Context: Photographer Peter Gowland and 1950s Pinup. Paige Young. Pin-up Models. Playboy. Under Construction. Updated 07/24/2022

Peter Gowland

Accompanying book to an exhibit in Germany by curator Thomas Shirmbock, a few years ago. Model is Venetia Stevenson aka Mrs. Russ Tamblyn.
San Francisco Examiner Aug. 18. 1957

In the 1950s:

The Gowlands were part of a larger group of mainly male glamour/pin-up photographers, based in the LA area.

From the book “Gowland’s Girls”
Petaluma newspaper July 25, 1957

The Gowlands were not unique in their husband and wife photography partnership: Another husband and wife photography team who also produced Playmate features: Bill and Melba Figge, based in Glendale.

They spotted (scouted) many Playmates at weddings gigs, including Lisa Baker from Texas, Playmate of the Year, 1967. Lisa Baker and Paige would appear together in April of 1969 at a Fresno mall to sign autographs.

These two Playmates both supposedly appeared on the Jonathan Winters Show, probably as background decor. I’ve never found an actual credit for Paige or Lisa on the show.

The Figges were very busy with their wedding photography business,500 per year while living family life with four children.

By 1950 the “pin-up model” was already a mass media icon associated with patriotism during World War 2. She was evolving in her mainstream status. Pin-up models were also popular Cover Girls and Hollywood starlets and appeared at Hollywood events as hostesses and openings of grocery stores in the San Fernando Valley.

Often these young women had started out in beauty contests or were still on the beauty pageant circuit.

The post-war world brought advances in photography; cameras, lighting and other technology and increasing appeal as a popular hobby for the “Average Joe Consumer.”

Peter Gowland himself was often featured in magazines for amateur photographers, he not only built his own outdoor sets by hand at his Rustic Canyon home, he invented a large format 4×5 camera he named the Gowlandflex.

Throughout the 50s and 60s, Peter and Alice were at the forefront of the genre of pin-up photography, the business side, which Alice ran, and the technical side with Peter’s handbuilt sets and Gowlandflex camera.

Alice Gowland goes over a contract with model/starlet Mara Corday.

Their specialty was selling these photos for use in different types of men’s magazines, album covers, book covers, girlie calendars, mainstream commercial work and many photography instructional books. Please checkout this website for an in-depth discussion of the Gowlands and other photographers from the classic era of post-war glamour/pin-up photography.

TV starlet and Cover Girl Saundra Edwards.

mentioned in the Bob Thomas article above, was a Gowland favorite model of the time.

Saundra was a Playmate for March 1957; photography by the Gowlands.

Popular cover girl and early Playboy Playmate Saundra Edwards. This image appeared on several magazine covers and not only pinup or “girlie magazines.”

Saundra killed her husband, actor Tom Gilson, in self-defense when he drunkenly approached Saundra during a separation, demanding to see his son. This happened in Oct. of 1962 in Van Nuys. Below is one of many articles on the incident. Saundra was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Ogden Standard-Examiner Oct. 11, 1962

Saundra had several bit parts and uncredited appearances on TV and movies including Hawaiian Eye, 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, Cheyenne and Troy Donahue starring movie Parrish.

Saundra Edwards already had two children by a previous marriage. She also had a contract with Warner Bros. that she broke. Hollywood lore was that the ensuing “scandal” over her murder in self-defense, that caused Saundra’s career to disappear, but other sites say that the studio wanted to place her 3 children in a boarding school to remove distractions as they developed her potential as a star.

Saundra refused and dropped out of show business.

Other notable models or stars who worked for the Gowlands were model and swimsuit designer Barbara Osterman, mid-century pop culture phenomenon  Vicki “The Back” Dougan, Julie Newmar (pre-Cat Woman) Tina Louise (pre-Gilligan’s Island) cult movie actress Edy Williams, starlets Yvette Mimeux and Venetia Stevenson, Jayne Mansfield, famous men’s magazine and nudist model Diane Webber. Rosemarie Bowe and her husband Robert Stack, Rock Hudson and R. J. Wagner.

The Gowlands had a lucrative revenue stream with dozens of photography instruction manuals from the 50s through the 80s at least. Some were magazine format and others hardback.

3 examples of magazine format below

1961 Meiling Gordon cover model
Interest in Figure or Artistic nude photography grew in the 1950s culture as did photography as a hobby for the masses. This edition is from 1961. Cover model is Colleen Whitman.

Many of these instruction manuals pushed boundaries for nudity (topless) standards or simulation or implied nudity, (naked back turned toward the camera, almost see-through garments etc.) for the times.

Alice Gowland wrote these books which include detailed instructions on lighting, camera settings, set design and construction, on location shooting and scouting, interviewing and signing contracts with models.

1969 No credit for cover model

Peter Gowland did publish photos with obvious frontal nudity in a small number of instructional books. (Later, Alice Gowland would say one reason they quit working for Playboy, was the appearance of pubic hair in the early 70s.) Mainly though, it was swimsuit and beach attire.

FAME Connection

Peter Gowland is well-known (Alice less so) for contributing to the Playboy Magazine Playmate feature in the 50s and 60s.

Most fans know Paige Young was the last of the Gowland’s Playmates with her feature in November of 1968.

Peter Gowland has a type of fame, both then and now, but not one that is mass fame. He has more of a cult status.

However, Gowland was more mainstream in the 50s and 60s when non-nude pin-up models were used in a myriad of ways in mass media culture.

Pageant was not a “girlie magazine” but like many mainstream magazines in a flourishing 1950s publishing market, a pinup girl was on the cover. It was aimed at the “Youth Market.” Model is Venetia Stevenson.

Part of the phenomena of the pinup cover model is the plethora of beauty contests, beauty contest winners and corresponding media coverage.

Southern California was a hub for all kinds of beauty contests and displays of physicality; for example the Venice Beach “muscle” scene also feature female beauty contests.

Lita Baron aka Mrs. Rory Calhoun and a commercial model, has a several page layout in Pageant magazine credited to Peter Gowland. Late 1950s.

Richard Sample confirmed what I had suspected, that Paige had modeled for Gowland several years before her Playboy centerfold issue, November of 1968. See chapter on Richard Sample interview where he talks about Peter Gowland.

This article was published around the time Paige met Peter and Alice Gowland. 1965

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