledge dangling my legs over the creek, leaning against the front of his car, sitting on a faded wooden sidewalk and standing in front of a tattered screen. Finally, he asks me to remove the dress. Now I’m wearing only white panties, white garter belt, black nylons and black stilettos. With no support, my breasts droop.

Behind the buildings is a rusty dump truck, its front wheels propped on blocks. I’m beside the truck. Click. My foot rests on the high step below the cab. Snap. After Batters covers the tattered seat with a towel, I sit sideways. Clack. I’m inside the cab, curled in the grungy passenger seat, my feet resting on the dashboard. Whirr. Was it only a week ago that I was lounging seductively on a red brocade sofa?

I rely on photographers to tell me how to pose my body; I control the tilt of my head and facial expressions. But sometimes Batters shoots photos before I’m ready – so there’s no seductive smile, no sparkle in my eyes. And he doesn’t seem to care about my sagging breasts.

After I climb down from the cab, he leads me to the railway track where I totter on one rail wearing the stilettos. No longer worried about my looks, I concentrate on keeping upright. My feet are sore. I’m wobbling. The shoes must go! Returning to the car, I remove the hated footwear and change into my low-heeled pumps. Batters sighs. Then he guides me to a cluttered room with a low ceiling and slight mouldy odour. I straddle a rusty bathtub in my stocking feet, balancing on tip-toe. A dirty mattress covers much of the floor. Batters rolls up his towel to make a pillow and I lie on this mattress, but my body is stiff and I don’t smile or look towards the camera.

Batters snaps his photos quickly. Then we leave that stuffy cellar and head for the car. While he stores his cameras and tripod in the back seat, I fold my dress, carefully pack it in my case and then slip on my pants and sweater. Despite being parked in the shade, the auto is hot. Batters opens all four doors. When shooting in the crisp desert air, a gentle breeze cooled my semi-naked body. Now sweat runs down my forehead. Batters rummages through his back seat, finds two Coke bottles and flips off the caps. Although the pop is warm, I sip mine gratefully.

I start a conversation and Batters responds. We talk about the weather and then I introduce the topic of models and their looks. My ideal is the Playboy image – the glamorous, full-bosomed beauty.

Batters presses his lips tight. He says, “Men don’t want to look at fake women.”

“They aren’t fake,” I respond. “Men like to look at pretty girls.”

“No, they don’t. They want to look at the type of girls they see every day. Ordinary girls … naked. Girls they know they can get.”

He twists to the back seat, gropes around, and pulls out a magazine. Flipping it open, he shows me a page. “Look,” he says, “She is my most popular model because she doesn’t look special. She looks like someone a man can date.”

I glance through his photos. The model is average-looking, but she does things with her mouth that remind me of oral sex. When I point this out to Batters, he doesn’t respond, but instead tosses the magazine into the back seat and starts the car.

We stop at a bungalow in the San Fernando Valley. Most of my modelling stints occur in houses – places belonging to friends of the photographer – but previously these have been upscale homes, tastefully decorated. This is a shabby one-bedroom cottage with cracks at the bottom of the door. Its furniture appears to have come from a thrift shop: pink sheers covering the front-room windows, a matted sheepskin rug in front of an old tan sofa; a starburst clock above the fireplace mantel; a lime-green lamp; and, in the bedroom, purple curtains matching a purple bedspread.

I smell no whisper of perfume, no whiff of food. The place feels unoccupied – another forlorn setting, different from the desert but emitting the same sense of loneliness.

Before shooting begins, I hurry into the bathroom, splash water on my face, dab it dry, reapply my lipstick and touch up my eyebrows. I attempt to fluff my hair but my bangs stick to my forehead. In the desert, my hair had a soft wave; it flattened in that hot car. No hope for the bangs; backcombing gives the top some lift. Batters may not want me to look pretty – but I do.

I emerge from the bathroom wearing black underwear and embodying a new resolve. When he seems about to shoot, I lower my eyelids and don’t raise them until I’m ready. Dipping my chin, forming a half-smile, I look into the camera lens; this is my technique for simulating sexual desire in my photos. I hold my chest high and my shoulders back, raise my arms whenever possible, and thus make my breasts curve upward and appear fuller. Batters takes photos of me sprawling on the bed, stretching over the sofa, and sitting, cross-legged, in front of the fireplace. In only a few shots am I totally nude; in most, I’m wearing black panties, garter belt and nylons – and sometimes my open-toed gold shoes.

