In the 1950s we had Blaze Starr, Lili St Cyr, Tempest Storm, Bettie Page and a host of other exotic babes delighting crowds with their live acts, films or photographic images. These stunning ladies were on the cutting edge of adult entertainment and put the zip back into a show business world largely depressed by WWII and the Korean War. Cities like New York, Chicago and New Orleans were ablaze with nightclubs and night spots dedicated to the new glam!!! Fringe adult magazines soon became mainstream, and the birth of legendary men’s magazines, like Playboy owe much to these pioneering babes and their bodacious delights.
Fast forward forty years, and the exotic pin up babe has risen to new heights in popularity. However, this time it’s on the world stage. Where once pin ups appeared almost exclusively in local and national adult magazines, or appeared in various nightclubs aimed at middle-aged men and adolescents, today’s pin up models and performers are the nouveau royalty of the multimedia. The advent of the Internet, DVDs and high quality, low-cost photographs has seen an enormous worldwide surge in interest.
And this interest is no longer restricted to the male of the species. Many women now actively embrace the culture and enjoy the pin up image. Moreover, many women of all ages are now able to take an active part with the advent of sites like MySpace and various pin up and retro modeling sites. Anyone with a camera, a creative mind and a dream can emulate the pin up queens of yesteryear. The horizons of today’s models are virtually limitless. Many models can (and do) push the boundaries of traditional pin up modeling. The lines may be a little more blurred, but the intent of creating beautiful photography which magically draws in the viewer is still the model’s raison d’etre.
This interest has seen not only the birth of new generation of savvy saucy babes, but the rebirth of the classics. Women like Bettie Page and Blaze Starr have found themselves more famous now than at any time during their lives. Though they keep the media at arm’s length, the demand for autographs, old film footage and other memorabilia has grown exponentially. There are conventions and shows ranging from the newest Teas-O-Rama to a burlesque museum in the Californian desert, Exotic World USA, which was once the residence of famed exotic dancer, Jennie Lee. This interest has also fostered the new generation of pin up and performance babes. Stunning babes like Dita von Teese, Heidi van Horne, Betsey Bosen and the wonderfully seductive Bernie Dexter.
The beautiful Bernie Dexter grew up a navy brat in San Diego. But before that her mother was a 60s burlesque dancer from Oklahoma City. Bernie’s father met her when she was performing at a nightclub in the Philippines while he was on shore leave with the US Navy. Bernie inherited the genes that would continue to stop any sailor dead in his tracks, which is probably why Bernie is one of San Diego’s best loved treasures and home to a very happy navy.
Bernie has spent her entire life involved in the beauty business from her childhood days on the pageant circuit to her adult career as a highly successful pin up model. Couple this with Bernie’s love of clothing, particularly the classical fashions of the 40-50s, and you have the perfect “babe.” So much so that Bernie is also highly well known and regarded as JD Tornado on eBay where she sells classic clothes. Everything from corsets to camisoles and capris to Cleopatra halters!!!
Over the years Bernie has done some marvellous photo shoots, and nowadays her husband, well known rockabilly singer Levi Dexter, snaps some of Bernie’s best work. As a team they work together brilliantly. And Levi, once known for bringing down the house at LA hotspots like The Troubador and Whiskey-A-Go-Go or playing at The House of Blues, has certainly carved out a new niche as a highly talented pin up photographer. Indeed, it was Bernie’s deep love of rockabilly music as a teenager and a deep crush for Levi that would eventually lead to their marriage. There must be a classic song in their romance…
Bernie’s legion of fans enjoy her very hot website at:
On her great site you can not only learn more about Bernie’s fab career, but also interact directly with Bernie and ask questions or discuss all things relating to fashion, pin ups and other great exotica. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of fabulous pin up photos to enjoy plus links to other top pin up models and burlesque supplies and fashion photographers.
I recently caught up with the totally vivacious Bernie between fashion shoots and her growing retro-fashion businesses, and asked her a few questions about her career as a pin up model and rockabilly lifestyle.
David: Can you tell us what finally decided you to try your hand at modeling fulltime and why this particular modeling genre?
Bernie: I had a desire to model and was aware of glamour at a very young age. I actually started to model at 11 years old, but it’s really only been full time only for the past 3-4 years. As for why this genre, well I am a rockabilly girl & it is what my lifestyle is all about. I never expected my career to ever take off this way.
David: Of today’s models, who would you most like to do a photo shoot with?
Bernie: I prefer not to shoot with other models. I have done it a couple times but it always looks so unbalanced. I prefer to stand alone.
David: You have worked with some great photographers and now your husband Levi is creating some really great pin up images of you. However, what photographers would you really like to work with if you had the opportunity in the future?
Bernie: It would have been really great to work with the late Herb Ritts. I really liked his work. I would like to pose for people like Greg Gorman, Marla Rutherford and Greg La Chapelle.
David: How many covers or magazine articles have you appeared in so far?
Bernie: I haven’t kept count and it seems I turn up in ones I didn’t even know about.
David: what has been your favourite spread?
Bernie: Well, I think Barracuda & Secret have been two really cool ones. They both printed heaps of photos.
David: Do you sometimes wish that a little of the style and pizzazz of the 40s would come back into fashion today when you look at how sex is now sold as a commodity, often devoid of the sensuality and eroticism of those bygone days?
Bernie: Oh, but nothing has changed at all really. I think people forget about sex driven Old Hollywood! Look at Marilyn in the 50's & Joan Crawford in the 30's. That’s just to name two out of dozens of great names. Think back to the first King Kong movie where Fay Wray is in bondage and the moment when she has her clothes peeled off!! Hee-hee!!!
I think that the only thing that is really different is what people consider sexy. I do wish that surgery was not so readily available. I have not had anything done to enhance myself. I am happy the way I am. I give Bettie Page huge credit for that. When I saw pix of her the first time I finally felt normal. I’d never seen anyone with a similar shame before. And I was so modest before seeing her photos. I didn’t think I had a thing anyone would want to see. Hee-hee!!!
David: You collect various items from the 30-60s…can you tell us a little about exactly what you like to collect most and about some of your most treasured items?
Bernie: Yes I do LOVE vintage Hawaiian dresses, 50's Frederick's of Hollywood ANYTHING, 40's & 50's Levi Jeans, Burlesque costumes, 50's lingerie and well, just anything 50's!!! My favorite Hawaiian dress was a Eugene Savage print dress.
David: Also what three movies, three songs and three books would you most want with you?
Bernie: Oh I love films like The Women, Now Voyager, Sunset Boulevard. For music; Perfidia, I just love that song! Boppin’ to Grandfathers Clock by Sidney Jo Lewis 1958 (aka Hardrock Gunter) and Rome to Rock by Levi Dexter.
David: What does the future hold for Bernie Dexter?
Bernie: That’s a good question. Seems everyday the unexpected happens. And that’s how I like it. J
This interview is copyright 2006 David Priol
Photo copyright to their various owners and used with permission.