Peter Gowland was the first figure photographer I worked with. The photo below was taken as a test photo in mid-December 1961 to see if I would make a suitable figure model. I was not paid for this “test” shooting, nor was I asked to sign a model release form allowing this photo to be published.
Gloria Dawn by Peter Gowland. (Printed from unpublished original – My First Nude.)
These were only to be “test photos” for my figure. At the time they were taken, my hair was a mess because Alice wanted me to meet her husband on Friday evening, the evening before I went to my hairdresser to have my hair washed and curled. When I initially planned to meet him, I didn’t expect any photos to be taken, but was assured they were for test purposes only. You can see how horrible my hair was in the photo below.
Gloria Dawn by Peter Gowland (unpublished original).
However, I found out a few years ago that several of these “test photos” were published. The first one above (My First Nude) was published in two different magazines, even though I never signed a model release to allow these photos to be published. The two pictures above were given to me by Alice Gowland. I was told, a couple of years ago, that sometimes Peter Gowland traded photos for publication rights with new models who wanted to build up a portfolio of pictures. However, when I was given these photos, nothing was mentioned about publishing them. If I had been asked, I would have traded the complete set of photos taken that evening (just a two-hour shooting session) for publication rights but (1) I was not even asked to sign a model release form, and (2) I was not given copies of the complete set. For example, the face picture above, the one I was given, was not nearly as attractive as the one below, which was published.
Gloria Dawn (published in Peter Gowland Photographs The Figure, 1962).
Alice Gowland – Fellow Student
I met Alice Gowland while taking a creative writing class at Santa Monica City College. In the middle of the term, after the class had dwindled to approximately 15 students, we started chatting before class and during coffee break. Mostly we talked about coursework; sometimes we talked about our families. Alice was in her early forties and had two daughters, one just two years younger than I was. Although she talked a lot about her daughters, Alice didn’t say much about her husband, and nothing about his work, until the last class of the term, when she mentioned that she helped write his photography books. “He’s a well-known figure photographer,” she added.
Her comment set my mind whirling. I dreamed about being a model, but knew that neither my height (5 foot 4 inches) nor body type (curvy) met fashion model criteria. During the past year, it had dawned on me that I might make a suitable pinup model, an ambition I didn’t know how to act upon, until I met Alice.
“Do you think I could be a figure model?” I asked her.
“I noticed your attractive figure,” Alice replied, “but didn’t want to say anything to offend you.”
Alice was too discrete to make an overture, but as soon as I expressed interest, she moved quickly. Peter Gowland had a contract to provide each Cavalier girl-of-the-month. “We’re finding it difficult to come up with new girls. Cavalier wants models who haven’t appeared in other publications,” Alice said.
She wanted me to meet her husband the following evening. He made the final decision. (I wanted to wait until Saturday or Sunday, after my hair was set, but Alice said that it had to be Friday evening at the latest. They were under a deadline.)
Peter Gowland was a handsome man who looked 15 years younger than he was. Alice had sharp features and looked her age. In contrast to Alice’s loquacity, Peter spoke softly, using few words. A study in contrasts.
After asking a few questions, Peter started setting up lights and camera equipment to take test pictures; Alice led me to a small room and handed me a robe. Peter worked methodically, examining my face and body objectively. He shot a dozen photos, mostly full-figured nudes, but some with me wearing a lacy peignoir and some focused only on my face. He indicated, using minimal direction, how I should position my body, hold my head. Alice handed me the peignoir and robe when needed and helped move lights.
Accepted by Cavalier
Three weeks later, Alice phoned. Cavalier chose me as a model-of-the-month. We arranged the photography session for the following Saturday afternoon and Sunday – the first weekend in January 1962. These photos were shot with the explicit intention of having them appear in Cavalier, and I did sign a publication release document for this second shooting session. Unfortunately, these photos did not turn out well because I was wearing wigs in them and the wigs overwhelmed my small face. Nonetheless, they were published — only once in the July 1962 issue of the magazine, and then disappeared never to be seen again.
