Playing the Field page turner #12

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Alberto Vargas

One of the stories in Playing the Field that ended up on publisher Putnam’s cutting room floor was about my work with the pinup artist Albert Vargas. When I was seventeen, Vargas ran an ad in the trade paper Variety looking for new models. Vargas was famous for his sexy Esquire pinups, which were so hot that the U.S. Post Office tried to revoke the magazine’s permit to send them through the mail. I responded to the ad and Vargas selected me as one of his models. Unfortunately, the story only got a couple of paragraphs in Playing the Field, but there was an interesting backstory and sequel.

My parents raised their eyebrows when I suggested that I wanted to pose nude for Vargas, but with a little persuading, they finally consented. My mother went with me to the interview with the artist.

Vargas’ wife, Anna Mae, met us at the door of their modest little house in Westwood. Inside, she introduced us to Alberto and we got acquainted over breakfast. Under Anna Mae’s watchful eye and with my mother’s permission, Alberto took some nude and semi-nude photographs of me, which he later used in some of his paintings. I was paid the handsome sum of $16.

Fast forward to 1980. I ran across some copies of Vargas’ Esquire drawings and started wondering if he was still alive. This was long before Google, so I called Information and found his number. He answered the phone and we talked for a bit. His wife had died in 1974 and he took it very hard, but he told me he was still painting. He said he would like to do another painting of me and asked if I had a photograph I liked, or if I would even like to visit him to do a live sitting. I said I would like very much to do that. Life intervened one way and another, however, and I never got to see Alberto again. He died in 1982 at the age of 86.

Sometime in the 1990s, there was a retrospective of Vargas’ work at a gallery in L.A. and the curator invited me to attend. It was a joy to see all Vargas’ work in one place and I know Alberto would have been proud. For my part, I recognized how he took bits and pieces of me–breasts here, legs there, as I’m sure he did with all his models–and drew his idealized long-legged, perfect-breasted, perky-tushed Vargas girls, and I was proud to have been one.

Playing the Field, Special Collector’s Edition is available in my store and on Amazon.

Previous posts in Inside/Out are available in the archive.

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