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Behind the camera of '60s Playboys

June 04, 2005

Melba Figge, 82, and her husband Bill Figge opened a photography

studio more than 60 years ago in Glendale. That studio, Figge

Photography, is now in Newport Beach and has been for the past 39

years. The couple for years contributed photographs to Playboy,

including 48 centerfolds. They stopped contributing in the early

'80s, when the pictures in the magazine became more revealing. Melba

Figge is more or less retired now. One of her sons, Greg, and her

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daughter, Leslie, run the studio. The Daily Pilot's Lindsay Sandham

recently sat down with Melba Figge to hear stories about working for

the magazine and owning a photography studio.

Did you get a degree in photography or in fine arts?

No. I liked photography, always played with it and stuff. My

husband was an architectural photographer during the war, and he took

a zillion pictures of everything during World War II. He had

graduated from USC also, so that's how I met him.

The first studio you opened was in Glendale?

We had a small studio first near our house. We designed a major

studio in Glendale and were there for quite a few years. We came here

39 years ago.

How did you get into shooting centerfolds?

This is our first centerfold, Sue Williams (Figge points to a

photo in a Playboy book.) Her sister worked for us at our studio as

an artist.

So, that's how you got started, with Sue Williams.

Sue Williams, and we had eight of them one year -- and they only

have 12 a year.

How does that work? Did you shoot all the photos and then submit

them?

We sent the first one in ... and Hugh Hefner said, "She's really

cute. We'd like to see your work."

So we said, "Fine," and did some more cute pictures of her. They

loved our work and pretty soon they added our names to the magazine

as contributors because we didn't want to be part of their staff.

We did 48 centerfolds that were published.

Did you meet Hugh Hefner?

Oh, many times. When we first started, he didn't have his place in

Los Angeles. He was in Chicago, a beautiful mansion there.

You're celebrating your 60th anniversary for the studio?

Yeah, but we've been doing this for a lot more time. We started

working out of our house in the garage in Culver City when we got

married.

How has it been with the transition from film to digital?

We had to adjust because all of a sudden all the photographers in

all of the world were beginning to shoot digital. It was cutting down

our business, so we had to learn how to do it also and see how fast

we can get the film out and make proofs and retouch them and all that

stuff.

How do you make people feel comfortable in front of a camera?

We just have a way of talking to them and making it fun. Children

are a lot of fun. Greg and Leslie are both excellent. They've taken

over for me.

So you're more or less retired, and you're used to working most of

the time. What do you do to keep yourself busy?

I go to Shape Up, an exercise place. There are wonderful teachers.

They do everything, but my class is for adults.

By "adults" you mean ...

Senior citizens.

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