Pin Me Up, Pin Me Down

You almost never hear the word pinup anymore. It has a charming, almost dusty connotation, like hi-fi or soda shop, that conjures up a more innocent time. Its heyday ran roughly from the '20s to the '50s, when Playboy took over. The pinup was often risque, but never pornographic. Calendars of them hung in barbershops and garages, and if your grandmother chanced to see one, she might have blushed, but she wouldn't have gotten sick. Perusing "Bernard of Hollywood: The Ultimate Pin-Up Book" (Taschen), it is hard to think of another photographer who worked harder than Bruno Bernard to capture the slightly comic, almost daft notions of sensuality that we associate with pinup photography from the '40s and '50s. Imagine the musical-comedy star Jane Powell in a white--what? negligee? bustier? anyway, something with many feathers!--in a canopied bed in the middle of the desert. It's Fellini years before "Juliet of the Spirits."

There is hardly any nudity in this book, just a few Vegas showgirls, and the high-class stripper Lili St. Cyr. She thought of herself as an artist, and that's the way Bernard shot her. He was not an ironic man and never retouched a photo: whatever he was up to, he was up to it in earnest. Back then a lot of people were willing to entertain the idea that a cheesecake photographer could be an artist, and so could a stripper. In 1951, at Ciro's, a high-class Hollywood nightclub, the audience for Miss St. Cyr's act included Bernard, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart and Eleanor Roosevelt.