The Forgotten “Vargas” Girls (Draft PDF Version)

Note from the author
I have done my best to use free domain images and my own material, but something might just be copyright issues. Just contact me through the
comment section.
Clarence Simonsen

The Forgotten “Vargas” Girls

Click on the link above.

Draft Text version (images to be added later)

 The Forgotten “Vargas” Girls

Note from the author
I have done my best to use free domain images and my own material, but
something might just be copyright issues. Just contact me through the
comment section.
Clarence Simonsen

The Forgotten “Vargas” Girls

Note from the author


I have done my best to use free domain images and my own material, but something might just be copyright issues. Just contact me through the comment section.

Clarence Simonsen


Miss Mara Corday TRUE magazine February 1952

The voluptuous Miss Mara Corday was 5’ 5” with a 35-inch bust when she first posed for Alberto Vargas in spring of 1947. Born Marilyn Joan Watts on 3 January 1930, in Santa Monica, California, like many pretty young American teens she began seeking a career in films, and arrived in Hollywood at age fifteen years. While working as an usherette at the Mayan Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, she fell in love with a Cuban bongo player [Lecuona Cuban Boys] and during their romantic affair he called her “Marita” which meant ‘my little Mara.’ She liked the new nickname and began to use it in place of Marilyn. In 1947, she took the stage surname Corday from a magazine perfume ad, advanced her age to eighteen years, and began dancing as a showgirl at the Earl Carroll Theatre on Sunset Boulevard. While the modeling and Hollywood actress career of Miss Mara Corday was just beginning, the life of world famous American women illustrator Alberto Vargas was slowly coming to a tragic end. On 30 April 1946, a four-year battle of bitter litigation began between Alberto Vargas and Esquire Inc. magazine, ending on 17 February 1948, in the Circuit Court of Appeals in California. In September 1946, [while the second appeal trail was in proceedings] Vargas formed “Varga Enterprises” and began preparing for a new special issue of his “Varga” 1948 calendar. Showgirl dancer, and model, Miss Mara Corday was found by Alberto and posed in early 1947, where later Vargas painted her on the sleeve cover for his new 1948 “Varga” calendar.


The Mara Corday letterhead created by Vargas in 1947. [Internet] Her right hand is holding a flower which was drawn inside the large circle on letter “g.”


Reid Stewart Austin collection – Varga 1947, second letter-head design. Pen in right hand.

Alberto Vargas had originally intended to use this V trade-mark with his new “Varga Enterprises Inc.” however Esquire took him to court and halted both the use of the name “Varga” and the 1948 Varga calendar due to copyright infringement. On 4 May 1946, Esquire, Inc., [lawyers and Alfred Smart] applied to the United States Patent Office for the trade-mark “THE VARGA GIRL” and in an Esquire countersuit on 8 June 1950, Esquire won, taking full control of everything named “Varga” including the 162 pin-up paintings he had completed during World War Two. The man, who had done so much for the United States of America fighting man, was now left with no income and no future. He owed Esquire, Inc., $4,260.00, could not pay his lawyer, who took ten per cent of what he could earn, then his loving wife Anna Mae needed a radical mastectomy and their bungalow was suddenly under a triple mortgage. Alberto tried to find any type of artistic employment for income, painting toiletries, lingerie, and sending his latest drawings to various men’s magazines and pin-up girl agencies. Alberto was most willing to work, but the realities of life in the United States had changed, there was no more need for the painted pin-up girl and the next months were very grim and workless. The art community had forgotten about Alberto Vargas and their heavily mortgaged home now faced imminent foreclosure. Sadly, the American general public had no idea what had legally taken place.

On Sunday, 25 June 1950, North Korean tanks crossed the border into South Korea and this massive attack caught Western Alliance completely by surprise. The strength of the North Korean Peoples Army, large quantity of Soviet built T-34 tanks, and their well trained forces were a formidable force in contrast to the South Korean Army and the weak United States military defensive weapons. This was the beginning of three years of war [United Nations Police Action] which still affects our world peace today. The history of the air and ground conflict up and down the Korean Peninsula can be read in hundreds of publications, and many internet websites, which recorded the United Nations airpower, mostly being the United States Fifth Air Force and naval air forces from the U.S. Navy Task Force #77.

This massive build-up of American airpower suddenly created a huge demand for bomber and fighter aircraft nose art, with Esquire magazine being the major source producing American pin-up girl paintings. This image was taken 17 August 1951, after returning from a bombing raid on Taegu, North Korea, where 98 Superfortress B-29s had dumped 850 tons of bombs on the north side of the Naktong River. Left is Lt. John Wood, navigator of “United Notions” and right is T/Sgt. Joseph Goslin, the flight engineer. Almost every one of these 98 American bombers carried impressive life-size nude and topless nose art ladies, which came directly from the pages of Esquire magazine painted by artist Al Moore. This story was published in LIFE magazine and if Alberto Vargas saw and read it, I’m sure it became a low point in his life. During WWII his Esquire Varga girls had been the inspiration for the majority of Allied aircraft nose art, and now the name “Varga” and his painted ladies were dead.

