Playboy’s centerfold spread in their February, 1959 issue was an interesting shoot for the still somewhat fledgling magazine. In it, you can see that Playboy had by now moved away from prepaid-for-nudie-calendar shots and into its own photography, but was still finding its footing in terms of genuine artistic merit in the still-developing genre of the erotic nude, juxtaposed with the larger and more commercial task of bringing in strong circulation numbers.
Photographed by a valiant, early, and not-much-thereafter-rewarded, artistically-westward-stabbing Ron Vogel.
Playboy and Hef had begun to establish themselves as hallmarks of legit gentleman’s refinement, but the magazine’s output was continually looking to find its sea legs insomuchas sex could meet sophistication at the corner. This shoot, featuring the lovely and talented Eleanor Bradley, is a really interesting one in terms of composition. This for me is especially true of some of the more unsual framing — sometimes it’s cropped very close-in and tight, like the above shot, making Ms. Bradley seem larger or more looming in the viewer’s eye than she is (the upward-facing angle of the camera contributes to the forced perspective in the centerfold shot as well).
But in other instances, the framing is positioned with so much room around her, such a vast empty lookspace or headroom between her and the composition’s outer edges that you get the sense you yourself have just left the picture, stepped back to take the shot, or maybe that you are trying to memorize the total scene for maximum later recall. Do you see what I mean, contrasting the centerfold shot with the ones just above and below, and does that make sense?
Varied framing is the cut of my jib here, people. Is it translating? Are you on the trolley? Because I feel like all that may have got away from me. I’ve been sick. I really like subbing but I think the teacher I was in for on several contiguous days last week must have left her desk-things littered with germs because I’ve been in dire, Ny-Quil soaked straits for several nights now.
Anyway. As I scrolled through some of the truly well-done shots in the pictorial, I found myself paying close attention to eye-popping bursts of primary color and interesting compositions and it seemed to me like what Mr. Vogel accomplished here was an early, though somewhat curtailed (perhaps by budget??) attempt at a spread with an actual factual unified artistic theme. Yay!
Please note hi-fi rack is holding an album cover of Frank Sinatra.
The interior shots are even okay. But I must say. Though I am a huge fan of the black velvet capris and who can argue with toplessness?, I’ve always found the iconic shots of Frank Sinatra in the composition here kind of … inexplicable. No real good reason for their inclusion in the spread is to be found in the copy accompanying her pictorial nor in the very shady and shallow delving in to Ellie’s own history that the article skitters about performing before grinding to an abrupt halt.
Moreover, unlike Sinatra, she was from a small town outside Chicago, at the time Hef’s home and the magazine’s HQ — quite the enemy “second city” still at this time to NYC, Frank’s preferred stomping-grounds, and a far cry from his native Jersey, so we may also strike those connections from the list of raisons d’etres vis-a-vis this shoot and its stylings. Further, though never out-of-style in this Italian girl’s opinion, even I must admit that Ol’ Blue Eyes did not make a movie that year nor re-release any particular hits. Strange choice of prop.
In fact, during this time, Sinatra was mostly known for increasing embitterment over his flagging record sales and for criticizing rock music as widely and often as possible. He is quoted in the late 50’s as saying, “[Rock ‘n roll is] sung, played, and written for the most part by cretinous goons. It manages to be the martial music of every side-burned delinquent on the face of the earth.”
That’s right, you side-burned, delinquent whippersnappers. Why, when Frank was starting out as a musician, he walked uphill both ways in the snow barefoot to his heroin dealer’s house after his recording sessions, and he liked it. Fight-fixing was a dime, whores were a nickel, and gin was free if you kept your mouth shut about which gangsters were illegally hiding money in offshore accounts in Cuba. Those were the times! These corrupt, lazy beatniks and mods wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes on the mean streets of Capitol Records or the MGM Grand in Vegas. Un-American crop of Commies, is what they are. Damned hippies are all soft — soft , I tell you!
(In case your sarcasm-early-warning systems are offline for routine maintenance today, what I am driving at here is that the Rat Pack were a madly loveable but fairly goddamned degenerate bunch of pots, to be popping off and calling kettles black. Look to the plank in thine own eye, hepcats.)
Is this picture not fabulous? Very Vertigo, yes? Hitchock’s masterpiece had just come out the year before.
Anyway, back to the issue at hand. Playboy sez:
A chance encounter made this small-town girl our February Playmate.
A lovely-visaged Valentine to brighten the short, drear days of the year’s shortest month, Eleanor Bradley became our February Playmate almost by accident — or was it fate? A small-town girl from the Midwest, she’d looked forward with excitement to her first West Coast vacation, to the wonderful time she’d have in sun and surf.
And fun she had; but what Eleanor didn’t anticipate — and what proved to be the high point of her vacation — was that our photographer would discover her strolling the glistening strand, and that this would lead to her becoming our valentine Playmate. We believe our readers will share our feeling — after gazing on her tawny beauty — that fate was kind indeed to bring us this sweet siren by the sea.(“Vacation Valentine,” Playboy, February 1959.
That is the entirety of their write-up on her. So while pictorial spreads were getting loads better, the Playmate interviews were still pretty much in their infancy.
