When one normally thinks of pinup girls the names Betty Grable, Jayne Mansfield or Bettie Page may come to mind. Beautiful, white women who appealed to the American male from images of calendars, postcards and magazines. There are others who we cannot forget, and they are black pinup girls.
Pinup girls or pinup models begin in the world of burlesque in the 19th century when women used their sexy photos as business cards to advertise and promote their upcoming shows. These ads could be found “pinned up” in theaters’ green rooms and other various places backstage. In the 20thcentury, the models were drawn or photographed, and those images were put on posters that were sold to the public. By World War I these posters could easily be found in the lockers of US soldiers. By the 1920s, black women were being added to the list of pinup girls. From the burlesque side were Lottie “The Body” Graves, the infamous Josephine Baker, the undeniably beautiful Dorothy Dandridge and the sexy Eartha Kitt who were considered some of the first of this unique group of women.
Let’s look at one of these gorgeous queens of black pinup.
Lottie “The Body” Graves: This burlesque bombshell just recently passed February 29, 2020 at the age of 90 in Detroit, Michigan. Trained as a classical dancer and growing up in New York, she was given her nickname when she once posed for an art student who named his finished work of her, “The Body.” That name defined her as a sex symbol. After a dance troupe she was a member of dissolved, she found her way to the art of burlesque which led her to working with many black stars such as Josephine Baker, Redd Foxx, Sammy Davis Jr, Billie Holiday and more. She trained with famed choreographer, Katherine Dunham where she learned various dances from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America.
Lottie also broke racial barriers. She danced at the Brass Rail which was next door to a Chinese restaurant where they refused to serve her. The owner of the Brass Rail’s son went to the restaurant and told them if they refused to serve her, no one would be served. Within a month the restaurant began to serve everyone regardless of race. Lottie was breaking racial barriers with her popularity by being able to enter establishments in the main doors where other black entertainers were being denied that privilege and had to enter the business through the back doors. She was also getting the same pay and treatment as white burlesque dancers.
They say she was built like a double stack of pancakes, sweet and stacked. Her talents took her around the world with some of the best in black show business. Lottie lived a full life giving a message to young women everywhere. “If I were to give advice to a young woman today, it would be to live your dreams, just like I did. If I could make it in a time when there was everything going against me – a teenaged African-American female in a highly competitive profession during racist times – you can do whatever it is you desire to do, too. Just remember me, Lottie the Body. If I could do it, you can, too.”