THE TOWERING 5’10” BEAUTY IRISH MCCALLA | 1950s QUEEN OF THE (PINUPS AND) JUNGLE

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Irish McCalla, the towering beauty who posed for Vargas, and then found fame as “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle” was tough to measure-up against. She grew up humbly, forever the athletic tomboy, and even did her own vine-swinging and tree-climbing with her pet chimp, Chim, on “Sheena” until the day she misjudged a vine swing and crashed into it tree, smashing her knee. After that, the producers did the only thing they could do (due to her size), they hired male stunt men, and dressed them in leopard skins and blond wigs.

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VARGAS PINUP MODEL IRISH MCCALLA

5’10” beauty, Irish McCalla, posing for famed Peruvian pinup artist Alberto Vargas. Since she was born on Christmas Day, McCalla posed nude for the December page in a Vargas calendar. McCalla’s attention-getting measurements were reported as 39-24-38 in her heyday.

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MARILYN MONROE, THE TALK OF HOLLYWOOD | 1952 PHOTOGRAPHY OF PHILIPPE HALSMAN

In 1952, LIFE magazine assigned photographer Philippe Halsman to shoot Marilyn Monroe in her tiny Hollywood studio apartment. The resulting cover photo (at the end of this post) pushed her over the top, giving her immediate superstar status, and 20th Century Fox jumped to sweeten her existing multi-year contract to keep their starlet happy.

Marilyn Monroe LIFE Magazine Philippe Halsman photo shoot 1952 crop 900

“I drove to the outskirts of Los Angeles where Marilyn lived in a cheap two-room apartment. What impressed me in its shabby living room was the obvious striving for self-improvement. I saw a photograph of Eleanora Duse and a multitude of books that I did not expect to find there, like the works of Dostoyevsky, of Freud, the History of Fabian Socialism, etc. On the floor were two dumbbells.

I took hundreds of pictures. Finally I asked her to stand in the corner of the room. I was facing her with my camera, the LIFE reporter and my assistant at my sides. Marilyn was cornered and she flirted with all three of us. And such was her talent that each one of us felt that if only the other two would leave, something incredible would happen. Her sex-appeal was not a put-on– it was her weapon and her defense.” –Philippe Halsman

Marilyn Monroe LIFE Magazine Philippe Halsman Photo 1952 900

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THE ITALIAN PRINCE OF PRINTS | RENAISSANCE MAN EMILIO PUCCI

Emilio Pucci is a name synonymous with incredibly chic prints that rocked runways, movie stars, and rich socialites alike during the ’60s & ’70s. (Sophia Loren and Jackie Onassis were among the many fashionable tastemakers to follow him — and Marilyn Monroe was even buried in a Puci dress.) His look was so signature in its modern, graphic designs and rich colorations that you could literally spot a Pucci a mile away. Emilio Pucci’s look became iconic, and lives on as an ever-present influence in womenswear today.

His design talent notwithstanding– I’ve always found Pucci’s personal story even more colorful than his designs. Born with noble blood, the young Pucci enjoyed a life of academic excellence (earning his Master’s degree Social Science from Reed College in Oregon, along with his Doctorate in Political Science from the University of Milan), civil service (Pucci rose to the ranks of Captain and served as a torpedo bomber pilot in the Italian Army during WWII, he even befriended Mussolini’s daughter and aided her escape from Hitler’s vengeful grasp), and was an accomplished athlete who was on Italy’s Olympic Ski team. It was his love of skiing that first led him to design outfits for his team at Reed college. In 1948, while on a trip to Switzerland, Pucci’s striking ski designs this time caught the eye of a Harper’s Bazaar photographer, and set his career as a fashion designer in motion. Stanley Marcus was an early supporter of Pucci’s and was instrumental in establishing him in the US. The rest, as they say, is history.