The Cavalier Photos
Gloria Dawn in black wig (published in Cavalier, Jul 62).
I can still remember Alice Gowland saying (when we established the shooting session), “I’ve had this idea about using wigs and you will be perfect for it. Your ivory complexion will blend well with different hair colours.” I didn’t consider her words carefully. I knew that I had a small head and could seldom put on a hat without it slipping over my face. But I didn’t equate hats with wigs. Furthermore, I expected to wear two or three wigs in a small part of the complete photo spread. After all, my shooting session began Saturday at noon, immediately after I finished with the hairdresser. But Alice was twice my age and had been working with Peter for more than 20 years; she should have been aware that standard wigs did not fit all models. She had already planned, in her mind, the series of wigs and costumes I would be wearing. Thus, she should have asked me to come in for a trial fitting a couple of days before the session. She didn’t. She was so certain that she could make everything go smoothly that she didn’t question her own judgement. I definitely would have gone to the Gowland’s house (which was only about four miles from where I lived) to try on wigs and costumes a day or two before shooting started. The money that I was being paid ($200 for the two-day shoot) was important, but not as important as “being the featured centerfold model,” which was what I had been promised.
So at noon on January 6, 1962, I arrived at the Gowland’s combination home/studio, with my hair looking good, as can be seen in the photo below. I expected Peter to shoot another nude photo like the one shown at the top of this section. Instead, Alice whisked me to the dressing room and helped me put on a costume for a farm girl scene: a red chequered shirt and tight denim pants cut off where thigh meets hip. Then I went into the studio where Peter had arranged his lights above a floor covered with hay. I lay on top of this hay with the chequered shirt open so it just teased my nipples – you can’t see it in the picture below, but using PhotoShop’s zoom function, I can see the corner of my right breast areola and the actual nipple of my left breast (it’s veiled by the red in the shirt). Once I was in place, Peter climbed a ladder and took several photos. This was not a comfortable pose; stalks of hay were poking me everywhere. Consequently, my smile looks fake – pained – but my hair looks great. (Later in my modelling career, I would assume more agonizing positions than this and smile convincingly, but I was a novice model when this photo was taken.)
Gloria Dawn with natural hair (published in Cavalier, Jul 62).
Unfortunately, this Cavalier picture of me with my natural hair is not flattering. Instead it accents my negative features. I remember when I first met Peter Gowland, before I took off any clothes, saying that I had “wide hips and heavy thighs.” Peter brushed my concerns aside, saying, “I can camouflage that.” And he did, as you can see in the top photo in this section. However, he could not camouflage it when I was wearing those cut-off jeans. This was the wrong costume for me, but Alice never considered this, and Peter let her make the costume decisions. (He concerned himself with technical issues like lighting, camera angle, etc.) Not only do these cut-off denim pants make my large bottom even more prominent, but it had a high, loose waistband. A saving grace with my large bottom/wide hip figure was my very small waist (23 inches). It gave a seductive curve to what could have been simply a “broad-ass, pear-shaped figure.” (You can see this “saving grace” in the other two nudes in this section.) But in the blond centerfold photo, the high, loose waistband transformed my narrow waist into a wide one, and thus made me look heavy around the middle. The waistband was made for someone with a more standard figure – i.e., a normal waist to hip ratio (such as 38” hips/30” waist) – not someone with an unconventional waist/hip ratio (38” hips/23” waist). I always wore bikini underpants in photos where there was a need to cover a portion of my hips/bottom because bikini pants allowed the curve from my small waist to large hip to be accented – and thus appear sexy. For my natural hair photo, the cut-off denim pants with the large waistband was the wrong accessory.
For this feature (called “She Flips Her Wig”), I wore several different wigs — the long black one shown above, a chestnut brown wig, an platinum blond one and a red wig. Neither the platinum blond nor the red wig was attractive and Cavalier gave them minimum space. The chestnut wig, however, looked quite good, and Cavalier printed two copies of me in this wig, using shadows to make one slightly darker than the other, and giving them different colour names to make it appear that I was wearing different wigs. I was wearing different costumes in these two pictures because Alice couldn’t decide which costume looked best, but the initial intention, when these photos were shot, was to have me appear only once wearing this wig. In the photo below, where I am wearing white underwear, the playful “me” shines through even though I am wearing a long-haired wig. I look up at the camera, flirt with my eyes and smile shyly.
