Fritz Willis was a painter and illustrator most active in the 1950s and 1960s, who specialized in ‘pin-up girl’ art—that is, erotically charged images of healthy, wholesome-looking, often scantily-clad (and even occasionally nude) women—colloquially referred to as cheesecake art. Willis’s sexy women found their way into ads for a number of products and as magazine covers or interior art, and his name is pretty much synonymous with this subject matter. But Willis was no one-trick pony; he also wrote and illustrated a handful of art instruction books and even children’s books. Rarely did his cheesecake ladies and his children’s book subjects overlap.
There is, however, one major exception: Willis employed his readily recognizable pin-up style in a series of ads for Chiffon tissues featuring a precocious toddler girl who ran around in her underpants, played dress-up with Mommy’s high heels and Daddy’s ties, painted her toenails bright red, and otherwise played off of the semiotics and erotic language of the pin-up girl for cuteness effect. These days such ads would be loudly criticized for “sexualizing” young girls. It is hard to argue against the claim that the ads deliberately blur the boundaries of childhood and womanhood, but the intentions behind them are all-important. These ads were clearly meant to provoke smiles, not lust, and I suspect most of what is labeled “sexualization” of little girls even today strives for something similar—not humor per se, but certainly that gratified sense of recognition many parents have in seeing a little daughter playing at womanhood.
And credit where credit is due: I want to heartily thank one of my blog followers, Ron, for supplying these high-quality images. Thanks again, sir—they were greatly appreciated and worth sharing with my readers.