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1959, Florence, Italy — The legendary fashion designer, Emilio Pucci, with examples of his work. — Image by © David Lees/Corbis

1959, Capri, Italy  — The Florentine fashion designer, Emilio Pucci, lunching with his wife Christina. Pucci once had the guitarist who is serenading them flown to London to lend authentic Italian atmosphere to a show. I love this picture. — Image by © David Lees/Corbis

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SCUDERIA FERRARI FROM SILVERSTONE TO MONACO | LIFE MAGAZINE, MAY 1956

The 1956 Formula One Ferrari’s were truly modified Lancia D50’s.  The D50 debuted at the tail-end of the ’54 Formula One season, placed in the capable hands of Italy’s two-time and reigning World Champion, Alberto Ascari. He took both pole position in qualifying and fastest race lap in the D50’s very first event. On May 26th, 1955, Alberto Ascari was in Monza to watch friend and fellow driver Eugenio Castellotti test out the Ferrari 750 Monza, which they were to race together in the Supercortemaggiore 1000. About to go home for lunch with his wife, and dressed only in a simple shirt and trousers, Ascari decided to throw on Castellotti’s helmet and try out the new Ferrari. While coming out of a curve on the third lap he lost control– the Monza violently skidded, turned on its nose and somersaulted into the air. Ascari was ejected and thrown onto the track and died on the scene. After the death of their star driver, Lancia fell on hard times and sold to Scuderia Ferrari. Ferrari modified the D50, removing many of designer Vittorio Jano’s innovations. It was rebadged as the Lancia-Ferrari D50, and then simply the Ferrari D50. Juan Manuel Fangio won the 1956 World Championship of Drivers with the Ferrari modified D50. During its competitive run, the D50 raced in 14 Formula One Grands Prix, winning five of them.

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THE DUKE AND DUCHESS OF WINDSOR | THE HEART HAS ITS REASONS, SHE SAID

“I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility,

and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do,

without the help and support of the woman I love.”

–King Edward VIII, from his famous abdication speech of 1936.

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The Duke and Duchess of Windsor (AKA Wallis Simpson)— arguably one of the most controversial, talked about couples of the 20th century.  Their affair started while she was still married to her 2nd husband Ernest Simpson– a wealthy Englishman, through whom she gained access to British high society.  The two were introduced at a London social event, and soon she was a frequent guest at Prince Edward’s country getaway, Fort Belvedere.

In January of 1936, Edward was crowned the British Monarch upon the death of King George V. He, however, had no interest in being king. Edward’s focus was solely on marrying Wallis Simpson– the rags-to-riches American commoner who had somehow seduced the now King of England.  Many wondered aloud, what could he possibly see in her?  Give up the throne for– what? Apparently it wasn’t the sex. She’s credited with icily stating, “No man is allowed to touch me below the Mason-Dixon line.” There were also ugly and persistent rumors challenging her own physical endowments as a lady. Shady, unsubstantiated stories surfaced that Wallis Simpson was born a man, and suffered from Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome— a hormonal irregularity that causes a genetic male’s body to develop as a woman, but without fully developed, err, privates. Just the the kind of story any gal would love to be the subject of.

And then there were the stories of her affairs, Nazi sympathizing, and shopping.

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STEVE McQUEEN’S MEAN MACHINES | THE 1957 JAGUAR XK-SS “GREEN RAT”

steve mcqueen 1957 jaguar green rat bw

Jaguar’s epic 3.4 liter, DOHC inline-six powered D-Types were originally built for competitive racing– with a few also falling into the hands of privileged private owners. But by 1958, the D-Type had become obsolete– new racing mandates now called for smaller 3.0-liter engines, which would hurt the D-Type’s performance on the track. Ferrari had proven themselves to be the masters of small-displacement, high-performance racing, particularly with their iconic Testa Rossa that could handily eat the 3.0 liter D-type’s lunch. Jaguar found itself needing to unload 25 of the 3.4 liter D-Types.

Jaguar execs decided to convert the old D-Types to street legal sports cars and sell them to the public as limited-edition GTs. The Jaguar was subjected to a series of street-legal retrofits, including– a full-width windshield, and a bare-bones top and luggage rack added to the rear deck replaced the original racing dorsal fin. Removable fixed-pane side curtains were then mounted to the Jaguar’s doors. A vestigial exhaust system was devised by engineers– complete with a guard to prevent laymen from burning themselves on the Jag’s exposed, aggressive sidepipes. The roadster’s lighting was converted to meet street specs, two nicely-appointed seats were added, a passenger side door and sleek bumpers were tacked-on, and they were ready to roll.  Tragically, 9 of the 25 XK-SS D-Types were destroyed by a fire at the Jaguar factory in 1957, making the remaining 16 all the more special.