Artist Al Moore was born in Chicago, Illinois, and played professional football with the Chicago Bears. After graduating from the famed Chicago Art Institute and Academy of Art he opened his commercial art studio in the fall of 1930.  During the war years he painted for the U.S. government, Saturday Evening Post, and Collier’s magazines. In 1946, he was painting ads for U.S. Rubber and Coca-Cola when he was chosen by David Smart of Esquire Inc. to replaced the hated Alberto Vargas. His skin tones and girls were so very different from that of George Petty and Alberto Vargas, but of course the quality of art did not really matter to Smart. In 1949, Al Moore painted the entire Esquire Girl calendar and when you examine the 1950 and 1951 calendars you will find each and every girl soon appeared as nose art on the American Medium and Heavy bombers plus Allied fighters in the Korean conflict.

What occurred next is the most over-looked and forgotten part of the entire Alberto Vargas career. Beginning in 1950, Alberto Vargas painted a series of large nudes [twelve] which were planned as a legacy to his wife and to please himself during these depressing hard times. This was explained in detail to me over the phone by Reid Stewart Austin [October 1995] and today five legacy nude paintings can be found in his 2006 publication, Alberto Vargas – Works from the Max Vargas Collection, forward by Hugh Hefner. The legacy nudes are found in the chapter titled – “The 1950s and the Vargas Girl.”

In an effort to find work to pay the bills, sets of these twelve legacy beautiful nude transparencies were mailed to various men’s magazines and agencies by Alberto. One set was mailed to “TRUE” the men’s magazine published by Fawcett Publications, and received by the Art Director Mr. Al Allard, who in turn contacted Alberto in fall 1949. Vargas explained he could no longer use the name Varga [owned by Esquire Inc.] and Al Allard made it very clear it was his famous girl art they wanted not his name. A nine-month contract was signed and once again Alberto received much needed income to save his home and career. What few Americans understand is Esquire Inc. and [bastard] David Smart instructed his company lawyers to halt this new series of TRUE “Vargas” pin-up girls, however their legal attempt rightly failed. That changed American nose art history. Alberto Vargas next posted an ad in Variety magazine looking for new models, interviewed, and selected nine for his new True Girl series, then began painting. For these new True Girl paintings [possibly ten or more] Alberto created a new signature trademark [below] which was painted on each canvas, however only nine girls appeared in True magazine. Over the passing years many publications have mixed and confused the legacy nude girls with the TRUE Girl paintings from 1951 and 1952.

Above is the new “Vargas” signature the artist created for the series of nine True Girls 1950-52. The “v” is small, and the tail of the ‘g’ is not slanted but painted straight downwards. This appeared only on the nine True Girls by Vargas plus one-or-two other paintings for the same period painting, 1950-52 era. [I believe ten paintings contained this signature]

Miss Gwen Caldwell appeared as the first True issue for October 1951, and Miss Mara Corday appeared in February 1952, the fifth pin-up girl Alberto selected. Google her name and you will enjoy reading the career of this natural beauty with the best body in Hollywood. She appeared in over 30 publications and had over 50,000 images taken, a few fully nude, earning the title “The Most Photographed Model in the World.” I also believe she became the only model to appear in the same pose [February 1947] as first a “Varga” Girl [1948 calendar sleeve cover] and then later in 1952 as a True Girl by Vargas using his new signature.  Only Mara Corday can truly answer those detailed questions, and today [2019] she is still living.

I feel the growing demand for American aircraft nose art during the Korean War indirectly led to saving the career of Alberto Vargas. The 1951 TRUE magazine nine-month series provided Alberto with much needed income [possibly $9 thousand] and at the same time reintroduced his creative women art style to the United Nations at war. Three of his nine True magazine Vargas girls appeared as nose art on three different B-29 bombers during 1952, and the power of the pin-up girl was back in United States of America. This was not missed by a young man in Chicago named Huge Hefner, who purchased [$500] the photos of an unknown nude lady named Marilyn Monroe, and placed her on the front cover of his new magazine called Playboy. Never before had the nudity of a young American girl been so vividly exposed in a national circulated magazine which was directed at the general public [U.S. and Canada] for sale. By 1954, Miss Mara Corday had also become the leading model appearing in numerous men’s magazines, but now Playboy was slowly changing the American attitude towards the nude pin-up girl. Miss Corday later appeared as the October 1958 Playboy Playmate.

In the fall of 1917, Alberto Vargas met a slender strawberry-blonde beauty from Soddy, Tennessee, named Anna Mae Clift. She became his model, his only true love, and they married on 9 June 1930.

This painting of Anna Mae Cliff 1920, from Reid Stewart Austin collection 1995.

