The classic era of the Hollywood publicity machine’s efforts to make Valentine’s Day as glamorous as it could be.
If Hollywood and glamour photographers alike were cashing in on both Christmas and Easter with glamour girl pin-up shots, it’s obvious that they wouldn’t let the most romantic day of the year go untouched – and so the Valentine cheesecake shot became an established thing for many years, with everyone from movie stars (or wannabe movie stars), burlesque dancers and glamour models being trotted into the studio to pose with assorted collections of hearts and flowers.
Given that Valentine romance has (rightly or wrongly) traditionally been seen as a primarily feminine celebration – the day when men would lavish their womenfolk with flowers, chocolates and fancy treats rather than a strictly equal opportunity event – I can only assume that photos of a sexy starlet in her skimpies were designed as some sort of consolation prize for the chaps. It’s certainly interesting to imagine what wives and girlfriends would think if gifted a framed leggy photo of Marilyn Monroe (to be fair, if they were anything like Mrs R, they’d be thrilled – but I know that most households are a lot more tut-tutting than ours). Or perhaps the lure of the celebrity pin-up goes beyond mere lust and becomes a desire driven by the worship of our new Gods.
Of course, many of these images were press shots for magazines and newspapers looking to add a touch of glamour to their Valentine/February editions – as with every other occasion, how can we tell people what time of year it is if it doesn’t involve a scantily clad woman? And perhaps these did indeed serve a purpose in that respect – it’s not hard to imagine a man leering over a scantily-clad Rita Hayworth and then being reminded that he needed to slip out and buy a greetings card and box of Milk Tray or else face the Hard Stare later.
Of course, some photos hit the mark more than others – there are some awkward attempts at humour, some curious moments that perhaps tell us more about the photographer/art director than intended (but who doesn’t want a Valentine dominatrix?) and of course, recurring themes that are designed to establish a very specific way of spoiling your other half on February 14th – no chocolates, no canoodling for you! More generally though, there’s a sweetness and charm about most of these images that is hard to resist.
As with many of these things, the Valentine pin-up began to fizzle out in the 1960s and was essentially gone by the 1970s – at least in this form. While it lived on for a while in Britain via Page 3 (the UK tabloids’ own way of marking every event and special calendar date) and has continued with retro-themed burlesque shoots and more knowingly cynical photo spreads – not to mention promotions for Valentine’s themed lingerie, the gift that every woman dread – the style, sophistication and wholesome innocence of these pin-up pictures has long since gone.
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