Marianne Ohl Phillips

One Woman's Pin Up-rising

by her sister, Carolyn Ohl

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In one fluid motion she unplugs the phone and takes a drag on her cigarette. It has been another overwhelming day in a seemingly endless procession of overwhelming days. Marianne thrives on just that kind of frantic pace. But, enough is enough... until tomorrow, of course, when she will crank up the bravado to plug the phone back into its socket.

Sagging wearily back on to the impractical white leather sofa, her mind reels and spins with all she has to remember and do the next day. Knowing my indefatigable sister, she WILL remember it all. But will she DO it all? Well, some of it she will do tomorrow... most of it she will do... eventually.

What keeps her going? The answer is simple. Love. Love of friends and family, love for what she's doing, and love of pin-up art. In return she is loved, from her most skeptical customer, right down to the painted beauties watching her every move from their myriad locations on her walls, floors, in bins and boxes... everywhere. (Orderliness is not tops on Marianne's list of priorities, and yes, this intrepid woman admits to being eccentric.)

Born Maryann Marie Ohl in 1947, a middle child, into our oversized family, she began life with not only a well-developed personality, but optimism as natural as her engaging smile... a smile more often than not, laughing at herself. As a child, we (parents and siblings) affectionately nicknamed her "Lovie."

An abundantly healthy and beautiful (I am not prejudiced!) young adult, she began collecting celebrity autographs, perhaps craving to identify herself with the glamorous personas of the stars. Whatever the reason, she soon amassed more than her fair share of famous signatures (she would definitely dispute that), along with endless lore concerning each one, all retained in her keen mind. I'm convinced she gave little thought to their monetary value, and even today her favorites are not necessarily the most valuable.

Not particularly maternal, she did manage to raise two beautiful daughters, Tanya and Dawne. Tanya modeled for PLAYBOY magazine in 1986, and was featured in PLAYBOY'S WORKING WOMEN the following year.

Since 1991 she has lived in the small town (800 residents) of Readlyn, Iowa, only two miles from her birthplace. Readlyn is where the movie "Country" was filmed starring Jessica Lange and Sam Sheppard. In this small German-Lutheran community where you don't need to lock your doors or car, she is loved and accepted in spite of her rather unconventional business. The building she owns on Main Street adjoins the one our grandfather had an implement (International Harvester) dealership in during our childhood. It was built in 1913. Two second story apartments (made into one) provide ample living quarters. Below is housed her treasure trove. Visitors are welcome, but by appointment only.

Basically, my sister's world is inside her building, shut in with her paper treasures and one mannequin, naked, (the mannequin, not Marianne), except for a hat. This remarkable woman is much too busy enjoying her endeavors to worry about making money, and if there is any profit, it's spent, as often as not, on additional playful pin-ups, usually before the check has arrived.

Although she would never quit her beloved business as a dealer in pin-up art, Marianne plans to slow her pace eventually, and spend more time pursuing another personal passion she adoringly dubs, “The Keep.” The Keep is the dream home she designed and has had partially constructed in the middle of nowhere. Almost. Actually, it's a fortress-like rock structure high in the mountains of the Chihuahuan Desert.

Meanwhile, she plays hard at what she's doing, and doing very well. A typical day cannot be described, as no day is typical. Until recently Marianne also put together an annual calendar for Avalanche Publishing, wrote regular articles on pin-up artists, for THE BETTY PAGES, TEASE! and FOND MEMORIES. She is frequently interviewed by TV and newspapers (something she's yet to grow comfortable with), and tries valiantly to organize her burgeoning inventory.

Every day brings new challenges. Her secretary, Carol, is indispensable to the business. "The smartest move I ever made was to hire Carol!" declares Marianne. Housework and other womanly duties are not her forte... she does not cook. "So?" challenges Marianne in mock imperiousness. So, indeed! No one seems to mind her eccentricities, and being spared her cooking is not the worst fate. Trust me.

