NSFW November: Playboy’s Miss November 1957, Marlene Callahan

Playboy’s November 1957 write-up on the lovely and talented Marlene Callahan provoked me to dig a little in to a subject I generally hate, the modern history of Southern California.


Photographed by Vivienne Lapham, a woman. More on her another day, promise.

See, the little blurb about her, which has a grating amount of purple prosaic references to her Irish heritage as though she is from freaking County Cork and not sunny California, which annoys me too much to reproduce it here, I’ll just link to it, also overemphasized her wholesome, small-town upbringing. But my eyebrows raised when I read this was in Ventura.

I don’t think of Ventura as wholesome and oldtimey: I guess I’m tarring it with the brush of my feelings toward more major cities in its vicinity to be guilty and glutted by filthy, phony, decaying greed by association. You know, trash everywhere, traffic jams, cement as far as your eye can see, no one gives a shit about anything but their phone and their fake tan — I just have strong feelings about that area. It offends my eyes. But I don’t have the whole story on it, I told myself, so I decided to look in to Ventura a little. Visions of carhops and mall parking lot mazes dancing in my head, I smugly decided to give this situation the ol’ googly-moogly and see just how “rural” a lass Miss Callahan was in 1957.


Answer: Pretty reasonably freaking rural. In my face!

Not easily accessible, Ventura was not a target of immigrants, and as such, remained quiet and rural. For most of the century which followed the incorporation of Ventura in 1866, it remained isolated from the rest of the state.

From the south, travel by auto was slow and hazardous, until the completion of a four-lane expressway (US Highway 101) over the Conejo Grade in 1959. This route, now further widened and improved by 1969, is known as the Ventura Freeway, which directly links Ventura with the Los Angeles metropolitan area.


The wiki reports that in “1950 the population reached 16,643, by 1970 the population was 57,964,” so this spread, photographed in 1957, and its accompanying blurb, were published just as the city’s population and industry were poised to explode due to the freeway’s construction. This town could have really stayed in a kind of innocent, mill-town type isolation (everyone in town relying on the industry of the citrus and nut farming in a symbiotic relationship of trade, labor, and self-sustenance) were it not for the freeway coming through. That is a mindfuck to me.

Of course, it is also the home of what was once the California Fruit Growers Exchange, which grew in quick order in to Sunkist Growers, Inc., a company with a history of up and down labor and ethical practices vis a vis immigrants, other farmers, and influence over politics and land use. (Until today I would have said “fie” upon them, but now I’m just a little up in the air on all kinds of my feelings.) I’m torn and conflicted by this. Being the county seat of an area essentially owned by Sunkist by the ’50′s means that the “innocence” and rurality of the leaders of the town were questionable at best, but the majority of people in the area were just living their lives, doing their best, taking simple pleasures in county fairs and cakewalks.

I’m not supposed to feel compassion or empathy for Southern California and its denizens. I need to go watch Chinatown. Yes, Chinatown needs a movie moment or two. Arg. I’m still going to wander away muttering “Fuckin’ freeways…”

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