A lot of the time, Batters’ head is bowed while he views me through cameras. When he looks up, he doesn’t meet my eyes. Is he shy? He seldom speaks, simply waves an arm to direct my movements.

Finally we finish and he drives me back to the Studio Club; I have just enough time to clean up before walking downstairs to join friends for dinner.

That night in bed, I cannot stop thinking about Batters’ comment. He takes pictures of “ordinary girls.” In person, I do look ordinary as a brunette. In photographs, it’s different. The contrast between dark hair and my pale complexion can appear dramatic. That’s why some photographers place me in lavish settings: kneeling by an electric blue wall, reclining on a red brocade sofa, or huddling among lush green foliage. But I have large eyes, a stubby upturned nose and rosebud lips – childlike features, not dramatic ones. In person, with dark hair, I do not look striking. Men never fawned over me before I became a blonde.

Photographs be damned. I hate vivid colours. With fair hair, pale makeup and subdued clothes, I feel at ease; men notice me. I want to be blonde again.

The next day, I purchase hair supplies. To save money, I’ll do it myself. I’ve watched hairdressers bleach my hair for five years. How difficult can it be?

***

I have orange hair. Bright. Orange. Hair.

Around my scalp is a one-inch halo of pale yellow hair. The rest, the part previously dyed black, is now orange. I mix another package of bleach, cover the orange for an hour, then wash it out. My hair is a slightly lighter, even brighter, orange.

I wear a wig to dinner and consult with girls at several tables.

“You should go to Clairol,” one suggests. “They’ll know what to do.”

Unknown to me – and most other people – Clairol maintains a private salon in Hollywood where new products are tested. The girls chosen as models receive free hair services.
The next day, at Clairol’s beauty parlour, a colour expert examines my hair. She says, “You should have used a colour stripping process before you tried to bleach dyed hair.”

I’ve never heard of their colour stripping product. It isn’t sold in regular stores with their bleaches and toners. If I’d gone to a hairdresser…

The colour expert applies the stripping solution, waits an hour and washes it out. My hair is a slightly dimmer orange. “There’s no way to get the dye out now,” the expert says. “We’ll have to use a toner to mask it.”

Miraculously, she finds one, a dark blonde toner that turns my hair golden. A stylist trims the frizzled ends and I leave the salon with an appointment in two weeks. I will be their training model for “what to do when disaster strikes.”

I visit my agent to show him my new look. He takes four head shots, examines the prints and says they appear fine. He doesn’t have another photo session lined up but says, “There’s a big job coming soon. A soft core movie. It’s going to be another Immoral Mr. Teas.”

I know that Mr. Teas was a surprise hit featuring bare breasts and humour. However, Bill’s contacts in the entertainment industry are limited to photographers; he processes their colour film. A year earlier he couldn’t arrange trade show employment for me. Now he thinks he can get me a movie part?

I visit the temp office and they have a two-day job with a talent agency, one that evolves into a two-week position. My first day there, Martin, an entertainment lawyer, drops by, notices me and asks me out. Maybe I don’t have model bookings but I’m having fun, as Martin escorts me to restaurants and nightclubs. I’m blonde again. My social life has revived.

A month later, Bill calls. The movie job has come through. A four-day booking. One hundred dollars a day, double my usual rate. Fantastic!

Later, I reflect. How did I get this job without an audition? Topless girls in a soft core movie don’t need to act but they must look alluring on the screen. How a model moves in front of the camera is just as important as breast size.

Two days later, I drive to the studio, a warehouse in the San Fernando Valley. A makeup artist applies foundation to my face and neck (but not my body), and then skillfully highlights my lips and eyes. She is followed by a hair stylist who backcombs my weakened hair to give it volume. I join two other girls. We’re all clad in skimpy black satin underpants and black nylons (with seams) that have tight elastic bands to keep them from falling down (so no garter belts). I’m wearing my gold shoes with the two-inch heels. The three of us are standing outside the makeup room, awkwardly staring at walls, because there has been a delay in shooting our scene; the crew and movie camera are in another section of the warehouse, filming an episode that was supposed to be completed yesterday. Shivering in the cool hall, I drape my blue sweater around my shoulders and clutch the top.

A familiar face appears. Elmer Batters. He catches my eye, holds up his right hand and crooks his finger to indicate “come here.” He leads me to a room containing two large beds and begins taking photos, this time working with me, watching my eyes, waiting until I’m ready. He is the film’s still photographer. I know now how I got this gig.

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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