Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Real Live Bolles Girl!

From time to time on this blog I’ve remarked how Bolles’ girls were unique; a creation arising out of his imagination, rather than a realistic depiction of an actual model.  In fact, many of his covers were based on cartoon sketches he would dash off several at a time, rather than a one-on-one session with a model.  By contrast, the work of many other pinup artists exhibits a mirror like fidelity between the completed product work and the model.  The best known case would be Gil Elvgren. When you compare the photographs of his models with the finished work you can’t miss the remarkable match between the model and final painting. The late Francis Smith, Playboy cartoonist and author of the book, Stolen Sweets once told me that if an Elvgren model had her garter on crooked, then that's how he painted it. 
 Earl Moran is a another example of a pinup artist whose work closely followed the lines of the model, but you can’t blame him considering one of his favorite models was a young beauty named Norma Jean Dougherty, who later went by Marilyn Monroe. And George Petty was so particular about getting a model’s pose just right that he once resorted to strapping her foot to a board.  

Even in the case of Bolles you can occasionally see an obvious connection between the composition in the painting and the model’s pose, the difference is you’d never mistake the face of model for the girl on the cover. But I have found a few glaring exceptions to this and in fact there was one movie star that Bolles took a real shine to. So who do you think she was? Some of the likely contenders would include Jean Harlow, Alice Faye or the lesser known but widely photographed, Toby Wing.  None of them, as lovely as they were, got the part.  The role of the Bolles girl went to another blonde bombshell, Mary Carlisle, a smoldering screen presence.  First noticed by a Hollywood executive at the tender age of 14 she went on to become a Wampus Baby Star in 1932, a title given to young up and comers, not toddlers. Mary lived up to the 'acclaim' and would star in many Hollywood movies alongside the likes of Bing Crosby, Jack Benny and Lionel Barrymore.

Over the years I’ve found at least three Bolles covers which were directly worked from photos of Mary, though it took me a while to identify her. With looks like Mary's it was no surprise to learn she was a huge favorite of the reigning Hollywood photographers of the era, including Clarence Bull and George Hurrell, who dated her for a time. But what I had no idea of until just recently was that Mary is still with us, and going strong at the age of 101!  Take a look at this recent video of her being feted with some classic piano tunes and you’ll see she is as glamorous and lively as ever. With the gracious assistance of her agent Darin, I was able to send Mary some side by side examples showing how Enoch’s art was directly inspired by her.  You can imagine how thrilled I was to receive one of them back, personally autographed by Mary!  And what a coincidence that the contemporary pinup model, Mala Mostroberte used a Bollescover that itself was inspired by Mary for one of her own fabulous interpretations of the Bolles girl.

If you'd like to see more of Mary, be sure to check out her Facebook page.