Miss Cliff had come from a poor background and a broken home, arriving in New York with an unhappy and confused personal life. In search of security and a better life, she only found all-night-wild-parties, jazz, drinking, and sex, which represented America in the 1920s. In her ‘little artist’ [Alberto] she found an intelligent, handsome, perfect gentleman who truly loved her. During the bad times Anna Mae continued to model to support the couple while Alberto looked for painting work.

The tragedy of the Esquire years requires in-depth reading to digest just what took place, and this is best told in the 1978 book Vargas by Reid Stewart Austin and the artist himself Alberto Vargas.

By 1956, Anna Mae became aware of the increasing success of Playboy magazine, as she had modeled for fifteen educational years, fully understanding the change which was now taking place in America. She convinced Alberto that the only chance for publication of his nude girl paintings would be Playboy magazine. The couple took another loan from their mortgaged home and boarded the train for Chicago to meet with Huge Hefner. Hefner promised he would see if he could fit a few of the Vargas nude girls into his magazine, which in fact occurred in the March 1957 issue titled “The Vargas Girl.”


Reid Stewart Austin collection 1995. One of the March 1957 nudes by Vargas.

The five-page article included a full biography of Alberto with nude paintings of his work. This amazing nude appeared on page 56, and a copy was sent to me by Reid Stewart Austin. I believe this original Vargas artwork was owned by Reid Austin and sold to Charles Martignette around 1997. In 1995, during our last phone call, Reid told me he had a serious health issue [lung cancer] which required he sell some original Vargas art to Mr. Martignette for needed income.

In March 1960, I turned 16 years of age, a simple hard-working Canadian farm kid from Acme, Alberto. I was at last allowed to purchase a new adult magazine called Playboy and had no idea this would change my life forever, plus later place me in direct contact with Reid Stewart Austin.  The September 1960 [Vol. 7, No. 9] issue came with a new addition on page 100, a Vargas nude painting. The original [author] Playboy page appears below.


In September 1960, the name Alberto Vargas had no meaning or connection to my interest in World War Two aircraft nose art. That all changed in the next five years, when I served four years in the Canadian Army Military Police and while posted to United Nations in Cyprus in 1965, began painting life-size Playboy girls as large wall art. In 1966, I became a member of the Metro. Toronto Police Force and my main avocation became preserving, repainting and recording the history of aircraft nose art, which I soon discovered included Alberto Vargas. On 29 November 1978, I wrote to Esquire, Inc., 488 Madison Ave., New York, and received a detailed history of Mr. Vargas and a list of 162 “Esquire Girls” he had painted, cordially sent by Phyllis Crawley, Vice President of Corporate Communications. There was no mention of David Smart or what Esquire, Inc., had done to destroy the career of Alberto Vargas, however Ms. Crawley suggested I read three books one being a recent Harmony Books publication titled – “VARGAS” by Alberto Vargas and Reid S. Austin. The following year, I purchased this publication which is the “Bible” of all Alberto Vargas history books, told by the artist himself. The Vargas Esquire contracts are both published in full to read and digest, plus the last two pages contain the detailed technique used to create a “Varga” or Vargas Girl, told by Alberto himself. I still laugh when I read the last line written by Reid Austin.

“It can’t hurt if you do this before beginning [Alberto crosses himself] Page 127 Technique.


The book dust-cover contained an image of the author Reid Stewart Austin and a brief outline of his career, associate art director of Playboy magazine in June 1959, brought Hugh Hefner and Alberto Vargas together in 1961, became personal art director for Alberto Vargas for seventeen years, etc. Now, that was the man I wanted to talk to, however I knew he would never answer my letters, and tossed the idea from my mind. I continued my WWII aircraft nose art research and never realized I was making contact with a few important people who knew Reid Stewart Austin. In August 1981, an unexpected package arrived by mail.



The impossible had occurred, and I would now share photos, correspondence, questions, and lengthy phone calls with Reid Austin for the next sixteen years. Our last phone call took place in summer of 1996, he had at long last received the contract to publish the “Petty” story and pin-up girls from Esquire artist George Petty. This was the first time Reid mentioned he had a serious medical problem, and had to sadly part [sell] two of his original Vargas watercolor girls, to Charles G. Martignette. Martignette was an art collection and rich dealer with the largest original collection of American illustrators and artists in the world, based at Hallandale Beach, Florida. At the time, he was collecting the largest original gallery of Alberto Vargas drawings and paintings other than those paintings held by the artist himself. In October 1997, I was surprised by a first edition signed copy of the new book PETTY by Reid Stewart Austin. In return, I painted a large 1941 WWII Petty girl [40” by 40”] nose art on original aircraft skin from the year 1941, and mailed to Reid. I received a nice Walt Disney Christmas card from Reid, thanking me, and this became our last contact, 6 December 1997.


Postmarked Albuquerque, New Mexico, 6 December 1997.



Sadly, Reid died of lung cancer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, early September 2006.

