by Tom Watson
A once in a lifetime assignment that exceeded my expectations started with a concept presentation to Seatrain Shipping Company. Seatrain was not unlike many Industrial accounts that I worked on in my career. It wasn’t a bad account, but not particularly stimulating with creative opportunities. Well, not until they agreed to have me create and produce a Pin Up Calendar for the coming year. By the 1970s’ and pin up calendars were virtually a thing of the past. However, beautiful sexy ladies are never a thing of the past, and the client wanted his logo to be seen by his customers all year long.
Seatrain shipped cargo everywhere, but for the calendar we focused on just the United States. I chose 12 locations which would become the theme for each month of the year. For example, I used the Statue of Liberty as an East Coast location for one month, a Midwest Cornfield location for another month, and the next month it was Hawaii, and so on.
One of the more difficult tasks was selecting 12 beautiful models over several days of exhausting (?) interviews.. yuk, yuk. Well, the exhausting part was trying to narrow it down to only 12 gorgeous ladies. Part of the proposal to the client was to keep the total budget relatively low. That meant using photography (illustration would require more time and a bigger budget, although, that would have been my preference) and most important, we had to elemenate travel expenses. I had heard of rear view projection from 35 mm slides for a background scene, but never used it before. So, I did some research and selected 12 familiar scenic slides from various photo morgues. Jim Blakely was recommended to me, since he had experience working on Playboy Club photo assignments for most of their S.F. promotion. I had to twist Jim’s arm a little, but he finally agreed to take on the assignment as a charitable gesture, and a gallant display of his humanitarian side. Well, that might be a slight exaggeration.
Seatrain wanted the calendar girls to be sexy but not erotic or raunchy, so we (well, the client) decided we should subtly cover up the “bare essentials.” Each scene and model would be characteristic of a general region of the U.S., and each model would have one or more props with the Seatrain logo in plain view. For example, one month the model was wearing just a thin wet unbuttoned beach shirt and a bikini bottom, holding a large conch shell to her ear, and a coastal beach scene projected in the background. The conch shell had the Seatrain logo painted on it. We used a fan to add the effect of a sea breeze. As much as I would have liked to have photographed at the real locations, we had complete control in the studio, especially with the lighting. Bad weather was not a concern, nor any other unpredicted problems that sometimes appear on location shooting . And, using rear view projection, really looked like they were shot on location.
One of my models was Suzanne Somers, whom several years earlier had a bit part as the pretty blonde in the T‑Bird in the movie “American Graffiti,” and later became a star in the hit TV series “Three’s Company.” She was about 27 when she modeled for the calendar, and she had modeled for me a few times before.
While preparing for the morning shoot in the studio, I knocked on Suzanne’s dressing room door and she responded, “Come in. I want to show you something.” As I stepped in, I was busy looking at my notes for the upcoming shoot, and began explaining how I wanted her positioned. When I looked up, she was sitting at the mirror applying her makeup, and to my astonishment, she was wearing nothing from the waist up. I gulped and elucidated with utmost sincerity, “Oops, Sorry Suzanne, I didn’t know you weren’t dressed,” and started to leave. She quickly replied, “Wait, it’s okay. I brought three halter tops to try on for you,” as she held up a shopping bag. I tried to act unphazed, but I doubt that I pulled it off. Struggling to gather my composer, I blurted out, “Great, I would like to see them,” immediately thinking, yikes!, what a poor choice of words! Showing no discomfort, she spontaneously tried on each halter top, and of course, they all looked terrific on her. I understandably pondered over which halter top I would use in the photo.. another tough decision. As much as Jim would have been willing to help me make this difficult choice, I knew his first priority was setting up his equipment for the day’s shooting, so I thought it best not to disturb him.
Well, Suzanne was perfect as she posed on a bicycle with her carefully selected halter top, a pair of very short shorts and tennis shoes, as the breeze from the fan softly ruffled her long blonde hair. The background was a view of El Capitan in Yosemite. Jim did a fine job behind the camera, and all the models were ideal. Suzanne modeled for me later, on several more assignments before moving on to fame and fortune. She was an excellent model with an infectious smile, sparkling blue eyes and always a good sport. That was the only pin up calendar I did in my career, and one of the most enjoyably assignments, as you may have guessed!