In the crowded double ballroom at the O'Hare Holiday Inn, a young model about to pose for a picture fixed her hair and adjusted her dress so that not too much cleavage was bared. Another, sitting alone, ate from a plastic-wrapped package of potato salad and sipped a diet drink through a green straw. Melodye Prentiss, Playboy Playmate of the Month back in July 1968, pulled out her bifocals to look at another former Playmate's promotional material. A few booths over, Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace showed a visitor photos of her toddler grandchildren.
They were all there for the 26th Glamourcon, a marketplace for the buying and selling of images of posed women, held several times a year at hotels around the country. More than 30 former Playmates from as far back as 1954 were manning booths, where they sold autographed glossies and posed for shots with fans. In addition to the Playmates there were a bevy of self-made Internet celebrities--"Atlanta's sexiest executive" Pumpk'n, "sensational Italian seductress" Aria Giovanni--plus purveyors of vintage nudie magazines, erotic art, and adult-themed collectibles. Photographers were selling their wares, and Playboy cartoonist Buck Brown was signing autographs.
For $15, attendees could peruse the offerings and talk with their favorite pinup girls. The men wandering the aisles, some with their girlfriends, were of all shapes and sizes and races; most inspected the items in front of them as if they were antiquing. Occasionally they would tap another guy on the shoulder, hand him a camera, and ask him take their picture with one of the ladies. Cynthia Myers, Miss December 1968, spoke with a middle-aged couple who remarked on the size of the turnout. There have been even more guys in previous years, Myers said. She blamed the economy. They readily agreed.
After a few laps around the room, I built up the courage to approach Myers, whose pictorial I first came across as a pubescent youngster surreptitiously paging through my father's dog-eared magazine. Almost 51, she still has the wide-eyed zest showcased in the 33-year-old photographs displayed on her booth walls, as well as the forcefully oblong breasts that made her image a highlight for the enlisted men of the time.
"My centerfold came out right in the middle of the Vietnam war, so most of the soldiers carried my photo right into battle," she told me. "I was a reminder of a girl back home. It's such an honor. The majority of these people are so sincere; soldiers come up to me today and tell me about their tours in Vietnam. I give out the Veteran of the Year Award each year, go to VA hospitals on Valentine's Day and Thanksgiving, and work with the Traveling [Vietnam Memorial] Wall."
I recounted for her my tale of the December 1968 Playboy hidden under my bed. "There are a lot of fathers and big brothers out there I have to thank," she told me. "Young men write to me, boys the same age as my son. They could have all these 18-year-old Playmates"--she motions vaguely to Irina Voronina, Miss January 2001, who's standing nearby--"and they prefer De De Lind [Miss August 1967], Lisa Baker [Playmate of the Year 1967], and me. It's quite flattering."
Myers agreed that there is a certain je ne sais quoi to the Playboy pictorials of the late 1960s that many readers feel hasn't been matched since. "Though I particularly like the 1940s pinups myself. That was a great era."
Sitting next to Patti Reynolds, Miss September 1965, is Wayne, a stick-thin middle-aged man in a black T-shirt and jeans. I ask if he is Reynolds's bodyguard, as I see many men sitting next to other Playmates. Oh no, he tells me. He's a friend, though, having met her at many conventions over the years. Wayne's a regular, attending Glamourcons in different cities even when it's a financial hardship. He tells me that five years ago, at his first convention, he dropped $1,000 on autographed pictures and other collectibles. I ask him the difference between the Saturdays and the Sundays at these conventions. "Sundays are less crowded--everybody's at church," he says with a grin.
Linda Lovelace returns to her table with some cantaloupe slices and a plastic fork. Behind her hangs a black T-shirt that reads i made Linda Lovelace gag! in white capital letters. She tells me she's having a hard time selling them, these shirts that brag of the wearer's endowment. I point out that perhaps potential buyers are put off by the slogan's second mean-ing, which suggests they were so unattractive as to warrant a physical expression of repulsion from the star as they approached her table. Lovelace gives me a look that indicates I'm reading too much into it.
This is only her fifth convention; she started doing them last October. After decades of welfare, temping, and being fired from straight jobs when her employers discovered her infamy, Lovelace decided it was time to get a piece of her own action. She claims she's never seen any royalty checks from Deep Throat, and that she didn't earn any money for the three and half weeks she spent making it in 1972.
"I never realized how much money could be made [at conventions]. I didn't even know this world existed," says Lovelace in a quiet voice, difficult to hear above the din of Glamourcon. "I've met a bunch of great people, heard great stories, you know? It beats getting up at 4 AM and going off to work. I'm not a morning person." I ask if she's ever had to deal with aggressive fans. "Only one, about ten minutes ago, when I went outside for a cigarette," she says. "He was very pushy, putting his arms around me, wanting to give me a kiss." Most people who approach her, she says, are very respectful and supportive. She even gets approached by couples who credit her with improving their sex lives.
"I watched the film for the first time two weeks ago--from beginning to end, that is--and I don't see what everyone was so crazy about. But then I think, well, it was 1972, so in context I understand."
Lovelace says she is seldom recognized on the streets, although when she was out to dinner in Florida recently with her father and his girlfriend, a woman came up to their table effusive with praise. "That was the first time in a long while that I was spotted. She was very respectful in front of my father." Her father went to see the film when it was released and left the theater sick to his stomach. But she says things have gotten better over the years, as he's seen people's positive reactions to it.
"There's a SAG [Screen Actors Guild] clause that says that if you are in any way responsible for the success of a film, their legal department will go after them," says Lovelace. "Nobody ever did anything for me." She pauses. "It's time for me. I've been hungry. A lot of people have been making a lot of money [from Deep Throat]; now it's my turn." She tells me that she sees items on eBay that are being sold as her belongings--clothing and objects she's never owned. What's more, conventions in the past have featured impostors claiming to be her.
"So how do I know you are you?" I ask. Linda Lovelace laughs.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Grant Rosenberg.