Superman never made any money for saving the world from Solomon Grundy

Thursday, March 19, 2015


So, while looking for something else completely, I tripped over the striking factoid that Volume 13, Number 42 of the Frederick's of Hollywood catalog (published in 1958) carried images of both Jayne Mansfield and Tina Louise.

Frederick's catalogs are a cherished memory of my adolescence. Mr. Frederick had what I considered then to be an enviable job*: purveyor of preposterous undergarments for women. His catalogs were a treasure trove of titillation: pages and pages of somewhat amateurish drawings of women in lingerie and girdles and bathing suits and other sorts of unmentionables (as well as some outerwear). Each item had a more improbable construction than the last, designed to support, accentuate, amplify, or frame. Had Mr. Frederick been an architect, his buildings would have looked like something out of Dr. Seuss; as an clothing designer, he created pieces that were sexy only in some old-fashioned, naive sense of the word.

I have no idea how I came upon the catalogs; neither my mother nor any of my sisters ever wore any of the Frederick line, as least not to my knowledge. (Although some women must have, since Frederick's is still in business today.) Perhaps Ma just got on some mailing list after ordering something from Fingerhut, but however they made their way to my hands, in a Catholic household of that pre-Internet age, they were worth more than gold to a pubescent boy.

Jayne Mansfield is, of course, an icon of American pop culture. Purportedly possessing an IQ of 163, her career as sex symbol highlighted her less intellectual but no less outstanding attributes. Famous for a string of mostly bad movies as well as for being the subject of a pithy introduction from Jack Paar (written by Dick Cavett), the costar in an awesome photograph with timeless beauty Sophia Loren, the focus of a wonderful throwaway bit between Glenn Ford and young Ron Howard in The Courtship of Eddie's Father, and the hero of one of my favorite comic books, Jayne holds a special place in my heart as an underrated talent.

Tina Louise, is, of course, the embodiment of one of the eternal dichotomies of pop culture: Ginger or Maryann? This choice ranks up there with Betty or Veronica? as a pop-pysch litmus test of attraction, and Tina's movie star character on Gilligan's Island had more than enough Hollywood smolder to counterpoint Dawn Wells's Kansas wholesomeness. Like Jayne, Tina's career never created the kind of success that she seemed to want; Gilligan was not the show for her in any sense, and The Stepford Wives was probably the closest she came to critical acclaim. But she always worked, and she was another fixture of my growing up.

That all three of these threads had come together for one fleeting moment, that there existed some ephemera that connected these different strands - this was a thing that needed to be found. The Internet did not fail me this time.


I guess some things are better left unfound after all.

*In 1989, I actually applied for a job in public relations at the Bali Bra factory in Charlotte, North Carolina. 
I wasn't hired, and that was the closest I ever came to being Mr. Frederick.

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