Reid was the kind gentleman who informed me about the series of TRUE magazine pin-up girls painted by Alberto Vargas, which became a turning point in his career and rebirth of his name “Vargas.” Reid wished to publish this history in a future book, however as far as I know nothing ever transpired. The following is my TRUE Girl small tribute to Reid Stewart Austin and the one-and-only Alberto Vargas.


Miss Gwen Caldwell became the first True Girl by Vargas, October 1951.





Miss Caldwell was born in Greenville, Mississippi, in the year 1927, and came to Hollywood twenty-one years later. She won “Most Beautiful Legs in the World’ in 1949, and posed for Alberto the following year, the same year she appeared in “Tarzan and the Slave Girl” seen in the RKO free domain picture poster.[above] A most attractive model, she appeared in two other movies and many pin-up magazines during the 50’s. Many of her original negatives and images can be purchased online today. I believe she became the first Korean War B-29 aircraft ‘nose art’ inspired and copied from her Alberto Vargas True Girl October 1951.


This appears to be the background sketch in True magazine photo showing Gwen and Alberto drinking tea, titled – Vargas is charmed. This image did not appear in True magazine, possibly due to the fact it was not finished in time. The Vargas signature [slanted ‘g’] on this painting is correct for the post 1952 year. Most beautiful legs, indeed.




Original True Girl by Vargas [with straight ‘g’] page 36, October 1951.


This aircraft painting image was taken from a video on a WB-29 nose art saved by Mr. John R. Edmondson, Yokota, Japan, in 1951-52. The video indicates she flew with the 56th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, [serial unknown] with name “Never.” The original 512th Bomb Group was a WWII unit activated on 19 October 1942 and inactivated 26 March 1946. From 13 February 1947 until 9 January 1950, they flew as a weather gathering unit at Fairfield-Suisun, Air Force Base, California. They arrived at Yokota, Japan on 27 January 1950, flying weather reconnaissance and typhoon tracking in their area of responsibility. When the North Korean People’s Army struck across the 38th parallel before dawn on 25 June 1950, four WB-29 aircraft of the 512th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron were ordered to curtail regular flights, and begin reconnaissance missions over North Korea, code named “Buzzard.” On 21 February 1951, the newly created 56th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron replaced the 512th Weather Squadron, assuming its personnel and WB-29 aircraft. This nose art photo indicates the very first Alberto Vargas True Girl image [Miss Gwen Caldwell] October 1951, was copied by a very talented Japanese artist in Yokota, Japan, and flew with the new 56th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron over North Korea. The 98th Bomb Group station at Yokota, Japan, employed this unknown talented Japanese artist who painted life-size nudes on their B-29 bombers, and this style appears to be her painting. This history will be covered in detail later with True Girl December 1951. This “Never” painting was possibly the very first Vargas inspired B-29 bomber nose art to appear in the Korean War, October 1951.


The second Vargas girl appeared in November 1951, Susan Ames.



Born Suzanne Marguerite Ainbinder in Chicago, Illinois, 31 December 1931, she was a straight “A” student and graduated with honors in 1948. She studied ballet and music in Cleveland, Ohio, and moved to New York where she became a member of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet at age seventeen. Dancing talent got her a chance to appear in a Hollywood film as a Goldwin girl and she would appear in seven films, but her actress career never took off. She met Alberto Vargas in 1949, with measurements 5’ 7”, 121 pounds, 37“bust, she became his favorite model.


Susan Ames far left in 1954, with Jimmy Durante, Angie Dickinson, Groucho Marx and Dawn Oney. [Internet free domain] Susan died on 6 June 2008 in Saratoga Springs, Florida.


Suzanne Ainbinder [Susan Ames] True Girl #2 by Vargas November 1951. [author collection]


“Irish” Nellie Elizabeth McCalla was born 25 December 1928, in Pawnee City, Nebraska, USA, appearing as the third TRUE girl by Vargas in December 1951. During WWII she worked in an aircraft factory and spent weekends on the beach as a lifeguard or sketching for her paintings. That’s where Alberto discovered her in 1949, she was twenty years old.



By age 16 years, Irish McCalla’s measurements were 39-24-38 and she stood 5’ 10” which attracted a number of pin-up photographers. Irish and Alberto [5’ tall] appeared together on the November 1950 issue of EVE magazine, and a year later she appeared as the True Girl by Vargas. Google her name and be prepared to read an amazing career from an equal amazing Vargas pin-up lady.


The comic book “Sheena” Queen of the Jungle originated in 1942, and Irish McCalla became the living Sheena in the T.V. series from 1955 to 1956. She was also a very talented artist and received private instructions from Alberto, became a member of Women Artist of the American West and painted over 1,000 paintings, one of which hangs in the [West Wing] of the White House. Irish survived a brain tumor operation twice, then passed away from a third brain tumor and stroke on 1 February 2002 in Tucson, Arizona, USA.


