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The Pinup Circuit : Models of Decades Past Find That They're in Demand Again Among Long-Ago Admirers

October 02, 1995|SCOTT HARRIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The letter arrived in early August. More than 26 years later, Vietnam veteran William D. Hanes of Seattle, Wash., still remembers the pinup he left behind.

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Dear Cynthia,

I was delighted to receive a personal reply to my letter. . . . I told you of the wonderful effect that your '68 Playboy centerfold had on the morale of us chopper pilots in Vietnam. Although in all truth, you had more than a few of us banging our heads against the wall and muttering, "I've just GOT to get home!". . .

I've enclosed my money order for one of your photos. I feel somewhat awkward doing it, as if I'm somehow peeking at a friend, and I shouldn't. But most of the memories I have of Vietnam are of sweat, fear and pain. You were one of the rare bits of beauty that came into our lives, and I treasure the memory.

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Could Betty Grable have received such a letter a generation after World War II? Or was the image of a movie star, shared in barracks or on ship with scores of other men, too remote to have cast such a spell? Could a young soldier have seriously imagined that Rita Hayworth or someone just like her was waiting for him back home?

"It truly touched my heart," Cynthia Myers says of the letter.

To many Americans who fought in Vietnam in the late 1960s, Cynthia Myers was Betty and Rita and more. "Wholly Toledo!" crowed the headline heralding her appearance as Playboy's Miss December, 1968, a little wordplay on the fact that this 18-year-old "girl next door" hailed from Ohio, not Hollywood. It was an exclamation on the fact that nature had given this brown-haired, brown-eyed young woman the dimensions of 39DD-24-35, startling even by the standards of hubba, hubba.

Judging by the piles of letters she received--"thousands," she recalls--Myers is considered by many to be the most popular poster girl in America's longest, most unpopular war. Yet the pinup imagery of Vietnam, the fold outs so many men carried in their packs or used to wallpaper their hooches, would never be as famous as those glamour shots from World War II. There's an obvious reason for this, the same soft-core reason Myers' centerfold won't be reproduced in this newspaper.

But the Vietnam vets remember Cynthia Myers, and so do many other fans. Now a fortysomething homemaker and mother who lives in the Antelope Valley, Myers is one of a number of pinup models of decades past who are once again in demand among long-ago admirers and collectors of "cheesecake" portraiture. At a recent memorabilia show called Glamourcon V at the Burbank Hilton, Myers greeted fans and sold autographs and portraits like a retired baseball hero.

The public--mostly men, mostly toting cameras and videocams--paid $10 to enter a milieu that might best be described as a cleavage convention. At one booth, there was '50s pinup queen June Wilkinson, dubbed "The Bosom" by Hugh Hefner. At another, with flaming orange hair, was legendary burlesque performer Tempest Storm, still dancing and disrobing 45 years after she launched her career. Elsewhere, there was a gaggle of current hard-core porno stars. Nearby, representing a tamer kind of sex symbol, was Cynthia Myers and more than 20 other past Playboy Playmates, most of more recent vintage.

Myers was asking $20 for autographed photos and $75 for out-of-print videotapes of Russ Meyer's "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," in which she had a supporting role. And like a number of women, Myers promoted her mail-order business. For example, Hanes, the Vietnam helicopter pilot, placed an order for Myers' "teddy bear photo . . . with autograph & lip imprint." He enclosed $30, including shipping and handling.

Glamourcon co-producer Bob Schultz and memorabilia dealers such as Ken Ritchie of Memphis, Tenn., say nostalgia for vintage "glamour" art and vintage models has surged remarkably in the last few years.

Exactly why is open to speculation. Wilkinson suggests that men always remember their first love--or lust--even if it's just a two-dimensional image. Is the fad a collective midlife crisis among male baby boomers? A backlash against feminism? Or a backlash against today's coarseness and a yearning for more innocent thrills?

Think of the comparatively modest posters of Marilyn Monroe, considered by many to be the greatest pinup of all time.

"Marilyn was the most famous pinup," corrects Schultz. "Bettie Page was the greatest pinup of all time."

Page, believed to be the most photographed figure model of the '50s, was a dark-haired beauty who could look like the all-American girl in one photo and a dominatrix in another. She disappeared from public view long ago, but 40 years after her heyday, Page developed a campy cult following, spawned by a fan who published a tribute magazine called "The Bettie Pages." Page was tracked down a few years ago and, though she does interviews by phone, Schultz says she is unwilling to make personal appearances.

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