Striking a pose
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Marnie Riddell never planned to be a pinup model. It wasn't something she really ever thought about.
"If you'd have asked me when I was 20 if I'd be a model, especially this kind of model, I'd have laughed at you," the 45-year-old Charleston resident said.
But life sometimes has a way of finding its own path. Today, more than two decades after she graduated from high school, Riddell has found an unexpected calling, posing for vintage glamour photographs.
"I only do the stuff that's very tasteful," she's quick to point out. "I'd never do anything that was all in your face."
Besides, she said with a smile, pinup art is all about the tease.
Born Marnie Kerby in Dublin, Ireland, her parents moved to America when she was 7 years old. There's just a wisp of her Irish accent left.
"I grew up in Cleveland," she said.
As a little girl, Riddell said she always dreamed of being in the movies and wanted to grow up to be an actress.
"I studied theater at Ohio State," she said. "But then I got married and had a daughter."
Regular life and responsibilities took over, though Riddell said she was involved with local theater in Ohio and worked in a children's theater.
"That was the best," she said. "I got to play at work every day. One day, I was one of the three little pigs, the next I got to be an alien. It was simply the best job I'd ever had."
She also had minor roles in two independent films: "Riding with James Dean" and "Vampire Girls Are Easy."
"It was kind of a play on 'Earth Girls Are Easy,'" she said and laughed. "My one scene was a dream sequence where I fed a guy an apple."
The film was shot in the mid 1990s, but has since vanished into memory. There's not even a reference for it on the Internet Movie Database.
"Riding with James Dean" had a little better luck. Riddell played Loretta in the 1998 film -- the best friend to the lead actress's character.
"That one sounded pretty interesting," she said. "It was about a guy who inherits the mailbox of James Dean and starts getting letters from a girl who thinks he's James Dean."
The film, she said, sort of plodded.
"It would have done better if it had been more of a quirky comedy," Riddell added.
Riddell's first marriage lasted for about three years. The pair divorced in 1998 then reconciled five years later.
"But then he died before we could get married again," she said.
Riddell met her second husband, Tom, in 2009.
"We met through mutual friends," she said. "We just clicked."
She said they were both kind of nerds and shared a passion for geek culture: science fiction and fantasy books, movies and television and comic books.
"I've been doing cosplay before I even knew what the term was," Riddell said.
She went to comic book and science fiction conventions, dressed up as comic book characters like Spider-Man bad girl The Black Cat, The Joker's girlfriend Harley Quinn and the Justice League's Hawkgirl.
Her husband has gone out as Spider-Man, the Riddler and even built an elaborate Iron Man suit.
"Obviously, Halloween is really big for us," she laughed.
The costumes can get very elaborate. Riddell said she got noticed because her costumes were so good and because she wore them well.
"That crowd can get rough on you if you don't look good," she said.
After she moved to Charleston a few years ago and got a job in an office, she started getting approached by photographers about posing for pinup shoots.
"It was all 'Time for CD,'" she said, meaning that photographers would take her picture, but instead of paying her for her time, she got to keep a CD of the work.
"It's a way for both of us to build a portfolio," she said. "A good way for both of us to get some exposure."
Riddell appeared on a couple of websites and then was picked up for several magazines that specialize in this kind of photography, including Cupcake Quarterly, Riot Vixen and Drive-In Magazine.
It's a small and specialized market, and Riddell even has a stage name she uses for her pinup work.
"I'm Harley Heartthrob," she said.
Riddell loves the pinup genre and the age it romanticizes.
"That was when ladies wore hats and gloves and everyone dressed up, including the men. I was born in the wrong era."
Part of the appeal of vintage pinup art, she explained, is that it isn't restricted to women with "perfect" bodies. The aesthetic is a lot more open to women of practically every body type.
"You can be beautiful and be any size," she said.
And while Riddell is slender, she doesn't' starve herself.
"I'm not a size zero," she said. "I used to be, and I was miserable."
Doing pinup is still kind of a funny sideline to her, but she said she probably couldn't do it without her family, who have been very supportive.
"I've got a 19-year-old daughter and she's like, 'you go, mom.'"
Her husband is very proud.
Riddell said she wants to do more of the modeling and hopes to have her own line of calendars and posters.
"It's very flattering for me to be doing this," she said. "And it's really been a lot of fun."
Reach Bill Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5195.