Dreamin' of a red (or blond, or brunette) Christmas

 

 
 
 

Here is a selection of Christmas gifts books for those gentlemen who prefer blonds, those who are partial to brunettes, or those fond of redheads.

PEOPLE IN VOGUE: A CENTURY OF PORTRAITS

Editors: Robin Derrick and Robin Muir

Little Brown

352 pp., $35

Anyone who was, well, anyone was in the pages of Vogue magazine, the American and later British publication that celebrated the celebrated.

While it wasn't completely necessary to be drop-dead gorgeous to make the mag -- the unkind might describe Lady Ottoline Morrell from the 1920s as decided horse-faced -- it didn't hurt to have an aquiline nose and fine cheekbones. Good eyes helped as well, and a comely body was a positive too.

This book is fascinating, however, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is our changing definition of beauty over the past 10 decades. Equally importantly, the informative captions from editors Robin Derrick and Robin Muir put the people on these pages in their historical context.

All the best photographers are present too, from Cecil Beaton to Mario Testino. Some of the pictures present women who are impossibly thin -- Twiggy, of course, but there's also Marissa Berenson and Hilary Swank -- and others bring us couples whose lives turned into tragedy. In that category are pictures of a topless Sharon Tate, soon to be murdered by the Charlie Manson gang, and her hubby Roman Polanski. And then there's a positively charming 1968 photo of Claus and Sunny von Bulow.

She gazes at him worshipfully and they look so happy. Alas, in 1980 he would be charged and acquitted of her attempted murder after she was found in an insulin-induced coma in their lavish apartment. He's free, and she remains in a coma after 24 years.

PLAYBOY BLONDES

Text by James R. Peterson

Chronicle Books

127 pp., $22.95

"It was a blonde," Raymond Chandler wrote in Farewell, My Lovely. "A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window."

There are those kinds of blonds in this survey of the golden-haired from the pages of Playboy magazine since its very beginning when it ran the icon photograph of Marilyn Monroe arrayed on a red satin sheet. The picture was called Golden Dreams and, alas, it is not part of this collection. There is a photo of Mamie van Doren and Ursula Andress, two once-idolized bombshells who defined for many the blond allure. And as van Doren says in a quotation from this book: "It is possible that blondes also prefer gentlemen."

PLAYBOY BRUNETTES

Text by James R. Patterson

Chronicle Books

127 pp., $22.95

Brunettes were good enough for social critic and curmudgeon H.L. Mencken, mostly because their hair frames their face and makes you look directly at them. "They have depths," he said. "They draw the male gaze into mysterious and sinister recesses."

Indeed, they do.

While Patterson's text is similar to the work he did with Playboy Blondes, the possibility of an increased ethnic mix makes the photographs in Brunettes a more, uh, interesting book.

And maybe writer Anita Loos had it right. "Gentlemen prefer blondes," she said, "but they marry brunettes."

PLAYBOY REDHEADS

Text by James R. Patterson

Chronicle Books

127 pp., $22.95

Blonds may have more fun and brunettes may look more dangerous, but redheads are fiery. Or so we learn in the introduction to the survey of the redheads who have appeared in the pages of Playboy over the last five decades.

We also learn that there are thousands and thousand of Internet sites focusing on blond jokes, but only a scant 44 that tell redhead jokes, and most of those are merely blond-joke variations.

"While the rest of the species is descended from apes, redheads are descended from cats," wrote Mark Twain.

There is evidence, scanty admittedly, that it's not a good idea to mess with a redhead.

Lizzie Borden, the one who took an axe and handed out whacks to her family, was a redhead.

All three of these books have their charms, and Patterson's introductions are uniformly engaging, but arranging the photographs in a chronological order would have allowed readers to see not only how the definition of beauty has evolved over the past five decades but also the art of photographing the nude.

GARBO: PORTRAITS FROM HER PRIVATE COLLECTION

Rizzoli

Introduction by Scott Reisfield and essay by Robert Dance

254pp., $70

There are dozens of things that are remarkable about the Garbo image and the Garbo face, but the most notable that's clear in this oversized book is how wonderfully changeable she was.

The photographs taken of her when she arrived in America from Sweden to become a contact player with MGM are almost unrecognizable from those taken 15 years later when she epitomized glamour and stardom.

Regardless, in every picture Garbo was delicate and refined. And in every picture she was almost unbelievably beautiful.

She was also the untouchable goddess, exotic, breathtaking and completely out -of -reach.

This collection, which includes stills from her movies both in Europe and North America, gives us an overview of a woman who was independent, tough minded and dedicated to her craft.

When she retired from Hollywood in 1941, she stayed retired, although there are photographs -- all impeccably reproduced in tri-tone -- of her in the '50s that prove that her beauty had deepened with the years.

A marvellous book.

mhorton@thejournal.canwest.com

 
 
 
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