Power of the Pinup

The iconic Vargas Girl makes a comeback, thanks to one woman’s effort to cheer up and support our nation’s veterans.

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    Michael Ventre

During World War II, it was a common sight around the U.S. military: sultry images of Betty Grable, Jane Russell, Rita Hayworth and others posing with leggy charm, bathing-suit beauty and come-hither glances. They adorned the barracks, airplanes and magazine covers, producing pleasure for lonely and homesick enlisted men.

Gina Elise may have been born decades later, but she recognized the value of those tasteful but slightly naughty portraits. “I have this affinity for the 1940s and the style and the glamour,” the 32-year-old explains. “I wanted to take that art form to create a fundraiser that would benefit troops today.”

So in 2006 Gina, a UCLA graduate, created Pinups for Veterans, which helps spread 1940s-style joy, gratitude and support to veterans of today. Her organization took flight shortly after she heard stories about veterans hospitals in the Southern California area that were underfunded and overwhelmed with soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. 

“It hit me hard that we needed to do something to help,” shares Gina, who majored in theatre history. “I wanted to do something creative. That’s part of me. But I said, ‘How do people raise money?’ I decided to use the iconic image of the pinup on a calendar to raise money to buy rehab equipment for veterans hospitals.”

So she dolled herself up in 1940s garb and makeup, enlisted some girlfriends to help and created a 2007 pinup calendar. It raised more than $5,000 for the VA Loma Linda Healthcare System, leading to more calendars and more donations to other hospitals.

But Gina didn’t stop there. The models from Pinups for Veterans make personal appearances at veterans hospitals around the country. Jennifer Marshall, who spent five years in the Navy and now lives in North Hollywood, is a pinup model who often accompanies Gina on hospital visits.

“Generally they are told, ‘There are some nice young ladies coming to visit you,’” Jennifer says. “When we come around the corner, there’s always a positive, infectious vibe. People are always smiling and laughing. Even people who are very ill are just so happy to have that distraction from hospital life just for a few minutes.”

With 30 to 40 volunteers including veterans, military family members and patriotic citizens, Gina says Pinups for Vets has raised more than $50,000 for hospitals nationwide, and its models have visited more than 6,000 veterans. “I like to think that we’re making volunteering glamorous,” she says with a wink. 

For more on the 2015 Pinups for Veterans calendar visit pinupsforvets.com.