One of these iconic roadsters would find its way into the hands of Steve McQueen– who enjoyed an on-and-off love affair with this special Jaguar up until the very end.

Perhaps no other car is more strongly identified with Steve McQueen, aside from the iconic Highland Green Mustang GT from the epic Bullitt, than his 1957 Jaguar D-type XK-SS.  He had his buddy Von Dutch custom craft a locking glovebox for the Jag to keep those Persols from flying out when he punched the gas. via

Steve McQueen first saw his Jaguar XK-SS parked on a studio lot on Sunset Boulevard, back when it originally belonged to Bill Leyden (a local LA radio/television personality).  McQueen bought the Jag from him for $5,000 in 1958– though some historians claim the purchase price was $4,000. Wife Neile recalled, “I know exactly how much we paid for it– I signed the check.” Once, McQueen was pulled over for speeding with Neile, 6 months pregnant at the time, sitting beside him.  He lied and told the cop that she was in labor.  They got an official police escort to the hospital, where nurses were waiting to rush Neile in. After the police left, McQueen told the staff that it was just ‘false labor’, and off they went. He was later quoted as saying, “Neile was pissed. She didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day. But, by God, it worked. I didn’t get the ticket!”

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THE ROLLING STONES @ ALTAMONT | WE’RE NOT IN WOODSTOCK ANYMORE…

Altamont_Hell's Angels 69684-9

Not barely four months after Woodstock, Altamont would prove to be worlds apart from its predecessor. For reasons largely unforeseen, or at least unacknowledged at the time, there was a definite divide in ideology between the American hippies in the crowd, and some of the English rockers onstage– for whom this hippie-trippy way of life was hard to swallow. For some it was simply naive, and to others– it was downright offensive. Pete Townsend in particular left Woodstock with a bad taste in his mouth– “All those hippies wandering about thinking the world was going to be different from that day on… As a cynical English arsehole, I walked through it all and felt like spitting on the lot of them…” Country Joe countered with his personal recollection of Pete at Woodstock. “I saw Townshend pull up in his limo, then do his set, and leave. That’s the sum total of his experience of Woodstock. He played at it but he wasn’t really part of it.”

Look, we all go through life with our own backgrounds, beliefs and expectations that impact our openness to ideas, and color our perceptions of attitudes and events. That being said– Is Townsend really there to “experience Woodstock”, or is he there to put on a great Who show? Whose place is it to dictate that everyone passing through the ’60s has to buy into the damn hippie lifestyle? It clearly wasn’t for everyone. Certainly not for the Rolling Stones.

By 1969, the Rolling Stones were a band with a well-established attitude of monstrous proportions.  They were effin’ rock stars baby, and royalty at that.  The world was their stage– and they saw Stones’ fans as their subjects. There to adore them and feed their egos.  They didn’t come into Altamont with the idea that it would be a lovefest.  Strangely, Mick Jagger was going through a phase of curiosity in Satanism and the occult at that time– but he would be far from prepared for the darkness that would unfold at his feet on that December day.

Altamont and the Charlie Manson murders would effectively usher out the age of the hippie. But was the hippie movement even real outside of the provincial confines of Woodstock and Haight Ashbury? Or, were we all just temporarily clouded by the sweet scent of a movement that was never more than a passing fad or fashion for most?

Photo above of Mick Jagger & Charlie Watts with Hells Angel. — Photograph © Ethan Russell. All rights reserved. From the start, the Altamont festival was a disaster in waiting. The stage was too low, the crowd too close, the Hells Angels too wired on beer and bad acid. Such was the rush to stage the festival that there were no food or drink outlets, and few toilets. –Sean O’Hagan

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STEVE McQUEEN ’66 POPULAR SCIENCE | WHAT I LIKE IN A BIKE –AND WHY

A cool piece on Steve McQueen rating six bikes for Popular Science magazine back in November, 1966–

“First of all, I don’t set myself up as an expert on either setting up machinery for racing, or in the actual sport of racing itself.  But after 25 years of desert riding in Southern California, TT scrambles, Hare and Hound, and a bit of racing in the wet Six Days Trials in East Germany n 1964– I sure hope I picked up a little bit about motorcycles and riding along the way.” –Steve McQueen