Irish McCalla was raised with strong Catholic values and only appeared nude in a series of images taken by her trusted friend Alberto Vargas, which he used to complete his painting for True magazine 1951. She requested those images only be published after her death, and that request was honoured. The set of nudes were published for the first time in Playboy magazine issue February 2008. Much more info, plus, many photos can be found on other websites if interested, and the complete set of nudes are online. This is the free domain 1950 image which Vargas used for his final painting, where he captured her full nude beauty. Alberto first completed the full nude body flesh watercolor tint which was the most important factor in all paintings. He applied glycerine to the water, keeping it wet for even color flow. His complete technique is explained in detail in the 1978 publication “VARGAS” by Reid Stewart Austin. The see-through red nightie was airbrushed on last.


True Girl by Vargas page 45, December 1951 issue, which inspired B-29 Korean War Nose Art, “Baby San.” It is most likely Irish McCalla never learned her topless image flew over and bombed North Korea in 1952. [author collection]



98th Bomb Group B-29 Superfortress 44-86290, Yokota, Japan, January 1952. “Baby San” was a Japanese meaning for very young. The lady is playing strip poker [three cards] and holds a lucky chicken wish-bone in left hand. Half of her panties are gone, however her cards read “21.”

The U.S.A.A.F. 98th Bombardment Group [Very Heavy] were a famous WWII unit which served in North Africa and Sicily earning Distinguished Citations for the bombing raids on the oil fields at Ploesti, Rumania, August 1943. A large number of the B-24 bombers they flew carried nose art pin-up ladies from the pages of Esquire magazine, painted by artist’s George Petty and Alberto Vargas. The unit was inactivated on 10 November 1945, as their services were no longer required.

On 1 July 1947, the 98th B.G. was activated, re-designated a medium bomber unit and began training in the B-29 Superfortress bomber, stationed at Spokane, Air Force Base, Washington, 24 September 1947, under Strategic Air Command.  In August 1950, the 98th moved to Yokota Air Base, Japan, attached to Far East Air Forces for duty in the United Nations Korean War offensive. They primarily bombed in support of U.N. ground troops, attacking oil centres, rail marshalling yards, troop concentrations, military installations and enemy airfields. Almost every B-29 carried life-size nude or topless elaborate American nose art paintings, which were painted by a local Japanese lady artist called “Rembrandt.” Just seven years before, this young lady had been hiding from the same American B-29s which burned Japan to the ground with a great loss of civilian life. Now this unknown Japanese lady was applying her artistic talent to some of these very same WWII American bombers. Each month she selected a new Al Moore Esquire pin-up girl page and created her own aircraft nose art for the American B-29 aircrew.

Note – on right, August 1950, page of Al Moore “Esquire Girl” taped to the B-29 nose skin.


[author collection from Herbert L. Zuidema, Yokota, Japan]


Al Moore painting “Esquire Girl” August 1950 issue [author collection]


The completed B-29 nose art pin-up girl – “Our Gal.” [author collection]



Sadly, the name of this Japanese lady artist has been lost with the passage of time; however with the power of the internet, her identity can possibly still be preserved for history. By early June 1952, the war in Korea was coming to a slow uneasy close and the 98th Bomb Group was in-activated on 16 June 1952, returning to the United States. Korea became the last battle ground for the B-29 Superfortress, as the massive bomber was no match for the Russian built Mig 15 jet fighters. The last RB-29 combat mission flown over Korea took place 27 July 1953.

The January 1952 True Girl by Vargas is a mystery, named by Alberto Miss Autumn Rice




The correct name and date of birth for Miss Rice is not known. Age 21 years, 5’ 3”, 35-24-34.

February 1952, True Girl by Vargas was Miss Mara Corday, featured in my cover story.





This original pose was sketched in 1947, when seventeen-year-old Miss Corday was a showgirl at the Earl Carroll Theatre, Sunset Blvd. This image was taken in possibly 1950, for True magazine publication, appearing in the February 1952 pin-up page 45. [author collection]


If there is one single model pose which was a trade-mark to Alberto Vargas, I feel it was this 1947 image. Alberto drew and painted this [V for Varga] image in at least four different postions, and had Esquire, Inc., and David Smart not destroyed everything with the name “Varga” Miss Mara Corday would still today be the most famous “Varga signature girl” ever.

Miss Corday was signed by Universal Pictures and received small roles in various class “B” movies as well as a number of Westerns. In 1975, she met and became a close friend of Clint Eastwood, possibly due to her western movie acting. She had a brief but very significate role in four of his film’s, 1977 “The Gauntlet”, 1983 “Sudden Impact”, 1989 “Pink Cadillac” and 1990 “The Rookie.”  In 1983, she played the waitress dumping tons of sugar into Inspector Harry Callahan’s coffee and the hostage being held by a black thug when Dirty Harry said – “Go ahead, make my day,” What a lady, what a claim to fame. Google the movie clip and count how many shots Dirty Harry fired. [Was it five or six?]

