Thursday, 20 May 2010

Centrefold Venus of the Month 12: Marguerite Empey

May 1955 centrefold

Marguerite's balletic May 1955 pose is one of the most striking from Fifties Playboy. It was photographed by Hal Adams, who was famous for his Hartog shirt advertisements which always included a semi-nude girl.

Adams had actually featured in Playboy as early as March 1954 when the magazine ran a pictorial on the shooting of a Hartog advertisement featuring model Joanne Arnold, who would become Playmate of the Month for May 1954.
Adams and Joanne Arnold in 1954. The chap in the middle's expression is most diverting!

Adams shot 10 Playboy centrefolds from 1955 until 1957 and was a well known photographer also doing record covers. Richarrd Avedon used to use his studio when he was in Los Angeles. he died in 2006 at the age of 92.

A young Marguerite

Marguerite Diane Empey was born on July 29 1932 in Los Angeles. Her parents (her father was a writer and her mother a minor starlet) divorced when she was six and she was brought up by her mother. She studied classical ballet under Russian ballerina Maria Befefi and took part in school productions as a dancer and choreographer. It was whilst leaving her ballet class at the age of sixteen that she was approached by a photographer and asked to pose in her ballet outfit. She spent some time in San Francisco where she got a job as a dancer at a supper club called Bimbo's which started in the thirties and closed in 1969. However at only 5'2" tall she was too short to get leading roles. Many of her subsequent photos used a dance them to take advantage of her balletic posing.

She also did her first nude figure drawing modelling for an art class at the University of California at Berkeley. When she returned to Los Angeles she had already had some photographs taken and her career as a model started to take off, although she still had to supplement her income with temporary jobs at one of which she met her future husband, Joe Webber.

Photos from her nudist magazines period

Unlike Agent DVD, Marguerite was not a fan of tan lines and she and Joe started to attend nudist and naturist clubs. She was spotted by the publisher of nudist magzines and her 39-23-37 figure started to feature regularly. The couple were featured in a magazine Naked and Together: The Wonderful Webbers by June Lange in 1967 which documented their nudist life style (not surprisingly, only Marguerite appeared on the cover!).

She had already been shot by Hal Adams and the success of Playboy had many photographers submitting pictures to Chicago. Adam's picture of Empey was chosen for the May 1955 centrefold. This was still, at this time, only a two page centre spread and the name of the Playmate was not yet given.

February 1956 centrefold by Russ Meyer

She became the Playboy centrefold again, the following year, by accident. Photographer, and later film director, Russ Meyer had sold some unsolicited photos of a model named Diane Webber (the name she used after getting married in 1955) to the magazine for the February 1956 slot. Playboy hadn't realised that Margeurite and Diane were the same girl although it was acknowledged in the final pictorial, which also included a few black and white behind the scenes shots. The pictures had to be very carefully shot as she was six months pregnant at the time!

A well covered Marguerite hides her bump in February 1956 Playboy
Playboy obviously forgave her this faux pas and featured her on other occasions subsequently, including as cover girl for their 1958 calendar.

After this she studied acting (even being taught by a pre-Star Trek Leonard Nimoy -she became a big Star Terk fan) and appeared in a number of films and TV shows. She had taken up scuba diving and became proficient enough that she got work as an underwater stunt perfomer. This led to her mermaid phase where she was often photographed or filmed underwater.

One of these watery sessions led to a photo which has caused people to say (on Wikipedia for one) that she was the first girl in Playboy to show her pubic hair. This photo was taken in the mid-fifties and, indeed, appears on the Playboy website in one of Marguerite's pages but it never appeared in the magazine; it would have been far too racy for 1956. It is another case of people being too lazy to check with the actual magazines and, instead relying on the internet. Nevertheless it is a rather enchanting photograph which sums up her "mermaid period".

Her only starring role was in the minor film Mermaids of Tiburon (1962) much of it shot in a sort of cod (sorry!!) documentary style where a treasure hunter is assisted by a beautiful mermaid queen (Empey or Webber as she was credited as).

The film didn't do well and it was later re-edited with extra topless scenes and re-released as Aqua Sex, although Marguerite keept her top on (just). Some footage from this was re-used in the TV show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea where Marguerite was conveniently hired to play a mermaid again in the episode, Mermaid (1967)

Marguerite on the set of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea with a lucky David Hedison

Some of Marguerite's underwater pictures featured on the covers of LP records as well. Agent Triple P actually has the Nelson Riddle one on his iPod. We often listen to its slinky tones when writing these blog entries!

Nelson Riddle Sea of Dreams (1958)

Les Baxter Jewels of the Sea (1961)

She appeared on some other record covers too at this time.

Marty Paich Jazz for Relaxation (1956). Triple P owns this one too!

Seija Hiraoka Quintet Bed Time Music

Xavier Cugat Chile con Cugie (1959)

Marguerite had had to give up ballet due to a knee injury but a trip to a Middle Eastern restaurant brought her into contact with belly dancing for the first time. She found a teacher (not easy at that time) and in 1966 was hired to appear in a show in New Mexicio.

Marguerite with her troupe at the age of forty
In 1969 she founded the the Perfumes of Araby dance troupe using her students from the classes she gave at the Everywoman's Village in Van Nuys and they performed as a group for ten years. She carried on teaching belly dancing into the nineties and taught thousands of women to belly dance sometimes doing as many as forty classes a week.

One country that certainly gave Marguerite the stamp of approval was the Democratic Republic of the Congo (where they, of course, drink Um Bongo) which issued a set of stamps in 2000 featuring film stars. Amazingly they picked Marguerite amongst a line up which included Louise Brooks, Jane Russel, Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe, Martine Carole, Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Fonda and Sophia Loren!

She died in August 2008 at the age of seventy six from complications following surgery for cancer.

So, Marguerite Empey/Diane Webber: double Playmate, top nude model, underwater stuntwoman, actress, choreographer, belly dancer, Star Trek fan-fiction writer, painter, costumier and, latterly law librarian and horsewoman. A very worthy Centrefold Venus of the Month!

Our favourite picture!

Marguerite in the January 1957 Playboy Playmate review pictorial

Playboy also featured her in an article about a series of advertisements run by the Magoffin company typographers in the trade journal Media Agencies Clients. The advertisements featured a series of partly clad young ladies illustrating a particular font. The story said that the advertisement used to illustrate the "railroad gothic" font (of a bound and naked Marguerite Empey on a model railway track) was too rude to be published so the company ran an ad in the magazine saying their picture had been censored but if anyone would like a copy they should write in to claim one. Two hundred people, the article claimed, did so. All nonsense, of course, as the piece ran in the April 1959 edition.

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