This week, via email, I interviewed entrepreneur Judy Horst about the controversial male pin-up calendar, “The Ladies Home Companion,” that she conceived in 1973.
Half Moon Bay Memories (HMBM): When did you found Bo-Tree Publications?
Judy Horst: believe it was 1972, and in the Spring. It was founded within weeks of when the idea for the calendar popped into my head. We had sample calendars ready for the May Gift Show in New York. We wanted to find sales reps there.
HMBM: What was your background?
Judy H.: I was a consultant, public relations, marketing communications, employee communications, and advertising—to many of the companies spawned by Fairchild Semiconductor where I had worked previously.
HMBM: How did you conceive of the male Pin-Up calendar?
Judy H.: I was with a good friend, her husband, another couple and my date, and we were laughing and talking about the recent Burt Reynolds centerfold in Cosmopolitan magazine as we walked in a jazz club in San Francisco. It was like a light bulb went off—I had no sooner said, ‘someone should put together a male nude calendar’…than I saw it had the name for it, knew what the photos would look like, knew how to execute it and was certain we could market it. It was a once in a life time kind of experience, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it all night long.
Judy: Chris [Hopf-Lovette] and I had been working together on a non-profit that I’d started, Bay Area Big Sisters (like Big Brothers), and we had enjoyed working together. So, we were looking for a project or a business we could work at with each other. When I told her of the idea I think she was enthused as I was.
HMBM: How did you choose the male models?
Judy H.: —-Carol Fulton was an art director for an ad agency and we knew several guys we thought would be good in the ad business. She and I started making lists. We met at University Creamery for lunch often to go through our list and to figure out the best approach to contact them and to do the photography—we both were the photographers.
—-Another photographer friend of mine took photos of a few of her friends. She was the one who was with me at the time when the eye popped into my head. One was a fellow walking down a beach in an English hat with her bulldog at his side.
—I also enlisted a good friend of mine who lived in New York, so we wouldn’t be so California-centric. She happened to be going with Playboy’s film critic, and she was able to get us several key “models”, including a Business Week columnist and an art director from the Village Voice as well as Playboy’s film critic.
—If I were on a plane and the guy sitting next to me asked me what I did I sized him up and told him, and I asked if he would ever consider modeling. They always agreed to, and if we were in the same part of the world, I did arrange a photo session.
HMBM: Any problems with the guys you shot photos of?
Judy H.: —I never had any problems with the guys I shot photos. There was short of a bond between me, as the photographer, and the model. I knew he was probably ill at ease and I wanted to be able to get the best photos of him—the most masculine and the most flattering. So, I never had any trouble with any of the guys, but I think Carol [Fulton[ had trouble with a professional football player she shot photos of. He had other ideas.
HMBM: How did you stage the photos?
Judy H.: —Our photos were shot like old sepia-colored French postcards. Lots of attention was paid to the surroundings, and the idea was to put the guys into situations you might think would be natural or fun. Like I posed one in my kitchen eating ice cream–the kitchen had an old-fashioned ice cream parlor wall, and I used it. Another guy loved horses, so we rode off into the hills on his horse, and I shot wonderful photos of him on and by the horse. Another guy agreed to float around in an inner-tube at Lexington Reservoir. The most ambitious shoot was an entire rugby team, after they completed a match, at a Sunnyvale park. We did it there at the park, and we didn’t get arrested.
HMBM: . How did you meet Mark Fraser? Who were some of the other guys? I know that Jerry Koontz was one of men featured on the cards–he is a friend of mine.
Judy H.: —-Mark was a friend of Carol Fulton’s, and she was the contact for him. I think Carol was also a friend of Jerry’s, but I’d have to go look at his photos to see for sure.
HMBM: Why didn’t you produce a follow-up calendar?
Judy H.:—we did produce calendars for several years, along with the playing cards, a datebook, and address book, notepads, and bridge tallies.
HMBM: Playgirl magazine was founded in 1973–did that affect your project?
Judy H: —-no, as their photos were so soft and “girl like”. They stretched the guys out on beds and sofas, and the four color they use was garish, I thought. We just moved on as we were, by then doing all sorts of other calendars. It also didn’t help that Cosmopolitan’s editors accepted our ads, but the publisher, Helen Gurley Brown’s husband refused the ads. He must have been up tight. Also, we had sold through B.Dalton and Walden Books, to Macy’s and other department stores, and often other store’s buyers placed orders, but their male supervisors cancelled them. Our calendars were confiscated in some Ohio store. I was getting all sorts of orders and mail praising the calendar (only 2 hate letters), and the mail was addressed to Nudies, Cupertino, CA, or Ladies Home Companion Calendar, Cupertino, CA, and many other versions of generic addresses. So it was popular. We just wanted to do other things.
HMBM: What happened to Bo-Tree Productions?
Judy H.:—The company was sold to our printer who really wanted the company. Chris and her husband had adopted a boy, and she was not able to work the hours it takes to keep a small business going. We had a staff of about 15-20 people Palo Alto and a 10,000 square foot warehouse in Phoenix with 6-10 people depending on the season. After 15 years, we just tired of borrowing huge sums to print the calendars and cards we were now doing, and then having to collect it after the Holidays. I guess I thought I’d be doing it the rest of my life, but the printer thought he could make money on the business, and he didn’t want Chris and I around. So, he managed to trash it before making all of the installment payments to us. He didn’t understand the sales part of the business, just the printing part. At least that’s my view of it.
HMBM: What kind of camera did you use?
Judy H.:—-I had several Pentax cameras, with various lenses. Nothing fancy as everything was done with natural light in natural settings.
HMBM: Where was the film developed?
Judy H.:—Believe I had all my film developed by Royal Camera in Mountain View as that’s the firm that handle all of my processing for my consulting business.
HMBM What kind of work are you doing today?
Judy H.—–I run several e-commerec businesses. When we sold Bo-Tree, I had a non-compete. I couldn’t put ink on paper for the products we had at that time. So, even though I was consulting still, I looked around at another medium to put art on. I also loved the mail order catalog we were doing at Bo-Tree to sell our products and other products we purchased.
—-So, I decided as a side business, I would develop a line of tees and sweatshirts using my cousin Jody Holst’s art. She could draw anything I needed, I’d put them on tees and sweatshirts, and I’d publish a little catalog called Flying Panda Gifts. Well, that catalog grew through benign neglect over the years, and in 1995 or 1996, I started moving it on line. Today www.flyingpanda.com still going strong, and I have several other e-commerce sites in the pet field as well as www.foreAmerica.com which keeps me sane in these last six or seven years.
—Also, Chris and I left Big Sisters after putting in a number of years, even while we were doing the Ladies Home Companion, I was president of it and Chris a vice president. Eventually it merged with Big Brothers, so it lives on. And at one time I was on the board of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Santa Clara County–for six years and President of it for one or two years.
HMBM: Final thoughts?
Judy H.: —in parting, this was a wonderful experience for all of us, the men as well, and it set Chris and I up in business. In addition, it was quite a social experiment as women deserved a calendar of their own like “Ladies Home Companion”, but so many men just weren’t ready for it and made some women return or burn their calendars or made their buyers cancel orders, or thought it was only for gay men.
—Well, finally, many men have come a long, long way, and I’d like to think that our calendar helped that process along.