On 29 November 1978, I wrote to Esquire, Inc., New York City, and they sent me a list of 162 “Varga Girls” from their files, painted from 1940-1946. These girls were drawn three or four times on tissue paper before he began his final painting. During his 1960-73 Playboy years he painted 152 works, two covers, and these girls were drawn on one tissue paper before his final painting. For some unknown reason, the nine [1951-52] True Girls by Vargas are missing from publications, websites, and Vargas history in general. In the mid-1990’s, I ask Reid Austin what an original TRUE Vargas painting would be worth. He estimated around $100,000.

Charles Martignette possessed the largest collection of original Vargas paintings, other that the Estate of the Alberto Vargas. In 2008, Martignette died at Hallandale, Florida, and selected paintings from his vast estate collection have been auctioned off for millions, on three different dates. In February 2010, a Varga 22” by 18” Duotone color signature [below] painting of Miss Mara Corday sold for $101,575.00.





Alberto Vargas placed an ad in Variety magazine for models, and he received a variety of interesting ladies who wished to pose in the nude for his 1951-52 TRUE magazine paintings. The March 1952 True Girl featured a very mature [32 years of age] attractive Florence Marly, Czech-born, 2 June 1919, French trained actress, who had appeared in several films.

Movie ad photo for the 1949 film Tokyo Joe with Florence Marly and Humphrey Bogart.


The most attractive Florence Marly had just appeared in the film “Tokyo Joe” with Humphrey Bogart, which was the very first Hollywood feature film shot entirely on location in Japan. The above free domain image first appeared in Screenland magazine on 1 September 1950. The film had mixed reviews from the critics, writing it was – “little more than a Bogart parody.” Marly’s performance in the film received positive reviews, some stating she gave her best performance ever. It is possible Alberto Vargas saw the film and the natural beauty of this veteran actress caught his eye. Marly had escaped Nazi-Germany with her Jewish husband [Pierre Chenal] and lived in Argentina where she stared in several films under the name Hana Smekalova. She played a major role in the film Les Maudits, a fictional account of the fate of World War Two Nazi refugees. There is much more to this amazing actress, and Vargas pin-up girl, so please Google her name and enjoy. During the Korean War she returned to Japan to entertain American troops and justly was painted as nose art on a 98th B.G., B-29 bomber.


The 1951 pose of Florence Marly in Alberto Vargas private studio.


Reid Stewart Austin was in this studio many times and displayed [seen] on his left, Alberto had a wall covered with his WWII Esquire “Varga” girls, the ones legally stolen by David Smart. His studio contained a small washroom, and when you lifted the toilet seat, there was a large blow-up photo of David Smart. David Smart died at age sixty, [1952] unable to recover from a very minor operation, and the feelings of joy from Alberto can be fully understood. The man who almost destroyed him was now gone forever, and his Vargas Girls were being reborn in the pages of True magazine and once again painted on the nose of American aircraft in the Korean War. Vargas was back, but still largely forgotten.


Blow-up photo from True magazine March 1952. [Author collection]


She appeared in 23 films and T.V. in the 1960’s. Was blacklisted in Hollywood as a Russian spy, which later proved to be false, however it affected her American movie career.


The 32-year-old Florence Marly, March 1952 True magazine. Married twice, she died at age 59 years, Glendale, California, 9 November 1978.


Painted by the same unknown female Japanese nose artist at Yokota, Air Force Base, Japan, on B-29A serial 42-94022, in the 98th Bomb Group.


Skivvy Girl became the third Korean War B-29 inspired from a True Girl by Alberto Vargas.


The April 1952, True Girl by Vargas was another sunny blonde knockout, born 5 November 1931, in Waukesha, Wisconsin, named Marilyn Ardith Waltz. [Author collection]



The twenty-year-old was a pin-up model/actress who answered the Variety ad requesting new models, and its possible Alberto took some images to finish her painting. The above free domain was taken by Ace advertising photographer Hal Adams for the April 1954 Playmate. This is what Alberto saw, sketched, and painted just three years earlier.


Page 45 True Girl by Vargas, April 1952. [Author collection]


Marilyn Waltz first appearance in Playboy magazine for February 1954 issue under the name Margaret Scott. She appeared in a number of men’s magazines in the 50’s including the above taken for a British pulp. Her sole movie actress appearance came in 1954, a very obscure film titled “Love Me Madly.” She became a more successful TV commercial actress appearing in several ads, and then owned a successful real estate firm in Southern California. In 1993, she moved to Medford, Oregon, working in real estate and retiring in 1993. Miss Waltz died at age 75 years on 23 December 2006, in Medford, Oregon.



The Original “Esquire” Varga Girl 1941 to 1947 appeared as the May 1952 True Girl.



