Good afternoon, perverts…
The intentionally phallic sounding John Willie (snort) and his slip of a wife, Australian born Holly Anna Faram, muse and model to 1950’s fetishist photographer, illustrator, editor and creator of Bizarre, a soft porn cult magazine, which ran for 10 years from 1946.
A man clearly before his time (1902-62), as this quotation makes clear:
What you do, or do not do, is your own business, all that matters is that the enjoyment be mutual… There is a partner to suit everyone somewhere, but the search will be difficult until we can discuss our likes and dislikes, openly, in good taste, without threat from our own brand of standardized Police State.
Remember this was the 1940’s, when hogtied women’s open declarations of bondage, BDSM and heavily hinted at lesbianism were not a mere Nicki Minaj video away. A competent watercolourist, Willie’s works depict not kingfishers and rowing boats but early amputee fetishism. Now tell me that isn’t progressive. These aren’t your grandma’s watercolours.
Truly a pioneer, Willie’s (real name the far less titillating John Alexander Scott Coutts) vision of black-hair-with-bangs-stern-dominatrix would later be adapted by Bettie Page (who didn’t pose nude until 1950) when the NYPD officer who first saw something in her (ahem) Jerry Tibbs suggested she style her hair with bangs in front, to keep light from reflecting off her high forehead while being photographed. Bangs soon became integral with the Page look, influencing in turn an entire generation of alt-bombshells wearing their hair in the blunt, severe ‘Bettie bangs’ of yore. Later collaborator Irving Klaw purchased material from Willie and promptly had another legendary artist, Eric Stanton, paint clothing over the whip marks.
I have long been entranced by the few remaining photographs of Faram. Wiry and pin-curled with jet black pompadour, leather limbs snaking out from translucent slips, she carries a knowing gaze as she stagey lounges, engrossed in some anonymous book, the contents of which are left undeciphered. Little is known about the feline muse; in one picture in oil slick, glove close satin, while rope bound in Cuban heeled stockings in another – a portion of Willie’s archives were destroyed at his own hand when he found out that he was dying from a brain tumour. Faram’s pale nude flesh more on show than her life story, one can merely guess at the precise dynamics of the relationship between man and wife as we consult their archives – the type that can only be looked at with one hand.
My favourite image shows Faram erect in a room of dark floral wallpaper. Pale and slender but projecting an exaggerated, pneumatic shadow of her nude figure onto the adjacent wall.
It gets more interesting still to learn of the rumours of bondage model Judith Ann Dull modelling for Willie before she was abducted and snuffed (in real life) in 1957 by Harvey Glatman, the ‘glamour girl slayer’, after agreeing to model for him under the ruse that he had been contracted by a magazine publisher “back east” to take damsel-in-distress photos. No concrete proof remains, but the resemblance is certainly there, based on photos of Judy Dull released at about the same time. Speaking of a sequence he was considering setting up with ‘Pat and Judy’, two of his favourite brunette models, Willie wrote, “If I was using that girl who worked with Judy, the fair one, I’d pull it – for she’d really enjoy it even if Judy didn’t. There’s still no word on what happened to her… “
Of all of Willie’s models, it is this possible cruel irony which remains most intriguing and which, much like the man himself, will probably forever remain mostly mystery.
Bizarre: The Complete Reprint Volumes 1-26, published by Taschen, are available to buy now. If you’re cheap, archival photographs and illustrations can be found here. Enjoy…