Showing posts with label Black pinups. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Black pinups. Show all posts

February 05, 2013

History of The Black Pinup: Nina Mae McKinney


 'The Black Greta Garbo'


When reading about the history of starlets in the Hollywood of yore, we often learn about the meteoric rise of actresses like Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, Elizabeth Taylor or Rita Hayworth. When charting the film careers of classic Black actresses, stories are often confined to Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Josephine Baker, and yes, even Hattie McDaniel, who broke barriers by becoming the first Black actress to be nominated for and win an academy award for her role as Mammy in “Gone with the Wind”; and who’s success wasn't without some measure of controversy, as critics argued that many of her roles acceded to the sensibilities of white audiences and pandered to racial stereotypes and tropes about Black pathology, and took McDaniel to task for seeming to cow to being relegated to those roles.

For better or worse, the narratives we often hear about, very rarely include actress Nina Mae McKinney. Referred to as “The Black Greta Garbo”, McKinney is reportedly the first Black film actress to grace the silver screen in small but notable parts, and has the distinction of also being the first Black actress to appear on British television.

Born Nannie Mayme McKinney in Lancaster, South Carolina, Nina got her start as a 16-year-old dancer in the chorus line on Broadway, in Lew Leslie’s production Blackbirds of 1928; a performance that resulted in her snagging the part of ‘Chick’ in King Vidor’s first all-Black 1929 talking picture Hallelujahas a last minute replacement for Ethel Waters or Honey Brown, who were both being considered for the role. While Hallelujah wasn't a massive commercial success, it still garnered enough attention to put Nina Mae McKinney on Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's (MGM) radar; the film studio signed her to a 5 year contract. But as was par for the course for most Black actresses, her career fell prey to the contentious racial politics in the U.S. during that time. Despite contracting McKinney, MGM was reluctant to cast the beautiful starlet in feature films, placing most of her scenes on the cutting room floor while using her singing voice to dub over Jean Harlowe’s.  

Much to her dismay, the actress could only get roles in bit (stereotypical) parts through other studio productions, so moved to and toured throughout Europe, most notably to France and the UK, where she found success as a sought after cabaret singer and starred in the British based movie Sanders of the River, alongside Paul Robeson- (who later condemned the film after discovering it’d been re-edited during post-production, to the favor of white imperialism).

Nina Mae McKinney returned to the U.S. briefly, in 1939, to tour with Pancho Diggs and his orchestra, and married jazz musician Jimmy Monroe in 1940- they divorced a year later and Monroe married Billie Holiday. The actress still found difficulty navigating Hollywood’s racially biased film infrastructure, continuing to be overlooked for plum roles in favor of her white contemporaries. The rise of independently made race films provided Mckinney with the opportunities that seemed to elude her in Hollywood studio pictures, so she starred in several all-Black productions.

McKinney’s last known significant part was a supporting role in Elia Kazan’s 1949 film Pinky, where she played a prostitute named Rozelia. Little else is known about the actress’s later life, save for her reportedly expatriating to Greece for most of the 1950s and 1960s, before dying in New York to little or no fanfare in 1967, at the age of 54. According to the book “African American Actresses: The Struggle for Visibility 1900-1960”, McKinney’s death certificate listed her as having been ‘widowed’ and having worked as a ‘domestic’ for ‘private families’… the very image she tried to avoid inhabiting as an actress.
While one is loath to find her film career documented in the mainstream press, Nina Mae McKinney has been commemorated in her hometown of Lancaster, where her portrait hangs among other local notables. In 1978 the actress was also inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of fame, and was memorialized on a 2008 postage stamp honoring “vintage Black cinema”.  
Nina’s career was largely unsung, but the stunning actress and singer still managed to carve out a niche for herself, while helping pave the way for those notable Black actresses who came shortly after her, enabling them to continue knocking down doors in an industry that often didn't (and doesn't ) value or consider Black film actresses palatable enough for mainstream audiences, or viable enough to be placed in starring roles.   

November 16, 2012

Secret History of The Black Pinup: Lottie "The Body" Graves


“They called her The Body. She was built like a double order of pancakes — sweet and stacked. The only light in the room bathed her as she emerged from a thick velvet curtain, incandescent, platinum hair piled high on her head. As the band struck up a slow, seductive wail, her intricately beaded gown glimmered with each step. By the end of the tune, the dress was gone, and she wore little more than heels, a few strategically placed rhinestones, and a smile.”  
That’s how burlesque performer Sarah Klein (aka Sparkly Devil) described Detroit’s burlesque powerhouse Lottie “The Body” Graves, in a 2005 Metro Times article about the legendary dancer. There’s been a resurgence of women of color taking up the art of burlesque, and this prompted me to wonder about Black Burlesque performers of yore, who literally shook things up and enthralled the masses... So enters Lottie “The Body” Graves; who has been hailed as Detroit’s own Gypsy Rose Lee. While burlesque isn’t for everyone, the art, pomp and circumstance of the striptease has always fascinated me and Lottie definitely mastered it in spades, as the quintessential ecdysiast -- (a term coined by writer and literary critic H.L. Mencken and coincidentally, despised by Gypsy Rose Lee, by the way). 

