When Playboy Came to Town…Looking for a Southern Belle
The Southern Belle is a peculiar stereotype, based on daughters of the affluent plantation owners in the Antebellum South. Chaste, yet flirtatious, the belle was “laced-up” tightly both literally and figuratively. The Belles were as iconic an image of the times as columned mansions in which they lived.
After the Civil War, the economic system that supported the Southern Belle was shattered, but image survived. Young Southern women were still expected to play the coquette. Think of Scarlett O’Hara entertaining the Tarleton twins in the opening scene of Gone With the Wind. Again, the mansion is part of the total image; inseparable from the Belle.
In the Fall of 1982, Playboy Magazine came to Tuscaloosa. They were searching for a genuine Southern Belle to represent the University of Alabama in the first “Girls of the SEC” issue. In addition, they were looking for the ideal spot to pose the chosen girl. They found a lovely young woman and and, more importantly, a beautiful old house. Even in the late twentieth century, the girl and the mansion are intertwined in the eyes of the South. Look closely at the woodwork behind the girl (perhaps harder for some of you than others) and it is plain that this is the second floor balcony of my old house. My neighbors remember the day of the shoot well. This is, I suppose, a modern twist on the Belle. The house, of course, remains the same.