Gloria Dawn in chestnut wig (published in Cavalier, Jul 62).
In the photo below, I am looking at the book — as instructed — and Cavalier only gave this photo a half-page (whereas the one with the white underwear got a full page).
Gloria Dawn in brown wig (published in Cavalier, Jul 62).
That July 1963 Cavalier was the last issue in which Peter Gowland published his exclusive girl-of-the-month. Whether it was my less-than-perfect photo spread that finished the deal, or a mutual parting of the ways, I’ll never know.
Working With Peter Gowland
Several people have asked what it was like working with Peter Gowland and the first thing I am tempted to say is: “He was the best looking man I ever met.” You might say that this doesn’t answer the question. But it is the first thing that comes to mind when I remember meeting him. So handsome! And I met him at the peak of my romance with Lou Rawls, so I wasn’t looking for another man, yet I was stunned by Peter’s good looks and quiet manner. Many models, I think, would have felt the same, and how a model feels comes across in the photo, so possibly one secret of Peter’s success was that his looks and personality enticed models to want to appear alluring in front of such an attractive man.
After the test photos were taken, I had minimal interaction with Peter. Alice Gowland helped me put on my costumes and wigs. Alice kept me company, showing me their house, telling me stories about other models Peter had photographed, while Peter set up scenes and lighting. Sometimes, I believe, Peter had an assistant to help him with lighting, but not when I was there. It was just Peter, Alice and me. As a novice model, I appreciated the protection of Alice’s presence. (Later, I would work alone with photographers and not feel uptight but at this point I was still nervous about being alone with a photographer.) Yet even though I appreciated Alice’s companionship, at the same time I remember thinking that she must often suffer jealousy when she sees Peter working with young, attractive models – and several of her stories about other models supported my musings. She was not only protecting me from any personal attraction Peter might feel for me but protecting Peter from any advances I might make towards him. (I never felt that Peter was in the least attracted to me, and except for noting his youthful-appearing good looks, I was never enamoured by him, but Alice’s presence made certain that there was no “connection” between us.)
Peter would set up a scene which he must have already visualized in his mind, then I would pose according to his instructions. He took relatively few photos of any given costume/scene. If anything had to be altered while I was in the pose, Alice made the changes. (I still remember the scenes with the black wig and Alice fiddling with that wig, splaying parts over the pillow, while strands of hair kept falling over my face and getting into my mouth, and Alice saying, “It’ll be okay” while she tried to make it look right.)
It’s Not Me
I didn’t see the Cavalier photos for six months, and when I did, my first reaction was “It’s not me.” Now, from the vantage of time, I can look at the black hair photo and admire Peter’s mastery at getting my figure to look great. It was my figure, made to look at its best. The only thing wrong with that photo is the wig – there was just too much hair. A few years ago, My Archives held a contest for its PhotoShop experts to “fix the hair on this photo” so that it looked more like me. Mick Nuggets won the contest. His PhotoShopped version is printed below. You can see that with the hair clipped, the face does look more like me. (Compare this photo with some Michael LeRoy photos that were taken with my real hair dyed black.)
Gloria Dawn in black wig (PhotoShop version by Mick Nuggets).
About a year ago, a friend sent me a video of a TV show of Peter and Alice working together in the 1990s. Yes, they were still working together as a team in their 80s. And by this time, Peter looked as old as Alice did. In the middle of the show, Peter started talking about an affair he had that almost broke up their relationship. Alice was asked how she coped, and among other things she stated: “I took a creative writing course at Santa Monica City College.” So right at the time I worked with them, their marriage was rocky, and I felt this during my two-day Cavalier shoot. This may have affected my particular experiences when working with the Gowlands.