Former Missoulian and vintage pinup photographer Burke Heffner created “The Lovely Mistresses of George W. Bush” calendar to cheekily count down the last months of Bush’s presidency. “People who have a palette for pretty girls and politics are just eating it up,” says Heffner. “We’re aiming for liberals, I guess, since it’s an anti-Bush calendar, but of course not all liberals are going to be okay with naked girls on airplanes.”
Politics and sex usually don’t mix with good results. But when former Missoulian Burke Heffner, a connoisseur of “pretty girl photography,” had the idea to create a calendar that counted down the last days of George W. Bush’s contentious presidency, he could think of only one way to illustrate it—vintage pinups. Specifically, 13 women cast as Bush’s “lovely mistresses,” each one representing a special interest closely tied to the president’s dubious legacy. The calendar ends on January 20, 2009, Bush’s last day in office.
“I’ve been doing pretty girl photography for a while just because I happen to be good at it,” says Heffner from his New York office. “But as for doing it in a calendar and with this whole political edge, it was just a funny thought. I figured I had to follow through on it.”
Fronted with his own capital, Heffner created a slickly produced, handsomely packaged, cheeky calendar of suggestive models paying homage to the outgoing Commander in Chief. Each pinup comes inscribed with a love letter of sorts, thanking Bush for his affection and in some cases providing vital stats. January, for instance, features the suggestively named Miss Caci Blackwater, perched on a bomber plane, with a note that reads in part, “You can’t please everyone…but you sure know how to please me.” (“Turn-ons: Iran, North Korea, then China!”) Miss June is Robin DeSych, a buxom brunette checking a male patient’s pulse while he reads a medical bill. (“Turn-offs: Michael Moore.”) August is designed like the cover of a book titled “Miss Appropriation” by Bill “Heavy” Lee, with the tagline, “She caressed him with one hand…and stole with the other!” Heffner executes each portrait in a hyper-stylized vintage form, with most reminiscent of famous pinup artist Gil Elvgren. Others mimic classic movie posters or Cold War-era military propaganda.
“People who have a palette for pretty girls and politics are just eating it up,” says Heffner, 35, who was raised in Missoula and Alaska before leaving for New York University to study film. “We’re aiming for liberals, I guess, since it’s an anti-Bush calendar, but of course not all liberals are going to be okay with naked girls on airplanes. Still, it’s sold pretty well.”
In fact, “The Lovely Mistresses of George W. Bush” calendar has already covered Heffner’s initial costs and garnered valuable national media attention, including spots on C-SPAN, “The Bill Press Show,” The Austin Chronicle and The Village Voice. But as Heffner alludes, not everyone is embracing the pairing of POTUS and pinups.
“A lot of people were really afraid of it,” he says. “One thing I’ve heard is the commentary is a little too broad. There are 13 different months, which means there are 13 different people or groups who might get upset by this calendar.”
Heffner’s biggest challenge was in approaching liberal organizations about his project. He wanted to donate a portion of proceeds to government watchdog groups: however, most he contacted sought the high road and cited the need to appear bipartisan. He found one suitable, above-board partner with True Majority (started by Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen), but everyone else requested anonymity.
“The first time people look at it, I think they see that it’s beautiful and well done, but all they really see are these half-naked, gorgeous women,” says Heffner. “It’s not until you take a second look, I think, that you see it actually has some information, some funny—I hope—commentary and some important facts.”
Heffner claims to be more an artist than political junkie. While he conceived the overall idea and the monthly themes, he enlisted friends to help flesh out the text and research facts that appear throughout. December, for instance, which features Miss Tara Fied, notes that the Department of Homeland Security raised the terror threat advisory level for four months leading up to the 2004 election and lowered it eight days after Bush was reelected. Columbia University researchers later showed Bush’s popularity historically rises in concert with threat levels. Such tidbits are minor attractions compared to the sensational imagery and satirical text, but Heffner still finds solace in offering his two cents to the national political discourse.
“To be honest, for what I do the best thing about this has been the press and publicity,” says Heffner, who works independently in film, television, and with commissioned photography. “The fact that the money part worked out is actually a lesser accomplishment for me. It’s been better to get my name out. And, on some level, if this has increased just a little awareness of what’s going on, that’s great too. I mean, people who may not be interested by a political calendar may be sucked in by the women, and I think that’s okay. They are beautiful.”
“The Lovely Mistresses of George W. Bush” calendar is available locally at Rockin Rudy’s and Fact & Fiction, or online at Heffner’s website, www.thingstolookat.com.