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February 12, 2005

Barbara Leigh and The King

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A slim and beautiful, dark-haired icon of the '70s, Barbara Leigh is one of those popular-culture figures you know you know, but you aren't sure how. (She isn't Barbara Parkins, and she isn't Leigh Taylor-Young either.) Barbara Leigh grew up poor in the south; married young; was discovered and became a model; appeared in many ads; posed for Playboy; and at one point even had the beginnings of a movie career going, acting in Roger Vadim's "Pretty Maids All in a Row" and Sam Peckinpah's wonderful "Junior Bonner."

She also conducted quite the love life, dating many high-powered men -- among them, MGM's James Aubrey (the inspiration for Jacqueline Susann's immortal Robin Stone in "The Love Machine"), Steve McQueen, and Elvis. At one point, both Elvis and McQueen were vying for her favors. Imagine being in that position, ladies -- talk about a peak experience. Leigh was on the pages and on the screens in front of us, and she was out there among the legendary figures too.

I found exploring Barbara Leigh's website like taking a trip back to the '70s. (The fellas won't want to miss the site's "autographed nude photos" section, which brings the '70s back in a really vivid way.) I also enjoyed reading this q&a, where Leigh talks respectfully about her affair with Elvis Presley. I wonder if her book is fun. It has moved its way onto my Amazon Wish List in any case.

Barbara Leigh eventually became identified in many people's minds with the comic book character Vampirella, for whom she was the first model. Leigh has always been a Dracula fan as well as an Egyptology fan; it makes a touching kind of sense that her great dream as an actress was to play Vampirella. At one point Leigh was under contract with Hammer to portray the character in six movies. Somehow, though, the deal fell through, so her dream came to naught. According to her website, Barbara Leigh these days works for Playboy magazine and also sells real estate in Los Angeles.

Speaking of the King ... Did you realize that Lisa Marie was once deep, deep into the cocaine? And that she has since become a Scientologist? Heavens! I suppose that, as usual, I'm the last person on the planet to learn these facts.



posted by Michael at February 12, 2005


I obviously missed this essential part of the 70s by watching Love American Style, Marcus Welby MD, Carol Burnett, and All in the Family instead! Seems I didn't tune into the right shows. But nothing was ever the same again after Dark Shadows died.
Chiefly what I remember of the 70s is that inane yellow smiley face, Love's Fresh Lemon cosmetics, Bass shoes, and a whole lotta Cat Stevens, Elton John, Carly Simon, and Carole King. Plus boutiques on 8th St like Postermat and Azuma.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on February 12, 2005 1:53 PM

Thanks to you michael, *I* am now the last person on the planet to know about the coke and the scientology.

I shall not soon forgive you for it either.

Posted by: vanderleun on February 12, 2005 5:31 PM

Oh, I am frightened to comment on this post. I was there, in my hormonal teens while Parkins was on Peyton Place, and she was, and still is in my mind, one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. She was the one. Always a woman, never a girl, smart, funny.....ummm never mind.

Of course I remember Barbara Leigh in Pretty Maids, one of Joy Bang's best movies. Saw in first release in the theatre. A completely weird artifact of the principles involved, Vadim,Hudson,Dickinson. Soft-core comedy about a serial-killer. Right. Leigh was great as Hudson's wife, no matter what beautiful women threw themselves at him, none could compare to Barbara.

I like looking at pretty girls, with and without clothes. I have the complete Playboy Centerfolds 1953 to late 80's, with all the outtakes, but what I keep on my hardrive in rotation with Caravaggio & Alice Neel are the women from 65-73. I could write a book on why those shoots are very special, I think ranking with great art.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on February 12, 2005 6:04 PM

That really was a great era in terms of its erotic imagery ... Or could be, anyway.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 12, 2005 6:29 PM

I see the lady with cats, lots and lots of cats.

I was studying Barbara Leigh's face and I kept asking myself, "Who does she look like? Who does she look like?" Then it came to me: remember the singer who was the perfect fit for Burt Bacharach's songs? Dionne Warwick. Especially around the jaw line. That was also the '70s, if memory serves.

Posted by: ricpic on February 13, 2005 9:24 AM

"That really was a great era in terms of its erotic imagery"

Well, that was part of the question. Remember the Raphael floating around where the young woman cups her breast? No Playmate 65-73 would ever touch herself in such a manner. They weren't the fake-candid shots Guccione strove for, pretending the camera wasn't there. Playmates always gazed directly into the camera. Wasn't the winks and wiggles of a Betty page pinup. Playmates rarely ever showed teeth in a big smile, and tried to avoid expressing emotion in any way. All Gioconda smiles, mysteriously ambiguously inviting. You get no personality, no real individuation. Yet each is an individual, an immense variety of faces and bodies...always the face, no matter what else was or was not shown, the full face was shown...rarely even profiles.

And then there is "Glamour photography" with little makeup, casual hairstyles, bluejeans, in middle-class apts.....everything done with only (apparently,supposedly) sunlight as a light source.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on February 13, 2005 2:02 PM

Bob -- You may get a kick out of this Playboy lineup of 50 of what they consider their most memorable images. A bunch date from the '60s-'70s period. Small repros, darn it.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 14, 2005 10:28 PM

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