Born in Oskaloosa, Iowa, to a dirt-poor sharecropper family, Jonnie worked her way up to be one of the most succesful models of her time. She left home in her teens and set out for NYC. She arrived in NYC with maybe $30 in her pocket and had to sleep in a cave in Central Park until she could afford an apartment. She was fired from her first job in a department store because there were too many men hanging around her counter. She was told she needed to buy a higher-neck dress but couldn’t afford one. She then worked as a baby-sitter and it was there she got the idea to model.
She worked as a construction model and then found out that more money could be made as a cheesecake model. One of her first modelling jobs was for Cass Carr who ran a Camera Club, the Concorde Camera Circle (this pic of an outing to Fire Island on 7/12/53 includes Cass and Weegee), a group of amateur photographers who would take pictures of women, often nude women. This was in the 50s and certainly not accepted by society and of dubious legality. Jonnie was on the famous shoot where Bettie Page and others were arrested in South Salem, NY, July 27, 1952 but left before the arrests were made. She never liked the more raunchy pics that might be taken and would not associate herself with those people. (And doesn’t have any of those pics.)
She also worked for Jerry Tibbs, the amateur photographer who discovered Bettie Page. Jonnie and Bettie worked together and Bettie, and others, used Jonnie’s apartment for photo shoots. Hundreds of pictures of Jonnie’s apartment can be found. (This is the apartment without the models!)
Please note that this picture and the same pic in this model sheet were taken by Jerry Tibbs. This picture is not autographed by him but 4 others are. (There are 9 possible pictures taken by him in her collection, maybe more.) All could be for sale for the right price.
She has modeled for fashion shows, fashion photos, illustrations for artists and magazines, buying offices, travel promotions, department stores, mail order businesses, trade shows, conventions, was a construction model for all kinds of apparel, worked in showrooms, was the house model for many in the garment business, worked for many modelling agencies, amateur camera clubs, did lots of freelance work and was a showgirl. Was Queen of both Beaux Arts Balls and Artist’s Equity Balls in NYC, the Mamaroneck, NY Artist’s Guild and a Beaux Arts Ball in Miami, Fl.
She was used by many photographers including Irving Klaw, Weegee, Charles Alexander, Charles Ruby, Franz Eck, Cass Carr, Gary Wagner, Milton Green (corsets), Joseph Wagner and publishers like Harrison Marks would use her extensively in their magazines. The pulp cover artist Rafael DeSoto loved working with her and used her on many of his jobs. Jonnie has a few of his books and could autograph them for you at a certain price. She also worked with Varga/Vargas.
Jonnie worked up until she she hip surgery and there are pictures in her collection spanning the ‘40s through the 70s. She has almost 2000 pictures, outfits and other ephemera that I’ve seen (and cataloged) and more in her condo in Florida that I haven’t seen. Here is the inventory so far.
Some standouts you should know about:
Pics in her collection. Only what is on this site is available for autographing though the entire collection could be for sale at the right price. Please use the contact form to contact us.
912 – cheesecake, (72 are known to be shot for Irving Klaw. Many more are probably his. 4 wrestling)
252 – model (many bathing suit pics were classified as modeling or cheesecake.) (+ slides)
198 – Rafael DeSoto-related. This includes pics and illustrations. Some pics are paired with the illustrations.
114 – nude (+ slides) The following are the only nudes we have for autographing at this time: 014, 015, 016, 017, 018, 019.
59 – queen of the ball (NYC, Mamaroneck and Miami Beaux Arts, NYC Artist’s Equity) + 1 newspaper story about that. (+ slides) (Here is a picture of her with Groucho Marx in an outfit that she wore for one of those balls. More ball pictures here. This, this and this, taken at the Mamaroneck (NY) Artist’s Guild Ball in the 1950s are available with autographs, while supplies last.
43 – corset (+ 1 catalog)
40 – fashion (+ slides)
32 – semi-nude
29 – magazine excerpts
26+ bathing suit (many were classified as cheesecake or modeling.) (+ slides)
15 – trade show (1 American Olive Oil Assoc. meeting, seated at huge dinner at the Plaza, 4/23/53) This picture was for a trade show. (This one too, for the Kleenway Products Co., and was probably used in magazines as well.
13+ Miss Diamond Queen (promoting a record needle)
11 – bondage (2 stereo slides!) (1, possibly 2 by Cass Carr) This is the only bondage picture we have available right now for autographing.
9+ nice portraits
9 – bra
7 – full magazines
2+ motorcycle (We have some for autographing but they are not on this site yet.)
2 – books she is on the over of
2 – newspaper stories about her
2 – books she is in
1- showgirl (maybe) Copa or Latin Quarter?
1- her one and only dress and shoes (what she came to NYC in)
1- Cass Carr (one more possible)
many ads (newspaper and magazine clippings) of her selling pics and movies
No known Miss Subway pics or others like that. She does have a Miss Manhattan, 1951, statue.
Did see some Dolly Madison ads and one large pic of her as Dolly Madison.
I know of at least 3 Irving Klaw movies but we do not have any in the collection.
INITIATED INTO BONDAGE – Jonnie Wilson, Barbara Pauline (an animated gif from that.
WRESTLE – Peggy Leer, Jonnie Wilson
WRESTLING – Peggy Leer, Jonnie Wilson
She also has one movie where she strips, an 8mm short reel directed by Irving Klaw. She does not want to share that but it has been digitized on a personal DVD.
She doesn’t have any pics of her with Bettie Page other than this magazine spread. She has a few extra copies of that and they are for sale with Jonnie’s autograph. They are not in very good condition unfortunately.
She also has many nick-nacks that she would be willing to sell including this stool that was in a few shots of Bettie in her apartment. She is asking $10,000 for the stool. Other nick-nacks include what is seen on the side table in this shot and other items seen in her apartment.
Jonnie also wrote poetry and at least one song, which was recorded. You can listen to it here.
She met Evelyn Waugh and Dame Edith Sitwell in NYC. She claims Evelyn was going to write a story about her and has two typescripts of it’s beginning. (The Evelyn Waugh Society disputes their authenticity.) She also would meet President Harry Truman when he walked his dog in NYC and has known many other famous people. …Eddie Fisher’s singing teacher…