In many ways, Esquire magazine was the forerunner of Playboy when it launched in 1933 – full of serious articles, but bought primarily for the pin-ups. In Esquire, these were not photographic nudes of course, but teasing glamour girl cartoons, initially by George Petty, which by 1939 had developed into a double page spread, effectively inventing the centrefold.
When Petty had a falling out with the magazine publishers, he was replaced in 1940 by the legendary Alberto Vargas, who would last until 1947, when he too entered into dispute with the Esquire publishers. this was unfortunate, as the Esquire Vargas Calendar, launched in 1941, sold something like 320,000 copies and was made available in many different formats. Vargas would go on to work for Playboy in 1957, where his work appeared for the next 21 years.
When Vargas left Esquire, he was replaced with a rotating stable of artists, and it was these who created the 1948 calendar – which is, somewhat ironically, the most famous of the lot. Stylistically, it’s close to Vargas’ style (and as Vargas found when he sued Esquire, they had trademarked ‘the Vargas Girl’, cunningly deleting the S from his name; he lost the court case), with artists like Ben-Hur Baz, Joe De Mers, Fritz Willis and J. Frederick Smith.
The Esquire calendars continued until 1957, at which point they were phased out as a new generation of men’s magazines with a more up-front and photographic sexual content took over.
January: Curtain Call – Ben-Hur Baz
February: RFD – Fritz Willis
March: Objection – Joe De Mers
April: Bedtime Story – anonymous
May: Predicament – J. Frederick Smith
June: Meadow Lark – Ben-Hur Baz
July: Endorsed – Fritz Willis
August: Maid to Measure – Joe De Mers
September: Si, Si – Ben-Hur Baz
October: Floral Offering – Fritz Willis
November: Exposure – Ren Wicks
December: Sawdust to Stardust – Joe De Mers