In 1972, a 26 year-old blonde – the archetypal California Girl – posed for a photo that would bring hot rod culture, the world of flatbottom hot boats, pop culture television and the underground ‘adult’ scene together in one glorious moment.
Suzanne Somers made a career of being the ultimate ‘California Girl’ of the Seventies: bubbly, blonde, legs for days, can’t find a bra to save her life…the girl-next-door every baby boomer kid wished really moved in next door. Lucky for us right here in Nor-Cal, she actually was: born and raised just down the San Francisco peninsula in the airport town of San Bruno, Suzanne came of age among some of the great names of hotrodding and drag racing in the Sixties.
And by the time she reached her mid-twenties, Suzanne had some of the most memorable bit movie parts under he belt: the “blonde in the T-bird” in George Lucas’ “American Graffiti” and the topless girl in “Magnum Force,” to name a couple. But in 1972 – five years before “Three’s Company” would really make her a household name – Suzanne also posed for a photo that would become an underground icon for dudes all over the Seventies.
In 1966, Bob Maher, the owner of Maherajah Water Skis, had moved his shop to the sleepy little wine country town of Healdsburg, CA. He and his brother had been making their particular brand of water ski-as-artform for a few years before Bill had sold his interest in the company to him and his innovations in water ski technology were really making a name for him. And that era was the pinnacle of the flatbottom hot boat scene on the West Coast, of which water skiing was an integral part. Every flatbottom with a big hot rod mill had a chromed ski tow bolted to the block and the custom car magazines of the day were making it all even more popular. Hard to find a hotrodder in the Western U.S. in the mid-Sixties who wasn’t pulling a flatbottom to the lake on the weekend or at least had a buddy who was.
And by the early Seventies, the “anything goes” ethos of the youth culture was in full…swing. Maher wanted some sort of marketing piece that would keep his water ski top of mind while his customer base’s boats were in the garage, Suzanne was working hard to find her break in modeling and acting and their worlds collided. The iconic “Right On Girl” was created in 1972.
A deliriously simple and perfect image of a topless Suzanne with a Peter Max-ian “Right On” water ski illustration somehow projected across her chest for no apparent reason became the legendary image of Maherajah. And when Maher ran full-page ads for his poster in the industry magazines of the day, the brand really hit it big.
But it didn’t stop there. In 1977, ABC aired the first episode of the American version of a British sit-com about two girls and a guy platonically sharing one apartment. “Three’s Company” debuted with Suzanne Somers playing Chrissy Snow – the quintessential Blonde – to the great advantage of a career in show business that had endured a decade of fits and starts.
The Seventies was also the Golden Age of American porn. The adult industry had come up from under the cash register and it was sorta fashionable in the age of Studio 54 on the East Coast and the Sunset Strip on the West. So, it made sense that once “Three’s Company” became a pop cultural juggernaut, publishing the topless image of America’s Blonde Sweetheart would be a good business move for any girlie mag of the day.
Not only did Bob Maher’s Maherajah poster run as a cover on the July ’78 issue of High Society, but one could still order the original 1972 poster from a full-page ad in Oui magazine as late as July of 1979.
Only in the Seventies could such a strange mash-up make so much sense and simultaneously converge hot rods, hot boats, pop culture and a bubbling adult industry in one glorious image. Right on, indeedy…