My mother must have been inspired more than a bit by Ranch Romances, Thrilling Ranch Stories, and Rodeo Romances, pulp fiction magazines that began publication in 1924 and ran through 1971. According to Chelsea Anderson, “Ranch Romances was only one of more than 180 western pulp magazines created between 1920 and 1950 , and only a small part of the nearly 10,000 issues published in the entire Western genre.” In 1945 at age twenty, my mother had seen thousands of pages of magazine art and plenty of examples of pinup art that captured an immense audience in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. Although she appreciated western images the most, she still could see a little of herself in Ava Gardner and other iconic beauties of the day. Below is my mother opposite Ava Gardner on the beach.
Ava Gardner’s pinup pose competed with Coca Cola ads and western romance magazines as inspirational models. Of course, Outlaw, starring Jane Russell, hit the movie screens in 1943, my mother’s senior year in high school. At the time, Russell gave everyone a new perspective on the cowgirl look.
The March 6, 1954 Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell, “The Girl in the Mirror” sent my mother looking through her photo album collection for a picture of herself taken in 1938. The Post’s cover painting depicted Mary Whalen Leonard, Rockwell’s favorite model, contemplating a photo of Jane Russell. According to a 2013 Saturday Evening Post article, Rockwell said, “I should not have added the photograph of the movie star,…the little girl is not wondering if she looks like the star but just trying to estimate her own charms.” Even though my mother was posing for the camera instead of contemplating her self-image in comparison to a magazine photo, the Rockwell painting and her own photograph connection clicked for her.
My mother’s 1954 pinup pose included her two sons.
From “Nighthawks,” the 3rd chapter of Growing Up Floridian:
If my brother joined me, we took turns playing a game of who could find a cloud formation that captured a person or a object on which we could agree. Abraham Lincoln appeared more often than any other person, although Santa Claus was a close second. Rabbits, cattle, and hippos wandered or ran through the clouds with a degree of regularity. In one instant, Smokey could not see my Statue of Liberty, and I could not see his locomotive, but we agreed that Bugs Bunny sat on a rock eating a carrot. If the horizon was filled with clouds, our imaginations could find substantial forms in seconds. On the rare evenings when our mother sat with us, we had to explain in detail which part of which cloud structure depicted what we saw, and, then, she would hesitantly agree. She contended she could see pictures or representations in the clouds as quickly as we did when she was young.
“My mind doesn’t work that way any more,” she complained.
“Why,” I questioned.
“I have so much to do that I don’t take the time to relax and smell the roses.”
She gently laughed and explained, “That’s just an expression that means I’m caught up in washing clothes, fixing lunches, cleaning the house, and getting ready for work to such an extent that I’m not enjoying simple moments like this.”
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