At the end of the day, McQueen heavily favors his own hybrid desert-rippin’ beast that he put together with the help of the Ekins brothers–

“I used a Rickman-Metisse frame– a revolutionary piece of equipment that does away with the oil tank. The oil circulates through the tubes of the frame, which keeps it cool…I used a 650cc Triumph engine as the powerplant for this bike.  The drivetrain and gearbox are also Triumph.  It has Ceriani forks with 7 1/2 inches of travel for a real smooth ride, and a BSA crown.  The fiberglass fenders and tank hold the weight down to a notch under 300 pounds.  The rig is the best handling bike I’ve ever owned.  And the power– it’s like supersonic.” –Steve McQueen

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“If you can’t cut it, you gotta back out.”  –Steve McQueen

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EVEN COWBOYS GET THE BLUES | VINTAGE PHOTOS OF DUDES IN DENIM

Times sure have changed.  Playing “Cowboys & Indians” outside has been replaced with playing “Halo” or “Call of Duty” in a darkened room.  Heck, it’s probably so politically incorrect to even mention “Cowboys & Indians” that someone somewhere is having a tizzy.  The American cowboy is an icon of grit, honor, independence and masculinity.  Hard work, long days, and little pay except for the open sky, a horse to ride, a hot meal and a drink or two to wet your whistle.  Maybe even a dance with a pretty girl if yer’ lucky– and don’t stink to high heaven.

The 1910s – 1930s saw the Wild West American lifestyle move largely from a way of life, to ever-increasing faded memories and mythology.  Our country was getting smaller. Technology and transportation were ushering in a new era of industrialized cities and advanced accessibility.  The real jean-wearin’ cowboy lifestyle of days past were kept alive over the decades largely through the Western fashions worn by the stars of silver screen and music.

These images are some of my favorite captures of the American cowboy at the very end of his reign– many not surprisingly taken by LIFE photography giants like Loomis Dean, and Ralph Crane to name a few. Some, unfortunately, are uncredited.  If you know the pic, give me a shout  so I can give the photographer their due, please.

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circa 1934– “Rear view of a man wearing chaps and spurs”  –Photo McCormic Co., Amarillo, Texas.

Lubbock, TX, 1940– Matador, A Texas Ranch: Seven cowboys sitting along corral fence draped w. their chaps (which they don’t wear while not working), as they wait for brand irons to heat up during cattle roundup at Matador Ranch, the second largest in the state.  –photo by Hansel Mieth

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RELIVE DRAG RACING’S TOP RIVALRY 11/10 ~ THE SNAKE VS. THE MONGOOSE

One of the greatest rivalries in all of Drag Racing history has to be the classic Wildlife Racing matchup– Don “Snake” Prudhomme vs. Tom “Mongoose” McEwen.  Any red-blooded boy born of that era remembers their famous Funny Cars decked-out in bright Hot Wheels badges screaming down the 1/4 mile in a furious blur that lasted all of 5 sweet seconds.  The two faced-off in match races that raged over a period of about 3 years.  Don Prudhomme, being the stronger competitor, usually came out on top. Their epic West Coast battles, fueled by huge sponsorship deals (Mattel, Coca-Cola, Plymouth, and Goodyear) were a major draw, and their loyal fans never tired of seeing them go head to head.

The Petersen Automotive Museum is celebrating the opening of their new exhibit, NHRA: Sixty Years of Thunder by paying tribute to – Don “The Snake” Prudhomme – during their annual Tribute Night on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010.  Honored guests include– Roland Leong, Tommy Ivo, Carroll Shelby, Ed Pink and many others. Special guest Dave McClelland, the Voice of the NHRA and longtime friend of Don Prudhomme, will be the Master of Ceremonies. Their will be a film featuring The Snake’s epic history, and several other drag racing icons will share their stories of the legend. A live auction of amazing racing memorabilia will follow with proceeds going to the Petersen’s educational programs.

If you’re a Drag Racing fan of any age– this is an epic event not to be missed.

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Racing rivals- the Snake and the Mongoose at Dallas International Motor Speedway (1969-1973). Continue reading