From Reid Stewart Austin 1995 phone call – “Alberto had initially used his wife Anna Mae as his main model until late in 1940. He then found a fifteen-year-old petite beauty with glorious flaming red hair, and Jeanne Dean became his primary “Varga” model during 1941 and 1942. She was chaperoned by her mother for the first meeting, where Alberto introduced her to his wife and explained his intentions. Alberto was a perfect gentleman and Jeanne’s mother never played guardian again.


Jeanne first posed in the Vargas apartment at 936 Lake Shore Drive, where Anna Mae was always close by. Alberto preferred petite models as he found their bodies were more evenly proportioned than longer legged ladies. Jeanne was 5’ 3” and her body had an indelible effect on all future Varga girl’s paintings during the Second World War.




Jeanne Dean was born 30 May 1925 in Chicago, where she was working as an usherette in the Studio Theatre when discovered in late 1940. In 1941 and 42 she became the primary model appearing as the Vargas Esquire girl in the monthly magazine plus over 250,000 Esquire calendars published for WWII troops each year. In 1943, Jeanne went to Hollywood and signed a contract with MGM, appearing in five motion pictures from 1952 to 1957. From 1946 to 1950 she returned to pose for some incredible nudes in the Vargas Legacy series.


This is Jeanne in Legacy #4 a 22” by 36” masterpiece titled “Cordillera de Los Andes.” You can find the complete nude image online and reproductions for sale on the internet.


In late 1951, Jeanne returned to pose for Alberto, [girl eight] she was 26 years of age and working on two films which both came out in 1952, “Never Wave at a WAC” and “Voodoo Tiger.” In August 1958, the government of Peru invited Alberto and Anna to Lima for a major exhibit of his girl art. Some thirty paintings were crated and placed on a freighter, including the above True Girl of May 1952. This True painting original did not return to the United States until 1990, where it sold for $35,000.00. Someone rich and famous has it today and it could now be worth $135,000.00. Jeanne Dean [Kotler] died from lung cancer at her home in Malibu, age 68 years, 20 August 1994.


Author collection.


The May 1952 True image later appeared in a deck of Vargas playing cards. I suspect this image also appeared on aircraft during the Korean War, however I could never find any photo proof, and I do not have a large collection of Korean War nose art. [Over to you American experts]



The Ninth and last TRUE Girl by Vargas, appeared in June 1952. This beautiful lady posed as a Miss and appeared in True as a Mrs., the mother of a new baby boy.




The last True Girl became Miss Maxine Avis Ewart, born 22 February 1929, in Los Angeles, California. In 1949, she was a student attending the University of Southern California, winning two beauty awards and Miss Pasadena in 1950. In 1951, she answered the Vargas ad in Variety magazine and was selected for the last True Girl painting.


In 1951, Miss Ewart posed for Alberto and a few months later, [October] learned she was pregnant. The father Frank Gifford and Miss Ewart were married on 13 January 1952, and a son Jeffrey Scot Gifford was born on 15 June 1952, two weeks after his mother appeared in True magazine. The full story of Football great Frank Gifford and his three wives can be found on many websites if interested. In the late 1960s, Johnny Carson [Tonight Show] discovered his wife Joanne was having an affair with ex-NFL star Frank Gifford, and this led to divorce in both families. Miss Maxine Avis Ewart [Mrs. F. Gifford] died on 6 December 1998, in Fairfield, Connecticut, at 69 years of age. In the mid 1990s, Reid Stewart Austin estimated this original painting of Mrs. Maxine [Frank] Gifford could possibly sell for as much as $150,000.00. Lies, sex, and fame, sell for big bucks. This original 20” by 30” painting is believed to be in the Charles G. Martignette estate collection, and could be auctioned off in the near future.




The Frank Gifford family in happy times, Christmas 1963 [free domain]



Original True Girl by Vargas, page 45, June 1952. It is possible this image also appeared as aircraft nose art during the Korean War. [author collection]


The Nine Forgotten Vargas Girls 1951-52


October 1951 – Miss Gwen Caldwell, [1927- living] actress, [three films] pin-up model. Korean War B-29 Nose Art painting “NEVER.”


November 1951 – Miss Susan Ames, [born Suzanne Marguerite Ainbinder, 31 Dec. 1931 – 6 June 2008] actress, [seven films] pin-up model, Opera dancer.


Dec. 1951 – Miss Irish McCalla, [born Nellie Elizabeth McCalla, 25 Dec. 1928 – 1 Feb. 2002] T.V. actress, [Sheena 1955-56] pin-up model, artist who also painted nude ladies. Korean War B-29 Nose Art first painting named Phippen’s Pippins, later became “Baby San.”


Jan. 1952 – Miss Autumn Rice, [born unknown, age given as 21, name unknown] pin-up model. Possibly became an actress.


Feb. 1952 – Miss Mara Corday, [born Marilyn Joan Watts, 3 Jan. 1930 – living] actress, [ten films] pin-up model. Playboy Playmate 1958.


