Every once in awhile, we stagger across a proper candidate for our “Girls Of Yore” series who just blows our minds a little. The kind of girl you just have a hard time believing actually existed and she makes you wonder why you don’t know a girl like her who’s living this kind of life right now.
Marguerite Empey is that girl.
Now, a girl who lived the kind of life that Marguerite lived in the middle of the last century would absolutely have a few names. And in Marguerite’s case, most people would probably know her as Diane Webber. And Diane Webber lived, kid.
Born in L.A. in 1932 (good year – try to find a pair of decent 1932 CA license plates for under a couple hundred bucks, these days) to actor/songwriter/movie producer parents, Marguerite grew up in the heyday of Southern California after her parents divorced (it was recorded that her dad referred to her mom as a ‘dumbbell’ and her mom answered that with “too old, fat and lazy.” Some things never change). As a 16 year-old high school kid going to the fabled Hollywood High, she no doubt got a few rides in Model A roadsters or coupes (or, at the very least, offered rides – hey, just let us go with this, mkay?) to school and was a fairly active ballet student. As these things usually go in Los Angeles, it was only a matter of time till she was approached by a photographer for some portrait work as a ballerina – some of her first work in front of the camera.
After graduation, Marguerite moved north to San Francisco – it was the early days of the Beat movement and San Francisco was the West Coast counterpart to the skit-skat freedom of New York’s beatniks. Great place to be on your own and she got a job at Bimbo’s 365 Club in the chorus line to help pay the bills (Bimbo’s is still one of the city’s best live music venues, although the mermaid girl is long gone and the champagne glass dancers don’t make the appearances they used to). And it was across the Bay at Cal/Berkeley that she got her first real taste of nude modeling: a gig as a figure model for the school’s art department. Love to see some of those early charcoal sketches and we’d bet there are still some stashed in a garage off Telegraph Ave. somewhere.
By the time Marguerite turned twenty, she had moved back to Los Angeles and kept up with her budding modeling career, but also took a shine to the “nudist” lifestyle that was taking hold just under the surface of pop culture. It was a time when photo clubs and nudist magazines were the thinly veiled adult entertainment movements that could make nudie pics available through the McCarthian public venues and Hef’s Playboy Magazine was just getting its sea legs.
Speaking of Playboy, Marguerite was approached by and published in the May 1955 issue as a the Playmate Of The Month and the photos by Hal Adams cemented her career-to-come as one of the most well-known models and B-level actresses of the Twentieth Century. But, in an interesting sort of little flub on the part of Playboy, she was the only Playmate to be published twice under different names. See, in ’55 when Marguerite was first named PMOTM, Hef had not started publishing the names of the Playmates yet. And in the following year, iconic filmmaker Russ Meyer photographed her as Diane Webber for the magazine and she became the February ’56 PMOTM, as well – and nobody realized that Diane was the same Marguerite from the previous year. Awesome.
Speaking of awesome, Diane pursued her acting career alongside her modeling jobs and not only studied under the one and only Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock – c’mon, you knew that, right?), but put her affinity for scuba diving to work as an underwater stunt girl and ended up on more than a few album covers, TV shows and movies for it – combining it with her nude modeling, in some cases (Nelson Riddle’s “Sea Of Dreams” is our favorite, for sure).
If all that wasn’t enough, Diane picked up bellydancing and formed one of the largest troupes of the era – Perfumes Of Araby – and by the late Sixties had become one of the major forces behind just about any American even knowing what bellydancing even was. She continued to teach cabaret bellydance into the Nineties and left a long trail of rosewater-scented good-time memories for many a middle-eastern restaurant patron.
Diane passed away in 2008, but left a long, kick-ass legacy of a life worth living. We love her for that. And, in what’s got to be one of the best uses of a nude model in a print ad, our favorite image of her ended up in an ad for a type house’s new font. We’ll let the good folks over at Venus Observations tell this one:
“Playboy also featured her in an article about a series of advertisements run by the Magoffin company typographers in the trade journal Media Agencies Clients. The advertisements featured a series of partly clad young ladies illustrating a particular font. The story said that the advertisement used to illustrate the “railroad gothic” font (of a bound and naked Marguerite Empey on a model railway track) was too rude to be published so the company ran an ad in the magazine saying their picture had been censored but if anyone would like a copy they should write in to claim one. Two hundred people, the article claimed, did so. All nonsense, of course, as the piece ran in the April 1959 edition.” That’s awesome.
We need more Diane Webbers in the world.