Book Review: Off the Bookshelf

Charles G. Martignette

Off the Bookshelf

Gil Elvgren: All His Glamorous American Pin-Ups

edited by Charles G. Martignette & Louis K. Meisel

Taschen, 272 pp., $39.99

This thorough collection of Elvgren's work goes well beyond his cheesecake work, detailing how an arousing nude could later be painted over to become merely a cutie hawking Coke. However, the emphasis certainly is on the female form, and Elvgren's depictions of busty, leggy gals were the envy of everyone in his field. Elvgren should not be romanticized as striking a blow against unrealistic standards for women -- "Elvgren Girls," as they were called, were idealized just like today. In portraying the models who posed for him, "he built up the bust, lengthened the legs, pinched in the waist, gave the body warmer and more attractive curves," Martignette writes. Still, at least being slender didn't mean anorexic. The Elvgren Girl also had a heavy dose of bimbo in her, often portrayed in silly situations -- who could imagine there were so many things on which a woman could catch her skirt and have it lifted to panty-and-garter-exposing height? Yet there's something appealing about the old-style objectification. Unlike the steely stares of today's models, saying "you can't have me," Elvgren Girls give an inviting smile, asking "Wanna play?" -- precisely what a lonely GI in World War II or Korea needed to warm his heart.

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Gil Elvgren: All His Glamorous American Pin-Ups, Charles G. Martignette, Louis K. Meisel

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