Mar. 1952 – Miss Florence Marly, [born 2 June 1919 – 9 Nov. 1979] actress, [23 films and T.V.] pin-up model. Married twice, blacklisted in Hollywood for a number of years. Korean War B-29 Nose Art painting, “Skivvy Girl” serial 42-94022.


Apr. 1952 – Miss Marilyn Waltz, [born Marilyn Ardith Waltz, 5 Nov. 1931 – 23 Dec. 2006, actress, [one-film 1954] singer, T.V. commercial actress, pin-up model. Playboy Playmate three times – 1954, Feb., 1954, April, and again April 1955.


May 1952 – Miss Jeanne Dean, [born 30 May 1925 – 20 Aug. 1994] actress, [five films 1952-57] pin-up model, original Vargas girl at age fifteen years.


June 1952 – Miss Maxine Ewart, [born Maxine Avis Ewart, 22 Feb. 1929 – 6 Dec. 1998] pin-up model, housewife to famous NFL star [All-American halfback] Frank Gifford.

The Korean War [1950-53] is often called the “Forgotten War” by Americans in publications and historical websites. This was the very first armed conflict of the Cold War, setting the tone for the Soviet-American rivalry, Space Race, and profoundly shaping the world we live in today. Sixty-six years later North Korea and United States continue to mount missile tests and taunt each other with threats of total nuclear war.

In 1946, Alberto Vargas and Esquire, Inc. went their separate ways and many court battles took place in the next four years. In 1948, Alberto published his “Varga” calendar, and Esquire obtained a court order to bar the artist from selling or distributing any product with the name “Varga.” In 1950, a District Court ruled [#10216 and #10217] that artist Alberto Vargas had to sign all his subsequent girl paintings with his full name “Vargas.” The artist and his Varga Girls were dead, and all his paintings were now property of Esquire, Inc. Thanks to American greed, David Smart and Esquire had maliciously taken the Varga Girls and disposed of the creator Alberto Vargas, just what they wanted. Alberto Vargas had nothing to show for his past five years of his work, plus the wartime Esquire Girls were no longer his property. The desperate couple slowly realized they had to start all over again, as Reid Austin said “treading water in an ocean of debt.”

For some unknown reason, [I can’t find the answer] the nine-month series of Hollywood starlets painted by Alberto Vargas for TRUE magazine are lost and forgotten. Even famous art dealer and fine art collector Charles G. Martignette fails to mention the True Girls by Vargas in his publications. Why? Martignette in fact owned a number of these original True Girls, now property of his huge millions estate.

My history on these nine Vargas starlets began in my simple search to find if they appeared as nose art in the Korean War, and yes three in fact were nose art. Two of these ladies are still living, and only one remains unknown. Six appeared in a total of 49 movies and two in a T.V. series. I am a huge fan of Turner Classic Movies and now and then one of these young pin-up girls appears in a movie, however even the TCM historians have no idea they were a Korean War pin-up lady or appeared on nose art. They are truly the “Forgotten Vargas Girls.”

Many thanks to Reid Stewart Austin for his friendship and answering my many questions.


6 thoughts on “The Forgotten “Vargas” Girls (Draft PDF Version)

  1. Peter J. Perrault

    I believe that I have the most extensive Petty collection. I was also friend of Reid Austin. Would it be possible to correspond with Mr. Simonsen ?


  2. Edward McCaul

    I was wondering if you would know the real names of the women who were Vargas girls for Playboy? If not, do you know where I could find out? Thanks


    1. Pierre Lagacé Post author

      Not an easy answer, he will have to research all the Vargas girls from the beginning.

      The first Playboy girls were called -pickups. They came from the private stock of Vargas and were not posed by any model from the 1960s.
      The fourth Playboy, December 1960, was the first created from scratch by Vargas, and the age of the girls now dropped from twenty-five to around eighteen years. Hefner wanted younger girls and that’s what Alberto created. Vargas created many of the Playboy girls himself, the first Negro [March 1964] was never posed, all created by Vargas. Alberto created six nudes of Hollywood super stars who would never pose nude for the photographers, including Liz Taylor, but some were never published. Some Playboy girls were created during WWII and repainted for Playboy for the Viet Nam war. Some were created from 1920 French nude photos [Nov. 1962 Playboy] and Dec. 63 Playboy was 1942 model Georgia Carroll. Dec. 64 Playboy was Sophia Laren but never posed, all created by Vargas. January 1966, was Liz Taylor as Cleopatra, with huge boobs. Jan. 1969 Playboy was a WWII pose repainted. Sept. 66 Playboy was Ann Margret from Bye Bye Birdie.

      I have most of these Vagas Playboy girls taken from the magazine when I was in my teens.

      Purchase the book VARGAS by Reid Stewart Austin 1978, Harmony Books, New York.
      The last book by Reid Stewart Austin [he died Sept. 2006] Alberto Vargas, 2006, Bulfinch Press, New York.




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