Confessions of a pin-up icon

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By: 
Matt Geiger
Bonnie Logan on the cover of a detective magazine in the 1960s (left) and today at Hazelnut Cafe in Blue Mounds.

It was the early 1950s when a young farm girl named Bonnie Bakken stood in the doorway of her parents’ home in Black Earth. Her hands on her hips, the fiercely independent young woman told her mother she was leaving the farm, the church, and Wisconsin.

She was going, she said, to see her name in lights. 

“And I did,” she reflects today with a nod, cradling a small cup of coffee and flexing her hands to counteract the arthritis that often binds them. “I saw my name in lights many times.”

At a corner table at Hazelnut Café in downtown Blue Mounds, the woman, who went by myriad names but who most know as Bonnie Logan, carefully opens a thick, red, ribbon-festooned book containing dozens of magazine covers and newspaper clippings that chronicle the life of a pin-up and burlesque legend.

Aided in part by her 40-24-37 measurements but mostly by her ferocity of spirit, Logan traveled the globe. Along the way, she was draped on the arms of gangsters and movie stars. She turned down an offer from Hugh Hefner to appear in the pages of “Playboy.” She danced in Mexico City with a 16-piece orchestra.

While another pin-up icon, Betty Page, famously refused to be photographed or filmed in her later years, Logan is happy to oblige. In fact, when she was the guest of honor in September at Dead Man’s Carnival, a vaudeville show in Milwaukee, the 79-year-old instructed organizers to include a current photo on promotional posters. The new picture was placed alongside colorful, sensual magazine covers from her past.

“I didn’t want people to get there and be disappointed when they saw what I look like now,” she chuckles. “I figured they should know ahead of time.”

Her long locks are long gone, and she gets around now with the aid of a walker; but she still has a way with men. When she asks a 20-something neighbor to run an errand for her, he’s out the door in a flash.

Logan, who chose her stage name because she wanted something easy to pronounce and remember, modeled furs in the Madison area when she was a teenager. She recalls playing hooky from high school to take a bus into the city and attend matinees. Gazing up at the starlets, she knew where she wanted to go.

When she first arrived in Los Angeles, Logan signed a one-month contract with a talent agency. She did her own hair, makeup and clothing. Then she got to work meeting the best photographers in the business.

“It was great,” she says of L.A. “It had such a combination of good and bad, all happening at the same time. Hollywood was everything I thought it would be.”

Logan said she frequented parties at which Elvis would be “knee deep” in adoring women. The King even sent an envoy to invite Logan to visit his home.

“I said to tell Elvis that if he couldn’t come and pick me up himself in his Cadillac, I wasn’t interested,” she says.

Logan, who grew up singing in church, crooned on the Sunset Strip and in nightclubs across the city. She modeled for pulpy detective magazine covers; her heaving bosoms and sultry eyes giving shape to the multitude of distressed damsels within the pages of hard-boiled magazines.

The publications had loud colors and names splashed across their covers. “Spree: The Big Magazine For Virile Men,” “Midnight,” “Blaze: Searing Excitement!” “Yes!” and “Flirt: The Magazine With The Velvet Touch.”

She posed topless, removing bras so big they had to be custom made.

“I always thought bodies were beautiful,” she says. “I was born nude and I used to run around on the farm nude when I was a little kid. It was no big deal. I think it’s art.”

 “No one else ever exploited me,” she adds firmly. “It was me. I did what I chose to do.”

Writers for the publications in which she appeared fawned over Logan, trying desperately to crank out phrases to match her exotic visage.

“She’s cool as a Norse, warm as a gypsy, yet American as blueberry pie,” raved one.

Another said the “singer, swinger, model and poet … made Hollywood her private playground.”

A different publication said she “ruled” the Floating Island Lounge where she sang.

An L.A. newspaper described her simply as “a singer, dancer and eyeful.”

A fierce individualist, Logan carried a Beretta for protection.

“I never had to use the gun,” she says. “Although I did have to threaten with it a couple times.”

She eventually moved on to San Francisco, where the changing landscape of entertainment led Logan to move into the world of burlesque and vaudeville shows. On stage she sang, danced and bantered with the audience.

“I knew I could say anything,” she recalls. “I liked to tell jokes.”

She later headed to Hawaii, where she became friends with a kind, one-eyed madam who showed her around the island. She sang in local nightclubs and posed for photo shoots, vivid flowers tucked behind her ear, standing in front of lush, tropical scenery.  

Her next stop was at a club in Japan. Logan was cracked over the head by a baseball bat, wielded by a man who, worked into a fervor after viewing a film of Japanese war casualties, took out his anger on the nearest American.

“I wore an elaborate blond wig at the time,” she recalls, “and I used to tuck my real hair underneath it. That happened to be where the bat hit me. It probably saved my life.”

“I’ve been in a car crash going 90 miles per hour, but I’ve never felt anything like [the bat],” she says. Logan, badly concussed, nevertheless jumped to her feet and walloped her attacker.

“I said, ‘Don’t you ever do that again,’” she recalls. But the injury soon sent her home, where she was forced to convalesce during her recovery.

It was just one of many blows to the body for which she was famous.  She accused her second husband of beating her.

“He battered me for six years,” she says, offering a rare regret, “and I let him get away with it.”

Logan said she was bludgeoned so badly she had to undergo reconstructive surgery in 1973.

“You know how those old boxers look? That’s what I looked like,” she says. “I used to use tape to hold up the sides of my face, and I’d hide it under a wig.”

One of her children grew up to become a preacher. The son later wrote her a letter, forgiving his mother for baring her body.

“I told him not to forgive someone for something they totally enjoyed,” she says.

When she walked out the door, all those years ago, she told her mother she would only visit church for weddings and funerals.

“I told her if I ever decided to go back to church, it would be on my own terms,” she recalls.

She did eventually return to religion, settling in at West Blue Mounds Lutheran Church. There, she still sings each week in a house of worship just a few yards from her current home. She spends her days with friends in Blue Mounds and Mount Horeb, regaling younger generations with her tales.

She has a soft spot for stray farm cats, which she’s been know to take in and care for on occasion.

Logan returned to the stage on the night of Sept. 6 in Milwaukee. With the help of a few young men, she climbed to the microphone, the guest of honor at Dead Man’s Carnival, a vaudevillian, circus and burlesque show

“What struck me was how she was being honored as a living link to their past,” says Blue Mounds Lutheran Church’s pastor, Jeff Jacobs. “You could see how it touched people’s hearts.”

Logan spoke to the audience about her life. She then sang a couple old standards.

“She was in great voice,” says Jacobs, who brought his own mother to the show. “The band was right with her and she got a couple standing ovations.”

Sitting at the corner table in Hazelnut Café, Logan carefully places a magazine cover back into its protective sleeve. On it, she stands in profile, red lips slightly open, eyes gleaming.  “A picture is worth a thousand words, right?” she comments.

“That’s who I was,” she adds, smiling and closing her big, red book. “That’s who I am.”

 

 

 

 

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