Having once had a model's body, and still almost does (eek! Am I in trouble!), Marianne makes a striking figure wherever she goes. Her days may not be predictable, but her attire is. Denim with a leather purse attached to her belt, not so much to set her own unique style, as to prevent laying her handbag down somewhere and forgetting it, which I assure you she would do. A lot! Her stylish jeans always fit well, and are worn more often with heels than flats, adding inches to her already long shapely legs. Of course those that see her at trade shows have probably noticed how quickly she sheds the heels and goes barefoot. At home this Iowa native has always gone barefoot. In colder weather her tailored ensembles are topped by short denim jackets. These not only accentuate a long-legged look, but don't get in the way of that nifty contrivance, her belted purse.

My sibling's taste is impeccable and many hopeful pin-up painters, including some well-known artists, clamor to paint pin-up that meets her stringent standards. Painters and pin-up art connoisseurs appreciate her expertise on the subject, constantly seeking her advice, knowledge and encouragement. Her faith in the loyal bevy of artists, that “paint their little hearts out” for her, is unwavering. As she sees it, they will be the greats of the future, like Petty, Vargas, and Elvgren are today. A hopeful pin-up artist should strive to create a work that "is provocative in a virginal way, without being sexually blatant," claims Marianne. "Ideally, there should be eye contact between the model and observer."

This well-defined sister has well-defined views on pin-up art, "As I see it, a natural by-product of the ERA movement is a totally confident woman... one who is not threatened by pin-up, but cultivates her beauty and shows it off. This new freedom bestows upon women the best of both worlds. Some people might call it the 'look, but don't touch syndrome.' She calls it simply, the “quintessential female.” More and more of these females are buying and displaying pin-up. But what is truly amazing and exciting is that women are getting into shape and coaxing artists to paint pin-up portraits of them as art, not for men's entertainment... but to create their own artistic expression. Suddenly, having yourself painted in a pin-uptuous pose is respectable."

And that is where Marianne sees a growing market for aspiring pin-up artists today. While glamour-type photography has sprung up across the nation recently, it hasn't even begun to tap the potential out there. Woman of all types are discovering pin-up, and the next logical step is to make themselves the subjects, flattered and immortalized forever. "It's already happening," grins Marianne. "My daughters and I have done it. It's fu-un! It's also very challenging. There are tricks to pin-up painting and photography that very few have mastered."

Just a few of the artists who are painting pin-up (and loving it), and whose work she is promoting, are Don "Rusty" Rust, Carlos Cartagena, Steven Rouse, Scott Pike, Robert Sarsony, Ron Van Gilder, Archie Dickens, and Baron von Lind. Recently, she wrote and furnished the artwork for two books on Archie Dickens and a Scott Pike book.

Her favorite pin-up model of all time is actress, Irish McCalla, who played Sheena, Queen of the Jungle in the 50's. During an interview, they discovered they had much in common. Both were left-handed, grew up in Iowa, and loved secluded, rugged mountainous terrain. As a result of these, and other common traits, they became close personal friends. Sadly, Irish passed away in 2001.

Interviewing artists and their models started as a fun thing to do, but like all other aspects of her hobby, grew into sharing what she learned with eager pin-up lovers. She has interviewed such greats as Olivia, Al Buell, Thornton Utz, Joyce Ballantyne, Ren Wicks, Earl McPherson, Bobby Toombs and Zoe Mozert, as well as wives, family, and models, of masters including Gil Elvgren, Al Moore, Merlin, and Fritz Willis, to name but a few. The sincerity of her love, along with a unique country girl enthusiasm, opens doors for her that others never see. In fact, enthusiastic would probably be the one best word to describe Marianne. Men and women, alike, cluster around her at trade shows, some just to revel in that enthusiasm. She doesn't do shows as much anymore. Which brings us to eBay….

These days, most of her time is spent on the computer. In 1998 my non-mechanical sister discovered cyberspace and has enjoyed a whirlwind love affair with eBay ever since. At any given time she has 1500 items for sale in her eBay store. It would be fair to say she has become notorious, in her risqué business, as the “dame you can trust.” These days the majority of her time is spent answering emails from adoring customers. She closes every correspondence, business or not, “Love, M.”

And now, lounging against her leopard print cushions, she takes another puff on her cigarette, and gazes dreamily at the gamin beauties surrounding her. They seem to smile back. What is their secret? If anyone knows, Marianne does.

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