Bradley was discovered by Playboy while she was in Los Angeles to visit her sister. After the pictorial, she remained active with Playboy for several years, usually with promotional trips and the like; she also was a regular on the syndicated TV show Playboy’s Penthouse and “Playboy After Dark.” She also posed for other men’s magazines in the early 1960s, along with her career as a mainstream model, mostly in the Midwest. She again posed topless for Playboy for the magazine’s 1979 feature “Playmates Forever!” (source)
Do not click the link to that source if you don’t have a pop-up blocker and/or you are at work. Then again, I guess if you’re here and haven’t already closed this browser window, you probably are not at work. Sometimes I forget my own journal is pretty NSFW, too.
Here are some more details on the Waukegan, Illinois native direct from the source herself, in an article she wrote for the Lake County News-Sun, published in 2009.
I worked my way through high school at the Jewel Food Store, the first one in Waukegan, on Washington Street across the street from Waukegan Township High School. We lived in a rented room ($10 a week) in the back of Carmella Corso’s beauty shop on Butrick Street. Wow, that name just popped right back into my mind.
“Eleanor Bradley visited many Marine training bases around the United States as Miss Marine Air Reserve.” (Courtesy the Chicago Sun-Times and Lake County News-Sun).
The Globe Store reminds me of when, I think in 1956, several classmates and I modeled bathing suits in their window and shocked passers-by; we pretended to be mannequins, then just slightly moved — what fun. Also did their fashion shows and some print ads.
My most influential teacher was Miss Schwinger; she encouraged me to stay in school and graduate.
I graduated in ’57 and went to work as secretary to Fred Lawson, head of public relations for Abbott Labs.
I became Playboy‘s February 1959 centerfold, went to work for Hugh Hefner at headquarters in Chicago, and traveled 100,000 miles around the country doing appearances at colleges. I did all the original “Playboy After Dark” television shows. As Miss Marine Air Reserve, I visited many Marine training bases around the United States.
After Playboy, I got married, had four children, started high fashion modeling with A+ modeling agency, became a top 10 model for 13 years.
I was on the 25th class reunion committee. The meetings were always at Bertram’s Bowl on Washington Street.
(“Modeling bathing suits: Modeling career began in storefront window.” Giannetti, Eleanor Bradley. April 27, 2009. Lake County News-Sun.)
As Ms. Bradley has very nicely summarized her achievements in her own lovely words, which is normally exposition I would cover, I will instead concern myself between the remainder of the pictures from this spread with relating a few facts about Waukegan’s surprisingly numerous sci-fi connections. (E’s journal: come for the porn, stay for the geek-talk!)
My all-time favorite science fiction author and king among personal patron saints, Ray Bradbury, was born in to a long-established Waukegan family in 1920. (His great-grandfather was elected mayor in 1882, to give you an idea of his roots there.) Bradbury grew up in the town and has used it as the inspiration for his fictional Green Town, where he’s set stories and novellas such as Farewell Summer, Something Wicked This Way Comes (my very-favoritest among very-favoritests, which I re-read at least once a year), and Dandelion Wine.
Another sci-fi writer concerned with Mars hails from Ms. Bradley’s hometown as well. Though he lives in Davis, California now, Kim Stanley Robinson, Chomskyite author of the Mars trilogy and self-described green socialist, was born in Waukegan. Mr. Robinson wrote his doctoral thesis on Philip K. Dick and he’s married to an environmental chemist, just to ratchet up his sci-fi magnificence even higher. Like Ray Bradbury and some of Vonnegut’s work, Mr. Robinson’s writing is regarded as an intersection of science fiction with genre-transcending social themes and polish: literary science fiction.
The character of Jason Blaze in Ghost Rider hails from Waukegan, as does non-fictional comedic genius Neil Flynn. You know Flynn as Janitor on Scrubs, but, if his most recent sitcom role in a pretty nerdy and delightful series is not geeky or esoteric enough to fit this theme for you, he also played a cop on an episode of Sliders in 1991. Before I wind down the sci-fi angle altogether, I need to ask:
Am I the only person who’s been stumbling over the clunky and rather laughable, upwardly mobile phrase “speculative fiction” lately in its apparent attempts to supplant “science fiction” and “sci-fi” as the new hep nomenclature for all things dorky? Because I am NOT drinking the kool-aid on that one. I don’t care if it dates me in a decade at a convention or something. I will be That Guy. I don’t care. I’ll call it sci-fi ’til you pry the toy phaser out of my cold, dead, Wolverine-barbecue-mitt-covered hand.
As a final and more sobering but still sci-fi-related thought, Waukegan is home to a whopping three Superfund hazardous waste sites. To give you an idea of the slightly unnerving disproportion of that figure, the National Priorities List identifies only about 1200 in the entire country. Sadly, the hazardous waste has not imbued anyone with superpowers — quite the opposite, in fact, and it’s a major health concern. For more info on all that crazy eons-of-environmental-shenanigans and horrors of irresponsible corporate greed, pick up the book Lake Effect by Nancy Nichols, a 2008 true account of the effects of PCBs on Waukegan residents, including the death of Ms. Nichols’ sister. Troublesome and very next level.