A big thanks to site follower/viewer Art Scott for passing along some intriguing info (complete with links) about revered golden/silver age illustrator Robert McGinnis and sex educator, author and feminist Shere Hite, who sadly passed away not long ago on September 9th, 2020.
An April 2017 Vanity Fair magazine feature by Michael Callahan, “The McGinnis Look”, profiled the artist and his iconic paperback covers and movie posters featuring distinctively stylized femme fatales who became known as “the McGinnis Woman”: long, lithe figures draped (or more likely undraped) in 1960’s-70’s mod patterned apparel. These trademark women appeared on numerous pulpy mystery/crime fiction novels, perhaps as much a part of some series’ appeal as the stories themselves.
No news there to many followers and visitors of a “noir culture” blog like The Stiletto Gumshoe. The interesting bit of vintage illustration trivia and mid-twentieth century pop culture lore was the revelation that one of McGinnis’ frequently employed models was none other than a young Shere Hite, whose fit frame and wavy red tresses were a perfect match for McGinnis’ evolving style.
Shirley Diana Gregory was born in Missouri in 1942, changed her name to Shere Hite (using her stepfather’s surname after her parents’ divorce) and with her B.A. and a Masters in History under her belt, headed to New York in 1967 to work on her Ph.D at Columbia University. Just another Boho student squeezed into a cramped Manhattan apartment, Hite found work as an artist’s model, not only for Robert McGinnis, but for other pulp and paperback illustrators, such as Norm Eastman. But it’s her work with McGinnis that may be most readily identifiable, often retaining her thick mane of wavy red hair. International renown was only a few years away for Hite, but at that particular time, she was the McGinnis woman come to life.
Hite published a number of works from the mid-1970’s through 2006, starting with Sexual Honesty By Women For Women, then most notably The Hite Report On Female Sexuality two years later, and a follow up on men and male sexuality several years after that. As far back as 1948, Alfred Kinsey, and later, Masters & Johnson in the mid-1950’s, published ground-breaking studies on human sexuality, but Hite’s interview-based research largely discarded those pioneers’ notions about women’s sexual experiences and responses, which were still rooted in male-centric perspectives. From what I’ve read, she endured some nit-picking about her methodology, but my freshman year 100-level sociology and psychology classes certainly don’t qualify me to draw any such conclusions. What’s clear is that Hite played a crucial role in the 1960’s-1980’s women’s movements and evolving understanding of – and attitudes towards – female sexuality. That she was gearing up to accomplish all of this while earning some coin with art modeling gigs, and for well-known names in the mystery/crime fiction publishing arena – is pretty damn cool.
Follow the links below (with thanks again to follower/visitor Art Scott for those) to Michael Callahan’s 2017 Vanity Fair article on Robert McGinnis and a more recent piece from Air Mail News on Shere Hite and her McGinnis modeling work. It’s enough to make you scrutinize the faces of the people populating all those postwar paperbacks and mid-twentieth century pulp magazine covers a lot closer to see who else we might discover.