August 23, 2012

Secret History of the Black Pinup: Drum Magazine and James Barnor


This latest piece on the rare histories of Black pinup models [publications and photographers] led me in a different direction, so I put a story I’d been researching on a noted Black burlesque performer on the back-burner for now, to feature this one. 

My interest in the lives of vintage Black pinup models and the people curating their images has usually been relegated to the stories of people here in the United States. But Drum magazine was an essential part of African politics and growing trends, during a time when seeing a Black model in the 1960s was a rare occurrence in the U.K., just as it was here in the U.S.  Much in the same way John Moorehead had done for Jet magazine and other media platforms of the time, famed Ghanaian fashion photographer and photojournalist James Barnor also served as a pioneer in the world of fashion photography and photojournalism, within the realm of the Diaspora.

February 25, 2012

Secret History of the Black Pin-up: Dan Burley

I'm no connoisseur of vintage adult publications, but do consider the elements that went into creating them during their time, quite interesting; specifically the role Black artists, photographers, models, and distributors (if any) played in the world of vintage adult periodicals and magazine publishing, as we don't often see information charting the history and are hard pressed to find rare materials from their era, which seems to have been wiped from the annals of publishing history in some cases, and costs an arm and a leg if you do track something down on eBay or sites of the like. 

Enter the late Dan Burley; who was a Black-American polymath-- musician, poetry writer, actor, editor, and noted journalist-- who created, edited and wrote for several prominent African-American publications including: Ebony, Jet (an idea he sold to the Johnson family), New York Age, the wildly popular Harlem Handbook of Jive, and Amsterdam News. Burley, who also collaborated creatively with several famous jazz greats, wrote the forward for Elijah Muhammad's book, Message to the Black Man in America and was commissioned to edit Muhammad Speaks (now known as the Muslim Journal) for print in the Pittsburgh Courier (which was owned by Black American entrepreneur and Republican, S.B. Fuller)-- despite not being an American Muslim or member of the Nation of Islam.
Dan Burley's political connections, friendships, and work in the fields of music, journalism, and publishing is an extensive and impressive one indeed, but it is his foray into the world of adult magazines that intrigues me the most; and my interest in and fascination with the history of Black pin-up heavy periodicals and vintage ads featuring Black models is no secret as evidenced here, here, and most notably here; so it was with great interest, while visiting one of my favorite sites and resources for this type of information, that I read about Dan Burley serving on the editorial staff for Playboy-esque periodical, Duke Magazine; which filled a niche for upwardly mobile Black male readers and only produced about six issues featuring comely Black women, a Duchess of the Month centerfold, work from noted writers, as well as comics drawn by freelance artist, Bill Ward.  

According to Vintage Sleaze, Bill Ward (purveyor of Good Girl Art and creator of risqué female characters), did a series of drawings for Duke Magazine featuring Black versions of his ample-breasted female gag-comic sirens, under a pen name.The publication also presented reprinted works by Langston Hughes, Ray Bradbury and one of my favorite Black expatriate novelists, Chester Himes -- who penned the controversial book The End of a Primitive

Much like my initial search for vintage photography featuring Black female pin-up models, a Google search of Duke Magazine didn't garner too much information beyond the sparse footnotes I found on a couple of websites and of course Vintage Sleaze, which notes,
If you search Dan Burley, you'll find him identified as a sports writer. A Journalist. A Jazz Musician. A Poet. And yet he only lived 54 years. His Wiki Biography (which also omits his smut magazine) is HERE.
Researching the rare history of Black pin up models has definitely led me to uncover some compelling other information regarding publishing and the history of vintage adult periodicals featuring the Black female aesthetic, I'd never heard of. As a writer who's interested in the Black female image in media and pop-culture, it's always great to uncover any lost or rarely discussed aspect of Black History. Stay tuned... 


**Additional Reading: 


January 14, 2012

Pearl Noire (The Black Pearl)

Well... since I have an affinity for Black pinup model history, Josephine B., and Black burlesque, here's some Saturday sultriness; Contemporary burlesque performer, Pearl Noir the Black Pearl...






October 20, 2011

Secret History of the Black Pin Up: From Tease to Sleaze

I recently wrote two blog posts regarding the lack of information on Black pin up or adult models from the 1950's here and here.

In response, a collector, historian and independent publisher named Jim Linderman contacted me and divulged that he'd written and self-published a book (laden with images) outlining the lives and experiences of Black pin up and porn models. 

