Max Allan Collins,
Calendar Girl:
Sweet & Sexy Pin-ups of the Postwar Era

(Collectors Press, 2003)

These days, sex symbols are literally about sex. They bare all on the big screen or pose for Playboy (not that I'm complaining, mind you!), or else adopt a more innocent facade and voice surprise and outrage when their "secret" photos and videos go public.

But a few generations ago, sex symbols were about suggestion. More tantalizing than a show-all pictorial was the casual concealment, the subtle reveal -- more art than artifice.

Calendar Girl: Sweet & Sexy Pin-ups of the Postwar Era is a tribute to the sweet-faced girls who haunted our fathers' and grandfathers' dreams. They showed up -- not on the movie screen, in the slick pages of glossy magazines or in fuzzy home videos -- on calendars. Glance at the wall to check the date and feast your eyes on your dream date, too -- more often than not accompanied by an advertisement for tools, cars or other manly industry.

As Max Allan Collins explains in his introduction, the calendar girls of this era -- the mid-1940s through the late '50s -- were a breed apart, a bridge between the World War II-era pin-ups and the elegant girl-next-door look of Hugh Hefner's early models. And the stars, as much as the girls themselves, were the artists who immortalized them: Earl Mac Pherson, Jerry T.N. Thompson, Gil Elvgren, Earl Moran, K.O. Munson and more.

In his lengthy introduction, Collins explains the genesis and evolution of the calendar girl, particularly the sketchbook style of art that dominated calendars of the day. It's a fascinating look at the period and provides detailed accounts of the men who spent their careers gazing at lovely women and capturing their images on paper -- and, even if you're not the sort to read the articles in Playboy, you should give Collins your attention. Eventually.

The first thing, though, is to open the book at random and appreciate the, um, art. Grouped by month (these were from calendars, after all), the girls display their assets coyly, but brazenly, too. They might seem caught by surprise in these pictures, as if the artist walked in with paints and paper at just the right moment of immodesty and sketched them before they could readjust their towels or grab a handy dressing gown -- but look at the glint in their eyes, the pursed lips, the flushes cheeks and know that they were really just waiting for you to appear. These are knowing women, poised and confident, and often promoting their active lifestyles -- from tennis star to gypsy dancer, from sunbather to cowgirl -- in their poses.

Calendar Girl features more than 600 images, many of which have not been published since their original calendars rolled off the press. Art collectors will want it -- as will fans of the all-American girl of the mid-20th century. While it might not hang so well on your wall, it certainly will look good on your shelf.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 29 November 2003

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