He had amassed an impressive collection of vintage adult periodicals and pictures showing Black women in various stages of undress and poses. and included some rare finds in his paperback Secret History of the Black Pin Up, which is 118 pages and includes some brief, but  interesting, history with the visuals. 
"There is a whole generation of young women who idolize Bettie Page and such, but they have no idea how UN-glamorous it was for her and the others. I wanted to show some of that, as well as make some points about racism of course." Linderman said in an email exchange

September 26, 2011

Black Glah-MOUR Update!

Some days ago, I wrote about how much I love vintage ads featuring Black spokes-models helping endorse different beauty products. I also disclosed my fascination with the pin up era and lamented about the limited number of periodicals featuring Black glamour models save for a website called Vintage Sleaze, which archives an impressive collection of Black pin up periodicals and helpful resources for those wanting to learn even more... and I do, as anyone who reads this blog, knows that I like writing about the history of the female aesthetic and beauty regimens, specifically women of the African diaspora. 

I think Black sexuality is a relevant part of Black history, regardless of how people may (or may not) feel about it that element of our beings. Most of us are aware of the tragic life and times of Sara Baartman and continuously  try to understand the Jezebel vs Mammy stereotypes that is perpetually attached to our image. So in addition to having a genuine fascination with that moment in time and space, I naturally wonder how the relatively unexplored history of Black pin ups plays into those stereotypes and who the purveyors were... 
Enter writer, publisher, and collector Jim Linderman (who also runs the site, Vintage Sleaze)... 

I recently received an email from Jim (who happened upon my blog post), informing me that he has amassed a collection of rare photos featuring Black pin up models and featured them in a self-published, paperback book titled: Secret History of the Black Pin Up. Jim Linderman got the idea for the book after seeing a question on an internet message board asking; Why aren't there any Black pin up girls? This prompted Jim to find the answer to that question and much, much more about the history of Black glamour/adult modeling during 1940's to the present. 

Based on the previews I've read and the bits of information I've been able to scrape together via Google, It's an intriguing history. 

The softcover version of the book sells for $22.99 and additional  information on Jim Linderman can be found here as well as on his blog

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September 15, 2011

Black Glah-MOUR

http://vintageblackglamour.tumblr.com/
This is the sort of post I'd usually reserve for my tumblr page, but I absolutely love this vintage ad for Noxema and wanted to provide a little commentary on my fascination with vintage glamour photos featuring women of the African diaspora. 
I've always been curious about any possible vintage ads featuring Black pin-ups, products for afro-textured hair, and various other beauty products. My searches have usually turned up less unfulfilled whenever I Googled information featuring Black women as pin-ups. Recently and much to my surprise, I stumbled across information about a pre-Black Tail, pre-King Magazine periodical called Tan N' Terrific (undoubtedly considered to be exploitative smut back in the day) - via the site Vintage Sleaze, which features a treasure trove of vintage photos showcasing Black women in various stages of photography. Despite the seemingly... sordid nature (and I write "sordid" sans judgment or scorn)- of Tan N' Terrific, I'm even more intrigued and interested in learning about the history of periodicals that predate Black Tail and King, and whether they were Black owned publications. I've a feeling Tan N' Terrific wasn't and the person behind the periodical saw an opportunity to capitalize on this particular brand of adult material, as I'm sure there was a niche that hadn't been filled yet, due to the sign of those times.  
Google Images
I'm quite impressed with the work of prolific Black photographer, Howard Morehead, however; who died in 2003. Morehead was one of the few legitimate Black photographers who did consistent and steady work in the entertainment industry, shooting iconic jazz figures such as Ray Charles. Just as importantly, Morehead set out to capture the beauty of Black women during the 1950's, in a less explicit fashion than Tan N' Terrific, despite proclamations that Negro women weren't attractive enough to be captured on photo or featured as models in reputable publications. Howard Morehead did extensive photography for both Jet and Ebony magazines and was instrumental in promoting the Miss Bronze California pageant, in which Marilyn McCoo of Solid Gold fame (don't act like you didn't watch it) placed first, in 1962 . Unlike Tan N' Terrific, Morehead presented the beauty of the Black female form in a more artistic way, while still managing to maintain the allure of the Black female form. This work was collected in the rare 1964 book of photography, Gentlemen Prefer Bronze, which Jet Magazine described as "a photographic tribute to Negro beauty... featuring a wide range of camera moods, from portraits to figure studies..."  
Howard Morehead's work can also be seen at the California African American Museum
I'm overly excited but per usual, any issue having to do with women of the African diaspora as they relate to our image (good, bad, and ugly), current and past marketing campaigns, beauty regimens, or the arts, is near, dear, and important to me. 
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